Saturday, December 26, 2015

Not in full form for Club XC

The Club Cross Country National Championship race is an intersection of ambitions, fitness levels, affiliations, and ages.  The first two times I competed at Club XC, I ran for professional teams, who saw the race as a good indicator of fitness during our base season, as well as an opportunity to win a bit of money and a chance to qualify to represent the United States at the Bupa Cross Country race in Edenborough, Scotland.

This year I raced with Club Northwest, a much larger running club with a wide range of members.  While runners had to qualify to make the Club NW squad that traveled to the race, most of the members on the open men’s and women’s team hold full-time jobs.  They run and workout intensely, but competing is not their first priority.  In addition, the club fielded a 40-49 year old men’s and women’s masters teams and a 50-59 year old men’s and women’s teams.  Having teammates again was the best part of the trip.  I was surrounded by friendly faces at the airport, getting food, and on the starting line.  I enjoyed getting to know some of the master’s runners and hearing from runners who are fast and competitive past the age of 40.

When we got to San Francisco Friday morning, we went straight from the airport to the cross country course to learn the route and shakeout our legs.  The course was unique in that it was a full 6k loop.  In just about every cross country race, participants have to do multiple loops of 2k or 3k.  Unfortunately, the course also had some rough sections with bad footing.  Along one rocky section, I sprained my ankle.  I turn my ankle fairly often after years of soccer have worn out my ankle ligaments, but for some reason this time was worse than usual.  By the time I finished the pre-meet run, my ankle and calf were significantly swollen.

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The next day I decided to race because, although my ankle and calf felt sore, I didn’t feel any pain.  I didn’t feel quite in full form during the race, but I managed to run a solid race, finishing 21st in 20:35.  Most importantly, I didn’t do any further damage to my injury.  However, I was still pretty frustrated with my race.  In 2012, I had finished 7th in 20:36 and in 2013, even with a torn labrum, I finished 18th in 22:33 on a very difficult course.  I know a sprained ankle will impact running efficiency, even if I didn’t feel anything beyond soreness in the race.  The good news is our team finished 3rd in the women’s race, an impressive accomplishment for a non-professional club.

Despite my frustrations with this one race, I know this is just part of the process of my build up to be in my best fitness until July.  My coaches, Rick and Megan Elliott, have been so smart in gradually building up my mileage and workouts.  I’m usually more fit around the time of Club XC, but so far this year, I’ve only been doing one workout a week.  This year, I will have to be more patient to see the results of my hard work, but I will have a much better chance of being in prime shape at Olympic Trials.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sitting with Grandpa Herb

I’ve spent most of my waking hours over the past two weeks in my grandparent’s condo in downtown Minneapolis.  My grandpa, Herb was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer two and a half years ago.  He didn’t choose to have any treatment since doing so would, at its best, delayed his death a bit.  Instead of going through painful treatments, he has lived the last couple years as he has lived most of his life, just at a little slower pace.  I greatly admire how both my grandparents reacted to news of the cancer; heartbroken, I’m sure, but also determined to make the most out of the time my grandpa has left.  About a month ago, Grandpa’s health started to seriously decline, and Grandpa started hospice care at home.   

One of my favorite memories of spending time with my grandparents after grandpa’s diagnosis was when he and my grandma were able to travel to Des Moines in 2013 to watch me place 4th in the steeplechase the USA Outdoor Championship Meet.  I was devastated to have barely missed qualifying for the World Championship, but I was proud of having gutted out a tough race that made my grandparents proud. 

                As I told my grandpa, I am grateful he has been supportive of my athletic career and especially my running.  I have always appreciated his inquisitiveness about my training and racing and his lack of questions about getting a real job, getting married, and having babies.  Whether or not I make the Olympic team this spring, I appreciate his encouragement of my dreams.

Many of my friends have had to go through the agony of watching a loved one die of cancer.  Few are fortunate enough to have lives that allow them to drop everything and spend quality with their loved one near the end of their life.  Getting the opportunity to support my grandpa is yet another reason I am thankful I have pursued professional running.  I have had difficulty concentrating while engaged in long, hard hours of training, but I’m lucky I can get my work done just about anywhere.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Aged Gopher Among Young Hogs

A week ago I packed up my dad’s car in Minneapolis and drove ten hours down to Fayetteville, Arkansas to spend two months training with my coaches and the University of Arkansas cross country team.  Rick and Megan Elliott are the assistant coaches at Arkansas, and they have been doing an awesome job coaching me long distance since December.  I thought we would have an even better relationship after getting to work together in person.  What better time to quit everything and hang out in Arkansas than ten months prior to Trials?

