The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

My name is Running Wolf

650,000 spectators lined the streets of London on Sunday to cheer on the 36,000 runners taking part in the 2014 London Marathon.

If you have ever been one of those spectators, there’s probably a chance that the thought of giving it a go next year has crossed your mind. There are probably just as many who would never want to give it a go. But if you are one that has thought about it, then I urge you to.

When Husband and I moved to Singapore, I also packed up my three London Marathon medals too. All your worldly possessions and all. In five and a half years they’ve sat in a box in a cupboard and have gone a funny colour.

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Still, they give me no less pride than the days I got handed them.

I’m no sporting person and I don’t possess a natural ability for any one sport which is a shame. I can’t even follow a step aerobics class. After leaving school and to my mid twenties, I can honestly say I barely did any exercise apart from the odd swim.

It was Ms Beefy who sowed the idea of running into my mind. She and I and Nana Moon took part in the Women’s Light Flora Run back in 2001. It was a 5km distance, a warm up jog for people like Big Brother Li. It felt like a long way at the time having put all that kind of nonsense behind me at school.

Then 10km felt like a long way.

Then I decided to jump straight in for 26.2 miles because I was one of those spectators cheering on a team of people running the London Marathon to raise money for people with muscular dystrophy, a muscle wasting disease affecting over 30,000 people in the UK. Many young men with Duchenne muscular dystrophy that only affects boys, barely live beyond their mid twenties and lose mobility by the age of ten. It can be a very powerful emotion watching people take on such a physical challenge for a cause that you are committed to.

In one moment, I thought perhaps I could do this too. Of course it’s about personal achievement but I definitely wouldn’t go through such a gruelling training programme for almost four months if I didn’t feel like there was something else to achieve too. In fact £53 million was raised for charity through the London Marathon in 2013 alone. Often charities come under fire for stipulating a minimum sponsorship level of around £1,000 if you want to take one of their places when you don’t get through in the ballot. On one hand it’s much needed income and on the other it determines your commitment.

Running for a charity is the best support you will ever get to accompany you on what can be a rather lonely 16 weeks of training. There is always someone keen to hear how you are doing and understands the effort and energy that goes before the final 26.2miles. It’s also good to be reminded of who you’re actually doing it all for. Then there’s the extra support you get along the route.

I’ve heard people say that running is dull and boring and bad for you. Sometimes getting the motivation to get out is dull. Sometimes where you’re running it is boring. Sometimes it can be bad for you because you’ve not prepared yourself properly.

Who would have thought running isn’t as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. You need to wear the right shoes, eat the right food and strengthen other parts of your body that never crossed my mind were vital to running well. Then you need to have the right frame of mind.

I followed a basic 16 week training plan and by the end of week 5, the weekend run was already half marathon distance. Plus fitting in three or four runs during the week. In the days before an app existed for everything you could possibly need was available, I became obsessed with my London A-Z and a piece of string. Diligently working out a route that fitted in with the required distance of my training run.

Running isn’t dull but I certainly became it.

I became acquainted with carboloading, energy bars or energy gels, cold baths, the pain of deep tissue massages, PBs, micropore taping up body parts at risk of continuous chafing and constantly smelling of Deep Heat. I gave up alcohol the third time just as another challenge, good practice for being preggers I guess. I ate so many oat cakes and porridge, I never really yearn to eat them now.

But I’m so glad I did start this thing called running. As part of training and sometimes just because, I’ve ran along some beautiful country lanes in Buckinghamshire and a good bit of dual carriageway in Reading. I realised Clapham Common isn’t that far from Muswell Hill. I got to spend more time with friends like Ms Beefy who became my partner on many a run around Hampstead Heath and along the Thames.

I’m glad I discovered I have the focus to do something physically challenging being fearful of most other sporting activities.

