Friday, October 29, 2010

Hyde Park Half Marathon

The “Weekend Wakeup” class on the Sunday after the Nottingham race was held in conjunction with the Parkour Generations booth and activity area that had been set up in the event village of the big Hyde Park Half Marathon event. This meant that not only did we have a big open space with lots of equipment, (they set up a bunch of gymnastics equipment and the portable scaffolding apparatus from the gym) but we also had lots of passersby to stop and stare.
Having fun on the scaffolding (photo courtesy of Bruno Peixoto)

Trying not to fall off the rail onto the passing bikers below (photo courtesy of Bruno Peixoto)

A little "help" from Dan while doing conditioning exercises (photo courtesy of Bruno Peixoto)  

The class was great, and although it was kind of weird to have spectators at first, I forgot about them as soon as we got moving. The weather was an atypical beautiful London autumn day, with bright sunshine, a not-too-warm-but-not-too-cold-either temperature and not a cloud in the sky. The class ran from 11 to 1 and then a lot of us stayed to hang out and continue “training” on the equipment. I write “training” because what it really felt like was playing. Maybe this was because we were soon joined by lots of kids that wanted to try it out as well, but it’s more so because of the general feeling of festivity and leisure that pervaded the entire day. Maybe it was because of the constant “monkey see, monkey do” antics, or the plethora of free samples of anything from sandwiches to hand wipes that were to be had all over- whatever it was, it felt similar to that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with a summer picnic in the park with friends. I may be drawing too many connections to the carefree daysof childhood but that’s certainly what it felt like. Just one more example of how important and influential the “parkour community” has become during my stay here in London…

The people that were up bright and early Sunday morning to train (photo courtesy of Bruno Peixoto)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Survival of the Fittest Series: Race #2: Nottingham

The second SOTF race was held in jolly old England at Nottingham. Since I had convinced two friends from my parkour classes to do it with me, it was quite a different experience from the last one and really reminded me how much more fun it is to travel with other people.  James, Fizz and I drove to Nottingham on Friday afternoon and picked up our numbers and timing chips before crashing at Al and Dee's (old friends of James). Dee cooked a delicious pasta dinner for us to carbo-load for the next day (an impressive feat since we were all starving from the car ride), and then we spent the rest of the evening hanging out and swapping stories.

Saturday morning we drove to the course and after a quick warm-up I headed to the line for the first heat/wave. I made sure to position myself at the front of the start this time to avoid the mass-pile-up at the hay bale stacks 100m later, and found myself among the top 10 by the 1 kilometer mark. The top 3 disappeared after 2km and left the rest of us to battle it out the rest of the race. Since the obstacles didn’t change much from the last time I definitely felt more comfortable going through the course (it was also shorter, only 10km this time), but felt pretty lugubrious until I got to the river section. This was the one major addition since the last race and was made up of a big water slide into the river followed by about 100m of wading/swimming through the river (remember, this was in England, in October, so it was just about ice-bath temperature). The shock of the water actually helped to wake me up and get my head back into the game so as we started out again I began eating up the distance between myself and the front of the pack.

The start line, I'm in a black sleeveless top on the left.

The scramble over the hay bales, these are the first sets to break up the pack before the taller stack.

Struggling through the net, still feeling kind of slow (I got this guy later).

Finally out of the net.

Going for the "sexy pose" on the water slide.

I managed to wrap a few people up in the ensuing 4km and spent the final kilometer trying to catch the #5 guy right ahead of me. Unfortunately I kicked too late and wasn’t able to catch him so finished 6th in my heat, which ended up being a some-what disappointing 11th overall after some guys in later heats beat my time. After an ice bath and cool down I hung out with Fizz and James as they warmed up for their wave at 12:45 and made a few passes at the “free samples” booths to get lots of stuff that I have since realized that I didn’t need.

--Video of the final sprint to be inserted soon--

Post-race icebath so I can do it all again the next weekend

While Fizz and James were racing I played photographer got some nice shots of them leaving the gates all neat and clean in their white shirts and coming back to the finish looking quite a few shades darker. Both finished extremely well, especially never having done something like this before, and I think Fizz might even have “caught the bug” by the end because she definitely had a glint in her eye coming down the home stretch.