Prior to driving down here, I had met Megan once at the Payton Jordan meet, and I had never met Rick, but they have been gracious enough to let me stay in the their spare bedroom.  Even though I knew they were cool, I was stressed out about being in their space.  I’m sure it’s hard having me in the house whenever they are home from work.  I have a hard time getting out of the house at night since I’m usually exhausted, I don’t have any friends to meet up with, and I really should just be working on grad school applications anyways.

On top of feeling like I’m hanging out too much with a newly married couple that probably wants some alone time at the end of long work days, I know I’m definitely out of place at practice with the University of Arkansas cross country team.  I feel elderly tagging along to practice with women who are as much as ten years younger than me.  On the first day I ran with them, one of the freshman asked, “So, how old are you?”  When I told her I was 28, she incredulously replied, “Whoa, I’m 18.”  And, while everyone is considered a legal adult, and my life closely mirrors an NCAA student athlete, there are big differences in life experience while can make relating difficult.

On the other hand, everyone has been very welcoming and tolerant of the random person who decided to join their training group.  And I’m so thankful to have a group of fast women to train with again.  Plus, it’s when differences exist that learning happens.  I hope I can share something of what I’ve gleaned during my running career, and I’m hoping they can keep my mindset fresh and get my legs fast.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Interview with World Championship 1500m Runner, Kerri Gallagher

Kerri Gallagher surprised the track world by finishing 3rd at this year’s US Outdoor Track and Field 
Championships in the 1500m.  She later secured her spot on the World Championship team by running 
4:03.56 and winning the Lignano, Italy meet.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with Kerri’s story, here is a 
link to a recent Runner’s World article about her background:

I’ve been lucky to get to know Kerri the past couple of years through track meets and because Kerri lives with one of my best friends and college teammate, Amy Laskowski, in Washington DC.  I enjoy watching any strong woman succeed, but I was ecstatic to watch such a humble, thoughtful, and tenacious runner make a break through.

Question: Although the Runner’s World article mentions you are an assistant coach at American University, I don’t think it gives you credit for the all the pieces you juggle while running professionally.  Can you give me an idea of your weekly work, academic, and athletic load?  How do you maintain enough time and energy for quality workouts and runs?  

Right now I'm balancing a job as a full time assistant track coach at American University, training and finishing my masters in Quantitative Analysis. I work about 35 hours a week on average, but the hours are not very traditional which gives me flexibility to prioritize my training which is ultimately my main focus. I train 7 days a week which usually has me running about 10 times a week including workouts and doubles.  I made the mistake of taking on too much of an academic load in the Fall 2013 and Spring 2015 so that year I had a much bigger time commitment to academic work. This year I made a point to spread out my credits and make sure I'd be able to train at a high level while still getting the most of my studies. Because of this I've had to push my graduation plans to December which was tough to do but extremely important.  My first tea of grad school I didn't have enough energy to maintain quality training and I ended up with a small injury that winter. It was a wake up call that if I wanted to be the best I could be o was going to need to commit. I didn't  need to cut everything else out, but everything has to feed into this goal. I've done a better job this year of managing that and I think I've found a  good balance so that my three main commitments compliment each other.

Question: You beat a lot of really fast, talented women in the 1500m final at US Outdoors in June.  Many of these women had more resources than you including salaries for running, altitude trips, and access to the best medical care.  One reason it is rare to see athletes make a jump from a pretty good professional to one of the best in their event is the lack of these resources.  How were you able to make this jump without the same support as many of the women you compete against?

I may not have the top resources at my fingertips, but Oiselle and NYAC have been a huge support for me in helping me to compete at this level. With their support, I have the resources I need to be able to train and race.  I've also learned a lot working with Coach Matt Centrowitz about understanding your body and understanding what it is ready for when it comes to training. You won't be able to compete unless you've been able to put the work in. Patience and consistency are extremely important. I have made the mistake of entering races I'm not ready for and forcing workouts my body can't handle. It isn't always easy, but it can be worth it!

Question: How did Lauren Centrowitz’s mentorship help you transition to the professional running world?  Have you been able to mentor anyone?

Lauren was someone I looked up to even before we knew each other so having the opportunity to get to know her and train with her was incredible. She looked out for me that first year and helped me adapt to life in a new city and training with a new coach (who happened to be her dad ha!).  We also trained with Erin Koch, an American University graduate, who finished her collegiate career in 2011 as well. Erin and I learned a lot from Lauren, but it was equally important to have each other as we navigated this new arena. I wouldn't say I mentored her, but I think we in some way mentored each other the two years we trained together.

