They say that each time you travel, a part of you changes. You go somewhere new to learn something new, about yourself. My recent trip to England was not without a few lessons, many of which I’ve applied to my running. My boyfriend, James and I had the amazing opportunity to go to England for nearly two weeks for not only a beautiful wedding but to also see some amazing sights and meet some great people. Below I will highlight some of our travels in the hopes that if you ever find yourself in the United Kingdom, you will have some ideas for where to run, or just have some fun.
London, England. Our first stop was to the UK’s most popular destination. But before we could set foot in its city streets, we had to find my suitcase. You see, my suitcase mysteriously disappeared on our flight across the pond. And no, it wasn’t a case of checked baggage gone wrong. My carry-on suitcase disappeared from the overhead stow-away bin. Air Canada could only offer condolences (I’m in the process of filing for reimbursement). So, I did what I do best. Laugh.
Arriving with only toiletries and dirty clothes from the night before forced me to put on my adventure face for this trip. Luckily, the groom’s parents hosted us and provided some temporary clothing from their daughter that she had left at their flat. They also pointed us to some of the cheaper clothing establishments, such as a place called Primark, where I could get some temporary clothing. And a new dress for the wedding.
After a brief nap to catch up to their clocks, we went for our first run. I expected a dose of jet leg laced with heavy legs, burping, and cramps. Yet, to my surprise, the run felt great! This was running lesson number one for me: don’t predict how you will feel on a run until you are at least ten minutes into it! We were in the London area for a total of four days. We mostly ran easy around the neighborhood but did happen to run in Nonsuch Park on our last night there. Nonsuch was one of the best parks I have ever run in as it featured a mix of grass paths, dirt trails, concrete, and a dried mud surface. Not to mention, there were also castles from the 1500s!
One other part of the London outskirts that we happened to go was Watford, where one of our friends that we were traveling with entered a 1500 meter track race through the British Milers Club Grand Prix Series. When we arrived at the stadium, it was apparent how much bigger the sport of track and field was here compared to back home. Where else on a Wednesday night could you find runners from all over Europe, of all ages, running close to Olympic standard times? Well, Watford of course! The summer Grand Prix location changes each week but every Wednesday night provides the opportunity for runners to test their skills against the best. It was so exciting to see kids as young as six running 800 meters FAST and then the next minute seeing older adults racing the 200 meters for kicks followed by fast men and women chasing dreams in the 1500.
Liverpool, England. Home of the Beatles. The town lets you know that, too. Our hostel featured murals of the foursome as well as the late John Lennon. However, our train was delayed so we arrived in the city a lot later than expected. As a result, we pretty much just ate, ran, and went to bed before getting up the next day to head to Blackpool for the wedding. On our run, I learned lesson number two: you can run on a full stomach. It won’t be pretty, but it’s possible. Because of time constraints, we were forced to run immediately after a long-awaited dinner. James and I explored the downtown waterfront, which happened to be extremely windy that day. It was a gloomy experience but that made the run unique. I, myself, like a dreary run. And I assume they get a lot of them in the UK.
Blackpool, England. The wedding took place in Blackpool, St. Anne’s to be exact. It’s a dying town according to the locals. What once stood as the mecca for British holidays (vacations) now looks a lot like the Jersey Shore. But I didn’t mind. Yeah, it had a pier with a ferris wheel and tons of beach shops with a casino here and a tarot card shop there but even then, it still seemed a bit more classy than our sparkly beach towns. It was funny to talk to some locals on the train as they shook their heads when we mentioned we were in Blackpool for our vacation. I had to reassure them that in America, we’ve seen worse.
We were in the Blackpool area for the majority of our trip. In St. Anne’s, we ran on the beach a few times. Italics you ask? It wasn’t your typical beach. You see, at certain hours of the day, the sea would come rushing in but you could never predict when. A cab driver was quoted as saying that the town sees at least 10 deaths per year due to people following the hard-packed sand out to the shore, only to get stuck coming back. On our runs, it took nearly 9 minutes one day and 14 minutes another to get close to the water. The 14 minutes out run was a lot more scary. With much silence, we listened for any sound of a rushing wave. And yet, the view was breathtaking. At times, it felt more like we were running in the desert than on the 2 mile long beach. Lesson number three was had on this run: running on sand, as long as it’s packed hard, is actually quite enjoyable.
It was here that I also attempted my first workout since my injury(s). I ran a short tempo based entirely on feel with James and his college buddies. What was great about this run was that we happened to also find a grass field where white spray paint outlined the shape of a 300 meter track. We hopped on it and the boys had a little fun racing each other for 300 meters, reliving the old glory days. I stood back, took a breather, and snapped a few pictures. The neat thing about many of our runs in England was that trails, grass fields, and paths seemed to pop up randomly every few minutes. This made going for runs quite easy and exciting.
As for the wedding? Well, it was awesome! There weren’t too many differences in comparison to American weddings. And to my knowledge, everyone does things a little different so it would be inaccurate to say that all British weddings are like the one we attended. What did stand out for me included the length of the reception (3pm-1am), the wearing of pretty facinators, and the music selection. Let’s just say I have never been to a wedding that played 80s new wave for a few hours and then some Motown, The Stones, and so much more. That had to have been my favorite part! We rocked hard into the night.
Greatham, England. Our last stop on the trip was an intimate journey to the English countryside. James and I were the only ones left from our crew as the bride and groom went on their honeymoon and our other friends had to get back to the states. When planning the rest of our trip, one friend suggested we visit a place called L’Abri. L’Abri is french for shelter. It is a place for anyone to come and seek answers to important questions. It is rooted in the Christian faith but is not opposed to having other faiths stop by for a visit or three-month long stay. Given that I was attempting to explore my spirituality for the first time in years, this seemed like a great opportunity. To get there, we had to walk through a small, yet lush, forest. The written directions led us to a dirt path that we ended up doing our workout on the next day. It was here that I learned lesson number four: When the going gets tough on a run, ask yourself tough questions. Questions like, how did we get here? Is there a God? What happens after we die? It was questions like these that we explored at L’Abri. We spent time meeting new people, studying the faith as well as others, and eating soul-warming meals while engaging in eye-opening discussions. Our short stay wasn’t the norm so we would definitely like to venture to a L’Abri for a longer period of time. Turns out, they have over 10 shelters throughout the world.
In the end, I did arrive home a little changed. Most importantly, I learned to not let the little things get to me so much. Flying in an airplane tends to give you that perspective when you are up there looking down at reality. Loosing your suitcase on said airplane before you even arrive at your destination also does that, too.
Have you traveled to England? What was it like for you? Were there any special places you ran?