Since having #1, 2 and 3, I haven’t the inclination or energy to want to run any great distance. Plus living in the tropics, it’s quite difficult to run, or I should correct myself, to plod in 30 degrees heat is like wading through treacle. I went out for a 30 minute run earlier and I barely covered 5km. I understand now why Big Brother Li gets so excited running in ‘cold weather’. When he came to stay with us in London in 2004, it coincided with the St Albans half marathon which he decides to run just for fun. For fun I tell you!

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In my heart, I would have liked to finish any of my marathon attempts in under 4 hours 30 minutes. Even 4 hours 45 minutes. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

The first time, you have no idea how it will go and just finishing is a bonus. I worried about the 5.30am start having a negative impact on my performance but the adrenaline coursing through you the days before and the morning itself more than compensates. It’s no doubt a thrill to be part of the crowd surging towards Blackheath. For one morning to be part of something with 36,000 other people.

It’s not so much of a thrill worrying about when that pre-run poo is going to come. Think Paula Radcliffe.

The second time did become more of a personal challenge with the intention of bettering the first attempt. Did it happen? Sadly not. I felt like I was doing ok the first half but then I hit the dreaded proverbial Wall. I knew all about it having read about in my Runner’s World magazine and on running forums. Oh gosh, I forgot about the forums. Forums are weird places. Good for lots of things and support and advice but when you start treating it like your best friends are there then that’s just weird. Running is solitary but not that solitary.

The Wall is when your muscles and liver become depleted of glycogen and you suddenly feel fatigued and weak with no energy. I took every step of training so seriously that I had never had it before. I was at mile 14 and unprepared for this sudden loss of interest, slight disorientation and feeling of nausea. Mile bloody 14.

There’s a stretch of the London Marathon where you’ve not yet reached halfway but you can see those passing mile 22 on the way out. On a good day, it could buoy you up with renewed determination or on a bad day like I was having, it just seemed impossible. I have no idea how I managed to get round to mile 20. A few episodes of throwing up by the roadside, a few stops in the St John’s Ambulance tents and bucket loads of goodwill from the spectators at the side. I mostly walked that latter half but made sure I could at least run across the finish line.

Did I feel disappointed? A little because I had started off so well. But at the same time not really. I finished it and therefore fulfilled the commitment to all the people who had sponsored me.

So I tried again a third time in 2007, the year we got married. I suppose it was to provide some distraction against the wedding planning. To make me appreciate lots of big events in one year. I injured my left knee nine weeks into training, it will never be fixed and apparently I now run lopsided. So starting that time was such a big unknown and to finish again became my only goal.

Long distance running on any level is about mind over matter. Once you lose the will, it can be so difficult to motivate yourself again. During the last stretch along Embankment, when you know it’s just not possible to stop and give up now but feeling like you’re barely clinging on, I bumped into Big D quite by accident. We were both pretty tired at that point, it was quite a hot day. Great for spectators, not so great for running. It was good to see a friend at that point, I can say.

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I will always remember feeling overwhelmed at the amount of good will there is along the whole way. Children high fiving, jelly babies in abundance, families setting up their own drinks stations outside their homes. Everyone is willing you to carry on. Even at mile 26 with just point two to go, there are calls of ‘keep running’.

Husband is my greatest support and whilst I got all the glory for doing the running. I am grateful for his support during the days of extreme tiredness (read grumpiness), for coming to out of town events and waiting hours for me to finish and for battling against all the other spectators along the way to wait patiently to cheer me on at various points as I pass by in seconds.

I think my marathon training days are over. I think they are. Right now, I haven’t the energy or commitment to even consider a half marathon, which is quite a good distance. Not far enough to make you cry but not short enough you have to sprint. But one day I’ll be ready for it and if there’s a running partner I would like to have, then it would be Big Brother Li. I would like to run a race with him because if there’s anyone who would have to carry me round should my knees give way then it’s my brother.

In the meantime I’ll take my half hour plods around Singapore in the 30 degrees heat. But when your route takes in views like this, then it does make it all worthwhile.

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If you’re wondering why my name is Running Wolf, well it’s because the night before I ran the London Marathon for the first time, I had this dream that I was raised in a tribe and my name was Running Wolf. Look what my friend Sprinty Otter got engraved for me.

