Sunday, 2 May 2010

London Marathon

Last year, I had spent the Sunday of the London Marathon out along the course, cheering for a few friends who were running it... it was the first time I'd been a "serious spectator," trying to see specific people multiple times at different points on the course. Although it was a fun day out, I definitely had the race bug and kept thinking "if only I was out there running..."

The day after last year's race, registration for the 2010 lottery opened online. I figured I'd give it a try, see what happened, and if I didn't get in on the lottery, I'd try for a charity space, but either way, I'd be out there running the race in 2010. Surprisingly enough, a few months later, I got the email congratulating me for having been given a race number through the lottery!

After months of training with friends in the Serpies, long Saturday runs through town on my own, early morning runs from the office, and more pasta than you'd believe, race day was upon us!

I came into race day feeling much better than I'd expected -- this was the first I'd run a marathon in my home city as opposed to having to take a multi-hour drive or flight in the days leading up to it. The energy from the whole city getting ready for the race, as well as from having all your friends either running it or knowing that you were running it (and planning to be out along the course) just added to the excitement!

After cramming into a DLR train for the minute or so to cross the river into Greenwich, I piled out of the train with hundreds of other runners eating our last pre-race bananas, porridge, and energy bars as we walked up the hill in Greenwich Park. Filing into the blue start area, I ran into the first of many Serpies I'd see that day -- in all, more than 100 of us were running with the club, wearing the club's shirts.

After one last nervous queue for the toilets, I dropped off my bag of clothes, phones, and everything for the finish line. It promptly started raining. Now, I'd been hoping this would happen, as the forecasts had called for 68-74 degrees as a high, with bright sun. Although that would have been great for the spectators, that's drastically too warm for the race participants -- anything over 40-45 begins to slow us down as the heat saps our energy. So, at 50 degrees or so, the rain was a welcome start to the race! (granted, we were all hopping up and down in the starting corrals, shivering, but absolutely nobody had any reason to complain!)

A few minutes before the start, race officials removed the barriers separating each of the timed corrals from each other, leading to a mad rush toward the starting line. Now, I'd run Chicago twice, which had an equally large field of ~35k runners, and had started somewhere midpack where I could see a sea of thousands of runners in front of me. Partially based on my forecast finish time, and partly based on the start being split into three separate sections here in London, I was only 100 yards or so behind the start line by the time the gun went off!

Now, for a bit of a diversion: My target in the race was the same as it had been for my most recent prior marathon: a sub-3:10 finish (approx. 7:12/mile pace). I just recently got a GPS watch, and was using that to try to pace myself this time around, aiming for a constant 7:10 pace the whole way around the course.

In the first mile, despite being so close to the front of the field and having crossed the start line within the first minute after the gun, I had zero control over my pace -- the field was crowded enough that I had to just stay along with the flow of the group. Although I knew it was healthy to start out slow and warm up gradually, it made me a bit nervous to see that I was a full minute off of my target pace by the time we crossed the 1-mile mark -- I felt absolutely great and wanted to pick up the pace!

Over miles 2-5, the field thinned out a bit and I was able to pick up the pace gradually to get back toward the pacing that I originally intended. Although this was the one section of the course that I 'd never seen or run before, it was early enough in the day and the crowds were energetic enough that I felt able to settle into my stride relatively quickly.

From about mile 5, as we turned back in toward Greenwich, I tried to settle down into a constant pace and just enjoy a morning run out with tens of thousands of supporters cheering everyone along! At this point, whenever anyone I knew or anyone who recognized the Serpie shirt cheered me on, I'd glance over, wave, and usually say something back in response... the energy I'd pick up from seeing the supporters was absolutely worth it!

Granted, in this case, I had yet to see Gavin when he took the photo:

...and yes, I was carrying Gatorade with me. I still can't bring myself to drink Lucozade (the much more common sports drink here in the UK) during races, for some reason...

The first seriously emotional moment was just after mile 12, as we made the right turn from Shad Thames onto Tower Bridge Road, saw the bridge reaching out ahead of us, and went from a somewhat quiet residential area into a wall of supporters at least six people deep on both sides of the bridge!