Fizz dominating the Wall of Fame

James bringing it down the home stretch

The triumphant and tired post-race shot.  (Yes, I did actually run it, despite the fact that I look a lot cleaner than them)

Special thanks to Fizz and Dee for the pictures!

After a quick stretch and another pass by the free samples table we headed back to Al and Dee’s to change clothes and trade massages. We had planned to go see Nottingham but by the time we had finished Dee’s delicious pizza dinner we were too tired and lazy to go. We spent a few hours basking in that “post-race” afterglow and playing with candles before heading back to London and crashing at James’s place.  Then headed to "Weekend Wakeup" practice the next morning....

Keep away from fire: potentially flamable

"Survival of the Fittest" Series - Race #1 of 3: Cardiff

This past weekend was the final event in a series of “Survival of the Fittest” races that I’ve been participating in. These events are organized by a company called the Rate Race and have been building in both size and reputation each year since their debut in 2008. As a company, the Rat race is actually pretty interesting, and it puts on a number of events designed to get urban dwellers out of their nests and be active in thier environment. They put on a number of events in London, including an “Urban Adventure” event that combines, running, abseiling from landmarks, and kayaking in the Thames. Pretty cool, for more details on the variety of events that the company puts on, see their website here.

Back to the racing. I signed off for the entire series of events, meaning that for the past three weekends I’ve been exploring Britain in a “not-so-typical” manner and getting up close and intimate with all types of British dirt, grass, pavement, cobblestones and mud. The first event was held in Cardiff, Wales, and was my debut on the survival circuit. I mentioned in an earlier post that I did an “Urbanathlon” race in Glasgow in preparation for these events, but that wasn’t anything close to the SOTF races. First of all, the scale was entirely different. Glasgow had 300 racers and some less-than-challenging obstacles. Cardiff has 2500 racers and was full of “legit” obstacles. The SOTF races have also be very well organized and well-planned, a seemed to put the emphasis on having a great time and promoting general fitness instead of raising money for a cause/company.

Since I wanted to get a chance to see a bit of the Cardiff scenery I took the bus over a day early. After registering for the event, I put on the tourist gear and went to check out the major landmarks of Cardiff (Millennium Concert Center, Millennium Stadium, and the highlight of the trip - cue majestic music - Cardiff Castle). Standing there looking at a real castle after growing up dreaming of them was somewhat surreal but very enjoyable and I spent a lot of time exploring the park surrounding it. After a sub-par pasta dinner at a local pub watching the rugby game, I hung out at the hostel before calling it an early night (This hostel was one of the better ones that I’ve stayed at- complete with hammocks in the living room, an in-house restaurant & bar, a BIG free breakfast, nice rooms, free lockers, great location, and low price- not much more I could ask for beside a busload of single female Welsh university graduates on fall break).

The huge tortoise-shaped dome of the Millennium Convention Center, and the view from the pier right next to it.

The Castle at sunset, with yours truly in the foreground (I needed proof that I was actually there).

Race day I took advantage of the BIG free breakfast and then walked over to the event village. One of the nice things about these races was the event village. Since 2500 runners couldn’t be released on the streets of Cardiff at the same time we were loosed in waves of 250. This meant that the race village was not only packed, but there was a great atmosphere and plenty of entertainment. The course itself was spread out over 12k and included obstacles at roughly every 1km. Obstacles were pretty varied but included a set of hay bales to clamber over, a “parkour zone” with walls, scaffolding, and jumps (little ones, nothing too intense), big inflatable obstacles courses (the type that normally don’t let adults on in the carnival), a stair climb in the stadium, and the 8-foot”Wall of Fame” right in front of the finish. Despite a slow start I finished 5th in my heat and 6th overall, which, although I didn’t get any of the bubbly, was pretty decent for attempt #2 at this new type of race.

Obstacles #1: the Haybales (obviously this is not me but apparently I was too surrounded by the Welsh rugby team for the photographer to get a good shot)

The "Parkour Zone":  Not exactly challenging compared to what I've been doing the past 4 months

The "Stadium Climb": Not the most bad-ass of facial expressions but I was about to catch the guy in front...

