23 January 2015
[ Ed. Note: While this won’t be posted till I’m home, I won’t revise the text based on any resources available when I get there. What would be the fun of that? Also, apologies for the length…lots of time on my hands up here! ]
I’m certain I’m at least somewhat misquoting John. F. Kennedy when he stated, “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I’m not in a position to check my wording, being currently about seven hundred miles south of Reykjavik and thirty-seven thousand feet up (and may I digress and note that thinking of Reykjavik brings back thoughts of Rocket John because he ran their marathon, and now nearly two years lost, we miss you…) in a plane with no WiFi, not that I’d pay for it anyway. But I’ll go further than misquoting and intentionally twist JFK’s words and note that we do things not just because they are hard, but because we can. One of the joys of being a runner is the opportunities opened up because you can.
It’s been another week of adventure in my one-seven-billionth segment of the Stories of Humanity mini-series, and one of the less mundane weeks in that story. Completing my World Financial Centers Tour (or Centres, if you prefer) which started last week in Toronto (where admittedly, at minus six Fahrenheit with a wicked northern wind and no daylight outside of business hours, I most adamantly Did Not Run), this week’s agenda was New York and London. Yes, all of that in just a week, or more accurately, four days, home to home (or at least it will be in a few hours). If that sounds rather rock ‘n roll, it has been.
Tuesday morning in New York delivered what’s become a favorite in my more-frequent-of-late visits to Manhattan, a tour through Central Park. This edition delivered perfection, a crisp thirtyish, crystal clear, the sun igniting the facades of Eighth Avenue in blinding brilliance as I circled the reservoir (which ironically is named after Jackie Kennedy, and no, that hadn’t crossed my mind when I stole Jack’s words to launch this reflection). Eight and a half miles left me awake and alert for what turned out to be a surprisingly good day of corporate training, before doing some commuter training out to Newark to catch a Dreamliner (first ride on a 787, the electronic window shades are very cool) overnight to London.
[ Roar of the engines, we’ve risen to thirty-eight thousand feet…]
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve visited the United Kingdom over the years. It’s approaching, if it hasn’t already hit, double digits, but almost every time I’ve popped in, it’s been into Heathrow and head west, or northwest, or southwest. Save one night in ninety-three for a quick show (Phantom! …and it was notably dark, no touring), I hadn’t been in central London since…can you believe…nineteen eighty-seven? Pushing thirty years. Finally, on this trip we were booked in the heart of the city because that’s where our customer was. Finally, it’d be nice to check out the bits that make London what London is. But business being business, and this being an itinerary from Purgatory, stretching this into a mini-vacation wasn’t an option, so the window to enjoy the city was seriously slim. But we are runners. We run. We do these things because we can.
Red eye flights, well, there’s no other word. Suck. A couple hours of fitful sleep do nobody any favor. Over the years, I’ve tried all the usual methods of combating the results without materially changing the outcome. So why not try something different? We are runners. We run. We do these things because we can.
The locals will tell you not to drive in London. The locals are right. I’ll add to that, don’t even take a cab. We tried, over the course of our one-and-three-quarter-day visit, with results ranging from decent (late at night), to slow (noon), disastrous (morning rush), and calamity of epic proportions (previous morning rush – epic as in nearly three hours shoehorned in the back of a minivan with the world’s cruelest seats; I am still lacking feeling in certain body parts – and let’s remember I’m small to begin with). The locals will tell you to take the tube, alias the Underground, and there’s something to that (day passes are quite reasonably priced). But you don’t see much while you’re underground. And walking the central city is grand, if you’ve got the time. But with only a few hours between arrival and customer time, well, that’s not gonna’ happen. So? We are runners. We run. We do these things because we can.
Arriving just past noon Wednesday at our home away from home in the Old Street area of the City of London (the central city area), I grabbed a light lunch with my colleague and left her to retire to her hotel room to nap, or drink, or both. Around two local time, less than four hours off the plane, I hit the road. London in January, gray, overcast, but dry, mid-thirties again like New York, but a damp thirtyish that almost felt warm. Just right to keep the sweat down without freezing. (Well, technically it was three degrees, since they use Centigrade. But they mark the roads in miles and miles per hour, and their cars report miles per gallon. Yet they sell petrol by the litre. And tell you that you are five-foot-seven tall. Then sell you food in kilos. But measure your resulting weight, or mass, in stones. This is a confused country.)
