Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Other Stuff I Did In London

So, apart from running in the British 10k and doing the Olympic Walking Tour, I didn't really do much else this time around in London. The "keterujaan" level was also a bit on the low side since I made the trip on my own without the fam.

Anyway, many of you out there were excited for me as this trip included going on the brand new A380 by MAS. But that was only for the return journey home. Getting there, we had to endure the rather rundown 747. Hehe.

Upon touchdown at Heathrow, I then took the Heathrow Express to Paddington where I made a 10-minute walk to Park Place, Edgware Road. Thanks to an old friend's uncle, I got a good deal for accommodation here; a nice one-bedroom apartment with great location. And oh, hundreds of channels on SKY HD!

And if you're familiar with this area, you should know that Middle Easterners and Malaysians rule here! I mean, you'd be hard pressed to find a non-halal makan place here. Everything's here halal, including the grocery stores and pharmacies. The drawback? Well, walking here is more like walking the sidewalk at an Arab country rather than in London. That is of course, until you reach Marble Arch and Oxford Street.

And yes, I spent a whole lot of time there on the second day, but only after a short run at Hyde Park. Still on Malaysian time, I woke up around 3am on Saturday, before heading to the park at around 5.30am.

After that, it was time to hit the shopping trail (and also to pick up my race pack at Trafalgar Square). Decided not to take the tube that day and so, I walked all the way from Marble Arch to Oxford Street, to Regent Street, to Trafalgar Square, to Covent Garden, to Piccadilly Circus and back to Marble Arch and Edgware Road. Maunya tak penat! And I had my brand new Nike + Fuelband to tell me all about it. Hehe.

Sunday 8th July was event day and I was completely exhausted after it. Which meant packing my meal and staying in to watch the Wimbledon final. And oh, I still remember the buzz those couple of days. Everywhere it was all about Andy Murray, Andy Murray, Andy Murray... the first Brit in the final since like forever. Well, you should know by now that Roger Federer reigned supreme instead. Boo hoo.

The following day, it was a bit more shopping around Oxford Street and Harrods at Knightsbridge. Yup, just had to get some Laduree to bring back home and an extra special something for wifey : )

Then it was off to Belsize Park to meet up with my brother-in-law who also had some guests coming from Wales. We had dinner and lepak-ed for a bit before I went back to the apartment.

The whole of Tuesday was spent in Stratford City doing the Olympic tour and a bit more shopping at the brand new Westfield (with some fish n chips!).

I also did a live-crossover for MHI earlier that night.

 And then it was time to go home on Wednesday... on the A380!

I must say that the A380 does look impressive from the outside and it's matched by the brand new interior. I was on the upperdeck and legroom was aplenty despite sitting right in the middle. The entertainment screens were bigger with lots of channels and it was just more comfortable all round as compared to the 747.  But we were delayed by some two hours due to "problems with Polish airspace", so we spent a total of 14hours on the flight. A tad too long, if you ask me.

And that was it, peeps. London in 5 days. Will be back for a longer stay pretty soon though : )

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Salam Ramadhan!

Just a quick post to wish everyone Selamat Berpuasa! What a day it's been. Woke up early yesterday for MHI, then it was straight to the task of moving house. Haven't had a wink in 20 hours, but still have a bit to do.

Just hope I can wake up for sahur. Hehe. Again, Selamat Berpuasa and I pray we all have a blessed Ramadhan!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

London 2012: My Olympic Walking Tour Experience

So, apart from the main agenda of running at the British 10k, the other thing about London I was looking forward to last week was this Olympic Walking Tour that I had booked. I was hoping to get inside the Olympic Park but since that was impossible, this tour would get me really close to it, with "live commentary" to boot, the website said. I was easily sold.

But before that, allow me to share some scenes from downtown London. Regent Street had flags of all competing nations proudly displayed high up on the street. Of course, I just had to search for our own Jalur Gemilang, and I felt a deep sense of pride when I finally found it. Hope we'll finally get that first gold medal ever!

And there was a big countdown clock at Trafalgar Square that was simply awesome. It was unveiled back in March, marking 500 days to go till the Games.

Now, on to the tour. The meeting point was the Bromley-By-Bow underground station, and honestly, I thought I had missed the tour as I miscalculated how long it'd take to get there from Paddington and arrived 10 minutes late. I mean, it was about 12 stops away. Jauh giler!

Luckily though, the friendly tour guide was still waiting for the latecomers, so I was safe! The fee was nine pounds only, and from there, we started walking towards Newham, one of the six host boroughs for the Games. If you didn't know already, the London Games are held in East London, a side of the city that had been long neglected, and the main pitch by the British government was that the East side would be "regenerated" if the Olympics were awarded to them. We were also told that Newham was once voted as the "third worst place to live in England", and the Olympics had in fact brought loads of new development there as promised.

Anyway, we then passed The 3 Mills Studios. What's so important about this particular studio? Well, this is where secret rehearsals for the Opening Ceremony are being held, directed by none other than Danny Boyle.

