London: 8 Places to Visit on a Budget

As I will be heading there myself quite soon, reblogging this article on places to go in London.

MAYLINGsAdventures

Last Friday I did a day trip to London; I didnt spend much but saw so many places! My only expenses were my coach ticket to London Victoria, my all day travel card for the London Underground (£12 for an adult), and lunch! Here’s what I saw and what I recommend.

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Buckingham Palace
No trip to London is complete without going to see and get a selfie in front of the Queen’s house! With the thousands of other tourists we took loads of photos of the Palace, the guards, and the gold statue in front. Along with Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace is the most visited tourist attraction in England.

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Camden Town Market
Camden Market is a personal favourite when it comes to visiting London; the stalls, the food and the culture make up a great atmosphere, and the Lock provides some beautiful views…

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Kyoto Marathon in numbers

Today I had a lot of fun in a masochistic sort of way!

Starting out, I took it nice and slow – keeping a sensible pace. For the first ten kilometres, I was enjoying playing the running tourist, taking pictures of the crowds supporting the runners as well as the sights visible from the road. I will post some of these pics in a later blog.

The temperature didn’t reach the 11 degrees that the forecast promised us. In fact, it was pretty chilly and rained two or three times during the race. But this for me was a good thing.

Looking at the splits for the whole race downloaded from the official website, we can see that my pace was very consistent throughout. Split times refer to the time measured from the start to a given point along the way, while lap times refer to increments within the race. Except for the first 5k and the last 5k lap (35-40k), I managed to run each kilometre in less than five minutes.

Here are the times laid out in a chart:

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Graphically, with the y-axis set to between 4 minutes and 6 minutes, you can see the consistency of the lap times in the middle of the race. Evidently, my split times got faster on average as I went through the race. This is because I sped up somewhere around 8 or 9 kilometres and held my pace consistently for most of the rest of the race. This had the effect of canceling out the slow start. As we approach the end of the race, you can see the split time starting to go up slightly as I got tired. I don’t mind admitting that resisting the urge to walk was quite a battle of the conscience!

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Over 42.195 kilometres, even a few seconds per kilometre up or down on average pace makes or breaks a full marathon. Today was my best ever time by about 6 minutes. This translates to around an average 8 seconds per kilometre quicker than last year’s Tokyo Marathon. It took me 4 minutes 54 seconds to run a kilometre today, while in Tokyo it was about 5 minutes 2 seconds. It just goes to show that every second counts.

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Carb-loading

Are you one of those people who gets annoyed by social media posts of food? I am!

Today I’m going to break my own rule and risk alienating my small blog audience with a quick rundown of my carb-loading ahead of tomorrow’s run in Kyoto – Japan’s former capital. With a full marathon ahead of me, I have been piling in the carbohydrates today to get my energy reserves ready for the big day tomorrow.

Carbohydrates are really important for distance runners as they fuel the body with energy. Foods such as pasta, rice, fruit and potatoes are rich sources of carbs. Of course for couch potatoes, carbs are the enemy, but the opposite is true for long distance runners.

Breakfast
Today was our children’s nursery happyokai (発表会) – literally “announcement meeting”, where the children show off on stage with all sorts of performances for their parents. They’ve been practicing for months and today was the culmination of all their hard work. It’s a bit like me with this marathon, I suppose! The happyokai meant an early-ish start as we had to be there around nine to meet the kids’ grandmother visiting for the day from Osaka.

My breakfast consisted of a peanut butter and banana toasted sandwich and a cup of coffee. Peanut butter is said to be one of the best foods for a runner because it packs a lot of calories and gives a real boost to the muscles. This is perfect for me as I have liked peanut butter ever since I was a kid. Bananas contain lots of carbohydrates as well as potassium and so are also a great food for runners. Finally the bread is also an excellent source of carbohydrates.

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Lunch
Today I’ve had two lunches: a fairly light social lunch at the family restaurant Gusto with my wife, kids and mother-in-law; and a second “bento” on the Shinkansen heading down to Kyoto. We ate fairly early (just before noon) after the happyokai.

As is usually the case when we give the kids a choice of where to eat, they say Gusto. It’s not a bad place – fairly cheap and cheerful and it keeps everyone happy. I chose steak and avocado with salad on a bed of rice – quite a balanced meal. The rice in particular contains plenty of carbs. Avocado is quite low in carbs – somewhere around 9g per 100g serving. Meat doesn’t contain carbs, though there are plenty of calories with the protein and of course the fat. Gusto doesn’t publish an exact breakdown of the nutritional information but the meal is listed as 970kcal.