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Love is……..a heart shaped potato wedge

So it’s Saint Valentine’s Day. That one day of the year where red roses, chocolates and love hearts reign supreme and at a premium.

Yesterday I asked Husband what big, romantic plan did he have in store for me on Valentine’s Day. He replied with ‘I’m going out to get drunk’.

Valentine’s Day has come to mean different things to me over the years. As a young child and adolescent, there was the frisson of hope and anticipation over whether the school ‘postman’ would deliver a Valentine’s Day card to your desk from a Secret Admirer with the cryptic inscription of ‘Will you be my Valentine, love from ?’ Maybe your Secret Admirer wooed you with romantic poems. Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and so are you. Perhaps the envelope was S.W.A.L.K.

How easy it can be to forget those days of innocence. Where Valentine’s Day was simple and not some expected grand gesture.

At what point did I become slightly jaded about the day. Perhaps when you become slightly jaded about many things like paying taxes and extortionate rent. When you feel coerced into something rather than acting on free will.

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I remember quite clearly being sixteen and a rather large gooseberry I now realise, with Big Brother Li and my now sister in law walking along Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, Hong Kong which looks across the harbour to Hong Kong island’s beautiful skyline. This is a prime spot for courting couples and naturally there are flower sellers peddling their wares. On spotting a young couple and gooseberry in tow, one such flower seller tried to persuade Big Brother Li to give his belle a single stem rose but he was having none of it. I was so mortified at what a tightwad he was and so embarrassed for my now sister in law and quite convinced that was to be the end of that budding romance. Big Brother Li is rather a stubborn one and quite forthright in his convictions and his refusal was because he quite simply didn’t want to be told when to be romantic. To mitigate his tightwadness, he did go to an actual florist the day after to buy a proper bouquet which is a huge deal for him and obviously worked.

I guess that’s what it comes down to. Love, spontaneous romance, acts of kindness to each other should happen at any time and it should have meaning to you and not to symbolise to the wider world that we are very much in love. Although I fully advocate effort to be made on Valentine’s Day in any new budding romance because it would be quite tragic not to have that before you stop finding each other’s farts endearing. But as relationships develop into years you need to count on more than one hand, there is something else you want to know. That you are both able to remind each other of that fresh excitement and rush of endorphins you once had when your relationship was new and unhindered by the hum drum daily grind of work, children, money and just stuff.

Yes, it is easy to mock the whole of Valentine’s Day being some commercial crap and therefore not to buy into it out of principle. Roses are so overrated and overpriced on this day when tomorrow you could buy double the quantity for the same price. Why stress out over booking Valentine’s Day dinner at the perfect restaurant when next weekend would still be ok. Why should romance be limited to one day out of 365 (or 366)?

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Mrs Calamari posted this photo of a heart shaped potato on Facebook a little while back and it reminded me of a painful Valentine’s Day incident some 10 or 11 years ago with a work colleague. I happened to walk past her desk and noticed one of those Sainsbury’s recipe cards. In my defence I can only claim to be possessed by the Anti-Cupid to have said out loud, ‘How sad.’ I’m not sure what exactly I was feeling sad about but I’m quite convinced it was the idea that there could be a recipe card explaining how to make Heart Shaped Potato Wedges and not that I thought she was sad for wanting to make Heart Shaped Potato Wedges.

Which obviously is how she took my meaning. Oh it was awful. The office was open plan, it was after lunch and everyone was back at their desks and I was left trying to dig myself out of a bottomless hole. The conversation that I hadn’t been privy to, just a mere five minutes earlier, was how this work colleague had excitedly been telling everyone that her and her boyfriend were not to be taken in by the commercial pressure of a fine meal out in some romantic restaurant so they were going to cook their first romantic Valentine’s Day meal at home together. Valentine’s Day principles I fully support! She was going to do the starter and pudding and her boyfriend the main course and she was very excited at having found some recipe cards in Sainsbury’s to give her just the ideas she needed. Until I came along with my ‘How sad’ which sent everything crashing down. Colleagues around us went silent. She screeched at me in a very vexed high pitch to explain exactly what did I mean by that. Oh, it’s still awful thinking about it now. She was very gracious when I did explain it was the idea of needing a recipe to make Heart Shaped Potato Wedges and not that to make them would be sad. But then that was rubbishing her culinary skills too. I should stop.

