Running in the Windy City

A work trip this past week has allowed me to add another city to my 10 city running challenge.

I’ve just returned from seven days in Chicago, where a sales conference was interspersed with incredible art institutions, spectacular views and of course, running.

Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan

When I arrived and the temperature was down to -7 I strongly questioned if I’d manage to get out for a run. It was so cold my face froze just being outside for longer than 30 minutes and my initial trip to Whole Foods to pick up supplies and carry them back to my apartment resulted in very frozen fingers and pinched cheeks.

Fortunately, however, Monday’s temperatures were outside the normal range and the next morning it was up to -2.

By Wednesday it had hit the balmy heights of 0 to +1 accompanied by perfect bright, crisp running conditions and so, dressed in 3 tops, full length running tights, gloves and a headband, and with a good few hours between meetings, I set out on run.

Running along the beach
Running along the beach

My route took my down to the lake and along the riverside trial, and back along the beach front towards Lincoln Park, before heading back to my apartment on Dewitt, just over 11km in total.

It was such a beautiful route and I was so distracted by the views I could have gone on for longer if I’d had the time and the daylight hours.

As it was, however, I was able to run along the lakeside beneath the most beautiful sunset, with the water reflecting the vivid purples of the sky – the pictures don’t do it justice.

A second run, in the morning this time, took me to Lincoln Park as far as the zoo, looping round and running back along the beach on a shorter 7km route.

The Bean
The Bean

As with my New York trip, I was determined to make use of every free moment in Chicago, so when I wasn’t working or running, I ventured out to the main attractions, museums and galleries for some cultural, personal development.

I went to see Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’, more famously known at ‘The Bean’ in Millennium Park, which was utterly stunning, both by day and by night.

From there, I walked over the bridge to the Art Institute of Chicago,  which has the most phenomenal permanent collection, with rooms full of Monet, Renoir, Degas, Picasso and Van Gogh. It is also home to the famous American Gothic, a favourite painting of my fellow Mudder teammate, Sandra.

I walked along the lake, which is so enormous it’s more like the sea, and along Navy Pier, where I saw the city from on high by riding the Ferris wheel.

American Gothic
American Gothic

I went higher still, going to the tops of the city’s two tallest buildings, the John Hancock Observatory (where I also enjoyed a sneaky Friday evening celebratory cocktail in the Signature Room), and the Sears/Willis Tower Sky Deck, to look out on the city below, to appreciate the fascinating architecture and structure of the city, and to watch the sunset.

I took a trip down to the Museum Campus just south of the Loop to the Aquarium and Field Museum, both well worth a visit, and indulged in some live American football at Soldier Field to see the Chicago Bears play (and lose) to the Dallas Cowboys.

Despite the loss and the fact I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, it was so much fun to watch and to get caught up in all of the excitement and ceremony of the American football culture.

I also enjoyed some all American cuisine including a cheese-less Chicago town veggie pizza, complete with broccoli, peppers and spinach, which was the most filling item of food I’ve ever eaten!

Watching the Chicago Bears
Watching the Chicago Bears

Having an apartment rather than a hotel room meant that I could cook for myself and not just eat out, and I kept my cupboard well stocked from Whole Foods, with lots of vegan treats not available in the UK.

Chicago was such an incredibly beautiful and vibrant city and I would recommend a trip to anyone who has the chance to go.

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The pursuit of happiness

IMG_1319I wanted to write one last post before I leave the US so I’m writing this while sitting in my favourite spot, looking out onto the Hudson, sun on my back, iced coffee in hand.

I thought I’d write a top ten of things to do in New York based on my last three, perfect weeks here, but I couldn’t narrow it down to ten so here’s my top eighteen instead!

In no particular order:

1. Pack your running shoes and go running
Everyone in New York seems to run. Young, old, fast or slow there is hardly a pathway or park that you won’t see a runner, and with some of the most beautiful urban running routes I’ve encountered it’s really no surprise.

Central Park is full of great little routes of varying lengths and I recommend just getting lost zigzagging the paths. Riverside Park also provides beautiful views of New Jersey accompanied by the gentle lapping sound of the Hudson and some beautiful boats silhouetted against the sky.

IMG_1174If you were just going to do one run, I’d recommend the route around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park. The views are spectacular although the loop itself is only 2.5 km you can easily add on extensions into the park or make a second loop if you desire.

