If you have been keeping up with my running adventures, you know that I recently journeyed across the pond to run Ragnar White Cliffs. I have written a recap of the race here, but I skipped over some great parts of this trip, when I was just sightseeing in the London area as a first time visitor. Today I will dive a little deeper into that.
The days leading up to this trip, I was so NERVOUS I was almost sick to my stomach. I don’t do a ton of international travel, and this one I would be on my own a great deal. I had a short list of must-do’s that I was planning on exploring in the 2.5 days before the Ragnar race. However, it turned out that a few of my new teammates were going to be able to spend some time with me in London. This was really great news, but that also meant compromising on my must-do list a bit.
I took the new nonstop flight from Phoenix into London Heathrow. Just about 10 hours! Naturally, I wasn’t able to sleep much, but I watched 2 or 3 movies and read a little. It honestly wasn’t bad.
Being a former airline employee, I do my best to travel without checking a bag if I can. I’m just a grab and go kind of girl. My Ragnar travel bag is ENORMOUS, but I love it. I can wear it as a backpack and it goes from the top of my head to the bottom of my butt. It’s legit. Anyhoo, I had that thing packed to the gills and then a carry on tote bag that was overstuffed and ridiculously heavy.
So after breezing through customs, I trudged my way for honestly what felt like a good mile or so to take the tube. I got my Oyster Card, downloaded the tube map app and was determined to do it on my own, even thought it meant a transfer, which I thought would be a big deal and it wasn’t. The tube trains were pretty easy to navigate although I still second guessed myself every dang time. They were very hot and crowded, and me being bogged down like a pack rat wasn’t helping matters. Transfer was easy-peasy and I was at Victoria Station before I knew it. Heathrow >Hammersmith > Victoria. My hotel was supposed to be “across“ from Victoria station but I had no idea in what direction. Google maps to the rescue!
Traffic is insane there and I was convinced that I was going to get hit by a car. I made my way to the hotel where they let me drop my stuff off while my room was getting ready, and I changed into a new outfit. I spotted a cute looking pub nearby and deemed that my lunch spot. On the inside, it wasn’t all that charming. I had to order my food at the bar and pay ahead of time (insert eye roll here). I got a cheese toasty (grilled cheese) and tomato basil soup and of course a beer. I felt antsy here and couldn’t quite relax.
Next on my to-do list was to stop at the nearby gym and buy a day pass to do Body Pump. I had scoped it out ahead of time, but buying the pass online didn’t work. So, I walked over a mile to the gym and bought my pass. While at the gym, I was stung by a bee, which was so completely random, I was gobsmacked! I planned on taking the class that Friday morning at 6:45am and didn’t want to deal with buying the pass that morning. I had a 2pm pub tour scheduled across town, and was determined to walk there. Google maps said it would take me 40+ minutes to get there. My god, it was a long walk. The route did take me along the Thames River, which was full of people walking and jogging.
My walking historical pub tour had about 10 people in it. Our tour guide was super friendly and pointed out several points of historical significance as well as trivial. We stopped at 4 pubs – Blackfriars, The Old Bank of England, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, and The Sail Tavern. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has been around since the 1600’s! I was surprised to see so many low alcohol percentage beers. We were told that in the city so many people are commuters, but they hit the pubs before they go home. So this way, they can have several and still function after.
After the pub tour, I ubered back to my hotel for a quick change before dinner. I was getting ready to meet my team captain, Sarah, and her husband for a surprise “multi-sensory experience” dinner. Say what? I am not an adventurous eater, but she pre-booked this and I just had to trust her. She and her husband had gone to one or two of these before and loved it. Everything about it is very secretive. I’m going to spill the beans, but you can’t tell anyone, ok?
I’ll try to be brief, but holy moley is there a lot to say here. All I knew ahead of time is that it is about 5 or 6 courses, each in a different room, no photos allowed and kind of interactive.
We arrived at some deserted looking warehouse in what felt like nowhere but it was in Hoxton. Apparently they just pop up here and there around town, like a traveling play or something.
We arrived and the host was fully in character. We were going to be teleported to another dimension or something like that. You had to order any drinks you wanted for the 2 hours experience up front, there would be no other chance later. And only one other chance to go to the bathroom. You were asked to turn in your purse and phones, or they gave you a fanny pack thing to wear that you could store it in. Apparently these events are very popular and sell out. They put you in groups of 10 or so for your “seating”.
When they called our group, they ushered us into the “transporter”. It was like an empty trolley car, with just two rows of bench seating, and straps to strap you in like a thrill park ride. The staff member, totally in character, handed us a lunchbox tray with a syringe in it, and a jackfruit appetizer that looked like an eyeball. The syringe had a refreshing cucumber potion in it. The staff member then proceeded to make it feel like we were being transported. The lights flickered and the car shook a bit. Once we came to a stop, we were directed to climb out the door into the next room.