Romance and expressing your love and appreciation of someone is, of course, not limited to one day. But sometimes it can be a timely reminder that love and romance is very much alive and well in your relationship and even if you choose to do nothing special today, you may at least think of some romantic plan for another day. I may eschew any public display of Valentine’s Day affection but it is still a good reason to have a glass of red wine and steak and chips on a weekday. Husband has not gone out to get drunk as he declared but neither have we enjoyed a candlelit meal pour deux, lingering over wine and the warm glow of coupledom. Instead, we had #1 and 2 at the table stealing our chips and yabbering on about anything they can think of at high volume.

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Today, I was reminded that Valentine’s Day is still a simple affair. It’s just a day to let someone know you love them. #1 and 2 came back from school proffering homemade Valentine’s Day gifts for Husband and myself. Far be it for me to foist any ‘it’s a day of commercial crap’ onto them so young. I want them to grow up feeling free to express their feelings and I want them for as long as possible to enjoy the thrill that someone finds them interesting and will today pluck up the courage to let them know.

I hope someone broke off from the hum drum daily grind to let you know they love you. Better yet, I hope someone is still making Heart Shaped Potato Wedges for their someone special because it’s so easy to let go of these small acts of romantic gesture that can remind you of so much.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Let me tell you about……..My Lil Bro

When you are little, it’s hard to imagine things. For example for #1 and 2, what is real is what they see day to day. Try to explain the existence of other places when Singapore friends move countries or when we talk about our friends and family who live all around the world or something that happened before their time, it’s very difficult for them to grasp. Then it all falls into place and becomes part of their consciousness when they meet that person or go to that place.

Until Nana Moon came to stay, she was just a name but now she is Nana Moon who has a brother called This who lives in New Zealand and a sister called That who lives in England. She likes Star Wars and #1 points out everything Stars Wars related. She also lives in space whilst Uncle Monkey lives in the jungle. One of those statements is true. It’s a first step towards establishing the importance of these relationships and that seeing is believing.

When I was very little, My Dad Mr Li had talked about an Uncle and Aunt that came with a Lil Bro and Lil Sis in Scotland but what exactly did that mean? (Another Lil Bro and Lil Sis came along a few years later). I should explain that in Chinese culture they are Lil Bro and Lil Sis and not cousins because the children of brothers are considered as close as siblings. Until that point, I had mostly been around relatives who were older and quite a bit older than me. So it was an exciting and whole new world to discover relatives the same age and be around them too.

I was eight years old when several important things happened all at once. I went to Hong Kong for the very first time in a jumbo jet and subsequently thought all aeroplanes were that big. It was quite an occasion we were going back for – the celebration of a brand new Li Clan house had been built in our ancestral village of Tai Po Mei complete with indoor flushing toilet. (I couldn’t quite see the significance of this until I saw the squatting toilets and bucket under the bed alternatives a short while later.)

Lil Bro but not Lil Sis came to Hong Kong for the celebration and also Cousin T who lived next door. Our house was in the furthest part of the village away from the main entrance as you could get but in the early 80s it was still a thriving community. Full of people who all shared the same ancestry and Lee/Li/Lei name. There was a banquet and fire crackers to mark the occasion of a new home to bring good luck and good health for a brand new start.

I have only ever experienced this kind of close knit community for the three short weeks I was in Hong Kong at the age of eight. By the time I went back again seven years later much had changed. But back in 1982, we were free to wander around our stretch of village and wander up to the small shop for ice lollies. We were around our beloved Grandma, Por Por, in her element and we were cocooned by so many family members who went back years and years. Lil Bro was familiar with them having lived in our village a few years earlier. He’s still close to many of them now and will mention a Brother Seven of Uncle Two or something and I will just stare at him blankly. I guess it’s a village male thing.