2. Walk
Walk everywhere, or as much as you can. One of my absolute favourite things about New York is the grid system. It means that even those, like me, with the absolute worst sense of direction, can always find their way.

Walking everywhere has meant that between points a and b I have encountered many cute little coffee shops, quirky cocktail bars, sunny little parks and stunning vista, emerging from quite unexpected vantage points, all chance encounters that I would have missed on the metro. Walking is such a great way of piecing the city together, on top of which, it’s such great exercise. Give yourself lots of time just to walk in Central Park. I’ve walked through it most days going to and from work and each time I still seem to find a spot I haven’t seen before.

IMG_07483. Visit Chelsea Market
Chelsea in New York is like the Liverpool Street of London, with Chelsea Market an American Spittalfields. With vintage stalls and amazing delis and cafes it’s easy to lose yourself for a good few hours. It’s all inside too, so perfect for rainy days or as an air conditioned retreat when the sun is out.

4. Walk the High Line
While in Chelsea and the Meat Packing District it’s really worth walking the High Line. This little garden retreat above the busy streets, while congested in parts, is also home to many benches and corners away from the crowds perfect to enjoy the views of the city.

5. Hit balls off Chelsea Pier
Not far from the High Line is the pier sports complex. Even if you are the worst golfer (like me) there is a certain degree of pleasure in driving golf balls off this high tiered driving range into the nets while overlooking the river. The complex also has a climbing wall if you are feeling particularly athletic.

IMG_13146. See iconic works of art
It’s a must. Even the least arty type can’t help but be awed by the Frick’s Vermeer’s and Rembrandt’s, MoMA’s Picasso’s and Monet’s or the Met’s Degas’ and van Gogh’s. All within a short stroll (with the exception of MoMA which is in Midtown) of each other along Museum Mile on the Upper East Side. Here you can also visit the Guggenheim, the Whitney, and the Cooper Hewitt.

The Met’s rooftop garden (and bar), as well as a perch on the steps for some people watching are worth a visit in themselves. Similarly MoMA’s sculpture garden offers a nice retreat in the centre of a bustling Midtown.

7. Sacrifice tea, drink iced coffee
I love tea but unfortunately I’m yet to find a good cup of tea in New York. What New York does do exceptionally well however, is coffee. I’d not tried iced coffee until this trip and I have to say it’s one of the best discoveries. I love my coffees at home, but when it’s 30 degrees hot coffee appeals that little less, but iced coffee with a spot of soya milk, amazing!

8. Watch some baseball
Nothing beats live sport and let’s be honest the American do live sports with style. Whether it’s the Mets or the Yankees, get yourself a beer and some junk food and cheer on the home side!

IMG_05179. Look at the city from the top
In any city this is my favourite thing to do and the Empire State Building offers spectacular views of Manhattan. I’ve also had Top of the Rock recommended to me. Either way, this is certainly a city you need to see from on high.

10. and from the water
The Staten Island ferry is free and offers incredible views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

IMG_0353You can also take the Circle Line sightseeing boat, however at around thirty bucks for a two hour trip I’d recommend taking the ferry instead.

11. Go Downtown
On your way back from Staten Island you can walk through the financial district, along Wall Street and via the 9/11 memorial, which is definitely worth seeing.

I loved the aesthetic of the financial district with it’s cleanly cut, no nonsense  skyscrapers reflecting the blue of the sky.

12. and Midtown
From the sleek Financial District to glitzy Midtown, highlights include the Rockafella Plaza, Grand Central Station, the West End, the New York Public Library, MoMA, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany’s and of course, Time Square.

Time Square should only be viewed after dark; in the day it has a more than slightly seedy feel, by night it’s spectacular.

IMG_090013. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
For the views and for a trip to Brooklyn Bridge Park on the other side and of course Prospect Park, further into the heart of Brooklyn.

14. and the Williamsburg Bridge
It’s certainly not as pretty as the Brooklyn Bridge but it brings you right onto the main road through the  hipster central of New York.

It’s cuter than Shoreditch but you get the general idea and with a wealth of vintage shops, cool bars and cafes, which spill out into Bedford Street it’s definitely worth a trip. If you want hipster slightly closer to the heart of Manhattan, Alphabet City offers a good alternative.

