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Friday, May 20, 2016

Ceremony of the Keys

This must be my week for British tradition because last night we ventured over to the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys, the traditional locking of the Tower that has happened in the same manner, every single day, for over 700 years!
This is not a well known opportunity which is crazy because it costs £1 to book your spot online. That is the cheapest entertainment going in London, trust me! The catch is that there are limited spaces each night and it can take up to 6 months to get your spot reserved. I had forgotten all about this until a friend mentioned it the other day. I quickly jumped on the website and lo and behold, last night still had a few tickets available! The only ones available through January of 2017! So I jumped on them and I am so glad that I did.
For one thing, we hadn't been over to the eastern area of London at all. We had visited the Tower of London back in 1999, our first summer in Europe! Also, when we've been out at night in London, it's mainly been in the West End for shows and we haven't taken time to see the city lights and buildings lit after dark. It's a gorgeous area of town to say the least. The mixture of old and new, towering buildings made with lots of glass next to classic pubs with names like the Hung, Drawn and Quartered made for a wonderful stroll. And then of course, there's the Tower itself. Big, beautifully lit at night, with the iconic Tower Bridge glistening over the Thames. We were having a great time and hadn't even gotten to the main event!
At 9.30 p.m. one of the yeoman, a.k.a. Beefeaters, greeted us at the gate and gave us some information. Photography inside is strictly prohibited which in the end is a good idea. It would ruin the pomp if people were clamoring around trying to get a shot and besides that, the Queen doesn't want the ceremony photographed. Walking through the Tower gates was pretty great. Special to be inside with few people just taking it all in. Our Beefeater guide was hilarious, knowledgeable and really enjoyable to listen to. He was spewing forth great bits of history. Turns out, a mere 480 years earlier, on May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was killed in that very spot.
But true to form, the ceremony itself, which takes about 15 minutes, was filled with precision, form, beauty, tradition, and of course, pomp. It is perfectly timed so that the bugle that is played to signal that the Tower is secured corresponds perfectly with the clock chiming 10.00 p.m.
After the ceremony is finished, the Yeoman answered any and all questions that we had, including the obvious one, how do we get out now that the Tower is locked! Turns out there's a smaller door that can be opened embedded within the large Tower gates.
This was truly one of the best things we've done whilst being here this year. Get on the website, click here, and figure out how to embed it into your stay in London! The visit to the Tower of London during the day for the tours, to see the crown jewels, to enjoy the history is worthwhile but that's a £25 ticket. While you can't wander around whilst enjoying this ceremony, you do get an up front and close experience of a bit of a history and it is a thrill to be there after hours in a small group.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Queen's Procession to Open Parliament

(Click on the photos for a larger view)
Today was a jolly good British day! In spite of a rainy forecast, I decided to join my running group for a fun outing...a run down to the mall to see the Queen's Procession from Buckingham Palace to the houses of Parliament in order for her to open the new season. The weather wasn't as wet as expected and it was a total blast to be in the center of all this pomp and circumstance! While running through Hyde Park, we began to see the horses lined up and we literally got right in front of the band!
The city looked magnificent all dressed up for the Queen!
We ended up with a great viewing spot and it was fun waiting with all of the other crazy people! The bobby that was near to us was very chatty and nice. Of course, the guards in the bearskin regalia were not allowed to talk at all. They stood at perfect attention, obeying the occasional command that spewed forth. There were hundreds of horses with riders dressed to the hilt. It was so festive and beautiful. Some of the horses were just magnificent. Soon the carriages began making their way down the street. The first carriage held the Imperial State Crown, the magnificent crown that the Queen wore during the ceremony. Cool that it got its own carriage! The crown was originally made for Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838! Love that history. Other carriages came by pulled by magnificent horses. This one is carrying Camilla and Prince Charles. (They drove right past me in a car down to the palace!)
Soon enough these pair of beauties trotted by and we knew the Queen was coming! Her carriage was pulled by six beautiful white horses. The carriage was the Diamond Jubilee State Coach. Prince Philip was with her and was on our side of the street so we didn't get a great glimpse of her but even so, you could totally see her in there! 
Queen Elizabeth has opened Parliament more than 60 times! It was such a treat to be able to experience this up close and personal! We wandered back through the city, past Buckingham Palace when loud canon booms began going off! Apparently these go off when the Queen arrives at Parliament. It went on for a long time and looked like a war reenactment!
Our running group had a blast taking in the scene. I am happy that I didn't pass on taking a jog to Buckingham Palace and catching a glimpse of the royal procession to Parliament. Won't have a chance to do that again soon! Sharing it with my running buddies was icing on the cake.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Amazing Race: Half Marathon Edition

