Running Struggles

Since I moved to the UK, running has been a bit of a challenge. It got better at the end of last year/beginning of this year but it’s now worse than ever. After running two 10K PBs within a week in February, I’m now barely able to run 5K without taking numerous walking breaks.

The past few months have been overly busy and since November, I haven’t really had time to stop and recharge. I work full-time, do occasional freelancing, blog and juggle creative projects; add to that several festive gatherings, birthday dinners and a couple trips abroad, sprinkle with race training (until recently, I had hoped to run my first half-marathon next October), daily yoga practices, weekend hikes and sporadic HIIT workouts or barre classes and you have a good recipe for exhaustion – both mental and physical.

Two weeks ago, I ended up in the A&E with cardiac arrhythmia and intense abdominal pain. After a few hours spent waiting, my heart rate came back to normal and I was sent home with nothing more than a recommendation to see my GP, which I did the following morning. This little trip to the surgery came after months of me complaining of being constantly out of breath and moaning that this breathlessness was getting in the way of running, so the doctor sent me for tests to see if it was related to my heart and stomach issues.

I still don’t know the cause of the problem but I suspect fatigue and stress have something to do with it. This breathlessness has made running very frustrating so I started running less and lost fitness – it’s a vicious circle, really.

But the physical issues are not the only thing that have gotten in the way of training… After weeks of bad runs, I started feeling anxious about running itself – to the point where even just walking out the door is difficult. I’m not certain what exactly triggered the anxiety, I just suddenly felt very self-conscious whilst running, especially when I had to stop and walk. Then, the comparison game began… It seems that everyone on my Twitter feed is either running a half, a marathon or an ultra! The running community in the UK is simply amazing and so supportive but at the moment I feel like I don’t belong, like I’m not a ‘real’ runner.

I thought of getting a treadmill – I might still do – but I know it’s not the solution to my anxiety. I try and push myself to get out, even if it’s only for a mile or two. Longer days also mean that I can escape on the country roads or hit the trails where there’s much less people around. Back in Canada, most of my routes included bits of trail and I’ve been missing the solitude of it. I’m hoping a change of scenery will help me get out of this rut and manage the anxiety until I feel confident enough to get back on the road for longer runs.

Like the breathlessness and anxiety weren’t enough, I’ve also been struggling with my trainers. I recently retired my beloved Nike after nearly 700K in them, and exchanged them for a pair of New Balance. They seemed perfect in the store – comfortable, good cushioning, good arch support (I have very arched feet) – but they felt awful once on the road. They have no ‘bounce’ and are rather heavy so I feel like I’m running with rocks attached to my feet, which is nothing to help me breathe more easily!

I might not solve the health and anxiety problems before my two races in May but I’m at least shopping for new shoes. After years of trying to guess which ones are the best, I’m finally going for a gait analysis and getting fitted with a proper pair of running trainers.

Edward and I are both signed up for a Virtual Race next week (a Star Wars one, how could we not?) and for the Nottingham 10K at the end of next month. I don’t have big aspirations for race day other than enjoy myself, and finish running and smiling. I know I can physically go the distance – and who cares if I have to take a short walking break – I simply have to convince and calm my racing (haha!) mind.

In the meantime, I have a follow up appointment with my GP for the physical issues and I’m still going to therapy to help with my anxiety. I’m being more careful about what I put into my body; I’m intolerant to casein and should be avoiding dairy and other bovine products, which I’ve not done as religiously as I used to. I’m also trying to find a balance between work, training and other projects.

The love of running is still there and the motivation is not lacking; I just need to get past those temporary hurdles.

Running Quote

Paris… Je t’aime, je te déteste! 

Last August, after a rather stressful beginning to our summer, Edward and I were in great need of a holiday. We had our hearts and minds set on Paris.

We spent a few days shopping around and finally booked flights and a beautiful hotel in the heart of Montmartre. It all seemed so perfect: early trip down to London to catch our flight to Orly, a private cab ride from the airport to our hotel, and four sunny days to explore and photograph one of the most iconic cities in the world.

Edward has visited Paris several times before but it was the first time for me and my expectations were high. I’ve always loved all things French: the cuisine, the literature, the language… I spent most of my teenage years reading French classics and soaking in the grandeur of French history; I was utterly excited to visit the place where my favourite characters – fictional or not – had lived. I thought my love for the City of Lights would be instant.

