Category Archives: London

London Marathon with a Pacemaker

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Me and my brother at the start of Edinburgh marathon in 2015

I’m not running London Marathon this year (one of the many who didn’t get a place) but my brother is. Not only that, but he’s also running it with a pacemaker – a battery heart – owing to a rare heart condition he had when he was 12. He’s already raised over £5,000 for the British Heart Foundation, but the donations keep coming – click here if you’d like to give.

My brother’s story…

“I am raising money for the British Heart Foundation who have worked tirelessly to halve the number of people dying from heart and circulatory disease in the U.K. Quite simply, I would not be alive today without the research and development of the BHF.

When I was just 12 years old, I was diagnosed with Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome, a rare type of heart disease that is best described as having an accessory pathway in the heart. The additional pathway caused my heart to “short circuit” and beat erratically, at times in excess of 320BPM. At the time, it was curable with an operation called an ablation; but because the technology wasn’t as sophisticated then as it is now, the operation was unsuccessful and I was left with complete heart block. The doctors felt the best solution was to input a Cardiac Pacemaker, which is exactly what they did. I was one of the youngest children in the U.K. to have a Pacemaker.

Now in my twenties, I am on my second Pacemaker and it’s ticking along nicely. This year I’m running the London Marathon, with a target time of 3 hours 5 minutes. In fact, I’m aiming to set a world record as fastest person to run the London Marathon with a Pacemaker. I have applied to Guinness World Records and if they approve my claim I will update this page so your donation can also be a part of history….

As you can imagine, this charity is incredibly close to my heart. Thanks to the BHF, the technology I needed to keep me going as a young athletic child was available to me, and their research and expertise continues to help thousands of people to live healthy and fulfilling lives. It’s only thanks to support from people like us that the BHF can create new treatments and discover new cures. £25 could pay for an hour of research by an early career scientist, but every pound helps so please give what you can to help me hit my target.

Thank you so much for reading and please give generously to a great charity!”

We made some banners for him and we’ll be there cheering along on Sunday!

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Twilight People: Stories of Gender and Faith Beyond the Binary

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This time last year I was deep in a volunteer project; this year I’m freelancing and full-time working… Here’s a quick recap on that project and what it meant to me. 

Cast yourself back to February 2016… for LGBT History Month, I was part of a brilliant team of volunteers and professionals to realise a temporary photography and oral history exhibition called Twilight People. It featured beautiful photographs by Christa Holka, media by Susanne Hakuba, graphics by Lai Couto, and took place at Islington Museum. Subsequently, the exhibition has toured to Coventry, Manchester and had a pop up event at the LGBT Police Conference at the Guildhall in London.

The exhibition features intimate, face-to-face encounters with people who are at the intersection of gender and faith. Pictured holding an object that means something precious to their identity and faith journey, they are also accompanied by their own words taken directly from their oral histories. Together, they give a powerful insight into faiths and identities that are often not seen as compatible, and confounds many stereotypes. For some, faith is the way they have come to terms with their identity; for others, being accepted by a religious community has been a positive marker for them in their transition.

I was honoured to be involved in such a project, not least because I got to work with Surat-Shaan Knaan, whose energy knows no bounds. With my co-curator Sean Curran, and the fabulous volunteers who took part in workshops and played a part in scripting the exhibition, we had such fun leading workshops, choosing images and creating a beautiful space, so here’s a few of the photographs from the install and launch.

The Heritage Lottery Fund, who kindly provided the money to be able to carry out the project, asked me to write a blog post for the project which you can read here.

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Filed under Creative, exhibitions, London, Museums, Work

Oh dear…

Oh dear… what a difference a day makes.

Everyone I know and love is still processing the intense upheaval, betrayal, bafflement, anger, incredulity and realisation caused by the controversial in/out referendum, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, has seen the people of my country vote 52% to leave the European Union. Gulp.

I’ve been glued to the news ever since, ashamed by our government’s inability to address a much longer standing problem, horrified at those who have gambled with the lives of thousands to gain a leg-up for themselves in Westminster, and saddened by the vitriolic abuse from leavers and remainers, and from a minority against people of different cultures and countries. We were never meant to be like this.

