Monday, November 29, 2010


Sydney seemed to pass by in a blur of jet lag with glimpses of sunshine. Due to my slight delay in arrival time I got there late on a Friday night, 26 hours after the hostel was expecting me. I waited in the rain for about 5 minutes before someone heard me knocking (apparently check-in was only available from 10-5pm, kind of surprising for a hostel.) After dropping off my bags I went out to find something to eat. The part of the city that I was in, Balmain, was not the gastronomic capital of the world, especially at midnight, and I had to settle for a sub-par kebab outside a local nightclub. After inhaling that, I went to sleep dreaming of the delicious fresh fruit that I had left behind in Singapore and wondering if I would ever be able to leave the rain behind.

I was woken at 3am by an arm on my leg on the top bunk. I looked down to see a face peering at me through drunken eyes. I kicked the arm off my bed and turned over to go back to sleep only to be awoken a few moments later by the afore-mentioned arm joined by the rest of its owner as they tried to get into my bed. I kicked both from my bed, which made the won’t-remember-anything-in-the-morning owner fall into another lodger’s bed. This person was even less receptive of visitors than I was and she started shouting at the guy, which after a moment of confusion sent him stumbling back to his own bed. I turned over and went back to sleep.

Around 6am was awoken by a shrill cry of “He pissed all over my clothes! WTF!”; followed by a not-quite-as-shrill “and he pissed on the new guy’s suitcase”. After looking down to see that it was indeed my suitcase that had acted as the backstop for the cabinet-shaped urinal, I decided that I couldn’t do anything about it at the moment and would probably react better when I had slept off the jet-lag. A few hours later I got up to assess the extent of the damage and see if anything needed to be cleaned. Luckily my suitcase is apparently piss-proof in addition to being hard to handle, and everything inside the suitcase seemed to be dry and urine-free.

After a shower I set out into the late morning to find something to eat and got a nice tour of downtown Balmain as well. While it was a lot more inviting during the day than at night, I found that things were just as ridiculously expensive as they had been the night before, and that my dreams of surviving on $10 a day were a bit ambitious. Upon my return to the hostel I made friends with some of my fellow lodgers, all German, and went into town to explore the harbor with them. We meandered by the wharves and the Opera house before stopping in the botanical gardens to hang out and play with the massive parrots that lived there. After we got bored there we stopped by the supermarket on the way home where my hopes of inexpensive living were further dashed. I spent the rest of the night in the hostel mingling with the residents as they participated in the internationally practiced hostel activity of getting drunk on the low-budget alcoholic option, in this case- street wine, aka box wine or pinard, or “goon” in Australia.

The next morning I packed up again and headed back to the center of town. I locked up my bags near the greyhound bus terminal and went off in search of the Sydney Parkour group which was supposed to be hosting classes and a jam that day. After getting a bit lost I managed to find them, and spent the rest of the day hanging out with the guys. I took part in the morning class so that I could see how the classes were structured down under, and discovered that although the accents and some of the movements were different, we all did the same sport. I also found that I was just as tight and out of shape as I had feared after not doing any serious training for almost a week. While the class was good and reasonably well-run, I realized just how much I had taken Parkour Generations for granted. One thing that Sydney did have on London was the weather though, since it had finally started to be warm and sunny again, and most of the training that day was done down by the harbor with a beautiful view and nice breeze.

After the class I stuck around and trained with some of the more experienced guys from the area that came down for the day. While the dress-code was markedly different (I’ll explain in another post) the attitude was pretty similar to the Sunday gatherings in London. One of the things that struck me most about parkour in Sydney was the prevalence of water as either an obstacle or a backdrop to a lot of the stuff. The wharf formed a great training spot for the guys and included a number of water jumps that I hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me to document it, but there were a number of precision jumps from the new wharf to the decrepit bits of the old wooden wharf that were still standing. While the jumps ranged from about 7 to 15 feet, they all featured the 10 foot drop into the water below and lots of old wood. Something to try when I come back to Sydney. After giving me a quick tour of the wharf I went with some of the guys to meet the rest of the group, which was doing flips into the harbor from one of the lower docks. While I was initially surprised by the fact that someone would voluntarily jump into the harbor (Boston, London, or Paris aren’t exactly good places to swim in the harbor unless you want a 3rd eye or green skin), they guys assured me that apart from the jellyfish the harbor was fine to swim in. I hung around with them for the rest of the afternoon until it was time for me to head back to bus station.