That’s not exactly how it happened…

Classic Parisian Street

The first day of the trip was a series of misadventures. It started with a delayed flight; the plane had landed at the wrong airport the night before and needed to pick up passengers at the right airport before flying back to London for us… We finally arrived in Paris and, after a scary drive around the city, to our hotel. I was just checking us in when I felt a sharp pain on my right foot; it took me a few seconds to realise I had been stung by a bee. Inside the hotel lobby!

After making sure I was not going into anaphylactic shock anytime soon, we went upstairs to our room to freshen up. My foot was swollen and painful but it was nothing I couldn’t manage so we headed out to explore Montmartre.

We were sat near Sacré-Coeur eating fresh baguettes and admiring the view when a flock of young girls circled us, hands out and jabbering in a broken French. While I was trying to figure out what they were saying, one of them grabbed my bag; I was thankfully able to take it back before a passing Frenchman came to our rescue and dispersed them.

We were a bit shocked but determined to not let this ruin our first day in Paris. We finished our picnic and agreed to spend the afternoon in a much quieter place. Once we reached the subway station, we opted for a visit to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.

The cemetery was a good choice; it was calm and fresh with a slight autumn feel despite the sunny 30°C weather. We wandered around for a long time, snapping photos and admiring the graves. We looked for the famous ones – Chopin, Honoré de Balzac, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison especially – but with the park closing early, we lacked time.

We spent that first evening on Avenue des Champs-Élysées – the French equivalent of Oxford Street. I was in the mood to do a bit of shopping (I was desperate to find that French eau de toilette I wore when Edward and I met for the first time) and after walking nearly 25K, we were both keen for comfy chairs and some nice food. We finally decided on a small Italian café with a view on the Arc de Triomphe, where we refuelled on delicious pasta.

It was a lovely evening, especially  after such a frantic day, but I was still not struck by the coup de foudre I was expecting…

Père-Lachaise, Sacré-Coeur & Parisian Dusk

I woke up on the second morning of our stay with a painfully throbbing foot. A cold shower, a bucket of ice and some paracetamol made it slightly better but wearing shoes was still torture. Nevermind, I soldiered on!

After a breakfast of fresh croissants, we headed for the Trocadéro and Eiffel Tower; Edward is not a fan of heights but I wanted to go up and he had promised to come with me. We were already through the security queue when we found out that the third floor was closed. The night before, the Tower and surrounding area had been evacuated on suspicion of a terrorist attack and everyone was still – understandably – on alert. We decided not to wait through a second queue and had a lovely walk around the Parc du Champ de Mars instead. We ended the afternoon with a visit to Notre-Dame de Paris and a walk by the Seine.

At night, we headed for the Louvre. It was one of the places I really wanted to see whilst in Paris… I have always been a French history nerd; I am mostly interested in the years between the reign of Louis XIII and the Revolution, and especially fascinated with Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette. The Louvre has been the theatre of so many historical events and it’s something you can almost feel when you stand nearby. We arrived from the back and crossed the Cour Carrée before stepping into the Cour Napoléon where the famous pyramids are. It was dusk and the declining light was reflecting on the glass and water, creating beautiful shadows on the walls of the palace. I think this was one of my favourite moments whilst in Paris; we truly enjoyed those few minutes of calm and quietness in an otherwise busy city.

Classic Paris & Night-Time Louvre

The bee sting had provoked a systemic reaction and by the third day, it was in full effect. I felt nauseated, I had cramps, achy joints and was nursing a massive headache; all pleasant stuff when travelling! We decided for a lay-in that morning and left the hotel around noon for a late breakfast and a stop at the pharmacy. I felt a bit better after taking some painkillers and antihistamines, and we headed once again for the Champs-Élysées. If we couldn’t go up the Eiffel Tower, we could at least climb the 284 steps up the Arc de Triomphe! This was actually another of my ‘coup de coeur’ from the trip. The platform at the top of the arch offers a stunning panoramic view of Paris; it was beautiful on a sunny afternoon but I would love to visit again at night.

Edward convinced me that we couldn’t visit Paris and not bring back some macarons so we made our way to the Ladurée outlet near the Pont des Arts. Unfortunately for us, it was closed for the summer. We thought we would have to fly back to England ‘macaron-less’ but we stumbled upon a little chocolaterie selling the treats and bought a box to bring back home. We also stopped at a lovely bookstore where I found beautiful vintage-looking postcards to send to my dad and sister back in Canada.