Then we walked towards Stratford (not to be mistaken with Stratford-Upon-Avon), which is still within Newham, and where most of the development can be seen and where the Olympic Park is located.

We also passed by the Strand East Tower, a 40m landmark structure built as part of a new landscaped public space by Dane's Yard.

Then, we started to see shiny new buildings. The guide actually said, "We came here in 2005 and we couldn't believe that the Olympic Games would be held here. But it's a different place altogether now".

The bridge below will be opened very soon, and this is where thousands of people would cross to get to the Olympic Park after coming down from the train at the West Ham underground station.

Then, it was time to get to the good stuff. Within better view now was the ArcelorMittal Orbit, or affectionately known as simply "The Orbit", a 115m-high observation tower within the Olympic Park. 

More info from Wikipedia: "The steel sculpture isBritain's largest piece of public art,[3] and is intended to be a permanent, lasting legacy of London's hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympics, assisting in the post-Olympics regeneration of the Stratford area. Sited between the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, it allows visitors to view the whole Olympic Park from two observation platforms.
Orbit was designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond. Announced on 31 March 2010, the tower was expected to be completed by December 2011, though like many projects on the Olympic Park, that date was pushed back.
The project is expected to cost £19.1 million, with £16 million coming from Britain's richest man, the steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, Chairman of the ArcelorMittal steel company, and the balance of £3.1 million coming from the London Development Agency." 

Personally, I think it just looks weird and some of my fellow tourists concurred. But I wouldn't mind going up the tower one of these days!

Then we walked towards another highlight before the Olympic Park; the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre! It was opened last September with a retail area of more than 1.8m square feet, and is one of the largest urban malls in all of Europe. Thousands of jobs have been created, and it is estimated that more than 30,000 new homes will be built around this area.

It is indeed a shopping haven for everyone with tons of shops anchored by the John Lewis department store. Oh yes, needless to say, I did some bit of shopping here myself after the tour!

Adjacent to the mall is the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Village and several other venues such as the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Centre are located. Of course we couldn't get inside the Park, but I did manage to snap some pics through the entrance gate.

You could also get to see other parts of the Park from around the mall area, including the Olympic Village, where most of the athletes will be staying.

And that wrapped up our tour. Now, let the Games begin!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The NBA Came To Town!

Well, almost. A US Pro Basketball Alumni team took on the KL Dragons at Stadium Malawati in Shah Alam last night and local bball fans got to see ex NBA stars in the flesh for the first time ever!

Before you think, aiya must be players from lousy Bobcats or something, check out the starting five: Scottie Pippen, Jason Williams, Mitch Richmond, Horace Grant and Dennis "The Worm" Rodman. Yes, THREE players from the two different great Chicago Bulls side!

So if course I had to be there with some of my bball kaki mates. We even got a good deal through Groupon (actually, they did all the work, thanks!)

The game actually started on time at 8.30pm but the stadium was unfortunately only half full. I blame whoever did the publicity. There was hardly any coverage in the local press for such a historic event. So lousy lah.

Anyway, the game took sometime to get into any sort of groove and both teams were basically just settling for jump shots.

I'm not gonna do a review of the whole game, but I must say that it did get more competitive from the second quarter onwards. In fact it got TOO competitive. I mean, in any sort of exhibition game, the fans come to see the players showing off their individual skills, but they must be given room to do so, especially with these older lot. But noo, the KL Dragons actually took the game a tad too seriously!

There were still some neat highlights though. Rodman actually made TWO three-pointers, Pippen dunked once and Williams showed off his amazing dribbling skills towards the end. And oh yeah, we all got a big rush from them throwing out autographed mini balls into the crowd. I almost caught one myself! Almost, lah...

In the end, the ex NBA-ers won by 20 something points or so, but the score didn't really matter. We got to see Rodman shoot threes! Now, THAT'S special..

Friday, July 13, 2012

I Ran The British 10k London Run 2012!

Ah, where do I even begin? Five days after the event, I can still feel the buzz, the excitement, and the profound mix of emotions. Yup, it was that good.Well, at least for me : )

Anyway, I arrived in London on Friday evening. Didn't do much for the rest of the day though. But Saturday was a different story altogether. I went out very early in the morning, and from Edgware Road (where I was staying), I walked over to Marble Arch, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and all the way to Trafalgar Square to pick up the race pack.

A couple of learnings here: never do any major sightseeing a day before a running event, cos my legs were really, really wonky by the end of the day, and, Onitsuka Tigers weren't made for walking. Yup, somehow my highcut Onitsukas were really "eating" into my ankles, and I ended up in quite a bit of pain : (

And oh, it was also apparent that the London weather was going to make the event a rather wet one, if not a total washout. Temperature was around 15c. I had never ran in such conditions before, so I had to adjust my mental preparation (serious business, this).

I probably woke up at 4am on event day. Jetlagged, but I was also raring to go. At 6am, I went out to the nearby McDonald's to have some coffee and a bagel. Got back, took a shower and made myself some peanut butter sandwiches. THEN, I felt tired. Haha! Yup, all the travelling and walking were already taking a toll on me.