What to say in the face of all this? The storm is barely quieting down. The economy continues to flounder. The future looks uncertain at best, catastrophic at worst. This article from Medium writer Jeff Lynn captures fluently the wish to stand together and lead the UK (such as it is) into a brighter future, while at the same time speaking some key truths about the nature of our union with the EU that I wish fervently had been part of the playing field before people took a vote. It’s a must-read, a welcome break from the quite frankly scary reporting happening on the Guardian, Independent, Evening Standard and Daily Mail sites. 

And running? I’ve been trying to move my body and get out there, trying to re-set the tenor of my days through exercise and focus. But it’s hardly working. I went for a great off-road run on Sunday through Epping – intense mud underfoot – and found myself running through every emotional spectrum: pure joy at flying downhill, followed by anger when running back up, and tears when on the flat. This morning I managed a quick 6-miler before work with some of the best times I’ve done recently in the first three miles, but halfway through I started to flag, to give up. My heart just wasn’t in it. I managed to finish pretty strongly, pulling my legs through their treacly feeling.

And that’s how it feels to be a remain voter in Britain right now: halfway between despondent and hopeful, halfway between resignation and fear. I guess the only way is up, but what road we will take is a mystery to me.

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Finally… running for the run

Finally!!! I ran a long run that didn’t feel like an elephant was sitting on my chest or my thighs or my shoulder. I’ve been waiting for this moment all through training for Marathon No. 2, and it’s taken a little while to feel good.  

After a week of squally wet weather and irritably low temperatures (England, you really can’t do summer), last Sunday was actually pretty hot. I actually loathe running in heat. I perform on average 20-30 second worse per mile, my stomach rebels because of the extra fluids I’m drinking, I feel like I need more gels, and it just feels haaaaard. The only thing that’s nice is the immediate aftermath, which can usually be characterised as lying horizontally in grass with beer and a lot of bread.

Sunday began brightly, and initially the temperatures looked as if they were going to peak over 20ºC, but thankfully the clouds came back and the day cooled down into the afternoon. I set off at around 3pm and decided I’d do an urban run for a change. Usually I trot off down the canals or head to Epping Forest, Wanstead Flats or the Isle of Dogs for my long runs, but this time I thought I’d correct the shameful fact that I’d lived in London for nearly 7 years and had only once run in Hyde Park.

I set off westwards, winding my way through Finsbury Park down to Kings Cross before dropping down onto a familiar cycle cut-through past UCL and into Marylebone. I came across two street festivals going on – Cally Festival, on Caledonian Road, where I witnessed an adult dance group moving to Benjamin Britten’s Sea Interludes; and then the Marylebone Summer Fayre, featuring salsa dance from London Salsa. Each time I took a moment to stop, stretch and enjoy what I was seeing. The endorphins were pumping so hard that I cried a bit with the Sea Interludes (it is some of my favourite music – listen here), and couldn’t help dancing discretely to the salsa.  

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Then on around Hyde Park, through tourists and joggers and kids on bicycles and scooters. A trio of boys were racing up the Broad Walk and that made me smile. Everyone seemed very happy to be out even in the cloudy warm weather.

From there I headed south through Chelsea navigating the lovely red-brick Victorian streets, dodging overgrown roses and small dogs. When I reached the Thames, I crossed Albert Bridge, which I’ve never set foot on before, and then explored Battersea Park a bit – also a new haunt. The area around Battersea Power Station meant the river path was interrupted by private developments and building works, and I had to head into Vauxhall via Nine Elms Road – an unpleasant trafficky mess but made slightly more interesting by the presence of the new Covent Garden Market and new skyscrapers. I don’t like the look of most new developments but at least the visuals on the hoardings give me something to focus on (and get angry about).

I was feeling the distance by this point, but as soon as I hit the river path at Lambeth and Westminster, my energy levels perked up. Running past the Houses of Parliament at such a politically sensitive time felt tremendously uplifting (VOTE REMAIN!), and I picked up the pace for the home stretch back to the Southbank Centre and Waterloo Bridge. At this point the music from all the street performers gave me an extra boost, as did crowd dodging. I sometimes feel a bit self conscious with my running rucksack on (I’ve got a Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction) as more than a couple of people have commented that it looks like a suicide bomber vest. But by the time I got onto Waterloo Bridge I couldn’t care less. The wind was blowing hard, music was filling my ears and I was grinning madly at my personal finish line. (Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be amazing to finish a race crossing Waterloo Bridge going south, with the iMax and Southbank Centre and National Theatre in view?!)