Following on from there, we had a few-mile stretch on The Highway, through east London. Although not quite the most scenic or historic part of the course, there were groups of Serpie supporters every few hundred yards, cheering us on. By this point, I wasn't quite able to be as responsive to them -- in some cases, I'd glance toward them, in some, break a bit of a smile, but definitely wasn't considering myself conversational by now.

Just before the course veered off from the Highway, I was on the far right side of the course when I heard "Tim... TIM! TIM!!!" from the far side of the road. Looking over, I saw Chris and Jen... Jen holding a sign "THINK BOSTON" and Chris holding out a bottle of Gatorade. After a bit of a swerve directly across the course, I waved, smiled, grabbed the drink, and kept moving... as my legs were first starting to have the first twinges of exhaustion at this point, they'd had just about perfect timing!

Now, after that segment comes what most people consider the hardest part of the course -- it loops down Westferry Road, through the Isle of Dogs, then back up to Canary Wharf. The Isle of Dogs section is miles 16-18, with many fewer supporters, and in a part of town most people haven't ever seen before. Fortunately for me, it's where I live, so I felt right at home!

As we looped back in toward Canary Wharf, I felt the first twinges of a cramp in my right quad, but figured I'd do my best to just ignore it and hope it went away. Surely enough, with the crowds, bands, and everything else going through the Wharf, I was able to push that out of mind and it seemed to go away!

Leaving Canary Wharf was the quietest part of the whole course -- there was a loop around a roundabout before heading due west into and through town for the last 6 miles. This was the first time I noticed my perceived effort going up, while the pace started to slip a bit. Not good, but then again, I was still on track for a few minutes faster than the 3:10 target I'd set, so there was definitely time to work with there.

These last six miles started off much easier than I'd expected, but as I got to mile 24 or so, my body just began to run out of energy. I knew I was still within range for an on-target finish, but it was more and more tempting to break stride, slow down a bit, and just try to recover. Fortunately, with the crowds picking up and the scenery of Westminster shortly ahead, I was able to push through this, trying slowly to pass those in front of me, one at a time...

By the time I turned the corner from Buckingham Palace and could see the finish line, the clocks had just clicked over to 3:09:00. Now, I knew I had the better part of a minute more than what was on the clocks until my chip time hit 3:10, but tried to push those last 200 yards as much as possible:

Stopping the watch as I crossed the finish line, I saw 3:09:10 -- well within the target! It was only late that night, following an afternoon of champagne, a celebratory dinner, and many hours with the other finishers from the club, that I got home and saw that the actual finish time had been 3:08:59.

All in all, an incredible experience training and running with a group of close friends! Thank you all for your support throughout!

If you really want to see the route, time splits, etc, it should all be visible here:

Now, on to register for Boston 2011!

Sunday, 18 April 2010


It's been a while since I last updated this blog. I figured that, given my recent travels, it might be time to write a bit here.

Three weeks ago, John, Ian, and I flew to Delhi for a few days of exploration in northern India, a few days of relaxation, then a friend's wedding in Goa.

Northern India
Fortunately, we’d all gotten a decent amount of sleep on the 8-hour flight over to India, so we were able to take in a bit of the scenery and the experience during the drive. The road width, structure, and markings had absolutely no correlation with what actually happened on them. Although the roads varied between two and four lanes, that didn’t stop anyone from taking, well, anything with wheels in any direction they chose.

It wasn’t uncommon to see an auto-rickshaw, a few bikes, a donkey pulling an overloaded cart, a few trucks, and cars four- or five-abreast in the space where maybe two of them should have fit. Not only were large trucks passing right next to bikes, but occasionally someone would decide it wasn’t worth the effort of crossing several lanes to move with the flow of traffic, so they’d move against traffic. There were quite a few times we saw a tractor pulling an overloaded cart of bricks, straw, or other materials, blocking at least one lane, moving toward the flow of traffic. Let’s just say I’ve never heard a car horn used in as many different ways – it worked as a “watch out, I’m here” as well as “you’re in my way,” “what’re you doing?!?” and other messages.

I’m not quite sure how, but our driver was able to keep us moving through this chaos without coming into contact with another vehicle. More power to him!