After late afternoon snacks and drinks on the rooftop bar back at our hotel, we took the train to Montparnasse. The Tour Montparnasse boasts one of the best views on the city and I was very excited to photograph the Parisian skyline at dusk. Unfortunately, the whole thing was a bit of a let-down. The queue was not too bad so I hoped it would be quiet at  the top… I was so wrong!

It was crowded with tourists and the stunning view was barely visible behind a forest of selfie sticks. We finally managed to find a tiny spot and took a few snaps of the city at dusk whilst being pushed by a couple next to us; they were seemingly annoyed at us for shooting with our ‘big cameras’ but they had been filming the scene for at least 45 minutes (according to their camera live-view screen)… Can you hear my eyes rolling!?

By then I was annoyed, tired, anxious and my foot was killing me so we decided to call it quit and go hunting for food. We found a charming burger place just across the street from the tower and sat down for a delicious and much-needed meal. It was a lovely way to end the day and after a last stop at the Louvre, we headed back to our hotel.

Night-TIme View From Montparnasse

Our return flight was in the early evening so our last day was almost a full one. By that time my foot had taken a life of its own and I was fearing an infection, so we kept our itinerary short and simple.

We first headed to our ‘habitual’ breakfast place only to find out it was closed. We found another café and after a some long minutes trying to order in ‘franglish’, we finally got croissants and drinks to go and made our way to the Jardins du Luxembourg. It was another of my coup de coeur in Paris… The gardens were beautiful. We spent a couple of hours strolling around, discovering new exotic plants, visiting the beehives, observing chess players and admiring the miniature boats sailing on the pond. We truly had a lovely time, but I have to admit I was happy to go back to the hotel and chill on the rooftop one last time whilst waiting for our cab…

Jardins du Luxembourg & Parisian Street

Unfortunately, the end of our trip was as chaotic as the beginning…

There had been a misunderstanding with the cab company on the pick-up time (and by that I mean that they never said when they would pick us up so we waited at the hotel for hours) and when our driver arrived, the hotel staff didn’t notify us. We nearly missed our transport and even after catching the driver as he was to leave, I had to argue with the dispatch for him to accept to take us even if we were ‘late’. We made it to the airport just in time to go through security and catch our flight.

The return to England wasn’t too smooth either. One of the joys of travelling with a non-EU passport is the epic queue on arrival… I waited for nearly two hours to get my passport and visa stamped. The only good thing to come out of this was that I became friends with the fellow Canadian/Québécois who was waiting next to me!

Needless to say, after walking 70K in three days, flying for two hours and waiting in line for two more, my foot had doubled size. It was also of a worryingly weird colour so our first stop after leaving the airport was the A&E. Thankfully there was no infection and I was sent home after a couple of hours with a prescription for antihistamines, a tube of hydrocortisone and a note from the doctor saying that I couldn’t work for a few days as I had to keep my foot up and in ice for a few days.

I’ve had better holidays!

Parisian Love Locks

I did fall in love with the City of Lights but I also got to see a side of it I wasn’t expecting. There are many migrants begging on the streets, and I am not saying that to complain. Back in Canada, I worked for many years with a marginalised clientele to reduce poverty and homelessness amongst immigrants and born-citizens alike. Canada welcomes refugees with open arms and it was a heartbreaking cultural shock for me to see how migrants were treated in France. I don’t want to expend too much on this because it is a sensitive subject and I am certainly not an expert on the matter; I was simply expecting something different from a country built on the principle of liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Between Tourists & Beggers

This was eight months ago. It was not a pleasant trip… Not only because of my misadventure with the bee and other little snags along the way, but because I am not sure how I feel about the city itself. I still desperately want to go back and hopefully, get a chance to do it right. Next time, I’ll be prepared – and I certainly won’t be travelling in August!


Chicks & Pics

Chicks & Pics was born three years ago when my best friend and I decided to challenge ourselves to take a photo a week for 52 consecutive weeks. Unfortunately, as it often does, life got in the way of art and we chose to put an end to our project after only 37 weeks.

We’ve been pondering the revival Chicks & Pics for a while but it never happened – until now.

