Review of Psycle

Since I’m on a running break right now and I’m new to London, this seems like the perfect time to try out some intro offers at various fitness studios around town.  My physio gave me the green light to go to a spin class, so I signed up for the two classes for £20 intro special at Psycle.  This spin studio opened recently in Fitzrovia and is meant to be London’s answer to Flywheel, SoulCycle, etc in the States.  I had only ever been to Off Road in DC (which I really liked), so I am no expert, but I heard from a few people that Psycle isn’t as good as SoulCycle.  For £20 per class I know this won’t be a regular thing, but I thought I would try it out this week while I’m on my running break.

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First, the studio.  It is definitely posh.  When you book in online you reserve your cycle and your shoes (clip-in shoes only, which they supply) and once you learn your cycle settings, it will be pre-set for you.  The changing room has lockers that lock and is fitted out with plenty of amenities (more on that later).  I was given my shoes and directed to the studio downstairs (no photos because they discourage phones on the bike, but if you google you will find plenty).

There was an assistant going around adjusting cycles and he was very nice about helping me set mine up and showing me how to clip in my shoes.  Towels and small hand weights are provided, and I brought my own water.

The room started off very dark and at various times throughout the 45-minute class neon lights came on and off, like a nightclub.  The music was clubby too, all brand new stuff.  The instructor was high-energy and basically danced on the bike the whole time.  It is definitely a full-body workout.  We did lots of fast-pace spinning on the bike, lots of getting out of the bike and bouncing, lots of arm movements in the bike but only one small segment with the hand weights; I would have liked more time with the weights.  It was definitely a tough workout and I got what I wanted—45 minutes of cardio and sweating—but I would have liked more focus on the spinning and less on the dance choreography.  I’m not much of a dancer to begin with, so it’s really just me – the class was a good class, just not quite my style.  I was trying to keep up with the various arm movements and directions so much that at times I forgot I was spinning and I know I wasn’t really focused on that or pushing my legs as much as I could have because I was so distracted.  But I am sure that as you go more regularly, you get used to it and get better at the coordination.

After class there was a rush to the locker rooms.  Like I said, these are nice.  There are only 12 showers so a queue formed for showers (about 45 people were in the class, mostly women), but it moved fast.  They supply towels, Bumble and Bumble shampoo and conditioners, and ila body wash, face wash and body/hand lotion, which is all really nice.  There are also hair dryers, hair straighteners and other miscellaneous items to use after, which is also nice.  It was a bit crowded but workable.  All you really need to bring with you is your clothes, brush/comb and any specific hair products, lotions or makeup that you use, which makes it easy to get ready and go to work after.

I will definitely go back for my second class next week and try a different instructor.  I’m glad to have this to do during my running break, but I can’t imagine it becoming a regular thing.

Country Walk in Sussex

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Last Friday night, Andy and I decided somewhat last minute to get out of London for the day and do a country walk on Saturday.

30 walksWe used Time Out’s guide to 30 Country Walks Near London, which is excellent.  Every walk featured is accessible from central London by train.  Most of the walks listed seem to start with about a 1 to 2 hour train journey, all originating in London, and when you arrive at the destination, you do a walk of anywhere from about 5 to 12 miles, all doable in one day.  It seems that all of the walks have various options for shorter or longer distances, include recommendations for pub lunches and tea stops, and bring you back to where you started to board the train back to London at the end of the day.  Perfect.

Stonegate Circular walk - 05So we chose a walk somewhat at random, deciding to do a shorter walk for our first attempt.  We took the train from Charing Cross and one hour later, there we were at a rural train station in Stonegate, in Sussex, which basically felt like the middle of nowhere.  The book offers extremely detailed directions (and provides a map, but the map is not very helpful).  We set off on a country road, and proceeding to ramble over fields, past cows and sheep, over streams, through woods.

Stonegate Circular walk - 04The first half of our walk was about three to four miles of rolling terrain and we didn’t see a single person the entire time, just cows and sheep.