On the drive, we saw drastically different parts of the country. Leaving Delhi, the road snaked between supports of what will soon be an elevated highway and a tram line, supposedly in time for the Commonwealth Games later this year. As we went a bit further, we saw areas with slums stretching from next to the road, far into the distance. Getting further yet from the city, we eventually saw wide open fields with brick kilns built scattered about the countryside, and with people laboring with brickmaking in the 105+ degree heat.

We got into Agra shortly before sunset, and had our first experience with hotels. We’d booked all our rooms for the trip through Taj Hotels website – we figured that if the resort where the wedding was being hosted was a Taj property, we wouldn’t be going wrong by booking the rest of the hotels through them.

The driver pulled up to the gate of the hotel, stopped, and popped the hood for the security team to inspect the whole car. After that, we were let close to the building to unload and check in. We then had to go through metal detectors ourselves and have all our luggage scanned with airport-style x-ray devices before being allowed into the lobby. This became standard operating procedure for every place we stayed the rest of the trip – I guess they’re rightfully a bit cautious after the attack on the Taj hotel in Mumbai last year.

As soon as we walked through the scanners into the lobby, we had our first exposure to another regularly occurring quirk – the power went out. You could hear the “clunk” of air conditioning suddenly stopping, and all the lights went out, but nobody flinched or said anything – life continued, staff checked us in with the still-functioning computers, and we began to learn that this was a regular occurrence that doesn’t actually impact much of anything.

By this point, we were all a bit exhausted, and just had a quick swim in the pool, dinner at the hotel, and crashed. This evening was also my first and worst experience with Delhi Belly – the well-known experience where your body doesn’t quite know how to accommodate the changes in climate, food, water, and everything else. It made for a bit of an interesting night, but I was at least mostly with it for the next day’s exploration…

The Taj Mahal
Tuesday morning, we checked out of the hotel and rode over to the Taj Mahal. Before we even got out of the van, a guy had made us as his mark and determined he was going to be our tour guide. We didn’t acknowledge him right away, but after the first few minutes and when he started giving us some helpful advice, we decided we’d at least start the bargaining and see what type of a charge he would have for taking us through the sites.

It ended up being a good choice to hire him – he got us around a few of the queues, pointed out a few good photo opportunities with no crowds, became our group photographer, and had some interesting random knowledge, too!

I have to admit, on first walking through the entrance and being able to see the building, it was incredible! I’d expected “okay, it’ll be a big building” – yes, it certainly was, but was also much more powerful than I’d expected it to be! We took a few hours to explore inside and outside the cathedral, before heading off to Fort Agra for a quick walk around and a few photos.

We then decided we’d head off to see Fatehpur Sikri, a lost city from millennia ago. It was a 40k drive out into the country, taking a solid hour to get there. Once we did, we were immediately attacked by a group of men offering to take us to the site and be our guides. Our driver cautioned us about this, but we figured it would be a better choice than walking multiple kilometers up the hill in 100+ degree heat.

This led us to my one and only experience in life on an autorickshaw. Think of it like a three-wheeled bike with a 5-hp lawnmower engine, carrying four tourists or 15+ locals. They took us up to a large temple, plaza, and building. Unlike the other tourist sites we’d seen, this had many more people begging, selling junk, and just lying around throughout the site. We were a bit surprised, but figured we might as well continue through the area.

Eventually the guide took us to a temple at the center of the site, and explained a tradition where we had to give something to the goddess who was there, making a wish. Conveniently, the “something” that we should be giving to the goddess was a shawl or other piece of fabric that one of the guys sitting nearby was selling at drastically inflated prices. After much haggling and being told repeatedly that it was for either “charity” or “a good cause,” we decided we didn’t particularly need to make any wishes, and excused ourselves.

We got them to drive us back down the hill to the van, when we realized that we may not have actually seen it all… There were many tour buses there, but we had seen enough tourists to fill maybe at most one bus. We showed a few photos to the driver, who said “yes, yes” implying that we’d been to the proper site, but that didn’t give us too much confidence. We began the drive back to Delhi, not knowing whether or not we’d actually seen the site we set out to see!