Lili and I are missing each other very much so working together on a long-distance creative project is an appealing idea. Now that I am comfortably settled in my new British life and have a little more free time on my hand, it seemed like the perfect time to update the blog and start snapping again.

After a much-needed redesign, Chicks & Pics is back online with a new theme: Across the Ocean. We aim to publish every Wednesday and share photographs of our now very different worlds, separated by the Atlantic.

The first of 52 posts is now live, and you can see it here.

March Books

This month, I decided to get through all the random books slowly accumulating on my Kindle. Most were books I received for free with another purchase and with my ever-growing ‘to read‘ list, I hadn’t got around reading them yet, so I decided to get on it and make some space for more. It made for an eclectic reading list!

March Books

As The Crow Flies | Damien Boyd
I do love a good thriller and this one came with another one I read a few months ago about climbers on the Everest, so I guess there’s a theme here. I went rock-climbing only a few times many, many years ago so I’m far from being an expert but I truly enjoyed As The Crow Flies. The story is a bit far-fetched but still well tied. The fact that it’s set in England and that the Peak District and Lake Districts are mentioned a few times only made it more appealing to me.

How To Control Your Anxiety Before It Controls You | Albert Ellis
To be honest, I haven’t finished this one yet and I probably won’t. Not all self-help books are good, but this is just… atrocious. The author is extremely narcissistic and spends the first chapter boasting on how he ‘gets every woman interested to him’ (insert rolling eyes here). I didn’t find his advices especially brilliant or useful either. There are excellent books out there to help with anxiety management but in my opinion, How To Control Your Anxiety just isn’t one of them!

We’re All Damaged | Matthew Norman
I have no idea how this book ended up on my Kindle and I probably never would have picked it up myself, but I enjoyed reading it. It’s mostly a masculine twist of the classic ‘chick lit’ story: the principal character is being cheated on, moves to another city but has to go back home, meets a new girl, etc. A simple story but very well written – I especially liked the author’s sarcastic sense of humour. A good novel if you’re looking for something short and sweet to read.

Paris Time Capsule | Ella Carey
I worried that this one would be too cheesy but the story intrigued me and since it’s set between New York and Paris, and because the principal character is a photographer, I had to give it a chance. I’m glad I did! Yes, the story is a bit cheesy and very ‘classic’ but there’s a very charming twist to it and it’s well written – it’s rare that you can say an author made you feel truly annoyed at a character! I learned only at the end that some of the characters and parts of the story were inspired by true events.

Hardcore Self-Help: F**k Anxiety | Robert Duff
To be honest, I bought this book only because the title made me laugh; it’s refreshing to see a self-help book so blunt! The tips and tricks the author gives are nor new or revolutionary, but they are explained in a simple, down-to-earth and often funny way. Nothing cheesy or pompous about this book and it’s what I liked about it. If you suffer from anxiety, I absolutely recommend it.

Happy reading!

Lakeside Wedding

Earlier this month, Edward and I travelled to Northern Ireland to photograph our friends Louise and Lecky’s wedding. The ceremony was held at Lusty Beg, a tiny island surrounded by the green mountains of the Irish countryside. I felt a bit nervous beforehand as it was only my second time photographing a wedding from start to finish and I was working with a brand new camera, but everything went well. It was a beautiful day despite the incessant rain and it was truly a pleasure to capture such precious moments.

Immigration Anxiety

This time last year, I had just moved to England and was barely getting settled in. My passport displayed a freshly stamped, shiny new visa sticker and I was a few days away from picking up my BRP card – giving me the right to live and work in the UK for two years.

When you just moved halfway across the world to finally be reunited with your long-distance boyfriend and that everything is new, exciting and scary, two years feel like a very long time. It’s not.

I have been in the UK for 408 days – which means there are exactly 293 days left to my current visa. More time has passed than there is left to go, yet there are still days when I feel I have just landed here. We moved into our house in July, I only started working full-time in November and I’m just now relaxing into a semblance of routine but with less than a year to go on my visa, it’s already time to apply for a new one.

In a pre-Brexit world, this seemed like an annoyingly necessary but standard procedure; post-Brexit, it doesn’t feel so simple. I am applying for a FLR(M) visa as unmarried partner (for now) of a British citizen. It is valid for merely 30 months and costs a mighty £1,800* – that’s on top of the £3,500 I have already paid to move here: visa, biometrics, flights, custom fees, etc. Not only do I have to pay for the right to live here, I also have to pay a NHS surcharge for every year I do. Tell me again that ‘immigrants pay nothing but get everything’? Moving to a new country – and remaining in said country until you can apply for citizenship – is extremely expensive; and you can only hope not to be rejected.

