City Streets: The 10 City Challenge

photoI’m fast subscribing to the belief that to see any city properly you have to run in it.

Running closes up the distances between landmarks, reveals new and interesting vistas and helps you to orientate yourself, (albeit, in my case, more often than not through the act of first getting lost). Seeing other runners on cross-city routes and sharing a knowing nod or smile also makes you feel part of something bigger than yourself; you become one in a team of many who take the same strange, slightly-sadistic, pleasure in donning their trainers and escaping along routes leading nowhere.

image_2Going for runs in New York helped me to navigate Central Park and narrowed the gap between the East and West Side, Uptown and Midtown. It made me feel more at home in the city and allowed me to claim paths and tracks that I may not otherwise have ventured down. The Great North Run permitted me to tread new ground in Newcastle and to see a different side of a city, which I had previously only known for the Baltic and shopping!

Closer to home, my lunchtime route around London passes some of the most iconic landmarks of the city – Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the South Bank, the Globe, Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge, St Paul’s, Trafalgar Square and The Mall – and has helped me to piece together disparate segments of the city, which before I had only accessed travelling below ground.

imageThis week I have been able to add Edinburgh to my list of city runs, taking a jaunt up Arthur’s Seat and a jog around Holyrood Park. Although the slog up the hill was closer to a walk than a run, the view from the top (and the run back down) was certainly worth it! The remaining route uncovered some of the most beautiful views and getting out into the chilly, sunny morning set me up for a day of work and a long train journey home.

Getting out on these beautiful and varied runs has started the cogs working on a new personal challenge, (of which, more to follow), and has also been invaluable in my rehabilitation process.

image_1I have to admit, getting back into my healthy regime post injury and America has been trickier than anticipated. There is no denying that not being able to run as far or as fast as before has hit me hard. On some runs, when my chest feels tight and my limbs start to ache, (sensations I’ve not had for some time), I’m having to consciously remind myself that I do actually like running! I’m lucky that I have such supportive running partners who are happy to go slightly slower and shorter on routes while I build my stamina back up and I know without them the process would be so much harder.

At the moment, getting my head back in the game is the biggest stumbling block. While my running companions seem to have no doubt that I’ll soon be back up to speed, I feel less certain. For the first time in a long time I feel self-conscious when I run and embarrassed that I can’t blitz a 10km in my lunch break or that my times are even more pedestrian than before.

So, I have decided to set myself a challenge to stay motivated.

I have 1 year, 1 month and 4 days until I turn 30 and in this time I want to run in at least ten new cities. These can be either in the UK or abroad, although I am setting the rule that at least 5 have to be outside of the UK. The distances are unimportant, but I have to tread new ground, map the route and capture it in at least one photograph.

I have a business trip to Frankfurt lined up in October and the marathon in Paris in 2015, so that just leaves eight more cities to find. I’m hoping that I can recruit an equally foolhardy companion or two to join me on some of the runs (don’t all jump at once!), but I’m also ready to face the challenge alone and to dedicate my annual leave to the cause.

City suggestions and volunteers are welcome and I’m looking forward to taking my trainers travelling.

Let the challenge begin!

#10CityChallenge

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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.

The sport of spectating

IMG_0218It seems strange to be writing about a British institution while in Manhattan, but stay with me on this and I promise it will come together.

On the Saturday before I came out to the US I opted for a quintessentially English day with a trip to Wimbledon. It was Ladies’ Finals Day so my lovely friend and fellow fitness fanatic Louise and I packed up our picnic hampers (and umbrellas) and headed court side.

Our first port of call was the boys’ semi-final where we watched the French number eight seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot play the number six seeded American Stefan Kozlov.

The boys were pretty evenly matched, which made for good watching. However, Kozlov remained more composed throughout and seemed to be able to keep returning whatever the Frenchman sent his way. He won the first set and although the second set went to a tie-break, and for a while it looked like it would go to three sets, he just managed to pull ahead to win through.

IMG_0235They finished just in time for us to hotfoot it over to Murray Mount to catch the women’s finals on the big screen, while tucking in to our picnic.

As you may know, the game was over almost as soon as it began and we felt strongly for the young Eugenie Bouchard, who was clearly overwhelmed by the occasion.

Excitingly, when the match finished, we were interviewed by ABC from beneath our umbrellas (as the heavens had well and truly opened by this point), and while I just smiled and nodded, Louise wooed the interviewers with her insights into the game.

IMG_0250We ducked into a cafe for tea and a Pimm’s while the rain came down, re-emerging to catch the women’s doubles finals.

Although I’m not normally a big sports spectator (why just watch when you could play, right?) I found myself invested in every game. The proximity to the players, the ability to see their faces and hear their responses enhanced this sense of involvement, as did the atmosphere that filled each court.

A similar sense came to me watching the Mets play at Citifield last week.

IMG_0567Here I was converted from baseball novice to die-hard Mets fan in just a few hours.

The Mets, renowned for their losing streak, foster a pretty loyal fan base and the atmosphere and enthusiasm for the team was contagious.

At the gate we were given free t-shirts in the team colours of orange and blue, and stocked up on drinks and snacks before taking our seats in the enormous arena.

Sean, who had kindly taken me to the game to satisfy my New York experience whim, was great at explaining the rules and making sure I cheered at the appropriate time. And it was amazing!

IMG_0590While I’d still always rather be on the field than on sidelines, with all of this I have to admit I’m rather a spectator convert. You get the excitement and comradeship of playing with a team, but with the added bonus of not actually having to be able to play that particular sport (my tennis is abysmal and I’ve not swung a baseball bat since my childhood summers spent on British beaches in the rain with my family).

I think I may have a future in spectating yet. Let’s go Mets!

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.