After looking a bit on Google Maps, we realized that yes, we were actually in Fatehpur Sikri, but we’d only seen a small part of the whole site. Alas… we should have taken the driver’s advice and not even bothered with the hour’s drive there, but it was an amusing experience regardless!

After another six-hour drive back into Delhi, we checked in at our hotel late Tuesday night and once again just had dinner and drinks there. After a western-style breakfast the next morning, we were off to the airport and to Goa.

It’s difficult to describe just how different Goa was from our first two days in the north of the country. Having left a large international airport in the landlocked dusty city of Delhi, we arrived to the tropical, coastal state of Goa and headed for a coastal resort.

We got in late on Wednesday afternoon, were greeted with coconut water, dropped everything in our rooms, and promptly headed for the pool. It looked out onto the beach, the ocean, cliffs to one side, and a beached ore carrier in the other direction. Quite a picturesque setting, even with the ship there!

We headed off into town for dinner that night, then crashed back at the hotel. Thursday was a quiet day with massages, a game of scrabble looking out over the beach, some more pool time, then dinner back out in town again, this time with a few more friends who’d come in over the course of the day.

The days Friday and Saturday were quite similar – relaxing by the pool, exploring the beach a bit, and just generally enjoying some down time.

Saturday night, we all changed into our kurtas for the first wedding reception. The reception was absolutely incredible – there was a dance floor, DJ, sofas, dinner tables, and a buffet all on a cliff overlooking the sunset in the ocean.

We got to see Kanika and Rob, the bride and groom, enter in their traditional Indian wear, then Kanika’s relatives performed a set of dances, gave several speeches, and finally we got to see Kanika and Rob dance before the dance floor opened up for the whole crowd! All in all, a great night!

Although we had a bit of a slow start the next morning, we went off to see several ceremonies through the day, before the big event of the evening. Rob, his family, and all the male guests met to get ready for the event – we ended up having turbans made for us, then had a bit of a procession across the grounds of the resort, representing the groom entering the bride’s hometown for the beginning of the ceremony. After an hour or more of dancing our way over to the wedding location, Rob entered and they had the full marriage ceremony that evening, followed by a dinner, photos, and a bit of quieter dancing than the previous night.
The next morning, most of the group headed back to London, New York, Mumbai, or wherever everyone calls home. Instead, I made my way back to Delhi, to work the week there.

At work, half of my role has to do with technology development, so I’ve been leading a team of 20 or so developers based in India who do our actual programming and design work. Since I was already in the country, I figured it’d make sense to spend some time with them, to put names with faces and to get a better understanding of the work environment.

I gave a “here’s what our system does and here’s why we’re enhancing it” presentation to the full team on Tuesday morning, then met with smaller groups throughout the remainder of the week to work through specific functional requirements, address questions, make design decisions, and confirm where the relationship with this contract vendor is likely to head over the remainder of the year.

This was a definite change of pace from the prior week’s complete disconnection from the chaos of work, but absolutely valuable experience.

In all, an absolutely great trip! Now, I’m just trying to take it easy for the next week before running the marathon here in London next Sunday!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Air Travel Excitement

In early September, I booked my flights back to the States for Christmas. Using some credits from a previous flight, I was able to get a very reasonably priced flight from Heathrow to Harrisburg via Dulles, returning on the same route. All looked promising...

The afternoon before my scheduled departure, my dad sent me an email asking if I’d seen the weather forecast for the east coast, and asking if I could rebook my flight to avoid the snow. I looked online and saw that due to a forecast of 1-2’ of snow falling the day of my scheduled travel, United had waived all change fees for potentially impacted flights, encouraging passengers to pick other routes or to change travel to other dates. I called United to see whether I could reroute through Chicago or postpone travel by a day. The representative with whom I spoke said the first flight she could get me onto would be Christmas Day (a full six days after the originally scheduled flight) and to Chicago, rather than to DC. Needless to say, I decided to risk it with the existing reservation.

After getting home that evening, I looked online and found that there were no particularly cheap last minute alternatives, if my original flight would be cancelled. The least expensive option was a Continental flight a day later, via Hamburg to Newark. I purchased this ticket as a “just-in-case” option, knowing I could cancel it and get a full refund for the first 24 hours if the original flight was cancelled.