As I pulled up on the Strand I realised  Runkeeper had paused  four miles back, which was a bit annoying, but I knew I’d covered approximately 15 miles in no more than 2.5 hours, including stops and street-party watching. And it had felt really, really good.

Yesterday I read a piece in an old Runner’s World (February 2016) about the psychology of celebrating success vs. striving to do better. “You need to shift from outcome-oriented thinking to mastery-oriented thinking” – in other words, run for the run, not the time. My speed might not have been race pace throughout. But the reason it felt so good was that I ran it for the experience – seeing new places, stopping to take in the atmosphere, crossing a new bridge, and finishing in a place I love.

[RW mentioned keeping race diaries as part of the article. Do you do this? This is my first attempt at writing down a long run. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember even 2 days afterwards!]

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Terra Nova Solar Photon 2

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What better way to enjoy the late afternoon sun than playing around with a new tent? With a backdrop of loud dubstep and birdsong, and a superb sunny sky, I spent a happy hour testing my new (and first) lightweight tent purchase.

The questions:

a) Would the tent be upstanding?
b) Could I make it so myself?
c) What do I need to improve for next time?

The answers:

a) Well, sort of. There’s no difficulty in pitching the thing. It has a single pole structure, shaped like a ‘Y’ that gives the overall impression of a whale’s hump. But even in a slight wind the sides were perplexingly bowed and wrinkled (something I will aim to overcome with better guying out).

b) Yes. This tent is super super easy to pitch. The ‘Y’ shape goes up in no time, and Terra Nova’s brainwave of creating eyelets for the pole-tips and using clips to attach the tent fabric means no awkward ‘can I get this pole through the narrow nylon channel without it popping apart and before my inner (and my self) gets completely soaked’. The outer took me a while to work out which was the best way to fix it down, but I’ll perfect this over time.

c) For sure, I need better pegs. And I need to practice!

It’s always worth trying out your tent before you go out for that 6-day overnight walk. You know, just in case the guy ropes are missing. As with many ultralight tents, the tent pegs are little more than titanium toothpicks. I am replacing them with stronger titanium v-pegs (Alpkit order already on the way).

My tent is a Terra Nova Solar Photon 2 – the lightest two-person self-supporting tent in the world! In reality I think it would be more comfortable as a ‘luxury’ 1-person tent, as I think it would be pretty cramped for two people plus gear. It weighs a mere 0.975Kg (2lb 2oz). Apparently it also takes five minutes to pitch. (Er, more like 45 minutes for this first attempt…). I purchased mine at a slight discount from eBay and when I was looking there were several secondhand and new options there that were cheaper than buying direct.

So here’s to summer and roaming the country!  Anyone got a new tent they want to try? 

 

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Slowly goes the Maffetone

 

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Image via Island Midwife

I always thought the best way to train was to push the heart beyond its comfort zone on a regular basis because only that way would it get larger and more efficient. So my previous training plans looked largely like this:

Mon: rest day
Tues: easy run
Weds: fartlek
Thurs: hills / strength session
Fri: rest day
Sat: easy run
Sun: long run

And in reality, this kind of system worked for me. I got fitter, I ran faster, and I could fit it in around my daily working life. The short-fast ones on work days, the longer ones at the weekend. And I was really happy with my marathon time. BUT I was still in a lot of pain at the end of the race last year (especially lower back pain… grrr….) and now I’m thinking of stretching myself, I’m wondering how I will ever manage an ultra.

However, I’ve been reading Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson, (prizes for the most off-putting subtitle. It reads: “how to be a fat burning beast”). So I’m experimenting with the 80/20 rule – 80% slow and long, 20% fast, which is almost the inverse of every training rule I’ve followed so far.  I’m running with a heart rate monitor. And I’m not allowing my heart rate to get above 180 MINUS my age. According to Mark, who is influenced by ultra runner coach Phil Maffetone, I need to be running at a speed that pushes my heart rate no higher than 151 beats per minute.