In the post-Brexit and increasingly anti-immigration world we now live in, applying for a visa renewal is stressful. What if you are rejected? What if the life you spent two years rebuilding is suddenly snatched from under your feet? What if you are told to pack up all your belongings, say goodbye to your other half, your new friends, and get on a plane back to a country you can’t call ‘home’ anymore? Immigration anxiety at its best.

In order for me to obtain a Further Leave to Remain, I have to prove all sorts of things – my worth as a member of the society, mostly – and that Edward and I are in a real relationship and were prior to me moving here, and that we have lived together for at least two years. We have to gather all sorts of evidences: payslips, joint account statements, electoral cards, letters from witnesses, date-stamped Facebook posts, gas and electricity bills, photographs… Then, we will have to fill several complicated forms and drive down to London where we’ll spend a day waiting for my demand to be processed.

Loving each other is easy but proving to complete strangers that we actually do is another story. It’s hard work.

As much as I understand the immigration process and its necessity, as a Commonwealth citizen I cannot help but find it a bit unfair. For years, there have been talks in favour of free movement within some of the Commonwealth countries (namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) but nothing has been done toward it. Yet, I’m fairly certain it would benefit everyone involved. Those countries share similar values, political and healthcare systems, economy and quality of life – and in my opinion, skilled and willing workers moving freely from one to the other can only be a good thing.

But until the governments come to an agreement** and until my new visa is (hopefully) approved next January, I will have to live with the anxiety that comes with an unstable immigration status. And I’m one of the lucky ones: young Commonwealth citizen, educated, skilled and employed. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to seek asylum or a refugee status…

*There was change in costs after I wrote this post and the FLR(M) visa is now £2,100.
**If you wish to help the cause move forward, CANZUK has started a petition and need to reach 200,000 supporters; you can sign it here.

The Little Things

Today is the International Day of Happiness so I thought I’d celebrate by sharing some of the things that make me happy. I put together a list of the little, everyday things that bring me joy because I believe that we often underestimate their importance…

The Little Things - Quote ACD

Listening to Edward play the guitar in the next room as I write this.

The first sip of cold water after a hot, hard, sweaty run.

When the cat naps on me.

Jumping under an almost intolerably hot shower after a long day out on the bike.

Coming home after a difficult first week at work and realising that Edward has spent his extra day off cleaning and tidying up so I don’t have to worry about it.

The post-barre class ache. Or the ache that follows any workout for that matter.

Receiving letters and parcels from my friends and family back in Canada.

Sunny lunchtime walks around the Cathedral Quarter and the Arboretum.

Yoga, whether it’s to start the day or finish it. It always makes me feel good.

A tasty bowl of spaghetti bolognese after a 20-mile hike in the Peak District.

Slipping back under the duvet after my morning shower to cuddle with Edward for a few minutes before we have to get ready for work.

Skype sessions with my best friend in Montreal.

Having flowers delivered at the office by a romantic boyfriend.

Speaking to my little sister on the phone, even for a few too short minutes.

Taking a shower in my own bathroom after a few days abroad.

Witnessing a beautiful sunrise and/or sunset.

Running first thing in the morning whilst everyone is still asleep, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with it.

New buds and leaves in the trees, and new flowers growing on the patio.

Cuddles with a loudly purring cat.

Seeing Edward’s excitement when we summited the Old Man of Coniston and he felt that we had finally climbed a ‘proper’ mountain.

Sitting by the bedroom window and watching the birds after we’ve filled up their food.

Meeting our friends’ newborn son for the first time and having him sleep in my arms for hours.

Nanaimo bars from The Canadian Cottage.

Anytime I visit the Lake District; being surrounded by mountains makes me feel ‘home’.

The first run with a new playlist.

Obviously, the list could go on forever; life is full of those little sources of joy. It’s easy to focus either on the big things or on the negative ones, but the ‘big’ stuff doesn’t happen every day and being pessimistic or bitter is hardly the way to happiness!

Today is a good day to focus on the little things.

Happy Happiness Day!