The next room was very, very dark narrow and decorated like a spideweb. It had cargo netting across the floor that was suspended, and we had to crawl across it to get into our seats. People were sitting on the cargo net, one row along the left side and one along the right, and I just chose to sit in the middle so I could see. Mistake. The staff member at the end of the tiny room was decorated as some sort of Queen Spider. She was very sarcastic and picking on people. Naturally she picked on me since I stuck out. Everyone got their appetizers, which was crab so I didn’t eat it. Then miss Queen Spider started asking me to “come closer”. I was doing my best to ignore her. Finally I gave in and inched a little closer. She ended up just letting me be the first one to go into the next room.
FOOD RECONSUMPTION CENTRE
The next room would be another weird one. It was set up as a factory assembly line. We each picked a side of the assembly line and were given a rather silly task of sorting the plastic bottles into different colors, then made a contest out of it. Then it was “breaktime” in our imaginary factory and we got some tasty sliders and fries. That was pretty good.
Next was a dinner theatre where we were assigned roles and given props. I played the doctor. My team captain played my son. It was a silly play, but kind of fun at the same time. The story line involved a huge squash, so our meal in that room was spaghetti squash with sage, and this was also delicious.
HUMAN BEAN FARM
One of the strangest rooms of the night was this bizarre dark room with a lady in costume which was supposed to be some sort of alien. She was babbling in her native alien language and we were motioned to put headphones on where we heard a series of weird statements being made, and repeated. While we listened to that , the alien lady handed out these pacifiers which were made out of a tasty frozen concoction, directly into our mouths! Seriously weird stuff.
From there we entered an escape room. We were told to gather clues from our dinner stops in order to come up with a code to get out. Once the code opened the door, we had to slide down a chute that landed in a ball pit like McDonalds. There we were given our dessert, a pineapple basil sorbet, that was also very good. All in total it was 2 hours.
In summary, it was different, it was weird; but the food was actually pretty good. It wasn’t my style, but I’m thankful to my team captain for taking me on that crazy ride!
I just can't make this stuff up!
That was ALL on DAY ONE in London, people! I hit the ground running all day, got in like 27,000 steps and collapsed on my bed that night.
The location of this hotel was great, by the station and also basically across from Kensington Palace. They had a free daily happy hour, which unfortunately I was not able to take advantage of. I loved my power shades that I could just push a button and let in the world. I had to pay a little more for a room with a window, but I cannot imagine not having a window. That would be crazy in this tiny little room!Check out my adorable little compact room at Z Hotels Victoria. It is 90 square feet. Look at the view from the doorway below. No closet, no drawers really. Just the essentials. But hey, there was tea!
Ok, so on to day 2! I found a cute sidewalk café around the corner overlooking Kensington Palace for breakfast (and more tea!) and took my book. Happy girl.
I had plans to meet up with my new teammate Michael, who was flying in from Minneapolis that morning. He offered to do some sightseeing with me. I cannot believe how well we ended up hitting it off as travel buddies. I think in Britain-speak they would say we got along like a house on fire!?
Anyhoo, we ended up meeting for coffee before tackling the day. Two of the things I wanted to do was afternoon tea, and a cruise on the Thames. We tried to do the afternoon tea cruise, but it was sold out. After walking for what felt like FOREVER along the banks, we settled for afternoon tea at the Tower Hotel. Very reasonably priced, and holy cow, so much food! This 3-tiered tray below was ALL just for me!
I have always assumed that afternoon tea for the Brits was all about the tea, and maybe a few sweets. Wrong. My platter was packed with just as much savory, if not more, tea sandwiches than sweets. And I loved it ALL. Honestly underwhelmed by the sweets, but the savories – yum, yum. Curried chicken salad, egg salad, cucumber, ham. I drank like 3 pots of tea LOL.
After that, we walked around a bit more. We learned that the London Eye, which Michael really wanted to do, closed early on weekdays, before sunset. What the heck? I have seen photos, and that place is really magical at sunset. So, instead we made plans to do it first thing Friday morning, before we had to take the train back to Heathrow to meet the team and pick up the rental vans. We also made plans to meet up with a former colleague of mine from my airline days. She was in town for work, and I hadn’t seen her in 11 years!
Ok by Day 3, I was really getting the hang of this town and feeling a bit like a local. I went to the 6:45AM Body Pump Class. I’m really glad I did, but I wish I would have had a nicer and more welcoming instructor.
I went to Bannatyne, and it is more of a small boutique style gym. They offered free tea (yay) to members, and people actually sat around chatting before class. No one does that in the US. We form a line and barely speak to each other. I went to set up my body pump equipment, only to find that they use the Les Milles Smart bar, which I’ve seen on video but never used in real life. I had no idea how to use it. I got the weights on ok but didn’t know how to get them off. And everything was in kilos, which of course threw me off. But I just set up in the tiny studio like normal and then got ready.
The instructor was an older woman. She was friendly with members but not at all to me. There’s only room for about 8 people to set up. Unfortunately , I had to set up right in front of her. She was talking to the others about the new release (Body Pump 111) that she was just learning and I’m nodding my head and saying “oh yeah, we’ve been doing that for a few weeks now. “. She says “who’s we”? in a snotty voice. I explained just my gym in the US. She never spoke or looked at me again. Cues were not the best. I was also disappointed that the class was only 45 minutes and cut out 2 of my favorite tracks – triceps & biceps. I struggled to take the weight off the smart bar. The instructor didn’t help me, the lady behind me did. I recognized some of the tracks, and had a great workout, so I really can’t complain.