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I opted for more meat and rice for the Shinkansen: Iberico pork on a bed of rice. As you can see from the label there are lots of numbers written all over it. It contains 111 grammes of carbohydrates (炭水化物), 67.9g of fat (脂質), 20.4g of protein (蛋白質) and a whopping 1152 kilocalories. The price is fairly whopping too at 1100 yen, but I feel I deserve it! This meal alone is just under half the recommended daily amount of calorific intake for an adult male.

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Dinner
Sitting on the Shinkansen as I write, I plan to eat a dinner of ramen noodles in Kyoto some time between 7 and 8pm.

Addendum: Here’s the photo of the noodles – complete with the touristic gimmick nori seaweed on top:

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Other snacks
Today is Valentine’s Day and my lovely wife and daughter made me some nice biscuits to munch on for my trip. So I will be partaking of these in between meals.

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I also have a few muffins (again excellent carb sources) to choose from in between should I get peckish. These muffins from Bagel & Bagel are devilish. I probably won’t eat all three of these before tomorrow’s run but they should restore me nicely after I finish the race tomorrow!

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5 Tips for Scheduling Your Races

Though this post is written from a U.S. perspective, the advice holds for anywhere in the world.

RunnersOnTheGo.com

Whether you just made your new years resolution to finish a 5k, 10k, or Marathon, or you have been running races for years; choosing which races to run, and finalizing your race schedule can be a daunting, and time consuming task. As much as race calendars like Running In The USA, RRCA and (shameless plus) Runners On The Go help. Sometimes having all that race info at your fingertips can make the process even more time consuming.

As January ends and you start putting the finishing touches on your race calendar, consider these 5 tips.
1. Know Your Running Goal
Before you decide what races you are going to do this year, you have to know what you want to gain from the experience. Do you want to run a PR? Do you want to finish your first Marathon? Do you want to run 50 Marathons in 50 states

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Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 5): 35 kilometres – Finish

The beautiful, historic city of Kyoto will host a marathon on February 15th. 

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.

Read Part 1.

Read Part 2.

Read Part 3.

Read Part 4.

35KM — 42.195KM

Access: Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station, Subway Tozai Line, or Karasuma Oike Station, Subway Tozai Line or Karasuma Subway Line

There is a turning point just after 35 kilometres right outside the City Hall (京都市役所). Along with the Imperial Palace just a little further north, this is one of the best places to support towards the end of the race. Being here leaves enough time to jump on the Tozai (literally East-West) Line and be at the finish line ready for the last part of the race. You might not feel too inspired by the 1920s architecture in a city of true beauties. But if you happen to be from one of Kyoto’s many sister cities – Boston, Paris, Cologne, Kiev, Florence, Xian, Prague, Guadalajara, Jinju or Zagreb, you might want to go and take a picture of the plaques on the east side of the building.

Access: Higashiyama Station, Subway Tozai Line

After the runners turn around, they head out north and east towards another famous Kyoto temple (and my personal favourite because of its gardens). If you want to be at the finish line in time, you won’t be able go and support them in this area. But it would be remiss of me not to mention Ginkakuji (銀閣寺). No visit to Kyoto would be complete without taking in the sights of this wonderful temple. Its name is very similar to Kinkakuji which we passed in the 10-15km sector of the race. While Kinkakuji means Golden Pavilion Temple, Ginkakuji means Silver Pavilion Temple. The more ostentatious and certainly more photographed Kinkakuji is coated in gold, whereas the pavilion at Ginkakuji has never been covered in silver. It is said to take its name from the silver reflection of the light of the moon. This is definitely near the top of the list of places to visit on a different day of your trip along with a walk down the Philosopher’s Path (哲学の道) down to Nanzenji (南禅寺) and then beyond to Kiyomizudera (清水寺), the temple that stands on wooden stilts.

The runners themselves run up towards Ginkakuji and then turn back, completely avoiding the Philosopher’s Path and Nanzenji. Instead, they head back west and then south past Kyoto University (京都大学), Japan’s second most prestigious university at around 41 kilometres. Kyoto University is the workplace of Nobel Prize winner, Yamanaka Shinya. He and fellow stem cell researcher, John Gurdon from the UK were awarded in 2012. Yamanaka himself will apparently be running the race in 2015.

Kyoto University really will be the sign for runners that the end is nigh. They will squeeze the last ounces of energy out of their legs and fresh positive thoughts of “I can do it” will enter their minds again as they head towards the crowds waiting to greet them in the environs of Heian-jingu (平安神宮).

Now past the finish line, they will feel the relief and pride of having made it to the end of the Kyoto Marathon and will be thanking you for all the support you gave along the way!!!