This is a video that features some of the Australian guys, most notably Shaun Wood (long blond hair). I've included it since I don't have any pictures from my stay and one can get a glimpse of some of the training environments in Sydney.  A bit different from London....  While I didn’t get to meet the majority of the guys in the video during my pass through Sydney I’m hoping to meet them at some point during my time in OZ since I keep hearing about them from people around the world.

For more information on Australian Parkour Association and the various classes offered in Sydney you can visit their site here.

12 hours on a Greyhound bus and one really horrible fried chicken sandwich later (it was that or candy for dinner, I probably should have chosen the latter), I was in Melbourne…

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quantas flight QF32 (Yes, I was on it)

The next morning I got up at the crack of dawn (which is actually pretty early in Singapore since it was approaching summer and is pretty close to the equator) to take the train to the airport. After another series of negotiations at check-in to avoid the massive baggage fee I arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare. I should probably note that the plane that I had taken from London, and would now take again to Singapore, was the Airbus A380, Airbus’s newest and biggest plane, with a capacity of almost 500 people (it had two floors-enough said). Despite its size, boarding didn’t take that much longer than with any other plane, although I’ll admit that I was pretty dubious when I first saw the number of the people waiting by my gate when I arrived.

The first part of the flight went fine, and it wasn’t until there was a large bump in the middle of my Inception movie, quickly followed by another smaller one, that anyone realized that something was wrong. After a few seconds of people looking around in confusion someone to my left (I was in the middle row of seats toward the back of the plane) looked out their window and started drawing attention to it. From my vantage point all I could see were a bunch of people to my left looking out their window and jabbering to each other. A flight attendant came over, looked worried and then want to the back to call the pilot. Shortly thereafter the pilot came on the intercom and said that we had just lost power in one of the engine on the left wing (there were two on each wing) but that there was nothing to worry about and they were aware of the situation. He came on a few minutes later to say that they were running a series of diagnostic tests on the engine to determine the extent of the damage but that there were 5 pilots on board so everything was under control. This sounded good to me so I went back to my movie while the people on my left continued to jabber and gesture to each other in a primal state of excitement.

After about 5 minutes into the tests the pilot came back on to say that the damage was severe enough that we had to turn back, but would have to dump fuel in order to land safely. We spent about 45 minutes dumping fuel (I don’t know where, and am still kind of curious as to what happens to the dumped fuel) en route back to Singapore. Throughout this time the pilot came on the intercom to reassure people of their safety and to tell us that they had done multiple simulations and practice drills of this sort (with multiple engine fails instead of just one). He also kept telling us to make sure not turn on our phones or other communications devices, and to this day I’m not sure whether this was out of concern for the plane’s navigation systems or of trying to keep the press out of it until the plane landed at least (I later learned that there were a number of people that called home, and even one idiot that was twittering about it).

Someone to my left recorded the pilot's announcement:

The landing went fine, although you could feel the tension in the air inside the cabin right before we touched down and there was a lot of applause after we came to a stop. Then came the fun part. Apparently one of the engines on the left wing (not to broken one) refused to shut down, which became slightly risky when one of the passengers to my left noticed the puddle of clear liquid that was developing under us. When it was sighted that this liquid was coming from the plane, and that the broken engine was now emitting smoke (hard to see when traveling at high speeds), the steward in our back cabin got on the phone to the pilot. The hurried and worried looks out the window and the excited whispers of the passengers continued for a few minutes before the fire department arrived and was able to spray foam on the fuel and water into the still-running engine to force it off. Throughout this time the plane was getting steadily hotter and more stifling since all the systems had been shut down in an effort to shut off the misbehaving engine and minimize the risk of fire/explosion.

The landing and the smoking wing.

We sat in the plane for almost 2 hours as the plane was evacuated one row at a time. Of course the first and business class passengers were evacuated first, presumably along with their caviar and whatever else they get that the “lower classes” don’t see, and then the rest of the plane got off, starting from the front. Since I was about 10 rows from the back of the plane, I was among the last of those off the plane, and the only upside to this was that halfway through the evacuation the order to “leave all personal baggage besides passports and wallets” was dropped and we were allowed to take out belongings with us. This entire process took a while, and had there been a need for us to get off quickly I hope that it would have went fast since at that rate I doubt I would have gotten off a sinking plane before it touched the ocean floor. Part of the problem was that there was only one mobile staircase available to evacuate people, and the flight crew seemed to be very worried about people tripping down said staircase and suing Quantas. Despite their worries, everyone got off safely and we were bused back to the terminal.