That cheap mini-camera I bought for my post-surgery casual Boston back in oh-nine came in handy once again. I rarely made a quarter mile at a time without stopping to snap some pics or occasionally pester a local for a non-selfie – a collection follows the prose (easier than weaving them in when there are lots). London being London – twistier even than Boston – I got turned around a few times here and there, but not being an entirely typical male I took no shame in asking my way now and then, and thus managed to cover off the route I’d plotted and committed to memory, never unfolding the break-glass-in-emergency map in my pocket.
The afternoon quickly became a check-off list of the must-see spots of the city: St. Paul’s Cathedral. The “Shard” (a cool pointy skyscraper). The Millennium Bridge. Views to the Tower Bridge. South Thames promenade. The London Eye. Parliament Bridge, Parliament, and Big Ben (“Look kids, there’s Big Ben! …can’t look up the hyperlink to National Lampoon’s European Vacation while aloft…). Westminster Abbey. A London call box (for Dearest Offspring the Elder, the Dr. Who fan) (remarked the Londoner who shot the pic, “Pity it’s not blue!”). St. James Park. The Mall, memories of Meb’s heroic fight back to fourth place in the 2012 Olympic Marathon. Buckingham Palace. Another park who’s name I can’t remember. A famous arch who’s name I can’t remember. Even pelicans! The Serpentine, and out to the Italian Garden. All in about an hour-twenty.
Did I seriously tour any of these spots? Of course not. Was this a comprehensive expedition? No way. But how else can you take in that much of any city on very little time? We are runners. We run. We do these things because we can.
And most importantly, I didn’t die. The Brits have a heart; they paint warnings to look right or look left at almost all crosswalks. It’s not just Americans who show up and become taxi fender fodder. Still, despite these persistent warnings, at running speed – even casual running speed – getting the brain to process which way to look first takes some practice. I’m proud to say that I only slipped up once. It was close. I can tell you exactly what the front of that cab looked like at point-blank range and I can still hear the horn. But close doesn’t count against you.
Turning at the Italian Garden, I knew I had a long stretch back to the hotel and decided it was time to dial it up from the stop-start tourist eights and nines into some real mileage on the return leg. A tip from a local put me on a quieter parallel to my planned busy-but-direct (read, less likely to get lost) route. Shortly thereafter another runner burst around the corner and settled not twelve feet ahead of me. Oblivious to my presence but moving at an ideal mid-sevens clip, this guy clearly had the left-right-don’t-become-a-hood-ornament thing down. Perfect. I had a native blocker! The next mile and a half felt like I had an escort, a bodyguard, LeGarrett Blount of the Patriots weaving through the lines, and I wondered how long before he’d notice me back there (I wasn’t stalking, he was just focused…). At last we spoke; to my surprise he was merely another Yank, though clearly a London-experienced Yank at that.
A planned eight to nine morphed into twelve miles on a two-hour tour, the last forty minutes delivering a decent workout after playing blatant tourist. I’d refreshed the memories of my last city tour twenty-eight years past. There was simply no better way to get such a tour in the time available. We are runners. We run. But best of all? Jet lag? What jet lag?
[ Air’s gotten quite rough. Hitting the right keys is getting a bit trickier, and my fellow passenger to my left reveals he’s not keen on flying. The saga continues… ]
In our client meetings that night and the next days, my co-travelling colleague continually remarked to all we met how her crazy partner got off the plane and ran twelve miles. Suspicious, worried, and pitied glances were exchanged and the local mental health authorities were put on alert. It wasn’t really worth getting into the philosophy behind what they viewed as a rather extreme life choice. And if I’d told them how effective it was on the jet lag, they’d have likely locked me up as a looney. But I think I’ve finally stumbled on the best method yet for beating the suck out of the redeye.
After a long day of meetings yesterday (highly worth the trip, for the record) and another late night, the obvious choice would be to recover and slink home the next morning. But you know I couldn’t resist one last chance.
You can count on far less than one hand the days in an average year that I’m out the door and running before six AM. Start this year’s count at one; it happened. Darkness wasn’t an issue in the well-lit city. Indeed, darkness made my traverse of the Tower Bridge (the one everyone thinks is the London Bridge) and the actual London Bridge (which is quite boring, save for its view of the Tower Bridge) into a delight. Beautifully lit, it left me a few memorable (even if of only marginal quality from the cheap mini-cam) final shots of London.
We are runners. We run. We do these things because we can. We can reap joys like running tourism. We only regret that our friends and colleagues don’t also share the fun.
Enjoy the pictures!