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It was glorious: stereotypical rolling English countryside with green fields, blue skies and fluffy clouds.  The book’s directions were extremely detailed and pretty accurate and easy to follow, with just a few moments where we had to stop and guess on a few turns.  For future walks, especially longer ones, I think I want to get some copies of Ordnance Survey maps just in case.

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Stonegate Circular walk - 07After about two hours we emerged into a churchyard in the small village of Burwash.

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We ambled down the short high street to the lunch destination, the Rose and Crown pub.

Stonegate Circular walk - 13This was the most adorable little country pub, complete with old fellows at the bar, low timbered ceilings, fish and chips on the menu and pints of bitter on cask.  We had a pint and lunch and soaked up the atmosphere.  I didn’t take photos inside because I was trying not to be overly touristy.

After lunch, we continued on the high street and set off for the second half of the walk, through hops fields and along more country walking paths.

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The walk looped us back to the train station where we began.  We only had to wait about 20 minutes, then boarded a train and an hour later we were back in central London.  Unreal.

I loved the the rural countryside and outdoorsy things like this are so easy to get to from the city.  It was a perfect day and I can’t wait to work our way through more of the walks in this book!

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Running and Not Running

One of the first things I did after realizing that I was really, truly moving to London was to google European fall marathons.  So many great options – Dublin, Amsterdam, the Côte d’Azur!  I settled on Dublin and looked forward to lots of long runs this summer to explore London and counteract the effects of pub culture, to be capped off by a long weekend in Dublin with 26.2 miles, a new PB and a celebratory Guinness after.

But it is not to be.  I wrote about my right knee problem earlier this summer.  I thought some rest and a few trips to my PT in the States was enough to loosen up my hip and IT band and strengthen my glute.  The first few weeks of running in London were fabulous and I began picturing a 4:00 marathon.  You know what they say about the best-laid plans.

IMG_6004I took off a few days, to no avail.  Took off a week and modified my training plan, thinking I could at least do the distance even if I lost a few training days.  No luck.  Finally last week I went to a physio and faced the truth that the Dublin Marathon is not in the cards this fall.  There will be other races, but right now, I need to get this fixed.

On the plus side, the physio I went to was excellent.  She spent a full hour with me and is the first health care professional I have seen who really tried to get to the root of the problem.  I have never had a more thorough exam.  My problem is definitely my IT band, but she started with my feet – of course!  So obvious that you need to start with the foundation!  It turns out that I have poor toe mobility (we laughed about how that sounds silly but it is true), meaning I can’t move my big toe on its own.  She showed me that I also have anterior pelvic tilt, common among women, and I need to work on my posture.  She also took a video of me running on the treadmill and showed me how my right hip dips down dramatically with every step, which is bad.  The entire appointment was fascinating to me, to see literally exactly what the problems are and how my alignment is off.

The good news is that it is all fixable.  The PT assured me that nothing is serious or long-term, and it can be changed.  Apparently I am hyper-mobile and flexibility isn’t a problem, but I just need to re-teach my body how to move.  She gave me a number of small exercises to do to improve toe/foot mobility and practice using my glutes without moving my hips, plus foam rolling.  These little movements are hard as hell.  Try standing on both legs in front of a mirror and lifting one knee at a time without moving your hips or trunk at all.  Hard!  But she told me the more I do it, the faster my body will learn how to move. Sold.

I am relieved to have some direction to fix this so I can get back on track and run more long distances in the future, but I know that will be a long-term proposition.  I am to take two weeks off running completely, to let my inflammation heal and get stronger, then ease into things with short distances.  My physio is also a runner and told me that it is okay to do other exercises, and was understanding about how hard it is mentally and physically to stop running.  She said, find whatever it is you get from running and see how you can get it from something else.

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I have been going to yoga quite a bit (for me) and I am really loving it.  I used up my five-class intro pack at The Power Yoga Company in Fulham and I’m now on a 10-class pack, and I love it there.  I’ve been going twice a week and it is fabulous: a good, sweaty workout and a chance to clear my mind and focus.  I also went to a restorative yoga class at Blue Cow Yoga, which was different and fun.  Very relaxing, but probably not a place I will go regularly since TPYC is so much closer and I’ve loved it there so much.