One of the few passengers who talked with the media and didn't over-dramatize it:

Video of the tv coverage as we saw it. The details are quite right but you get the picture:

There we were greeted by water, snacks, some paperwork, and more waiting. I spent the next two hours wandering around the terminal looking for “real” food and watching the news break on CNN. It was kind of a shock for all of us to see since the extent of the damage didn’t look nearly as impressive from the inside as the images that we saw plastered across the television.

Right around the point when I was considering going to find another “real meal” instead of the crackers and cookies that they kept trying to give me, we were finally given the news that we would be going to a hotel for the night and would be put onto another flight in the morning. After more waiting in line (yet again, first and business classes went first) we were bussed to the hotel and given vouchers for dinner and breakfast. After a quick look around the hotel room I went down to dinner.

Video of the hotel room to come when I get an internet connection that allows me to upload video (suffice it to say that it was a pretty nice 3-4 star hotel).
Both the hotel and the meals were much nicer than anything that I had experienced as of yet on the Watson, and definitely beat the hostel and kebab/gyro sandwich that awaited me in Sydney. The dinner was a buffet (my favorite), which meant that I was sure to leave the table satisfied and not bemoaning small portions. After dinner I went to explore the city with one of the passengers that I had befriended and we spent the rest of the night meandering around the city, and hanging out on the hotel terrace. We finally decided to call it a night around two in the morning, a decision that I regretted as I woke up 4 hours later for the buffet breakfast before catching the private shuttle to the airport at 7am.

At the airport I re-checked onto my flight, and boarded the nowhere-near-as-nice plane that had been substituted by Quantas for the A-380s that it had grounded. My first impression of the plane on entry was disappointment, a feeling that deepened as I sat in my seat and saw that the personal television was smaller, the seat more cramped, the fabric wasn’t as nice, the table wasn’t as well designed, and the bathrooms weren’t anywhere close to as spacious-feeling as on the A-380. However, all the engines functioned normally and the flight to Sydney passed without further incident.

So all-in-all I have no complaints from this entire experience beside a vague sense of injustice about the treatment afforded to first-class vs. normal passengers. I spent a night in a very nice hotel, had two big buffet meals, got an extra night to explore Singapore, made friends with a very attractive and interesting fellow passenger, and got to my destination only 24 hours late. Quantas handled the situation very well from my observations, and although I haven’t received anything yet, I’m told that there is some sort of compensationpipeline.


My departure from London went well, despite a minor “baggage problem” at the airport in London that almost made me reconsider staying in London for another few months. Apparently the travel agent in London that set up my Around-the-World ticket neglected to tell me about the luggage details. This meant that when I showed up to the airport with my baggage I was told that I was overweight. After I realized that the lady at the desk was talking about my baggage and not my massive physique, I soon found that international flights in the rest of the world have different baggage standards than international flights from the US. While international flights from or to the USA are allowed 2 pieces of checked baggage (each must weigh less than 50lbs).  The rest of the world is only allowed a combined checked-baggage weight of 23kg.  This meant that the two bags (23kg and 20kg) that I had packed to according to US standards were way over the limit. I asked if I could just pay the fee and go anyway, thinking it would be the usual $50 charge that I’d paid on past international flights, but when the receptionist calculated it out she said that the fee would be 440£!!! Needless to say, I was not going to pay a fifth of the ticket price for my baggage, so after the thought of staying in London till after Christmas flashed through my mind I got ready to negotiate. This ended up being unnecessary as the lady was very nice and either the look of despair when she told me the price or my dashing good looks did their work and I was given a waiver through to Sydney. Looks like I’m going to be losing some weight in Australia.

The actual flight to Singapore went fine, I managed to fit in about four and a half movies, 3 meals, and a few naps, and woke up to find that the weather had gotten a lot warmer but that it was still raining. The 30-minute tram trip from the airport and 4-minute walk to my hostel left me drenched in sweat and cursing the amount of luggage that I had brought. After dropping off my stuff in the hostel I changed into shorts and a dry t-shirt and headed out into the tropical night to look for food. My hostel was located in a part of town that wasn’t very touristy so food wasn’t too expensive and I ended up eating at a restaurant around the block where a lot of the locals were eating. Despite the fact that I couldn’t really identify anything on my plate besides the dumplings, I really enjoyed the meal, and ended up eating there the next night as well. After dinner I walked around for a while and stumbled across a fruit vendor near the hostel. We had a long discussion in his broken English about all the different fruits he had to offer, most of which I hadn’t heard of, and I ended up walking home with 4 big plates of fruit to try before I collapsed into jet-lagged and dreamless slumber.

