Smile Politely

Training for Gold: An Olympic blog Part II


Hopping off the plane in London Heathrow Airport yesterday I was struck by a strong joy to be in London again. I absolutely loved Paris, and the gloomy, overcast skies waiting for me in Britain were less than appealing, but a huge smile laid siege to my face as soon as I saw Harry Frye waiting for me on the jet bridge.

Harry is one of the reasons why I love coming here every year for the marathon. Among other things, he is in charge of ensuring a hassle free arrival and departure for every elite athlete. He is part of the group of people that make London a wonderful experience every year.

In Paris all the people involved with the race were very nice and helpful, but it invariably had the feel of a casual event. When we arrived at Charles de Gaulle we were met outside with a very nice man and a van to take us to our hotel. We were dropped off and left to roam free for a couple of days until the race. We stayed at a hotel that doubles as the offices for the French Paralympic team and didn’t stumble across a single runner until the morning of the race. All the accommodations were nice and sufficient, but there was nothing about the atmosphere that created any sort of excitement about the race.

There is excitement in London. We are met at our landing gate by smiling faces decked in Adidas running suits, escorted through the airport and met outside of baggage by more Adidas running suits who relieve us of our racing chairs and luggage. While our bags brave the traffic above ground we hop a train to Paddington Station where we are met by gleaming, leather ensconced race vehicles to take us the rest of the way down the Thames to our hotel. And unlike Paris, where our first glimpse of runners was the morning of the race, in London we our housed in the same hotel as the elite runners, a large brick structure situated on the bank of the Thames nestled alongside the Tower Bridge and across the street from the Tower of London.

During marathon week this hotel is the eye of the storm. Athletes decked in sponsored gear mingle with the cameras, recorders and notepads of the media. Race officials hustle through the halls ensuring everything is taken care of, and the seeds of excitement and anticipation are sown.

Jumping back to Paris for a second, however, I am quite thrilled to report that the wonderful stereotype of the Parisian prowling the street with baguette in hand is only a stereotype because it is true. Waiting for a bus to the Louvre Monday afternoon with Amanda and a couple of our friends, we counted six people strolling by holding nothing but a freshly baked baguette. Six people in the ten minutes we were waiting means the stereotype exists for a reason as far as I’m concerned. I can’t say that I blame them though, as I begin to drool just recounting that amazing bread.

Monday was spent, like every post-race day should be, enjoying the fine city that we couldn’t enjoy leading up to the race. The day after a marathon is always a day off training and this one was a rare chance to do some uninhibited tourism. My goals for the day were simple: see at least one landmark and eat a delicious crepe.

Though we originally took a bus to the Louvre, our day started with a brisk walk down the river to Notre Dame to marvel at its Gothic wonder. Construction on this sensational structure began in the 1100s and was not completed until 1345. Gazing at the vaulted ceilings and the intricate stained glass windows it is no wonder it took so long. I can’t begin to imagine how something like that was built in the era when it was (though I have zero knowledge of Gothic engineering methods). Needless to say, I was blown away by what I was seeing and wishing I had a better eye for photography. Goal one complete.

Shortly after leaving the cathedral, and only to duck out of the frigid wind and to use the bathroom, we plopped ourselves down in a haute looking cafe. While glancing through the menu, though, we could not help but notice the delicious selection of crepes. Goal number two was soon complete after I devoured an unbelievably delicious thin pancake, covered in butter and sprinkled with sugar.

The rest of the day passed in form. A little shopping, a little more sightseeing, and a lot of walking. I marveled and the size and beauty of the Louvre, though I did not step foot inside (On this trip, that is. While the length of the Louvre, a significant distance, I dreamed about a Parisian vacation whose sole purpose would be walking the halls of the Louvre and eating.). I wandered miles down the river, and gazed across the city from the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower.
Having never been to Paris before, it was interesting how familiar a lot of the streets felt. Granted, Paris isn’t an uncommon setting for a lot of movies, but more than that it reminded me a lot of Washington D.C., a city I grew up right next to. Washington D.C. was designed and planned by French-born Pierre L’Enfant and the French influence extends beyond the layout of the city in a lot of the architecture as well.

Familiarity aside, I barely experienced any of Paris and hope that I have the opportunity to go back.

From the City of Lights to the city of rain. London is one of my favorite races of the year and this year is set to be as competitive a race as it has ever been. Hopefully the clouds will clear themselves out before Sunday, before round two.

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