After catching up on some emails and a quick shower, It was time to find breakfast and check out. Then go meet Michael to ride the London Eye. I got smart this time and took the tube. Victoria > Westminster. So much easier and faster. The London Eye in the daytime was underwhelming. Expensive, crowded , and in my opinion, not worth it. Then we raced back to our respective hotels and headed to the train station. I was planning on ubering from my hotel to Paddington station, which is where our team was meeting up. The tube involved a transfer and my bags were so heavy and overloaded. I decided just to go for it on the tube, and it was so easy! Plus I still had so much money on my oyster card to use up. Victoria >Oxford Circus>Paddington. Then we met up and took the Heathrow Express train to Heathrow.
I’m not sure why this trip has touched me in the way that it has. Whenever I can start to feel like a local, and be at ease – that makes me so happy. London was never high on my list of places to visit. I’ll just say that everything happens at the time it’s meant to :)
I was hoping my next trip to London would be for the London Marathon in April. But alas, I didn’t get in the lottery. I still have a few things to accomplish:
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When people find out how many Ragnars I have done, they always ask me, “which one is your favorite”? While that can be a really tough question because I honestly love doing these so much that it’s hard to find anything bad to say about any of them. But, I honestly tell folks that my favorite, for obvious reasons, is Ragnar Michigan.
I have done this race all 4 years of its existence, 2 of them as team captain. It takes place in my beautiful home state, and ends in my favorite city of all, Traverse City.
This year, I got on a team with 2 of the girls I met on the Michigan Runner Girl team last year. They captained their own team, and I happily jumped on board. I even had 2 friends from Arizona come and join in on the fun.
The timing was not ideal – I had just gotten back a few days before from a weeklong trip to London that included running Ragnar White Cliffs. My head was still in the clouds, and I just hadn’t had time to get excited for this one, since I was still thinking about the last one just days prior.
There were storms in the forecast, but we hoped for the best. This would be my first time in van 2 of Ragnar Michigan, and I was looking forward to seeing a different part of the course.
Our team was rather speedy. We didn’t start until 9:30am. We had 3 runners who ran 6:30 pace!
One of my friends from AZ, Tricia, had never been to Michigan before, and her enthusiasm was contagious. She was like a young child – “is that a lighthouse over there? Are those sand dunes? This is so pretty” and she also took note of the Midwest hospitality and friendliness of the residents, like the older gentleman to stopped when he saw us on the side of the road, just making sure our vehicle was ok.
I was runner 10, so it was a long wait before I got to run. And more time to worry about the storm coming. One of my favorite things about this race is that most legs have a water view at some point. Many exchanges are at state parks, so the opportunities for great scenery are endless.
My first run was only 3.4 miles down a country road. Somehow I was able to run a 9:27 pace, which was great for me. Being one of the last runners is such a LONG wait. But at least you are rewarded with dinner shortly thereafter! It hard started to rain a little at this point but nothing heavy yet.
Once we finished dinner and made our way to the next exchange to rest, the heavens opened up and it poured. The race officials ended up issuing a lightning hold later that night – the first one I’ve ever experienced. Basically, the runner out at that time can either finish or get picked up. Then the next runner gets skipped and you get a one hour hold before the next runner can start. Luckily we only had one hold to get through, and the rain lightened up. Our runner still got soaked and had a hellacious 8 mile hilly run in the rain – along the shoulder of a busy road. Not fun!
We also had a little drama with our recently injured runner Tricia. Her first leg went by smoothly, but half way through her night run, her ankle was giving her problems and we ended up swapping her out with another runner.
My night run would be my longest – and between the length and the rain I was a bit anxious. However, this night run was so peaceful, I really enjoyed it, despite being 7.8 miles long! The road was empty at 1am, I ran a 9:47 pace, and had 10 kills! There was zero rain, the temperature was around 58-60 degrees, so not cold! It was just a steady nice run. The only downer was that I must have gotten some bad batteries, and my Noxgear light up safety vest was dying during the run. It was very, very faint by the end of the run.
After our night runs, we did our best to get some sleep, although not that soundly due to space issues in the van. It still wasn’t “cold” out per se, but it was an excuse to bust out some of my cooler weather Ragnar gear!
I had been searching for my friend Jen, and was able to find her shortly before my last run.
Our final legs all went pretty smoothly; even Tricia was ready to tackle her short last run. Michelle got to run with wild turkeys. I got to run 3.1 through the cute little town of Lake Ann.
After some team celebrations, we met up with family and went our separate ways.
This was a fun race with friends old and new. I can’t imagine NOT doing this race!
Oh, and our speedy team came in 12th out of 96 in our division!
Until next time, Ragnar Michigan. You'll always be my hometown favorite :)
Hi, I'm Emily! I'm an avid runner in Arizona with a passion for travel and racing around the country!