I got off to a late start the next day in an effort to realign my internal clock (which failed).  After an unsuccessful effort to link up with some of the Singapore parkour guys on Facebook, I took the train into the city to explore Singapore. I arrived at the southern point of the Marina and walked all the way around the waterfront looking at the skyline and taking a lot of pictures of the really cool buildings.*

*Note: I have learned that despite giving great quality video, the Sony SXR-63 does not take good pictures at all, hence the very blurry series of shots below.  Still trying to figure out a way to get pics with more than .6 megapixel resolution, but haven't had much success.

The view that greeted me as I came out of the tram station.

The skyline in the background.  As you can tell, I hadn't quite adjusted to the sunlight yet.
My vote for the coolest building in Singapore.  Designed to look like a cruise ship at the top, the low pixelage does poor justice to the view.

The merlion, symbol of Singapore.

One of many sculptures that seem to have been distributed at random around the Marina.  The Marina has been the focus of a huge redevelopment effort in the past decade, and it's now a very beautiful and relaxing place to spend the day.
After making my way around the Marina I headed into the center of Singapore. I ended up walking through most of the downtown area during my wanderings and made a point to visit the two major ethnic centers that had been hyped up to me the most, Chinatown and Little India. While Chinatown was pretty interesting, with some cool Buddhist Temples and lots of interesting shops, Little India was pretty disappointing.  Beside the Hindu temple it just seemed like street with a bunch of shops selling cheap trinkets and plastic goods.  There was a big covered market at the end of the street that was somewhat more interesting, and I enjoyed watching the groups henna tattoo artists at work (almost got one and then realized that I didn't know what to have them draw and even if I did, I didn't have anyone to show it to).

The Hindu temple in Little India.

Interior shot of the Buddhist temple in Chinatown.  Does not do justice at all to the splendor of the decoration.  Kinda of hard to get a good shot with low light conditions, no flash, and dismal resolution.

Throughout Singapore I was struck by the blatant consumerism and a need to buy that seemed to be just as intense, if not more intense, than the one that I had gotten used to in the States. Maybe I just wasn’t as aware of it back home, but Singapore definitely seemed to emphasize having the “newest and latest” version of everything from cars to toasters. I was also disappointed to find that the prices in Singapore were nowhere near what I had expected or hoped. I had envisioned a haven of low-priced digital cameras and other electronics but instead found that I had gotten better deals on some stuff back home before I left (and this was even taking into account the government tax that was refunded if you spent enough money).

No riding, no smoking, no spitting, no jaywalking, no cursing, no eating on the tram, no drinking on the tram, no alcohol....

..... no walking on the grass, no cameras in the tram stations, no cell phones in certain areas .....

... and my favorite sign of them all.  The classic pun that I saw all over was "Singapore is a fine city."  Lame but very true.

I stayed downtown late enough to watch the sun set on the skyline and then took the tram back to the hostel. After another meal in a restaurant near the hostel I stopped by the fruit vendor again to pick up a few more plates of different fruits to try. Out of all the ones that I tried, during my two days in Singapore, the dragon fruit and the Thai grapefruits were really good so hopefully I’ll be able to find them in Australia.

My new favorite fruit.

One of the best sculptures that I saw throughout the city.  I did a double-take and had my shirt halfway off before I realized that these kids weren't going anywhere in the near future.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Halloween in London

My last day in London was actually Halloween and despite my worst fears, the English have definitely advanced a lot farther than the French in their celebration of this Americanized “holiday”. While I’d say that they haven’t quite attained the level of the typical large American college campus, the number of people that were brave enough to wear their costumes in the Metro all weekend long was pretty impressive.
Of course, mixing parkour and Halloween costumes always has interesting results, especially when Halloween falls on the day of the monthly “Off the Wall” event when people from all over the region meet in London to train together and hang out.
This costume was neither made nor brought for me.  However, the combination of peer pressure and nothing to lose made for some sweet pics.
It was kinda chilly.

No comment.

