“You haven’t come this far to stop.”

Over 50,000 runners took part in the New York Marathon in November 2018. And I was one of them. I had decided to participate the year before, selling myself the event as a sightseeing opportunity: “You’ll see parts of New York you haven’t yet seen!”  That was good enough motivation for me, because to me New York is the greatest city in our modern world and – well, I just have to see it.

The most intense months of training were September and October and I flew to New York in November determined to finish the race.  

Everyone says that running a marathon is physical and mental. It became apparent as I was running how important it was to manage and control the little voice in my head to keep it on my side and help me get the race done.

I began the event on an emotional high, jumping out of my friend’s car and walking to the check-in point. I ran into other marathoners who were walking there and I resonated with their buzz and excitement.

The starting gun went off and I started running down the bridge looking across the water at the city skyline. I saw the Empire State Building in the very, very far distance and thought: “Hm, I need to run all the way up there – and then some.”

The Brooklyn leg of the race was all novel and exciting. Still emotionally high, I ran at my usual pace and took in what was around me. People were lining up the streets and cheering the runners. I thought: “Wow, how nice of everyone to come out on a Sunday morning and support runners they don’t even know!”

I spent a good part of the race reading up the signs that they were holding up – some of the funniest reading that “Toenails are for losers!” and “If Britney made it through 2007, you can make it through 26.2 miles!”

And so I ran happily all the way up to Km 20 in the hipster part of Brooklyn. Past that point, I started to feel tired and my initial excitement turned into doubt. The voice in my head began muttering:  “What have you got yourself into?”, “Maybe you should go home”, “I think I would like to stop for brunch.”

I hit the notorious runner’s wall crossing the bridge from Queens into Manhattan. I had so much lactic acid in my legs that my calf muscles felt like exploding and I wondered whether or not I would be able to use my legs or keep any toenails post-event. I was pissed off for signing up and I wanted to throw a full-blown tantrum – in the middle of a bridge! – but I said to myself: “Keep going you idiot, you haven’t come this far to stop.”

I suffered all the way to the Bronx (roughly Km 32). Gatorade gels, frequent pit stops, several songs on my iPod and the signs that the crowd were holding up kept me through phase. The one that cracked me up the most was held by this guy who had a pint in one hand and the sign in the other – it read: “I’ve turned up because they said there would be beer.”

Finally, I got to the final 7 Km. I most likely ran the way Elaine in Seinfeld used to dance by this point, if you remember her moves. This lady on the sidewalk handed me a fist-full of salt, which I gulped and which saved my life. “God is a marathon runner”, I thought.  

The final 5 Km were the most emotional. No matter how much I ran, I still could not see the finish line and there was always another left or right to take. Finally, I saw the end stretch and dragged myself past the finish line.

I learned a lot from this experience. The most important thing being that if you prioritise your final goal and coach yourself through highs and lows, you can get there!

*Delivered as Speech 6 at Toastmasters London Business School, 13th March 2019.

Travels of the heart and soul. Musings of the mind.

There are places in this world that resonate with who I am.

That is a hell of a profound thing to say.

The countryside I grew up in resonates with who I am, perhaps because it is where I was made. The greyish buildings in the old part of Edinburgh covered in the morning mist resonate with me, as did the cup of hot chocolate I had at the hotel while the fire was crackling in the fireplace.

There are the beaches of Lindos, of Rhodes, of Capri and of my home country with shellfish sands and heart-warming sun and brownish tans.

There are the cold days and mornings of Scandinavia, which I never expected to fall in love with but apparently hibernation agrees with me.

There are places I sense resonate with me as well. I get the sense I will love Cuba and Argentina, Morocco, and the Middle East when the time comes for me to visit them.

There is my home country, which is in my bones, which resonates with me.

There is New York. My heart is there at the moment and I am afraid it wants to never come back. I feel disjointed as a result.

The Wall.