The experience of this first trip to Hong Kong though remains with me vividly even now. It was about finding out about my heritage, being with my Dad, Mr Li and having family like Lil Bro to share it with. We’ve had a couple more shared trips back to Hong Kong since then for other rather big occasions. Each time he feels the need to point out that Chinese doesn’t appear to be my strongest language which makes me want to brush up on my Mandarin and speak only that at high speed so he can’t follow and then tell him the same but regrettably I haven’t quite mastered that yet and so will have to put up with him being annoying.

It’s his birthday today and I’m not allowed to tell you he’s just five months and two days younger than me. I think he says I have to say he’s at least eight years younger. I’m not sure what he’s up to by way of celebration. Most likely staying up late and chasing girls like he says he’s always up to, to which I roll my eyes and say Pah.

When we were young, he was easy going, sociable and fun to be with. Even my quite a bit older relatives say this and they are super hard to please. He’s still the same now you know, although with a few more responsibilities to shoulder. It’s good to have someone that understands where you are coming from without feeling the need to explain yourself all the time.

It’s not often we express appreciation of our family as much as we do our friends. Perhaps we expect a lot more from family than friends when we need them as family are usually always there. But he is incredibly good at being there and a credit to his parents. He checks in on my Dad Mr Li and I’m grateful there’s another person looking out for him.

As I think about it now, I realise just how glad I am that we do get along and how he was there for my Graduation and when I got married, which was no easy task for him for reasons I’m not going to say. Though I guess a real sign of effort is the fact he will get up before noon to drive from Lincoln to Newcastle or London to see us on our trips back to the UK.

So today he’s celebrating his birthday and I just want to wish him a very Happy Birthday and to say I’m thinking of him too. And that I haven’t forgotten to tell everyone he’s my much younger Lil Bro like he’s asked me to.

Happy Birthday Lil Bro.

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I also want to include this photo too because he looks constipated and it makes me laugh.

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A solemn day

We have all been told before that amongst friends (and strangers) we should never debate politics and religion. I can claim no authority on either matter and so it’s not something I am likely to say much about. Besides on a blog it’s just a one sided opinion.

I know that September 11 will hold it’s own significance for you and I don’t wish to talk about the events that led to the loss of nearly 3,000 lives that day in New York and Washington but in my mind I will be quietly paying my own respects.

Before the tragic events of that day unfolded, it was already going to be an important date for me as I was flying to Hong Kong after an 11 year absence. It was meant to be a day of anticipation; a 13 hour long haul flight lay ahead of me with the thrill of flying Virgin Airways (very good in those days) and going all that way by myself to see family I hadn’t seen for years and best of all, to meet my eight year old nephew #1 for the first time.

When news broke that day of what was happening, shock and disbelief reverberated around the office, like it did everywhere else I imagine. Nobody was able to concentrate on work and speculation and fear was rife that the same would happen to Canary Wharf. With a flight to catch myself that night, I was naturally scared but I don’t recall thinking I ought to cancel. Just before I finished work to go to the airport and some colleagues were wishing me a safe flight and good holiday, I remember one colleague helpfully reassuring me that with a bit of luck nothing would happen to my flight because I was going the other way.

That evening at Heathrow airport, security was fierce as it ought to be but the atmosphere was very solemn unlike how an airport should be. #1 and 2 love going to the airport because we are either going somewhere exciting or picking up someone special. I am fairly nervous of flying as it is, a trait inherited from Mr Li, and it was hard boarding that flight after all that had happened on that day. Two years later, I again boarded another flight on September 11 and again it was a very solemn flight for the reason I told you about in my last post.