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I also went to an outdoor yoga class at the Serpentine in Hyde Park last week at sunset, a free event sponsored by Lululemon.  It was cool – actually, it was quite cold – and the class itself wasn’t amazing or anything, but being outside in Hyde Park practicing yoga was fabulous, as was the free swag (a free yoga mat! plus prosecco, fruit, etc after).

This week, I am signed up to try my first spin class.  Spin class is expensive as hell in London, so I am going to use up intro classes as various places and then see from there.

And I’m not going to lie, I’ve already looked into spring marathons.  The London Marathon ballot is closed, but there is Barcelona in March and Edinburgh in May.  But you know what they say about that picture in your head.  One thing at a time.  I’m going to go lift my toes, strengthen my glutes, and remember that while running is super important to me, it’s not the only thing.

London via Coffeeshops

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Part of my adjustment to London life is adjusting to working remotely.  Working remotely definitely has its benefits, but I actually really miss having a set workplace to commute to every day, and I miss being around co-workers.  I’ve been skyping and g-chatting with co-workers frequently, which helps, but I also really need to be out of my flat and around other humans to feel normal.  While it is easier to do work conference calls from the solitude of my flat, I definitely can’t spend all day/every day in there or I would go insane.  So I have been exploring various coffeeshops both in my neighborhood and further afield as a way to both get human interaction and see different parts of London.

I have a running list of criteria of what I am seeking when identifying a place to get work done.  First and foremost, there needs to be free, reliable wifi.  It also needs to have tables for working on, obviously, and an atmosphere where it is acceptable to spend 1 – 3 hours on a Mac book for the cost of a coffee and perhaps a scone (although I have quickly learned that a regular scone/muffin habit is certainly not sustainable from either a cost or health standpoint).  Bonus points for a back garden where I can be on the phone without annoying anyone.  Absent that, a quiet corner that is suitable for phone calls is also nice to find.

Speaking of the coffee itself, I have mostly been drinking black Americanos, long blacks and pour-overs where I can find them, and while I have found a number of places that pride themselves on their high-qualify coffee, few have really impressed me.  I hate to stereotype or criticize, but the coffee scene in London is really not as impressive as the indie coffee shops all seem to think it is.  Generally I prefer darker, richer blends and most places seem to serve lighter, more acidic roasts.  But at least there is caffeine; in fact, I know I am overdoing it because I am getting caffeine withdrawal on the weekends, so I clearly need to start drinking ordering juice or something a little more often than always coffee.

I have also sought out non-cafe type places to work.  Joining a shared workspace might happen in the future, but for now I am looking for more casual options.  I went to the British Library to apply to use the reading rooms there.

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Unfortunately I need an academic purpose to use their reading rooms.  I am sure I will come up with something for that, but that particular day I wasn’t prepared to request any books so instead I just used the cafe at the library, which actually worked really well.  I think there are other museum cafes with wifi that I could use, so I’m going to continue to look into options like that.

Also, I spent about an hour one day working in Bloomsbury Square Gardens when I had a document to edit in word and didn’t need wifi.  That went well, and it was actually nice to focus on something without any email distractions popping up.

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So I thought I might start a blog series documenting the best coffeeshops I’ve found so far.  I mostly have found these through sites like Time Out and London Thru Cafes.  Sadly, Yelp, my go-to in the U.S., doesn’t seem to be heavily used in London, other than by Americans and tourists, although it is sometimes helpful.

Here are a few of the places I have tried:

TAP Coffee (Soho location)

IMG_6140Lots of tables, other people working, very good pour-over coffees for 2.50, a selection of pastries and sandwiches that looked good (but I didn’t have any), a clean toilet, free wifi, good music (but too loud for phone calls). Win.

Freestate (Holborn)

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Gets a little crowded at lunch; 8oz pour-over for 2.70 was good but not amazing; good mix of background noise with people working and having small work-like meetings, but gets crowded at lunch and they shut down the wifi from 12-2 on weekdays; perhaps best early in the morning or later in afternoon.