Brian brings trust falls to a new level.  Not only does this help to create the spirit of community that's so strong in London, but it's a decent workout after a while.

London style parkour bonding.

The official group pic of the event.*

Thanks Brian!

Training Note:
On a side note, and in the interest of continuing the subject from the previous post, “The incorporation of fear into training”, I recently did the precision jump* that took the bite out of my leg at Vauxhall (see the August post for pictures). Since the injury, I’ve had a mental block each time I’ve approached this jump, despite the fact that it’s not a particularly hard one and is well within my reach. Apparently the emotional/mental damage takes much longer to heal than the physical wound. Since that first real “parkour injury” I’ve often found myself hesitant to do a lot of precision jumps, as there was always a lingering fear of a repeat injury. As I didn’t want to leave London with any reservations about jumping I decided that I had to do the jump before I left. About a week after the Edinburgh race I was in Vauxhall for a PkGen class and after it had finished I decided to stay and do some extra training. Despite the fact that it was already dark (it was getting dark around 6:30 in London at that point) and the fact that I had already been training hard for a few hours, I was more than physically ready to do the jump. I did the jump a few times without any difficulty besides the mental psych-up before the first one. I returned a few days later after the Halloween “Off the Wall” event and did it again, this time while dressed as Mowgli (sorry, no pictures of this as there wasn’t much clothing involved). While I’ve felt good about re-conquering the jump from a purely competitive angle, I’ve also found that there has been a big upsurge in my general confidence for parkour, as if there has been a huge weight lifted from my shoulders- someone described it as getting my “mojo” back which is probably the best description I’ve heard.
*For the non-traceurs out there, a precision jump is when you jump from one point to another, landing precisely and “sticking” the jump (like in gymnastics, sticking means that once you land you don’t move). In this case the jump was between two walls about 2ft high, 4 inches thick, and about seven or eight feet apart.

Monday, November 15, 2010

GoApe Course & “The Incorporation of Fear into Training”

After the Survival of the Fittest race in Edinburgh Daniel and I decided to head to the local GoApe course to make the day even more epic try pack as much physical activity into the day as possible. After a communications foul-up and a long hike through the local fields of Linlithlow (a small town about 40 min from Edinburgh) we managed to find the park. Since Daniel works at one of the sister parks in England he was able to get us in for free, which was pretty nice since it normally would have been pretty far out of my “adventure budget”.

Introducing Daniel.  Here he's demonstrating one of the more advanced techniques of the GoApe course.
 The park itself was relatively new, and according to Daniel it had a number of obstacles that weren’t featured in the other GoApe courses around the UK. Designed and built by a French company, the course was made up of 5 different “sites”, each of which included an initial ladder climb up into the trees, and then a series of passages between the tree tops before a zip line brought us back to ground level. While the first site was a training site to get familiarized with the safety equipment, and therefore it wasn’t more than 5 or 6 feet off the ground at any point, the others were all at least 20-30 ft up in the air the entire time, with some going even higher. Each of the passages between the tree tops was different, including ladders, hanging logs, tubes, tightropes, dangling ropes, and suspended platforms; even a giant Tarzan-style swing that dropped us about 10ft before swinging us into a cargo net suspended 20ft above the ground.

One of the "passages".  No, I'm not levitating.
 Just to be clear- I’m not normally wild about heights, something that seems to have fluctuated a bit with my parkour training the past few months (walking along the edge of something high up is ok, but the moment it comes to do a precision jump or something really technical I start to get nervous and jumpy). With that in mind I was a bit apprehensive at the beginning of the course especially as I began to climb up the very basic ladder to the first crossing. I soon found that I was totally comfortable with the heights, and I actually enjoyed the adrenaline rush of looking down at the forest floor every now and again. While part of this may be due to the fact that I was still on an emotional high from the race, I strongly suspect that this sense of comfort and security was due to the intense safety measures that were in place. We were attached to the system at all times by one or safety lines at all time and the few times that I got slightly uncomfortable were when the wind picked up in particularly high area and the trees started to sway a little bit, or that moment just before I would take the step off the edge of the platform onto the zip line. The most intense fear came with the Tarzan swing, which included a brief bit of free falling after I stepped off the platform and before the rope pulled me into the arc. The mental strength needed to force myself to make that first step was definitely similar to the feeling that I’ve had before some of the larger jumps that I’ve done with parkour.

Post Tarzan Swing impact.

Daniel coming down one of the zip lines.
Just kinda hanging out on the way down.