Initially, I thought this sounded decent. Given my low resting heart rate of sub-50 bpm, I thought, “Oh yeah, I’ll be able to run and stay in that general region”. But oh no. Keeping my heartbeat that low makes me sloooooooooow. 11-minute-mile slow. So slow that I have to walk up all stairs I encounter on my run and sometimes even gentle inclines. Like road bridges, famed for their gentle slopes. The other night I ran home along the southbank and there was a race for testicular cancer going on, and I was literally lapped by everyone.

In essence, the Maffetone method is intended to help you build a really strong aerobic base to burn all your body fat, rather than consistently stressing your anaerobic system, which should be reserved for all-out sessions. It’s in line with a lot of the ‘primal’ thinking out there, where humans should only eat meat, fish, fruit, veg, nuts and seeds, and follow imaginative training regimes that suggest you could race your friend to a ‘mammoth leg’ (read a heavy log lying in the field) and then have a game of tag while one of you runs around with the log.

Now I do like the primal way of eating. One summer I took the Whole 30 challenge, which was pretty tough but most certainly worth it, and it changed my eating habits for good. And usually I don’t mind looking stupid when I run. But this slow running? It’s almost boring, and I never thought I’d say that about long distance running. So we shall see what benefits it brings, though I’m aware that with August only 3 months away, speed running is right around the corner. I think I might have to go back to Maffetone in the autumn in preparation for the ultras next year.

What do you think? Could you take the Maffetone test? For 2-3 months, you can test your progress every four weeks by running 5 miles at the heart rate of 180 bpm minus your age. (You can add 5 if you’ve been training regularly for 2 years without injury). Each time you do the test you should see your times (slow though they may be) drop gradually. Crucially you are not supposed to do any training above this heart rate during this period. This, apparently, will build your aerobic base, which will ensure you are, ahem, a fat burning beast. (Or a lazybones. I’m not sure 🙂

 

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Into the Stacks at the London Library

Shhhh. The London Library, that secret and impregnable hermitage of knowledge in St James’ Square, offers free tours.

Rosanna from No Fixed Abode Club wrote about our visit here. The Library is just about to embark on a new phase of building works to expand their collection of 1 million books (or 70 miles of shelving). While the collection is strongest in the humanities and the arts, there are books about cartography, biography and almost every edition of the Times newspaper can be browsed in vast broadsheet folios.

The building itself was one of the first steel-framed buildings in London. In fact, the bookshelves themselves are the load-bearing elements for the building, a clever way of utilising the weight of books to keep the building upright. When they move the books out of the stacks for the buildings works to take place, the library is expected to rise by a couple of feet.

We also heard about the library’s own literature festival, Words in the Square, which will debut this May. Expect speakers such as Sara Wheeler, Ian Hislop, Nick Hornby, Simon Russell Beale, Harriet Walter, Deborah Levy and Simon Schama.

 

 

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Mendelssohn’s Lunch Break

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2016-02-25 14.19.332016-02-25 14.12.072016-02-25 14.12.19So…. Mendelssohn liked to get out at lunchtimes too. In fact, he is alleged to have been inspired by the outdoor world whilst composing his wondrous and uplifting incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream under a tree that is now displayed on the pedestrian level of the Barbican. Amazing what you can find if you go for a stroll at lunch.

Lunchwalks: good for the body and the brain.

Where to find Mendelssohn’s tree: head up the stairs by the Barbican tube station on Farringdon Road. Cross the bridge, head towards the Barbican Centre, and the tree is straight ahead of you. There have been some recent renovations to the brickwork paving, so the area hasn’t been so easy to explore.

Looking for more secrets nearby? You could leave a penny on Blake’s grave in nearby Bunhill Fields. Or if you dream of living in Barbican utopia and you can’t get enough of the concrete, you could visit the Barbican library (among other things, it has a fantastic art, photography and design section) or have a drink in the Wood Street Bar, overlooking the easterly pools of the Barbican.

Other pictures in this post feature a flying yellow skip and an orange square. Delight in colour!

 

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1Rebel: pretentious but effective

Okay, I’m in love. It’s thrilling, it’s energetic and it’s killing my bank balance. It’s making me develop ABS and CALVES and BICEPS for the first time in my life. No it isn’t what you think… it’s 1Rebel.  