15. Drink cocktails
The wine can be hit and miss and pretty pricey either way, the cocktails are always a hit!

16. Eat bagels
They’re so tasty and I refer you back to my post on American cuisine.

IMG_061217. Go to Coney Island
It’s kitsch and cutesy and kind of weird, but it’s worth the metro ride. Walk along the pier, paddle in the sea and wander around the funfair. It’s a bit like Blackpool, but hotter!

18. Watch the world go by alongside the Hudson
I’ve spent mornings over breakfast here, lazy Sunday afternoons reading my book or just watching the world go by and evenings to see the sun set.

IMG_1204The Upper Westside is a haven away from tourists and the bustle of town. It’s sufficiently residential that it feels like home and sufficiently commercial that you have everything you need on hand. It has been the perfect home for three weeks and I’ll be too sad to say goodbye.

Tofutti Cutie

appleI think I would be doing a gross disservice to the American gastronomic tradition if I didn’t write at least one post about food during my trip, so here goes.

While there is a tendency to write-off American cuisine as a mass of burgers and doughnuts, and thus not terribly vegan or waistband friendly, my recent experience has revealed this to be somewhat of a misnomer.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want fast food there is a Dunkin’ Donut or Shake Shack on every corner, but there are also plenty of juice bars and health food stores too.

Mexican, Italian and Turkish influences run through many restaurant menus, and there are plenty of tasty looking salads, flatbreads, falafel and bruschetta options, as well as vegetable tacos and bean-based chillies to choose from.

sushiMy favourite vegan restaurant discovery is the Peacefood Cafe at 460 Amsterdam and 82nd Street, with a deliciously overwhelming menu of raw food, salads, sandwiches, mock-meat dishes, soups and sushi, as well as a multitude of juices, smoothies, cakes and pastries.

It is so good, in fact, that it has warranted more than one visit; the first time I enjoyed a Japanese pumpkin, ground walnut, cashew ‘cheese’ and onion marmalade rye sandwich, while on the second trip I had the some avocado, carrot and almond pâté sushi and a slice of raw cashew nut ‘cheesecake’ on a raisin and walnut base.

I have also made a couple of stops at Absolute Bagels on 2788 Broadway and 107th Street, which offers tofutti toppings from raisin and walnut (perfect with coffee for an alfresco breakfast by the river) to roasted vegetable and sun dried tomato (a quick and tasty supper snack!)

Other surprisingly vegan-friendly locations have included the food hall at Grand Central Station, where I indulged in a mixed vegetable and hummus pitta from Eata Pitta (which was so big it lasted me for two meals), an all-American diner in Queens, where I managed to get a vegan friendly vegetable wrap (although I had to ask for it minus the cheese) with some rather decadent sweet potato fries and Citifield baseball stadium, where I sourced some vegetable tacos.

grand centralThe markets at Chelsea and the Grand Central Terminal offer food porn for those with a predilection for fresh and organic produce, while the American Whole Foods left me in choice paralysis (to the extent that in the end I bought nothing!)

Even the regular supermarkets are stocked to the rafters with vegan options, with milk alternatives of every type and flavour from vanilla almond to chocolate coconut and all other variants in between.

Almond Dream yogurts have become a supermarket staple during my trip, as have the mini packs of hummus, (which is as ubiquitous in the States as in the UK). A particular favourite of mine are the Sabra hummus and mini pretzel cracker snack packs, which are perfect for lunchtime snacking.

VanillaCutie-compIan, a friend made on my trip and former vegan himself, has introduced me to tofutti cuties – vegan ice cream sandwiched between biscuity wafers, which are just too tasty. He also popped a bar of extra dark salted chocolate with nibs into my basket on our last supermarket trip and it is quite a discovery!

The fruit and vegetable selections in supermarkets are also somewhat overwhelming and everything from apples to avocados seem super-sized and luminous. The grapes are so deliciously more-ish we’ve termed them ‘crack grapes’ and a bowl sat next to me as I work doesn’t last long.

juiceThe drinks selection is equally plentiful and while getting a good cup of English breakfast is a struggle (I’m using Lipton at home and you need at least two bags to get any kind of strength), I’ve enjoyed an iced green tea blackberry ‘mojito’ from Starbucks, (which also uses vanilla soya in their coffees here, for an added indulgence), and an espresso, almond butter, banana, cinnamon and oat milk shake at The Bean coffee shop in Williamsburg (almost a meal in itself).

