back in London

As my plane touched down in London, I was so happy to be back with my dear friend Richard once again, and eager to rediscover England and everything that it had to offer. Staying with Richard a couple of days before leaving for Germany had been only enough time for two things: to catch up since we had met during our travels in Asia earlier in the year, and to make me excited about seeing London, without having anywhere near enough time to actually see much of the city. I was determined to do quite a bit more sightseeing this time around, and after taking a break partying at wild Oktoberfest, I was motivated to try once again to continue with my training.

After my recent awkward and uncomfortable yoga class in Germany, I was convinced that I needed to take a more proactive approach towards healing, and enroll myself in another class- but this time, hot yoga. I hoped that my new experience with yoga in London (that would be taught in English this time!) might at least turn out to be more helpful than embarrassing, which would automatically be better than it was in Mannheim.

A couple of days later, I found myself quickly readjusting to the busy atmosphere of endless London crowds, and the general air of discontent throughout the city. Once again, I was riding on transportation that always seemed to take too long, next to people who always seemed to be annoyed or bothered, or generally uncomfortable in one way or another. The weather was cloudy and rainy, and the hoardes of unhappy people trudged through the streets: to work, home from work, to work, home from work, in a fluid sea of blacks, browns and greys. Somehow London seemed so much more gloomy to me after my short time at the ever-jubilant Oktoberfest, as overly jolly Bavarians and tourists alike romped through Munich wearing bright and cheery colors, with a steady and constant flow of beer in their veins.

moccasins and smiles

Still, even in this comparably melancholy atmosphere of London, I was elated to see Richard again. And although I stood out pretty clearly in the crowds with an American accent and perpetual smiles, I suddenly felt at home in busy, noisy London.

I was feeling much better after walking many miles my last couple of days in Germany without pain, and I became hopeful once again that I had finally healed. And so, with eager hopefulness, the day after my arrival, I set out with my running shoes on, determined to continue with my training. I wanted to feel the steady rhythm of my shoes landing on the pavement, and my breath being taken away as I pushed myself to run harder, go faster, and continue on the course I had planned out, my own personal race track.

As I set out with my first few steps easing into a quick jog, I was giddy with excitement over finally being able to run again. I had been falling further and further behind in my training for the marathon since my injury, and as the other Team in Training participants had made their way up to twelve miles, I was left hobbling around in pain and frustration. It felt so good to be running again, and training for the first time in weeks.

But after only a couple of minutes, my happiness was forced into a screeching halt. Once again, I felt sharp pain in my hamstrings and my gluteal muscles, and as my cheerful run soon became a limping stagger, I was overcome with disappointment. I sighed loudly, and I seemed to be making a bit of a scene, (as I unintentionally found myself often doing while in London) with my almost instant shift from blissful happiness to terror to utter disappointment within seconds. I could feel the puzzled faces peering over at me from behind my slunched shoulders, and I meekly and defeatedly made my way back to Richard’s apartment. I worried that I wouldn’t heal in time to be able to run the Honolulu Marathon, as time was running out, and I was only a little over a month away from the day of the race. I hoped desperately that hot yoga would be the answer, and finally heal me of my injury.

The next day I woke at sunrise, threw on some gym clothes, and headed towards the tube station, ready to begin another yoga class. I figured it would be much more relaxing and easygoing considering it would be in English this time, and would be pleasantly warmer than the uncomfortably cool studio in the German gym. I was mistaken.

Upon arriving at the gym, I was begrudgingly greeted by a sour-faced receptionist, who demanded to know whether I wanted to purchase a single class for fifteen pounds, or a week’s worth of classes for twenty pounds. I decided to try to get my money’s worth, and pay for the week special for new members, still noting to myself how outrageously expensive it was. The woman directed me to yoga studio, and I opened the door to a room that felt nothing like an exercise studio, but instead a sauna. Shocked to find what seemed to be around thirty people taking the class at once, I discreetly picked out a spot for myself in the back row, far away from the instructor so that he might not notice my total lack of flexibility.

As I laid out my yoga mat on the floor, I looked at the crowd around me, finding many of the other people in the class to be doing what appeared to be warm-up stretches, while deep in concentration. I had no idea why this could be, considering that we would have a full hour and a half of stretching ahead of us, and the room was already a staggering 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees celsius) which would pretty much do all the “warming up” a person would need, in only a few seconds. A woman in the front row wearing a sports bra and black leggings stretched nimbly, bringing her beautifully sinewy spandex-clad leg up to her head with such poise and grace that I subconsciously cowered in embarrassment watching her. She showcased her gently toned abdominal muscles while balancing on one foot in acrobatic yogic perfection, and I became slightly bitter by her obvious need to show off.