Crossing the finish line after vanquishing the "Wall of Fame" (in background)

Note: Special thanks for the RandR Photography Ltd. for the over-priced photos.

Friday, October 15, 2010

ADAPT Course

The good news that resulted in my departure from London being pushed back yet again was that I was able to enroll in an ADAPT Level 1 Certification Course. The ADAPT (Art du Déplacement And Parkour Teaching) certification was a system set up in a collaborative effort between Parkour Generations and the Yamakasi/ADD Academy to establish an internationally recognized standard of parkour teaching excellence. It is currently the only internationally recognized standard and there have been certification sessions held in Brazil, the US and France.

The goal of ADAPT was to create an international standard of teaching excellence for parkour by which to train and certify instructors for teaching parkour and l’art du déplacement. The program was started recently after several years of development after the need was identified for some sort of standardization of instructors. In Britain in particular there had been huge increases in demand for parkour instructors, especially after the airing of the “Jump Britain” documentary by BBC 4 (see below).

Since most non-practitioners can be easily wowed by basic movements/bravado lots of people could claim to be proficient in a sport which they had no idea how to do, let alone teach. The need for a nation-wide standard was evident, especially since many of these individuals would be working with children.

There are currently 3 levels of ADAPT certification. The third level is the most advanced, and there are currently only 10 people that are Level 3. These include the directors of Parkour Generations, the Yamakasi, and other people that helped to develop the sport in its early days in Lisses/Evry, the birthplace of the sport.

Level 2 certification is require to be a “Full Instructor” and to be able to lead classes. It requires a very high degree of physical proficiency and experience, and also substantial teaching experience. A Level 2 certification basically means that the instructor is capable of “teaching the fundamentals of parkour to anyone wishing to learn, in any situation”. Since the instructor may find themselves teaching multiple classes per day it is necessary that they be able to comfortably perform a high volume of any movements or conditioning that they ask the class to do.

Level 1 is the most basic level of certification and is essentially an “Assistant Instructor”. The real emphasis with the Level I qualification is in the “transfer of parkour knowledge to the student”. So it’s really not how well you do parkour, but how well you can teach it. While Assistant Instructors are not allowed to lead classes by themselves, the certification allows them to start gaining the experience necessary to gain a Level 2 certification. According to the Parkour Generations website the Level 1 Instructor must have good knowledge in the following areas:

- Definition, history and principles of parkour
- Parkour terminology
- Parkour ability
- Body management: stretching, preparation, maintenance
- Teaching skills and awareness of best practice standards
- Basic injury management and rehabilitation knowledge

“The candidate must complete the Assessment Course, which involves practical assessments as well as a written assessment, and can then begin logging the required minimum 10 sessions of supervised coaching. There will be a further 2 assessed live coaching sessions at the end of this period, and if successful the candidate will then receive the ADAPT Level One Qualification.” (Courtesy of Parkour Generations website)

The course runs from October 26th to October 29th which means that I won’t be able to get all of my practical assessment hours before I leave for Australia on November 1st. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a number of my hours in Melbourne and then finish up the final coaching sessions when I return to London in March 2011.

Since one of my main objectives for this trip is to take the teaching techniques and institutional structures back with me to the States, I’m very excited to be taking part in this certification as it will be a big check mark on my “list of things to do during the Watson year”. I will keep you all posted on how the course goes next week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Updated Itinerary

Due to some unexpected, but very good news (to be explained in the next post), I have made a few changes to my upcoming departure dates from London (a lot later than the original mid-August departure that I had originally planned). The new itinerary now looks like this:

London: June 28 – November 1
Singapore: November 1 – November 3
Australia: November 4 – January 15
Argentina: January 15 – February 2
Chile: February 2 – February 22
Brazil: February 23 – March 22
London: March 23 – early April
Italy: Early April - mid June
London: Mid June - late June

There is also a trip to New Caledonia from Australia in the works, although that is still under production. A brief visit to Denmark will also happen on the back half of the itinerary but I’m waiting for a more concrete schedule of events to develop since I’d prefer to overlap my travels with any big events/jams going on there during the spring/summer.