On Saturday, I got a text from United stating that my original flight was delayed from 4:45pm Saturday until 8am Sunday. I saw this as a good sign: the plane must be in London already, and it would be going back to the States eventually, with me on it, albeit delayed slightly. Given that, I cancelled the Continental ticket that I’d purchased online.

Shortly after cancelling the Continental ticket, I got another text from United: My flight to Dulles was cancelled. At this point, I couldn’t even get through the phone systems at United to be placed on hold – the voice response system broke before it got that far.

I ended up finding that the least expensive option that would maximize my time back in the States was to buy a completely new ticket to JFK on Aer Lingus. After confirming there were no other less expensive options than this, I decided to go for it and just entirely replace my original United ticket.

My dad was great and drove the three hours to meet me at JFK, rather than having me transferinto midtown and then to a train down to Harrisburg, probably taking at least two hours off of what my ground-based travel time would have been in the States!

On the way back to London, I took the train, which gave me a chance to meet a few friends for brunch in New York before the flight back to London.

So, all in all, I lost just one day at home because of the flight cancellation, but also got to see a few more friends while home, whom I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

One bright spot out of all of this was the refund process from United: I called their US-based customer service line while waiting to board the Aer Lingus flight in Heathrow at about 4am ET / 9am LN. After only a few minutes on hold, I had my most productive call ever with a reservations agent:

Agent: Good morning, Mr. Renshaw.

Me: Morning. As you can see, I was booked on a flight LHR-IAD yesterday that was cancelled. I’ve booked alternative arrangements with another airline and would just like a refund. What do I need to…

Agent: Done.

Me: Done?

Agent: Yes, I just refunded your full ticket. It’ll hit the credit card you originally used, within a few weeks.

Me: Uh… okay, wow, thanks!

Christmas in the States

I spent the past two weeks back in the States with friends and family. During my first week back, I did all my Christmas shopping, visited with my grandparents, cooked chocolate chip cookies and raisin cookies with Dave (yum!), caught up on a few films I’d been meaning to see for a while, and celebrated Christmas with the full family.

During the second week, I did a bit more traveling:

Last Sunday afternoon, I drove down to Baltimore to watch some football with a group of friends from CMU. For the Steelers v. Ravens game, we headed out to Mothers, a rather popular Ravens bar. Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure we’re the only people in there who weren’t wearing purple Ravens jerseys. When the Steelers pulled ahead in the last minutes of the game, we decided it was probably a good idea to leave before anyone decided to take out the loss on us. Great venue for a game, though!

This past Monday, I drove Dave out to Pittsburgh. He just finished his first semester at Carnegie Mellon as a grad student and, wow, it’s a different experience than when I was there! I’m sure part of it is the different schools, part is based on investments the university made into new buildings, and part is because he’s a grad student, where I’d been an undergrad. He is sharing an office built for three, with only one other grad student. It’s in a new building, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto campus. Not bad! After seeing that and going for an incredible bacon bleu burger at Tessaros, I got to see Dave’s apartment before heading off for the drive to the Poconos.

I met Katherine at her family’s “camp” in the Poconos… let’s just say that it was a fully functional house, as were all of the other “camps” around the lake. We got to catch up with friends, do some hiking through the woods onsite, and meet others from the other nearby camps for New Years Eve. Great times!!

I’m now back in London, getting ready for reality to hit with the return to work tomorrow morning...

New Flat

I moved into my current flat in mid-November. My camera had met with a tragic end in Oslo, so at the time I didn’t have a functional digital camera. Now, thanks to a Christmas present from the parents, I do. A few shots of the building and the inside of the apartment follow:

The parking garage entrance and main building.

Chart House -- My building. I'm on this side of the building, second floor, far left of this photo.

My apartment building from the other side, looking east along the Thames.

Looking out from the living room.

The kitchen.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Rugby and running

A few weeks ago, Ian convinced me to meet him and a few of his friends for a Sunday afternoon game of touch rugby. I made a bit of a fool of myself the first time playing it, but would like to think I've improved a bit over the past few weeks, and have had fun in the process!

After a game yesterday, I was standing around talking with everyone, when someone asked me about running a 10-mile race today. My initial reaction: "sure, why not?" Knowing this group, though, I quickly followed that with "wait... what type of a race is it?"