Today I learned that one way of breaking down a wall, in this case physical limits, is to stay on the path and push through – the desire to stop when you arrive at the point on the path where you normally do tend to take a break; the desire to say that you will break those limits tomorrow or on another occasion. The feeling that you will literally die if you push yourself just that bit further.

I pulled myself from the ladies’ locker room today, went up the flight of stairs to where the treadmills are in the gym and ran another 10 kilometers, because I knew I could not go home without giving myself the victory over this now-to-be-beaten boundary and breaking the promise I had made to myself that I would break through the 15 kilometers mark two weekends ago.

The New York Marathon takes place on the 4th of November 2018. There are numerous other walls and limits to push through until then, including the walls and the limits that are associated with the actual day of the event. But I have seen runners push through those last few miles of the marathon on previous occasions in New York and they seem more exhilarated by the prospect of finishing their race than by the pain they have endured to get there.

That marathon has a finishing line – and I will cross it in nine months’ time. This is resolve, not arrogance.

The rest is process.



New York: Working Up An Appetite.

A stroll on Perry Street; a visit to the Whitney; a visit to the New Museum; a visit maybe to the MoMA, because why not; coffee at Sweetleaf; dinner at Salt & Charcoal, because I have to have that sushi again; dinner at the Hakkasan, because I have to bust out my best outfits when I am in New York. An ice-skating session in Bryant Park, because I have put this on hold since last winter. A meeting at Toastmasters and another one at The Father’s Heart, because I need to see my friends.

Suffices for one week.

The New York Public Library.

The New York Public Library is one of those emblematic New York buildings, right there on the map of the great buildings that make the city memorable, alongside the Empire State, the Chrysler, Grand Central Station and the Waldorf Astoria.

Built in the 19th century with support from the Lenox, the Astor and other wealthy families of the time, the New York Public Library feels like a gift to the city. It is a welcoming building, with a welcoming entrance and an even more welcoming and grander lobby.

Walking up the stairs from the ground to the first floor, taking in the marble stairs and the chandeliers, it feels like you are walking through a place that needs to be respected and admired.

The Grand Reading Room, its painted ceiling and thousands of books make you feel like you’re in some part of heaven. The part where they keep all the intel on everyone. I expected a very wise man to come to me dressed in a luminous robe, take me on a journey, talk to me about life and share with me the secrets of the sage.

Alice Austen’s House.

To get to Alice Austen’s House, you need to take the ferry from Downtown Manhattan into Staten Island. I did just that one Saturday afternoon at the start of January keen to make sure I ticked the location off the list of the 111 places I should not have missed in New York.

Staying true to my passion for walking, I decided to walk to her house from the Staten Island Ferry Station, although some passers-by advised me to take the bus. I did wish I had taken the bus, as I noticed that the road I was walking down veered in the direction of a back street full of warehouses that did not necessary show a trace of a human foot.

As I was walking down the street, I was hoping and praying that it would lead to the destination I was hoping for. And that I would not end up on the front cover of a newspaper the following day. Quite literally, this was one of the two occasions when I felt like slapping myself for not being more careful with my whereabouts especially when I am miles away from home. The other occasion was during a trip to Naples, when I ventured to see the certezza that sits at the top of the city and walked for half an hour up back streets that looked like they had featured in Cosa Nostra.  

Alice Austen was one of the first photographers to document New York life and society at the end of the 19th century – early 20th. She left behind an impressive collection of over 9,000 photos. Some of them are on display in her house, which has been converted into a museum.

I was ecstatic to find the place eventually and reach it safely. Looking around, my favourite photos were those of the Staten Island Hospital, photographed in the early 1900s. I also liked a photo illustrative of a medical check that an immigrant to the US went through at that time at Ellis Island.

Another thing I enjoyed about Alice’s house was the furniture. The parlour was specifically interesting, as it displayed various pieces of furniture faithfully recreating the mood of the past. The dark room, where she spent a lot of hours working on her photos, is a real window through time.