Coffee Works Project, Islington

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Filters start at 3.50 but they had cold brew on the menu too.  I have sorely missed good iced coffee in London so I ordered that.  It was 2.50 but tiny!  Like 6 ounces of cold coffee and not very strong!  But the space here and the location on Camden Passage in Islington was fabulous.  Free wifi, clean toilet, food looked good although I didn’t try any.  I would definitely go back but would order something else.  Other people were working on Macs, and there was a back garden although I’m not sure if wifi worked out there; will have to try it.

Shoreditch Grind, Old Street

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I was excited to try this place since it is apparently a bit of a legend in the London coffee scene and now has several new locations.  The location and interior was definitely hip, and while busy, I was able to get a seat easily.  I had a long black which was okay but not very strong, and the wifi is only available for 45 minutes.  Food looked good and I would come back perhaps on a weekend for a coffee and to hang out, but wouldn’t attempt to get serious work done here.

I will say that I am always conscious of not overstaying my welcome, and if I camp out for too long I make sure to order another drink or something to eat.  I also wouldn’t stay long at a place if I was finished with my order and other people were looking for seats, but I really haven’t had that problem yet.  There are so many cafes in London, and so many other people working on laptops that I haven’t run into a problem yet.

Do you work remotely?  Any tips?  Any London coffeeshop recommendations?

Liverpool Weekend

This past weekend, I took my first trip out of London.  Andy and I went up to Liverpool to explore the city and see a football (soccer) match.IMG_6089

We went up late on Friday evening on a train, which was quick and easy.  Checked into our hotel, a basic chain hotel on Albert Dock around midnight, and woke up the next morning to clear, sunny skies. IMG_6090

I was dying for a run along the waterfront but I am sidelined for the moment by my IT band issue, so instead we took a walk around, had coffee by the water, and visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum and International Slavery Museum, both of which were excellent and offered interesting views into Liverpool’s past.

Later, we walked into city centre and of course checked out the (rebuilt) Cavern Club, where the Beatles got their start.IMG_6092

I was pleasantly surprised to see what a vibrant little downtown Liverpool has.  The city has a nice scale and there were plenty of people out and about on Saturday walking and shopping along the many pedestrianized streets.  IMG_6093 IMG_6095

We also explored the Ropewalks, the more hipster/indie part of the city, and had a fabulous Lebanese lunch.IMG_6099

We also went into St. Luke’s Church, bombed out in WWII and now used as a cool community space for arts, music and special events.  Very cool. IMG_6101

And visited the Liverpool Cathedral, the fifth-largest cathedral in the world.  It was massive; photos could never capture the scale.  The architect also built Battersea Power Station and you can see the resemblance in person. IMG_6109

Later we wandered around, stopping off at historic pubs and checking out side streets, and eventually ending up at a music festival with tons of local bands, some of whom were really good.  Liverpool is definitely a cool city, with interesting local culture and pride.IMG_6116

And on Sunday, we went to see LFC play a friendly against Dortmund.  It was so much fun to be at Anfield, to see the players in person and get to experience it all firsthand.  Looking forward to lots more football this year!IMG_6131The trip home was a bit of a hassle because trains weren’t running so we took a bus and it was a bit of a cluster…but we got home eventually.  It’s funny how when you live in a new place and then go away, coming back can make your new home feel a bit more like “home”.

London Explorations

I thought I would do a little bit of a catch-up/photo dump of the exploring I’ve been doing the past week or two in London.

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Since I now work remotely, I don’t have an office to go to every day, which I actually miss a lot more than I thought I would.  I am still figuring out my daily routine and workspace, but generally I go somewhere, like a coffeeshop, to work in the morning and then return home in the afternoon to do phone calls/Skype into meetings from my flat.  Mostly I stick around my neighborhood in West London but I’ve tested out other areas as well.

One day last week I worked at a coffeeshop in Soho in the morning and then ate a quick lunch outside in Soho Square.  With the weather being so amazing right now, everyone was out and about and I remembered how much I love being in a huge city.IMG_5993

I’ve also enjoyed early morning walks to yoga classes on weekday mornings, watching the neighborhood wake up.