One of the locals that we saw on our cross-country hike to get to GoApe.
 I had a fair amount of time for personal reflection on the 10-hour bus ride back to London later that night and the GoApe experience gave me a new perspective on things that I had been brooding on recently, in particular the incorporation of fear into my training. This is a subject that came up during training sessions a number of times during the previous weeks, especially as I began asking some of the more experienced practionners about what I needed to do to continue improving. The technical training of parkour can only take you so far in the sport, and there is a point at which the mental aspect becomes just as important, if not more important, than the physical one. After 5 months of hard training I have reached a point where I am physically capable of most of the basic movements of parkour. However, I often find that my physical abilities are limited by my mental strength and it is only now that I have begun to specifically train this aspect of the sport.

While I may be able to perform a movement at ground level, where the possibility of bodily harm is minimal, the moment that it comes to do the same movements at a higher height, or in an environment where the danger is elevated, it becomes an entirely different story. The obstacle that looks doable when standing at ground level takes on a different size and shape when you actually set up to tackle it. There is a moment of hesitation and fear, so strong that you can almost taste it as it rises inside you in the moments just before you go, and it’s this point that often determines whether or not you will make it, especially if it is towards the limit of your physical capabilities. If you embrace the fear, acknowledge it, accept it, and overcome it, than as long as you have the physical ability to do it, it is very likely that you will succeed. If you feel the fear, and refuse to overcome it, or are unable to do so, you start off the attempt already handicapped, and most often you will pull up short, or won’t put 100% effort into it, both leading to the same end result, although second one can have more dire consequences if the obstacle includes a more dangerous element.

While the GoApe course marked the first deliberate attempt to start working on my ability to overcome this fear (I had resolved to start working on this the day before I left for Edinburgh), it has since become something that I try to incorporate into every training session. I have found that it gets gradually easier with each successful attempt, but I’ve also found that a failure to confront and overcome the fear can set me back an entire day or week’s worth of progress. While this encourages me to face this fear and continue to work on it, I’m curious as to how this will work out in the long run, as given my competitive nature, I can see myself refusing to back down from a challenge that I set for myself despite the fact that it may be beyond my capabilities at the time. That said, my approach to parkour has been relatively analytical and reserved, so I don’t think that this will pose any dangers to my personal well-being.

The camera couldn't decide whether to focus on me claiming this small Scottish hill for America or the awesome view beyond said hill.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pics from Edinburgh

Some of the pictures that I took while in the city and while walking through the course. (please excuse the poor quality, I’ve just learned that despite what the guy said that sold it to me, the video camera I bought takes pictures at about .6 megapixels, good enough to look decent on the 2” viewing LCD, but not very good when you go any larger.)
View of the castle from below.

Another view of the castle, this time from the finish line of the race.

And another of the castle.... I guess I liked it.

Shot from the castle hill over the northern part of the city.

Arthur's Seat in the background, a lot more intimidating when looked at from below.

View up the Royal Mile at sunset.

A shot of the Observatory and surrounding monuments (the mix of architectural styles is a lot more distinctive with better photo quality)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Survival of the Fittest - The Final Chapter - Edinburgh

The third and final Survival of the Fittest Race took place in Edinburgh and was definitely one of the highlights of the “racing season” for me. Not only was it a great race, but it was an awesome trip all together.

I took the train to Edinburgh Friday afternoon and arrived in time to get set up at the hostel, grab a bite to eat, and take a quick look around town. My hostel was situated right on the Royal Mile, which is the road that in medieval times went from the castle at the top of the hill to the town at the base (about one mile long as indicated by the name). Today, the Royal Mile is one of the highlights of the city, and there are tons of shops and interesting places all along it. Since my hostel was situated right in the middle, I was close to everything and had a great view of all the goings-on in the street (the first morning I was woken up by a bunch of men with kilts, rifles, and bagpipes marching down the street- it was a homecoming event of some sort).

The hostel itself was really nice, my room was about 3 times the size of anything else that I’ve stayed in, and was complete with plaid curtains, a luscious rug (first time I’ve seen a real rug in a hostel), and lots of comfy chairs in the actual room. Since there were a lot of “long-termers” in the hostel it made for a very lively and friendly atmosphere and I spent a lot of time just hanging out in the common room with the other residents.