I let out another sigh, looking at the clearly practiced individuals around me, doing their routine (and completely unnecessary) warm-up stretches as I sat nervously, while sweat beaded on my forehead in the “relaxation-inducing” heat of the room. I had been under the impression that I was supposed to find serenity through yoga, but in this overpriced, ridiculously hot exercise room, I felt only annoyed and claustrophobic- as the walls seem to be closing in on me with a powerful combination of overwhelming heat and competitive earth-yuppie energy.

Suddenly, the instructor burst into the room with more zeal and enthusiasm than I had seen from anyone throughout all of London. He introduced himself quickly while sizing up the crowd before him, speaking with what I took to be a posh London accent, with a hint of hipness. He wore a pair of black slightly clingy exercise pants (trousers for those of you from England), and nothing else. His expertly sculpted muscles shamed me and my quickly disappearing athletic-toning that I had worked so hard to create in my previous weeks of training. The muscles I had built from running before my injury were now covered by thin, soft layers of evidence of my undeniable love for food: the stewed meats and (twice daily) beer in Ireland, as well as juicy sausages with fried potatoes and even more beer in Germany. I had figured that once I started running again I would burn it all off, but the time since my last run was becoming more and more distant. But even before the class began, I may have had already lost ten pounds, through the buckets of sweat that were now dripping off my body.

As the instructor made his way to the front of the room, I noticed something strange and slightly alarming- he was wearing a microphone headset. And, before I could decide how I felt about this jazzercise-like approach to yoga, he stepped onto a small elevated stage, and shouted instructions through his microphone, immediately resembling more of a disc-jockey than a yoga instructor. I wondered, upon leaving the United States, had I entered a strange and unknown international land of yoga-fusion? I knew that the U.S. had sufficiently butchered the ancient practice of yoga quite a bit already, but it seemed that I had encountered something that proved to be even more extreme. Perhaps what I had found was a combination of the elements of yoga with a ultra-modern twist of a boot-camp fitness class, much like the way many foreign foods are melded into one super-category, such as the increasingly popular faux-culture of Asian-fusion.

I obediently followed the instructor’s directions, now feeling as though I had entered into a strange and hidden cult, as he stood looking unquestionably cool, yet idol-like on the pedestal before me, gesturing grand and impressive movements that the masses followed earnestly.

Within the first few minutes, I looked around the room, realizing that the intense heat radiating through the air was taking effect on the other class members as well. I had never seen so much sweat before, as it poured down the backs of the people around me, soaked their hair, and dripped into their eyes.
It was sweatier than both a Cambodian dance club and a gypsy punk rock concert put together (both of which I can say from experience are extremely sweaty), and I was increasingly more afraid with each moment that I would soon feel a whiplash of someone else’s perspiration hit me square in the face, as they lifted their head up, while flipping their wet hair to keep up with the quickly changing movements.

As I looked forward, closely watching the hip-hop all star yogi-Adonis guide us through the class, I noticed that the man positioned closely on the yoga mat in front of me was wearing the tiniest shorts that I have ever seen. This is saying quite a lot since I used to live in Southern California, the land of tiny shorts- and I was both horrified and impressed by how he was able to wear such small amounts of closely clinging spandex without flashing me at every single movement. He was also covered head to toe in a carpet of thick black curly hair, springing from every pore of his skin. Looking around me, I found that there were quite a few men in the room who closely resembled him in both hairiness and uniform, and I found this to be a little unsettling, considering we were all in such close proximity, and contorting our bodies in such odd and sexually suggestive ways. Somehow I had found myself inescapably involved in what seemed to be an English underground hell-themed orgy-sex cult with hairy strangers, cleverly disguised as a hot yoga studio.

In a series of quick and awkward movements, I followed the instructor’s lead, as he switched to warrior pose, telling us that we must all be warriors. His words had become golden to me, and as I copied his guided movements as one of the many sweaty and loyal sheep around me, he made me believe that I was a warrior, as he said I was. I wondered briefly if the heat was beginning to effect my ability to think clearly, but lost in the focused concentration I needed to survive, that suspicion quickly faded, and I found myself once again imitating the instructor’s movements, trying desperately not to show my extreme fatigue and discontent.

the Millennium Bridge and the River Thames

In a moment of weakness, I reached for my water-bottle, and I was caught in my mistake, as jazzercise-yogi saw me, and told me to wait, and that I could hydrate later. I felt like I was about to faint, and tried to focus on each pose, hoping that the class would soon be come to an end. Over and over again I was cruelly teased with the prospect of being finished, as he instructed us to lie flat on our backs (generally used as the last and final pose of a yoga class) and then maliciously told us to flip over, and continue with each slippery sweaty, painful pose, until finally, the class ended.

