16 November 2008

Nine Miles to Churchill's on a Mean Green Bike

This post inaugurates a bit of backlogged blogging which I have needed to get off my chest and onto the world wide web for some time now. Journey back with me, friends, to Sunday, 12 October 2008. This was the day I ran my first international 10k.

I had this race on my race-dar (that’s race-radar) for some time, but it wasn’t until the night before, around 11:00pm, that I decided to go for it. I had been training to run a marathon on my birthday the following week – a marathon which, it turns out, I could not register for – so I was feeling pretty strong. I thought, I can tackle 6.2 miles. No sweat. But sweat there would be.

The race was run (get it? Run?) by the Rotary Club of Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England. The palace itself is a stunning country house built in the early 18th century. Among its many claims to fame, Blenheim Palace has been featured in such films as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the site of the Nazi book burning) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (during Snape’s flashback), and is the birthplace and childhood home of the original Original Maverick, Sir Winston Churchill. Surrounded by gently rolling hills and what Wikipedia calls a “large undulating park,” the Palace stands an impressive, imposing monument to the past – and on the sidelines of my impending 10k.

There was, however, one teensy problem with this race: how to get to the starting line. Sure, Blenheim was a mere nine miles from my Crick Road home…but as there was no coach (bus) running early enough to have me there by 10:00am on that Sunday morning, I would have to find alternate transportation. And at the last minute. After deciding that I probably should not RUN the nine miles there, only to race another six and round off the day with a grand total of 24 miles, Jonathan Kirkpatrick, JD extraordinaire, suggested I borrow a bike.

The bike I decided to use was a seafoam green affair with a rusted wire basket attached to plastic handlebars and a seat patched together with duct tape. I gave it a rickety test ride down Crick Road around midnight, pumped some air into the tires, and deemed it my best option.

Dawn broke cold and foggy, and I left the house in my racing clothes, with keys and the ten-pound entry fee in the teeny pocket of my running shorts. Although I had a vague idea where this Palace was, I had never been there before – but I began my bumpy nine mile journey with a heart full of hope and a belly full of complex carbohydrates. 45 minutes and two wrong turns later, I found myself at the gates of Blenheim Palace, a full hour-and-a-half early. Which, it turns out, was a blessing – it gave me a chance to rest my tingling quads before the hilly race to come. I proudly handed my crumpled ten pounds to the kindly old women taking entrees, and chained my bike to an old wooden fence where other racers were parking their cars.

Perhaps it was my pre-race nine-mile bike ride, combined with my breakfast of Scottish porridge oats, that helped me get a 10k P.R. of 49 minutes. Or maybe the English cheat on their kilometer measurements. Either way, my beautiful run through the fog and the hills over crunchy red leaves up the path to the Palace was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my time in Oxford thus far. Flying high on endorphins and independence, I proudly gulped down some water, wiped the frosty sweat off my brow, and climbed aboard my seafoam beauty for the return home – the soreness in my body dulled by a feeling of invincibility, and the promise of a long nap that afternoon. Which, incidentally, was the best nap of my life.

06 November 2008

Notes on Gratitude

This week I learned from my close personal friend, J.M Coetzee
(the Nobel-Prize winning South African novelist),
that Gratitude and Pomegranate are
Sister Words.

Sharing hairbrushes and sleeping in bunk beds
and making up secret hand signals that only the other one knows:
touch nose
tuck hair behind ear
tug lobe twice

Somehow I’m not surprised.
I see the ruby-red orbs
ripe from sun and round with summer juice
weighing down the branch with impatience,
waiting to unzip the skin, the peel, and burst
with thankfulness.

My own heart-rind can barely contain the love-sown seeds inside,
stacked on pulpy bunk beds.

Dearest friends, I am so blessed to be the daily recipient of your love, prayers, cards, notes, letters, emails, blog comments, Facebook posts, and chocolate. Thank you for making my adventure abroad an experiment in gratitude! I am swallowed up in it. Your encouragement lines my heart and, as you can see, my walls. Words don’t do justice to how indebted I am to your kindness.

Special thanks go out to Stephen, Bonnie (+ Mystery Baby) and Miss Charlotte; the Green House Girlz; Laurie and Grandma Jan; Michael Dallas; Theodore the III; and, of course, the original mavericks: Mom-Dad-Hope-Paden-Grandma-Granddad-and-Auntie-Marta.