While at the Met, I’ve had some early  morning vegetable juices while sat on the steps in the sunshine before work. With carrot, kale, beetroot and cucumber among the many ingredients on offer and with the juice van’s proprietor offering me free samples and a large juice at less than the price of a small (much to the annoyance of the other customers) it would be rude not to!

brunchMy friends here also seem to be rather the cocktail connoisseurs and I have been introduced to Mimosas (champagne, orange liqueur, fresh squeezed orange juice and a dash of blood orange), at brunch no less, under the High Line at the Standard Grill! I have also sampled a Rum Old Fashioned (El Dorado 15 yr, orange, brandied cherry and angostura bitters) and a French 75 (gin with fresh lemon juice and champagne) at The Rum House, just off Time Square, as well as a variety of too delicious cocktail combinations that I can’t even name, shaken up by Ian’s bartender friend, who I can confirm, really does make the best cocktails in New York!

What’s also great is that at every restaurant and bar you are given water on arrival and it is topped up as quickly as you can drink it, so you don’t overeat due to thirst, or suffer a sore head due to dehydration!

From all of this all I can say is that it’s lucky I’m running again and that I’m walking a good few miles each day. I’ll be back on my best behaviour when I’m back in London, but for now I will just say bon appetit!

New York, New York

IMG_0353Just this time last week I was en route to the US, full of nervous excitement having never before set foot on American soil.

It seems like a lifetime ago now and I can’t actually believe that only seven days have passed.

I arrived at midday US time (5pm UK time) and made my way through a busy JFK, jumped into a yellow cab and headed to what would be my home for the next three weeks, a beautiful apartment overlooking the Hudson on the Upper West Side.

I came to the US for work, which meant time spent at MoMA, the Frick and the Met was a given, but to this incredible opportunity I added a personal agenda of engaging in all things that a tourist should stereotypically do in New York.

IMG_0400I began my trip with a walk along the Hudson and through Central Park, getting my bearings and plotting some potential running routes.

Waking up at 5am each morning (which must have something to do with jet lag I’m sure) has meant that I’ve been able to jam pack my days, before and after work.

I’ve taken a ride on the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, a walk along Wall Street and through the financial district and spent time gazing into the 9/11 memorial.

IMG_0591I’ve visited Grand Central Station, walked 5th Avenue and ascended the Empire State Building.

New friends encountered on my trip have taken me see the Mets beat Miami at baseball, the lights of Time Square, the kitsch of Coney Island and the sunset over Manhattan.

I’ve eaten New York bagels with tofutti cream cheese, browsed the treasures of Chelsea Market and walked along the High Line.

IMG_0815I’ve driven golf balls (very badly) off the Chelsea Pier, scaled the walls of the new Queen’s climbing wall, run through Riverside Park and dined at a real American diner.

All of this, plus work, is my excuse for why I’ve not written much lately, and I have to admit I’m totally exhausted!

However, amongst all of this my foot has been making good progress and for the last few days I’ve not needed any pain relief, despite the fact that I’ve been doing a lot of walking. There is a treadmill in my apartment and I have been building up my running slowly until today when I finally ventured outside for the first time.

IMG_0839I didn’t go far or fast, the humidity and the heat put paid to that, but I was also focusing on not pushing myself too hard and not trying to prove anything.

This decision to hold back was motivated by a conversation with a fellow British climber at the wall last night. She told me about a book she was reading about the acceptance of adversity and the power to rise above the expectations that others may place on you.

This is something that strikes a chord with me. So often do I put pressure on myself, generated by the perceived expectations of others. In doing so I often miss out on the pleasure of the activity itself, or feel the pleasure of my own achievements diminish under another’s gaze.

IMG_0874So today I ran for me. I ran to see how my foot would hold, to get away from my desk and my inbox, and to make the most of my beautiful (if not slightly damp) surroundings. And without the weight of any expectation I found such great enjoyment in the run (added to by the fact that it was my first successful run back since my injury).

I’m trying to take this ethos forward, not only for my running but also my climbing. I’m taking value in being humble, in learning and enjoying each activity for its own sake and for how it makes me feel, regardless of the perceptions of others.

If only I’d had this insight before my appalling attempts at the driving range…oh well!

More American adventures to follow.