My Recommendation to Supporters: Seven more kilometres… Six… Five… Four… Three… Two… One… At last, the runner is thinking, this race is coming to an end. These last few kilometres are the longest in the race. The runner is wondering whether they will make it over the line without collapsing, or whether their leg muscles will hold out, or how big is that blister that is really stinging my left foot… For some runners, these last kilometres will feel endless and their pace may slow to not much faster than walking. Many will even succumb to walking. Support at this stage of the race really does serve to push the runners over the line. Most supporters would really like to be at the finish line to congratulate their hero. This makes it difficult to look at places along the route in the last seven kilometres and then also be there at the finish straight. For this reason, I recommend saving the sights around this area for another day and focusing your efforts on cheering outside Heian-jingu. If you are around City Hall for the 35k turning point, you can jump on the train for a few stops to Higashiyama and then wait by the finish line. In the very least you can either take a quick look with all the other crowds at the beautiful red shrine while you wait. Alternatively, you could suggest taking a look with your runner friend right after the race if they feel up to it…

Thank you for reading through these entries about Kyoto Marathon The city really is full of wondrous temples and shrines, large and small – many in places where you’d least expect them. If you’re not visiting for the marathon in February 2015, I hope that you will come to one of the most beautiful cities in the world either as a tourist or a runner (or both) in the near future.

Numbers don’t lie… or do they?

Every day, I receive a motivational email from Runner’s World. Often their quote of the day really gets me thinking. One such recent quote is by the famous American runner Frank Shorter:

Numbers don’t lie. You always seem to remember your workouts as being a little better than they were. It’s good to go back and review what you do.

This blog is about critical thinking while running – at least it is if you read the tag line! It unites my passion for running with my critical eye for looking at numbers and patterns.

Let’s take a look back at my numbers from January. Below are a few points which I feel will develop into key themes as the months roll by.

Stated Targets
Will I hit my big target if I miss the incremental ones?

First and foremost is my slight disappointment in not achieving my stated target to run at least 150k during the month. My goal this year is to run 2015 kilometres. Based on simple division, this is approximately 168 kilometres per month, though I committed to 150 each month as I know that there will be some big 200k-plus months in the mix. Sadly, according to Runkeeper (which until now I have used as my de facto basis for measurement) I missed my mark by less than 8 kilometres – one solitary run – in January.

There’s a Japanese word: omoikomi (思い込み) that literally means to get deep into thinking something. It doesn’t carry the suggestion of deep thought or consideration that my clumsy translation suggests. This word usually has the nuance of prejudice or assumption. It can also mean a preconception or an unquestioned thought. For some unknown reason, I decided that Sunday was the last day in January. This was factored into my thinking about 2 or 3 weeks before the end of the month. On the last Saturday of the month (actually the 31st), I felt shattered from taking my kids to a theme park and let myself sleep early – thinking I could cover the last 8k and then some on the Sunday.

It wasn’t until the next day after my Sunday run when Runkeeper gave me a running total for January (and February!!) that I realized my mistake. Of course, as it was set in my mind that Sunday 1st February was the last day in January, it never occurred to me to open a calendar! I won’t make that mistake again! But to answer my own question, a few barely missed goals here and there is nothing to beat myself up about as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

Running total for January and February in Runkeeper
Running total for January and February in Runkeeper

Surprises
Am I faster in the morning or at night?

I care about the answer to this question as I am aiming for a pace of 4:45 per kilometre. So I want to optimize my running times to increase my chances of hitting my targets.
First glance at the data, I was surprised not to be much faster in the morning than at night. But then I realized that my morning runs start in the dark.

As I would expect, my afternoon runs have been fastest (as well as closest to my target pace). But two runs in clear daylight this year do not a pattern make. Through the rest of the year I will be looking for this pattern to optimise my pace. Clearly with work and family commitments, running in the afternoons is a rare luxury for me. I will be looking forward to the end of winter when the sun will rise earlier so I can get daylight runs in before work.

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Numbers do lie (somewhat)
Which numbers do I believe? Or should I believe any of them?

I swear by measuring all my activity as I run. I like to compete against myself along similar courses and similar distances. In a later post, I will discuss the various tools I use. In this post, I will just merely point out a discrepancy between my two key running wearables (Runkeeper on my iPhone; and my Garmin Forerunner watch). A look at the data will show a number of differences between the distances, times, pace and calories.

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On the subject of target pace, my Garmin watch consistently reports a quicker pace than my Runkeeper app. To strip pace back to its constituent parts, there are two factors: total time spent and total distance covered.