Let's just say that it's a bit muddy. It's called the Turbo X Pure Filth Challenge. I've done a bit of trail running, but nothing quite like this before. The video here is from last year, but pretty accurate (it gets really fun from about 1:45 into it). It was the same course... 55 degrees or so and cloudy when we started, but we had complete downpours with hail in the middle of it, while running through mud and streams that came up over my waist, before getting to the finish line where the sun came out again!

I'm exhausted and have quite a bit of laundry to work through this evening, but definitely glad I made the trip out there this afternoon!

Updates -- Life, the universe, everything

It's been a while since I've posted -- life's been a bit busy here!

As mentioned in my last post, I've now left the employer with which I came to London and started a full-time role with the American investment bank that had been my client for the past year. Day-to-day, little has changed in my work duties. I'm on the same project, in the same role, with roughly the same responsibilities. I'm no longer involved in sales activities or other stuff beyond my immediate role, but that's okay for now!

I've done a bit of travel, despite my thoughts that I'd be staying local after a rather hectic summer --

Back in September, Ben and Katherine had visited London. Katherine was going to be in Norway in early November over a weekend as part of a work trip from the States, so I ended up booking a flight to visit. Due to schedule changes, she arrived in Norway a few days later than originally expected. As I had a non-refundable ticket, I ended up still visiting Norway on my own. Lots of fun, but definitely a different dynamic being a solo traveler. I've posted a few photos of the Kon Tiki museum, the opera house and other sights here.

I have a Canon PowerShot camera that I'd gotten shortly before moving to London. It's worked well... decent photos (all the ones on Picasa...) from a small camera. Unfortunately, I'd been carrying it around in a pocket while walking through Oslo. At some point, it powered on in my pocket and the lens extended. It twisted about 20 degrees and now won't extend or retract the full way... the camera's dead. Time to go shopping when I return to the US over Christmas...

The weekend after Oslo, I ended up visiting a former colleague for the weekend in Dublin. We stayed in town right near Temple Bar, went to the Guinness brewery, the old jail, Trinity college and all the other sites -- a great weekend and definitely more Guinness than I've had in a long long time!

On the way back from Dublin, I took a 6:40am Monday flight to London City airport. It's a 12-gate airport that's only 15 minutes from the office on public transit, so I figured if we landed on schedule at 8:10, I'd be in the office by 8:30-8:45. Much to my surprise, I woke up on the flight at 8:15 as we were in a holding pattern -- LCY was closed due to fog. We waited for a bit before diverting to South End airport, about 50 miles southeast of London. This is a small private airfield, but on this morning it had at least 25 BA and Air France regional jets lined up with miffed business travelers. At least there was a row of chartered buses lined up out front and they took us back to LCY, but I ended up getting into work on the second Monday of my new job at 11:30... not quite what I'd originally intended!

Apartment hunting
When I first found my flat in Islington, I was looking for something central-ish and easily commutable to London Bridge. As I've been working in Canary Wharf almost since I moved into that flat, and will now be for the indefinite future, I figured it was time to look at what else I could get in more of a renters market, closer to work. Following a friend's suggestion, I looked at I lined up six flats for viewing in and around Greenwich on a Sunday -- the first one near Deptford, then several in and around Greenwich, then two just north of Greenwich on the Isle of Dogs.

The first two near Deptford were in an area where I absolutely didn't want to live, after walking around a bit that afternoon -- a bit too grungy and not feeling like the safest place in the world. The next few were in much nicer areas, but I wasn't really excited about living with the potential flatmates that I met. I finally ended up looking at a place at Burrells Wharf, along the water, just across the foot tunnel from Greenwich. My now-flatmate co-owns the flat with a friend who just moved elsewhere in London. For about the same rent as before in Islington, we have nearly double the space, much nicer furnishings, two bathrooms rather than one, and a 10-minute commute to work via bus. So far, no complaints!

I moved in last weekend, and have more or less settled into the new place quickly. It's working out well so far! As my camera's dead, I don't have any photos, but we're on the second floor of the building on the right, on the back side of the building, facing a courtyard rather than the river.