Two weeks have past since I completed the half marathon in Nice. I flew straight from Nice to Geneva, Switzerland where Doug and I met up for a pastors conference. The days were busy and it's taken me awhile to find the energy to begin to recount the events of the half. Doug gave me this awesome little gift when we returned home from Geneva. His support was stellar from afar.
It was an exciting weekend. I arrived later in the day on Saturday and went over the expo to get my stuff. Fun to see my name listed!  Then I joined my group for dinner that night. The mood was frivolous and fun. An electric mixture of nerves and excitement surrounded us. The race had arrived. Most of us thought we were ready. Nice is a gorgeous place and the course ran all along the sea front. Great, except for the sunshine bearing down on me!
Sunday we woke up, ate some breakfast, got our stuff together, took group photos and got ready to wander over to the starting line.
The entire Women Running the World group from London.
We were lucky that the hotel was almost directly across the street from the start line. It was a warm and hazy morning. We were happy for the cloud cover.
My favorite running pal, Denise, even though she is much faster than I am. 
I felt pretty good at the start. I was pleased with how I had slept and was ready to tackle the goal I had set so many months prior. I had hydrated really well and felt like I had given myself the best shot at doing well.
The first 10K (6 miles) were great. I enjoyed the route and the company. I was feeling fine. The next 5K (3 miles) were OK but the heat was starting to make a difference and I was finding it difficult to cool down. I was squeezing sponges filled with water over my head every chance I could but the sun was now out and it was bearing down a bit much. The course was set up in a such a way that you ran out towards the airport, turned around and came in another 4 miles to the finish. We began seeing some of the runners from our group on their way in and it was fun to see how people were doing. I was happy because my hips, feet and quads were doing well, but the hotness of my head was starting to bother me. Once we made the turn, I was braced for the 4 miles in to the finish line. 
I was still just trying to keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, hoping to not have to walk. I was drinking water at every station and took a couple of boost gels along the way but I could tell that I was running out of gas. It was frustrating as my legs felt good.
Finally a 17K (10 miles) I had to walk a little just to try to regroup.
I was bummed about this as one of my goals had been to not have to walk. And I didn't have to walk because of body aches and pains, but instead because of feeling off balance and overheated. At 18K(11.1 miles) we started to run again. Just 2 more miles. (I was with one of the coaches who was great. She kept encouraging me, trying to distract me, just keeping me going.) I was pretty much shuffling along at this point, a bit concerned about passing out or throwing up. I tried to just keep on keeping on. The last 2K (1.5 miles) were very tough. I was feeling pretty rough by then, overheated and absolutely running on empty. I did finally see the finish in sight and crossed the line. I had finished under 3 hours with only a little walking.
People from my group were there cheering me on but I was in such bad shape that I had to seek out medical help. Unable to find it, a group of us ventured down to the sea where I promptly pulled off shirt and got in the water.
The rocky shore beach of Nice was hard on the feet but the cool waters of the Mediterranean were just what I needed to start feeling more human again.
The fantastic women from church who got me into the business in the first place!
Mugging for the camera after I got feeling better!
Soon after many runners joined us and lots of women started hopping in the water! It was a fun sight.
I was a bit disappointed initially. It was tough to finish so depleted. Didn't get any help from adrenaline. Couldn't enjoy the cheers and clapping, didn't have any sense of the joy in finishing. I was 10 minutes slower than I had really wanted to be even though I got in under 3 hours. I ended up with about a 13.1 minute miles and I had hoped to stick closer to the 12.30 mark. My final time was 2.51. Leaves lots of room for improvement! My fitbit stats for the day were pretty great! 
It has taken me a few days to sift through all of my emotions and disappointments to allow the accomplishment of finishing to emerge as the top feeling. I am really glad I finished. I had just wanted to finish in a much stronger fashion!
Our spectacular and amazing coaches.
I enjoyed a massage in the afternoon. We gathered for our final gala evening and the mood was great. It was fun to sit with my peeps and enjoy some good food and laughter. I was given the job of writing the thank you speech for our coaches. I wrote a song called 3 Days a Week to the tune of 8 Days A Week by the Beatles. Appropriate since we trained 3 days a week in the shadow of Abbey Road Studios. The entire beginning group sang it together. The more serious speech was hard to get through. Tears flowed as I considered the selflessness of these 5 women who urged us on and fought so hard for us. It was interesting to feel the sadness of having the challenge behind us. As I think back to all of the mornings I have spent running this year, I marvel at everything we accomplished. Starting with walking 2 minutes and running for 1 and building up to complete a half marathon. It's pretty special and I will treasure the memories of this entire experience for a life time. And the course was gorgeous!
I will never again be trying to do this for the first time. But as most of the runners told us, at about 18K during the race you will be thinking, "Never again. This is so stupid. Why in the world am I doing this?" A few hours after the race, you begin to consider doing another one and by the next day you are making plans for the next one! I have seen myself wander through these emotions and of course, I am motivated by a desire to improve my time and finish better!
Pre-race, our beginning group plus coaches
I finally got back to running last Friday and did another one today. I love the group, love running around London, love the challenge of getting up and going. I hope to continue but for sure, running alone is not the same as running with my pack. Next year, I will miss meeting up for runs with these women, these touchstones in the week that have given birth to wonderful conversations, heartfelt conversations and friendships that will endure.