Distance is supposed to be measured by GPS and so in theory, there shouldn’t be a discrepancy. However, on occasion, my Runkeeper app gets an anomaly reading as something interferes with the signal and causes huge bounces where I might suddenly “run” a whole kilometre in just a minute or even occasionally a few seconds. The craziest instances were in amongst skyscrapers in Hong Kong where the signal bounces off windows. I try to avoid running in areas that are too built up, but this is a hazard in Tokyo too! Anyway, I usually notice this when it is a big bump, and I go back later and correct them with the map editing feature in the desktop version of Runkeeper. But maybe it’s the smaller bumps that I’m not noticing. Not that I’m going to be so anal as to check my route online after each run. I just simply don’t have the time or inclination for that. So I will aim to paint a picture over time of any average discrepancies and factor these into my total measurements. I may also try the old-fashioned approach of getting a city map book and measuring my routes on paper with a piece of string and a ruler.

January according to Garmin Connect
January according to Garmin Connect
January according to Runkeeper
January according to Runkeeper

The other factor in pace is time. I know through habit that I tend to turn my Runkeeper on first as I start my run, and turn it off last afterwards. There is therefore a difference between these numbers too, but it is usually simply a matter of a minute or so. After my January 10th run, I remember forgetting (oxymoron?) to turn it off until I was already back inside the house! This was a good five or six minutes after the run, hence the large discrepancy between the Runkeeper “Duration” and Garmin “Time”.

The critic in me makes me question these numbers. Twelve days is not enough to develop a clear pattern. So as the year progresses, I will start to build a hypothesis and hopefully get closer to understanding which ones I can trust more, or whether the reality is somewhere in between. When I get round to it, I will also factor in past data from last year.

Being the closet geek that I am, there are other ways I measure my activity. I won’t go into them here for now, but I have noticed discrepancies with other data and am really starting to wonder what affects them.

Of course, I have to be careful not to disappear under my own pile of big data… 😉 But it would be great to hear your suggestions on what other influencers to measure: mood, impact of sleep, weather…9 As Douglas Hubbard says, you can measure anything!

Sights around Kyoto Marathon (Part 4): 30 – 35 kilometres

The beautiful, historic city of Kyoto will host a marathon on February 15th. 

This series of posts will focus on the temples, shrines and other attractions dotted along the course. If you are visiting at the time of the marathon to support a friend or loved one, I hope that you will have a chance to visit some of these places! Do spare some time before or after the day of the race to visit some of the other wonderful places there are to see.

Read Part 1.

Read Part 2.

Read Part 3.

30KM — 35KM

Access: Kuramaguchi Station, Subway Karasuma Line

By the 30-kilometre mark, the athletes will have been running off the road, along the riverside for about two kilometres. Right as they reach the 30-k point, they will pass the ornate Shimogamo-jinja (下鴨神社) on their left (to the east over the other side of the Kamo River). Shimogamo is the sister to Kamigamo. Shimo literally means ‘lower’, while Kami is ‘higher’, and Gamo is simply taken from the river’s name but with a soft vowel as often happens when two words are merged in Japanese. Shimogamo-jinja was first built in the sixth century long before Kyoto became the capital of Japan. While its name might suggest it is the younger of the two sisters, it actually predates its sister Kamigamo-jinja by about a hundred years.

Access: Marutamachi Station, Subway Karasuma Line or Jingu-marutamachi, Keihan Main Line

The runners come off the riverside somewhere near 33 kilometres and turn right towards the Kyoto Imperial Palace (京都御所). Unlike its cousin in Tokyo which is inhabited by the current emperor, this palace is open to the public. However, you can only enter on a guided tour and you must book in advance. The park grounds that surround the palace are completely open to the public and are a really nice place for a stroll when the weather is good. The runners pass along the front of the Imperial Palace twice as they turn back on themselves and then turn right (south) towards the Kyoto City Hall just after the 35-km mark.

My Recommendation to Supporters: Due to its proximity to the finish line (not for the runners themselves who have to loop around and back on themselves) the area around the Imperial Palace and City Hall will be very popular with supporters. You can cheer your friends or loved ones twice as they turn just after the Imperial Palace and come back along the same road. Moreover, it is this section (30-35km) and arguably the previous one (25-30km) where the runners will be most thankful for the support as they fight the mental urge to throw in the towel.

Being very central, both of these places are very accessible via the subway lines. Once the runners have passed, spectators will either take the subway or walk to the finish line near Heian-jingu.

Part 5 (35 to 42.195 kilometres) will cover the last part of the race as the runners double back on themselves as they turn in front of City Hall, head out towards my personal favourite temple, Ginkakuji, past Kyoto University and towards the finish line right by Heian-jingu.