I left the studio drenched with sweat, not thinking to bring a change of clothes for my trip back to Leyton on the tube. I must have smelled horrible, but I was too tired to care. I hoped that at least my potentially putrid stench might deter the other tube riders from crowding too close to me in the train cars. An hour later, I found myself back at Richard’s apartment, and felt both oddly recharged and incredibly tired. I never made it back to the hot yoga studio that week to get “my money’s worth” of the twenty pounds I cashed out. I hoped that even though I didn’t return, this one dedicated hour and a half of intense hot yoga could bring me a little bit closer to being able to train again for the marathon.

The remainder of my stay was spent focused on enjoying my remaining time away, while trying not to dwell too much on my looming training deadlines, and my still unrecovered injury. The remainder of my stay was spent focused on enjoying my remaining time away, while trying not to dwell too much on my looming training deadlines, and my still unrecovered injury. I visited the British Museum, the National Museum and the Tate Modern Art Museum, remarking on how impressively vast each collection was, and on how Egypt must be entirely robbed of its ancient artifacts, and France, of the work of its most famous impressionists. I walked through Camden and Greenwich, Notting Hill, Knightsbridge and Piccadilly Circus, and always found more and more places I wanted to explore.

Piccadilly Circus

I met up with other close friends that I had also met in Asia, as always charming Mickey showed me around the city, and silly and sweet Gary came out from North London for a visit, while fun and cheeky Matt met up with us in a bar. I also met up with a few friends who had also come to Germany for Oktoberfest, (including my dear friend Charlotte, as well as the two wild New Zealand boys, Greg and Kevin,) and I wondered why I had formed the terrible habit of making such wonderful friends who live so painfully far away. It suddenly seemed that everyone lived in London but me (excepting Michaela, who was only a short flight away), and I decided that I wanted to stay forever, though my bank account was running frightfully low, and flight back to the US was quickly approaching.

The last week of my stay, Richard and I took a short trip out into the country in a quick refreshing break from the chaos of the city, staying overnight in beautiful rural Suffolk,

geese and cows in Southwold

while also passing through the charming seaside town of Southwold for a day of sightseeing. I was happy to finally able to enjoy the lovely English countryside (as I had dreamed about on the way to Germany), though I was still unable to run freely through the wild grasses, as I had blissfully imagined.

And soon, I found myself faced with my last night in London, with a plane scheduled to leave for San Francisco in the morning. That night Richard took me through all the most famous sights at once- a whirlwind of lovely and touristy old and modern London. We went up in the London Eye, and looked down at the glowing Houses of Parliament, and strolled over the Tower Bridge, and drank hot chocolate.

Suffolk, East Anglia

All of this was done while trying not to count down the minutes before my imminent departure, until all the sights we could cram in one night were seen, and we were both too exhausted to continue on.

The next morning we woke at 3am, and trudged through the rainy streets hauling my three suitcases behind us to the bus stop. As though the world were trying to tell me that my time in London was not over, the steps it took to get back to the airport seemed to be filled with extra difficulties,as we missed one bus, were taken to the wrong location by another and became more and more wet from the falling rain. We finally hailed a taxi in defeat, which took us to the train station, to a train that would take us to the airport.

An hour later upon arriving at the airport, we fell upon another glitch while I made my way, zombie-like with tiredness through each remaining obstacle. I was informed that my ticket was determined to be “no longer valid,” for reasons that are still unknown to me, and my luggage was initially refused, until I promised the baggage checker to never pack so much again, if he would just let me go. And, contrary to what I had secretly hoped, it was all worked out in the end, and I was finally forced to leave this place with which I had quickly become so fascinated and enamored.

the Tower Bridge

I was wearing white hooded sweatshirt that Richard had bought me as a tender joke, reading in huge black letters and a giant red heart across the front: “I ♥ London”. He told me that this gift was given to me as a way to “blend in,” but obviously in wearing it I became even more conspicuous as the lone American in a sea of British. It made me sad now to wear it, knowing I would no longer be able to make a fool of myself as a goofy American tourist in my cheesy London sweatshirt.

We said goodbye, hoping to see each other again soon, while trying not too become too sad by this painful departure, though it was impossible to hold back all my tears, as much as I tried to stay cheerful. And finally, I reluctantly made my way through security, and onto the plane to San Francisco. Sixteen hours and three airports later I was back in California, greeted with the unhappy news that my luggage had apparently refused to leave, and had been lost during my transfer in Dublin. I knew the world had wanted me to stay.

Richard and I, in front of the London Eye

Looking out the window of my car at the foggy San Francisco Bay, I wondered nervously if I would heal in time to still be able to train for the marathon. Only a few weeks remained until the race, and I knew that if I didn’t start running again soon, I would have to forget about going to Honolulu, and give up on the marathon altogether. I hoped desperately that my injury would finally heal, and I only had one more week before it would be too late.