No matter. I suited up, and went out at 8am. Took the tube from Edgware Road and got out at Piccadilly Circus. Then, it was just a short walk downhill to Waterloo Place where the baggage bays were. The place was already buzzing, although not much different from any other local event.

I didn't bring any baggage as all I needed were in my SPIbelt, so I did what I usually do: find the mobile toilets to pee!

By that time, it was already gloomy and soon, it began to rain. And this led to a tactical mistake. Hah! I basically took shelter at one of the buildings nearby without realising that runners were already making their way to the Start line at Wellington Arch. And I was still loitering around at 9am, waiting for God knows what! When I realised it was time to make a move, I knew I had already been left far behind.

And as a result, and it took me 38 MINUTES to get to the Start line. Yes, 38 minutes! In fact, after 30 minutes the gun went off, the emcee said over the PA system: "For those still queueing to start, have a look at the big screens, some of the elite runners have already finished their run!" Haha. Funny.

But something even worse happened. Despite going twice before, I was bursting to pee, a few hundred metres from the Start line. I was in agony, but there was nowhere for me to go. I thought of wetting my compressions, but I didn't think people would be too amused.

So as I crossed the Start line, my mind was on looking for an alley, or a bush, for me to unload. BUT my pace was rather good. And instantly too I knew this event was different and special as we had spectators on both sides of the road to cheer us on.

After 2kms, there was still no luck for me as far as bushes-to-pee was concerned. We then passed Trafalgar Square and turned left into Embankment. That's where I saw this sign that said: "You Are Saving Lives". Wow, I almost shed a tear. I knew the sign was for some other charity runners, but as all participants also contribute to various charities through the fees, I felt a swelling sense of pride. What a Wow moment that was.

Then, I had my life saved, as I saw the toilets along Embankment on the left hand side! I zipped across, inserted one pound into the machine (and didn't even bother about the 50p change), and quickly found a urinal. Then... NOTHING HAPPENED! I had held it in too long that I just couldn't pee. Incredible. But I still stood there and teran-ed until I finally unloaded.

That pee break had taken me more than 2 minutes, and oh, it had also started to rain! Quite hard. To be honest, by that point, I hadn't even noticed the "scenic route". We were running along the River Thames past the London Eye, but I just had my head down, drenched, and just concentrating on my stride and breathing in the 15c temperature.

The dry fit tee and compression pants were getting a tad heavier as well. But I was still happy with my pace. We then got a respite as we ducked into a tunnel as we made our way up a flyover to make a u-turn. In fact, we made two u-turns.

Oh, it must be said that the water management on that day was superb, although everyone was given full bottles at every stop, so there might have been some wastage there.

Anyway, after the second u-turn which was after the 5km mark, we got back on the Embankment road, and before we got downhill, I finally took a good look at the River Thames and the surrounding area. Wow, I thought, I really am running in London.

It was a straight road ahead at Embankment but while my running was ok, the iPhone suddenly died! Oh, man. I was sure I was on pace for a personal best, so it was a major bummer if nothing was recorded at all. As it turned out, when I switched on the iPhone again later, it had in fact recorded all the data right up to that point. Phew!

I had passed 6.5km at that point, and I remember the sincere look of this woman as she handed me a water bottle and said: "Good job! Not too far now...". Thank you lady, whoever you are!

The Big Ben was within sight then as we turned left and on to the Westminster bridge. We ran three quarter of the bridge and made a u-turn. It marked the 8th km of the run. The temptation to walk then started to play with my mind, until I saw a sign near Westminster Abbey that said: "Don't stop, people are watching". Damn Brits.

But seriously, with the Nike+ Running app gone, I didn't have the aid of a distance guide and I could swear that the last 2kms were longer than just that! The 9km marker came at Victoria Street and I was just chugging along. Thought I had a final turbo boost somewhere, but apparently there was none.

But the cheers were louder that last km. I steadied myself and dashed to the Finish line at Whitehall in style (at least, in my own mind). I had done it. The rain, the cold, the long pee break, the technology breakdown; I got through them all to complete a mission 10,000kms away from home.

Then I felt a tinge of sadness. Spent and satisfied, there was no one for me to share it with. The phone had died and I couldn't even SMS home with the news. How I wished there was just one single person I could talk to at that point in time.

When I got back to the apartment later and switched on the iPhone, I discovered that I had done my Personal Best for 1km, 1mile and 5km. And the official time later on would confirm another Personal Best; 1hr 13.01mins for the whole 10km.

Overall, it was simply an experience that money can't buy for me. The event itself was well-organised, although I didn't quite enjoy the queue for the commemorative t-shirt.

I took the train back to the apartment; clothes already dried by this time. For a guy who started running last year, and who weighed 92.5kgs then, I hadn't done too bad, I thought.

The best moment of the event for me? It has to be that sign. "You Are Saving Lives"...


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