In case you’ve been living under a fitness rock (or perhaps you don’t live in London, which is totally acceptable), then you’ve probably heard of 1Rebel, notorious for being the most pretentious gym around with its oh-so-beautiful Lyrca-clad attendees, its smoothies named for the instructors, and its dark nightclub-esque interior. It’s got all that, sure, but the workouts truly deliver on the promises they makes.

So what makes 1Rebel so good?

– The instructors who steer a fine line between personal shaming and group motivation. This really works for me, but being singled out for burpee technique is not everybody’s favourite way to work out. Different instructors have different styles, and you will always see who is leading the session before you book.

The workouts: these are challenging, full stop. You’ll work with big weights, fast speeds and tough inclines. These routines will leave you so sweaty, but there will be muscles, promise.

– The changing rooms: shiny copper lockers, exposed piping, subway-tiled showers, heated benches, yum yum yum…

– The showers: enough that you rarely have to wait longer than a couple of minutes (at least at St Mary Axe). Occasionally they have problems with the hot water. Very occasionally. 

– The smoothies. Basically a meal-in-a-bottle for when you emerge pink-faced and pulsing with blood from the darkened training room of flashing lights.

– The darkness. I loathe white shiny gyms where it’s really hard to focus. Not 1Rebel. It’s like being in a nightclub in the 90s but the music is faster. (And it’s 7am).

1Rebel offer 3 types of class (and a few combinations of these three) – Reshape, which is HIIT strength/cardio class, Rumble, which is a boxing/cardio class, and Ride, which is spinning with weights. I’ve only tried Reshape as I don’t get on too well with spinning, and I’ve not found a good slot for the boxing yet.  

The catch: it’s probably the most expensive workout experience you’ll find. Yes the towels are included, yes the changing rooms are filled with lovely products (body and face moisturizer, toner, free kirby grips, hair straighteners and dryers etc.), but classes range from £14 to £20 depending on what package you buy.

And how does it fit with the marathon running? Well seeing as Reshape is intense cardio and weights it’s like doing a sprint/hills session and a strength session together. It is fantastic for kickstarting your fitness if you’ve had a few months off, or for topping up once a week or fortnight to complement your other runs. For example, after only four sessions in January, I went for a 4 miler intending to run a slow steady pace and ended up doing incredibly fast bursts of speed from lamp post to lamp post and sustained sprints up Clissold Park hill, running 7.30min/miles for the first time in months. My legs felt stronger, my heart and breathing were working in sync, and I had barely run since last September. 1Rebel paid off.

Verdict: 1Rebel isn’t for the frugal or the faint-hearted, but it’s addictive and the results far exceed expectations.

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How to run 26.2 miles (when you’re not an elite athlete)

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Ok, so I don’t actually have an answer to this yet. But I know one thing for sure: signing up to enter a marathon is really the first step to running one.

All the advice says: “start small”. Entering an email address and a credit card? That’s pretty tiny given the enormous amount of training coming my way over the next nine months. So the first step to convincing yourself that you’re going to do it is to part with hard-earned cash. Then tell some people. Tell some more people. Then shut up about it and run (because no one likes a marathon bore… You’re still reading this? Then you might be one too…)

I’ve never run anything like this in my life, and quite frankly I’m terrified. Exercise and me have not always been friends. I was the bespectacled geek, picked last for teams, with no hand-eye coordination and a scraping of cardiovascular fitness. I might have read books at marathon speed, but my body remained unmoved. But then mid-way through university, something changed. I started to enjoy running. I ran longer distances than I had ever dreamed I could manage. And a month after graduating, I ran my first half marathon: the Royal Parks Half Marathon in London.

A year later I entered Windsor Half on my birthday, and struggled round this hillier-than-average course wishing I’d tied balloons to my bum so that I would benefit from all the cheers. And a year after that, I ran the Bath Half, firmly of the belief that spring races are far better than autumn ones, because all the training happens in the cold. (I know some runners prefer warmth, but I’m much more excited about jogging through snow than sun. Anyone else?)

But crossing those finish lines? Well after the elation, I felt knackered, my legs searing with lactic acid, my lungs erupting into an enormous coughing fit as I limped towards the massage tent or nearest hot food source. If there’s one thing you know when you’ve just finished running thirteen miles, it is that you do NOT want to run another thirteen. And as I write these words… it’s just beginning to sink in. That small, first step of entering my credit card number was exactly that: just the beginning.

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