Saturday after breakfast I met up with Daniel, a guy that I had met at the previous two races who had also come up a day early to check out the course. After stopping at a local market en route to the race registration we picked up our numbers and timing chips and headed out to see the course. We had initially thought about doing the walk-through and then hitting up one of the free walking tours but after looking at the course map we realized we’d see more one our own and would free to stop for food as needed. The course itself was by far the most scenic one I’ve run, with a start that ran down the Royal Mile, up a famous set of stairs called “Jacob’s Ladder”, through the park by the Observatory, around the base of Arthur’s Seat (which is pretty impressive by the way), through some more historic parts of town, and then loops around the base of the castle for a photogenic finish with the castle in the background. Given the fact that we were walking, stopping for food, and got off track a few times, our 5-hour walk-through went pretty well, and we got a pretty good look at the course for the next day. After the walk-through we headed back to our respective living arrangements and I went out looking for food. After a surprisingly good dinner at a local bar, I meandered the streets of Edinburgh for a while before calling it a night and heading to bed. (Pictures of Edinburgh to come in later article)

Sunday morning Daniel and I headed to the race early to talk with one of the reps for For Goodness Shakes (they specialize in sport recovery drinks- think glorified chocolate milk). I’d met the guy at the last race and he offered me a spot on the “Race Team”, which would give us a free entry, a sweet t-shirt, and VIP bracelets to the “Manager’s Tent” with breakfast and lunch stuff. We picked up the gear, as well as a bunch of other free stuff, and then started warming up. I’ll admit, it felt pretty cool to be “sponsored”, I think I could get used to that...
The sweet shirt that I got as a "sponsored" athlete.
The start of the race went well and by about 2km Daniel and I were in the top 10 places and steadily moving up the line. We traded leads a few times throughout the race and it was a huge boost to be running "in a team" again. Just having someone there to work with and draft off of is huge, and definitely made me miss the days of running in the pack.

The start of the race, I'm that fleck of yellow of the left.

Going through one of the "urban jungle" obstacles.
 By 6km we had moved up to 4th and 5th place and started battling it out with the 3rd place guy. It was pretty amusing because he was evidently a very good runner and would blow by us in the long stretches between obstacles.  Just when it looked like he had lost us, he would hit an obstacle and stop dead, a cycle that continued until a set of stairs and some hurdles sealed the deal and we were able to drop him. It did make me think a lot about the different skills involved in these races and how much the parkour training has definitely helped the past few months.  That said, I think that a good runner has the advantage over a good traceur, since the distances can be pretty crippling if one isn't used to them.

Up and over through the "Parkour Zone".
The last kilometer was rough but downhill so I managed to crank it up a notch. Daniel faded a bit at the end, but finished strong about 20 seconds behind me. We had talked earlier about meeting on the top of the wall to do push-ups but ended up doing it separately. After being inspired by Daniel’s push-ups at the top of the Wall of Fame at end the Nottingham race (I had a great view of them as I was coming down the final stretch) I decided to embrace the one-up-manship and popped a handstand after scaling the wall. Not exactly the best form in the world, but not bad considering I had just run a 10k …

Not the best form, but recognizable nonetheless.
Since I had crossed the finish line 3rd I finally got to partake in the awards ceremony, and even got to pop the champagne (first time shooting off the bubbly at a race- fun, but it's a shame I don’t like champagne). After the race Daniel and I took full advantage of our VIP access to the food tent and then headed back to the hostel to change clothes. After a quick change and a bite to eat we took the train to go to the GoApe adventure park in Linlithlow (more details in a later article as I’m still waiting for pics).

All in all, it was a very successful weekend and a ton of fun, even with the 8-hour bus ride back to London late Sunday night. I made off like a bandit with all the free samples, even more than the last few races, this time adding to the collection of granola bars and icy-hot-like cream with a heart-rate monitor, watch, body-fat monitor, water bottle, t-shirts, and a Camelback (I had to pay for the last one). And I wondered why my bag was so heavy as I lugged it through the airport…

*Photos are courtesy of the very over-priced race photography company.

The last few weeks in London

The two weeks in London saw my schedule return to near-Davidson levels of activity.  While I enjoyed each of the events in their own fashion, I definitely got the feeling that things got a bit rushed at the end and I missed the open schedule that I had enjoyed for much of my time in London (this also explains my near radio-silence over the past few weeks and the large pile of emails sitting in my inbox that I need to respond to.)  The first event of the last few weeks was the final Survival of the Fittest race in Edinburgh…