If I’m going to wander down this ‘where were you when’ path, I think of the day the Manchester city centre bombing happened on 15 June 1996 ( I actually didn’t remember the exact date and looked it up). I was still at University and it was just before summer break and the Graduation of many friends. At the time I was working part time for Ath-Leisure, a designer men’s clothing shop that played Oasis and Stone Roses on loop all day. The store was located right in the centre, just metre’s from the Arndale Shopping Centre and very near to the location of the bombing. By chance, I had decided to quit that job the Saturday before because I wanted to spend more time with my friends. The company policy was that you leave the same day otherwise I would have been working that day but I wasn’t. I was in the communal bathroom in our halls. Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment the shockwaves reached us and it felt like being inside a balloon when the air is suddenly let out and blown back in again.

We were unaware of the devastation until the photos appeared in the newspapers the next day. Then gradually as life resumed, we heard of friends who had been in town when it happened. I remember a boy telling me that he was walking past a shop window when the explosion happened and he saw the glass shatter just as he was passed it and had never felt so lucky. Perhaps being so much younger then, the impact of this event has left less of a mark. Perhaps it was because there were thankfully no fatalities.

Then there are the July 7 2005 London bombings. Whilst I was on my way to work and ought to have been on the Underground travelling from north to south London, the bombings had already taken place and I was evacuated from the train about five or six stops into my journey. There was a lot of confusion going on and no one seemed to know what had happened. Many people were attempting to get into work still. Mobile phone lines were jammed so it took a while to contact some at work and my colleague just said, don’t try to come in and go home. So that’s what I did.

I don’t have much else I want to say on this matter, you can probably hear the reluctance as you read but I did say that this blog is to remind me of what has come before and these sad events are significant in my history and this is what I remember of those very solemn days. On the other hand, whilst we won’t forget, there are and will be lots of other years that share part of these same dates bringing lots of good things and happier events like Birthdays and anniversaries and that is something to be thankful for.

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364

So with my 39th Birthday out of the way with, it’s time to get on with business. As I sit and write this I’m filled with a bit of apprehension and nerves because what exactly is a blog and what is it meant to achieve? It seems very ‘look at me’ or rather ‘listen to me’ and the British side of me feels a bit ‘do you honestly want to do this?’ and when I tell people about this blog I feel like cringing but overall I think I do want to do this. I haven’t particularly done any amount of research into how to write a great blog that people will read because that’s not my main purpose. Neither is it therapy to ‘find myself’, although if I dig out something that I thought was long forgotten then I won’t mind that at all. I guess I just want to share some stories of how I got to here. A blog is hugely personal, however it’s not all just about me, because my history involves other people and that could be you. Assuming the you I’m talking about is a friend and not some random stranger who happened to come across this by accident. So you could help me along the way too. Perhaps I’ve missed out some detail or you’ve remembered something too and can add to something I’ve said. Or perhaps with the cloudiness of booze fogged nights and too many years gone by, I’ve completely made something up and it never happened like that at all!

As I’ve mentioned before, right now I’m sort of non descriptive about turning 40, to some it’s no big deal anyway, but that may change because there’s a lot of emphasis and expectation about this big milestone. Turning 30 was great and definitely no big deal, it was all about a party and getting drunk with your friends, I’ll talk about this another time. It’s also not like I’m heading towards this step alone either, I’m sort of in the middle. I know plenty of people who have turned 40 and appear exactly the same as before and still smile every day (Husband included). Amongst some friends, like the old University group, I’m one of the first to go overboard but the others are not far behind. Then there are the odd few who are still in their early 30s and will view this spectacle with a distant superiority.

If like me, you find your days are flowing by and yet you feel you can hardly remember what has filled it, then it sort of explains how I feel and why I want to do an audit now. To build an archive of memories that I can refer back to but not so that I remain in the past, I’m very happy with the present and looking forward to the future. I just want to have a laugh at the me of past and remember you too. You the friend not the random stranger who is reading this by accident. I’m not going to write every day as that would be tedious but do check in once in a while and see if you make an appearance, I’m quite sure you will.

Today’s title 364 is dedicated to my wonderful friend Uncle Monkey, who is looking forward to this next year with relish and so am I because the escapades he has gotten us into requires a whole blog of it’s own.

Goodnight from me in Singapore.
Aged 39 and 1 day

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