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Last Saturday, after my 10K race, Andy and I enjoyed a fun day in East London that started with lunch at Typing Room.  It was fantastic, and definitely in my list of top five meals ever.

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Excellent fresh bread with a marmite spread, brought to our table by the head chef

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Raw scallop with summer flowers

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Cod, perfectly cooked

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Dessert of yogurt and summer berries

After lunch we walked around Broadway Market and Hackney.

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And did a tour of London Fields Brewery.  The tour was great, really entertaining, and followed by lots of generous tastings.

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Loving London right now.

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It’s such a great time to be here, and the amount of things to see and do are completely overwhelming (in a good way!).

Sri Chinmoy/Run and Become 10K Race Recap

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On Saturday, I decided somewhat on a whim to do a 10K race being held in Battersea Park.  I haven’t been in a race since March, and felt like it would be fun to try my first race in London.  There seem to be lots of races happening here all the time, many of which seem like low-key affairs in parks (I am excited to try out Parkrun).

A 10K race didn’t necessarily fit into my Dublin Marathon training plan, but I’ve been enjoying running so much lately and trying to get faster, so when I came across the Run and Become/Sri Chinmoy/Self-Transcendence series (not really sure what it is called??), I thought I’d give it a go, seeing that it was only 10 GBP and looked easy enough to get there.

I ran 14 miles on Friday morning as my long run of the week, so between that and my IT band acting up, I guessed that this might not be a super fast race for me, but since my last 10K was several years ago, I thought I could at least PR (er, PB as they say in the UK), and get to see what races are like here.IMG_6004

I foam-rolled and stretched like crazy on Friday to try and get as recovered from the 14 miles as I could, and awoke on Saturday with no knee pain.  Yay!  I slipped out early and hopped on a Barclays Cycle Hire (still getting used to not calling it bikeshare) for the ~3 mile ride to Battersea Park.  I have been cycling here at bit, but not as much as I did in DC as I am still trying to learn the roads and get used to being on the left (harder on a bike than you might think).  Also, it seems that drivers here are not as accommodating of pedestrians/cyclists as they are in the States, which is saying something.  So an early Saturday morning ride was a good way to get comfortable cycling without the threats of weekday rush hour traffic.

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I loved this ride; crossing Battersea Bridge with no traffic and views of the sunrise over the city was fantastic.  There was no way I could risk getting a photo though!

The race was set up as four loops through the park.  Registering onsite and checking my bag was simple and quick.  There were only about 200 runners so it was a very low-key start which I enjoyed.

IMG_6035I did notice there seemed to be a lot more men than women, at least compared to the ratio I normally saw at US races, and that a number of people were wearing running club uniforms (kits), which was intimidating….seemed like a serious group of fast runners.

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I was hoping to maintain a pace of about 8:00 – 8:10/mile, which was ambitious for me but I wanted to push myself.  I was able to keep that pace for the first mile, but my legs felt really heavy and of course my right knee/IT band began to twinge.  I dialed it back for the rest of the run, with all of my later miles in the 8:30 to 8:45 range.  The fact that it was such a small field kept me going because there was no way I wanted to be last.  I mainly focused on tagging runners in front of me to pass or keep up with, and try not to get passed (much).

You could say doing four loops of the same route was boring, but I actually didn’t mind it because after the first loop, I knew what was coming each time and came to expect every turn.  The course marshals were great, cheering for runners and offering encouraging words, and there were cups of water offered on every loop.

I finished in 53.57, slower than I intended but given my dead legs, I was happy with it.  And it was a PB!  My first race in London and altogether it was really well-organized.  There was water, orange squash (juice) and some kind of sports drink offered after, along with bananas and cereal bars, which was nice and unexpected.

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I took this photo before the race started….was not dexterous enough to take good photos during the race.

I hung around for a bit watching the other finishers come in and chatting a tiny bit, and then hopped on a cycle home.  A little lonely to not know a single other person at the race, but that will come in time.  Altogether, a great little race and I’d be happy to do more like these again.