Question: Have your goals changed since this summer?  What will you have to do this year in order to make the Olympic Team?

I'm just taking this one step at a time. The World Championship is a major event and so all my focus is on that right now.  Looking a little ahead to next year, I don't know that much has to change. Maybe some more competitive races, but as long as I stay healthy I know I have just a good a shot as any next year.

Kerri will race in the prelims of the World Championships at 11:15 am, August 22nd in Beijing, which is 10:15 (CT) on August 21st for us.

Monday, August 17, 2015

European Trip Part V: Scandinavia

July 26th – Stockholm

Dad and I met up with Mom and my brother, Dylan, in Stockholm.  Every time I race in Europe, I try to convince my family to meet up with me, so we can all vacation together.  Growing up, we spent out family vacations on the road, driving to camp at a national park or visit a relative.  As I started to travel a lot for sports, family vacations transitioned to watching me play soccer in high school and then run in college and as a professional.  While this European vacation was influenced by where I was running, I appreciated getting to spend time with my family without having to worry about competing or training.  

Dad and I found the Airbnb where Mom and Dylan had already spent a night.  The apartment was fine, but was a very tight fit with four people.  Mom and Dad had a bedroom with no door (which is a big bummer with how loudly Dad snores) and Dylan and I shared a snug pull-out coach.  

Stockholm seems to be a city of islands.  Mom and Dad took a boat tour while Dylan and I walked around.  We stopped at the Modern Art Museum, the entrance of the ABBA museum, a beautiful garden with a meditation walk lined by trees, a plain castle with wild raspberries nearby and outdoor choir performance.  

I joined ABBA

July 27th - Stockholm

My poor boyfriend, Michael, bought tickets to visit me in Europe before realizing it would be a full Cheever family vacation.  The five of us are going to have a lot of fun, but it was not quite what Michael had expected when he bought his plane tickets.

I spent a good chunk of the day waiting for Michael to arrive at the Central Station in order to show him the way to our apartment.  Once he had showered, the five of us ventured out to visit a glass museum and a ship museum which showcased a ship built in the early 1600’s that sunk on its first voyage.  The ship was pulled out of the Stockholm bay in 1961, refurnished, and put into a museum.

Dylan got bumped from the coach to a yoga mat on the floor.  Good thing he is an exemplar of easygoing.

July 28th - Oslo

We spend most of the day riding a train from Stockholm to Oslo.  We shared a six person room in a hostel with bunk beds.

July 29th - Flam

In the morning Michael and I found a delicious coffee roaster which was also a coffee shop.  I was a bit confused because there were only two chairs and most the space was taken up by a roaster.  But I took my seat, sipped my latte, and enjoyed watching two people using the roaster for a big batch of beans.

We took the train across Norway to Western Coast.  The train ride is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the world, and it did not disappoint.  Dylan saw a bull moose, and we watched as majestic forests turned into snowy mountains which turned into the fjords.  

Mom and Dad stayed in a fancy hotel in the town of Flam which Michael, Dylan, and I walked to the outskirts of the village to a hostel.  We were momentary panicked when we found the registration area was closed, but the woman who was working returned after a few minutes.  Dylan and I decided to ‘scramble’ up a mountainside while Michael went for a run.  We found friendly sheep and got close to a powerful waterfall.

My New Friend

The fjords were more beautiful than I had imagined.  We were surrounded by mountains, except for the fjord channel which leads up to the sea.  Everything was green and lush, and everywhere you turned, there was another magnificent waterfall.

July 30th – Bergen

We took a five hour ship ride from Flam to Bergen through the Fjords.  The ride was just as picturesque as the train ride yesterday.

I was trying to take a nice picture

Waterfalls Everywhere

                                                                     Fjords and Fells
                                                             Mom and I on the Boat

We find out hotel, and are fortunate to be close by a nice restaurant with traditional Norse food.  Whale steak is on the menu, but everyone passes that option.  Michael and I share fish and macaroni pie and sausage and dumplings.

July 31st - Bergen

We spent the day walking around Bergen.  Michael and I hike a good way up the mountainside to find their track.  Unfortunately, it’s gravel.  I was hoping I could find a race here as a chance to return.  We visit the old fishing docks and explore the castle walls (not nearly as impressive as the Welsh castles).

Fishing Area

We have another awesome meal.  Here is my dad’s short take on it:

I online stumbled across what looked like a great restaurant and walked 5 blocks to check it out and get a reservation for a half-hour later, at 6p. Peruvian-Norwegian fjusion.
A man I gather is the owner was the only one in the 20-seat, 6-table, off-the-main-tourist-trail den of cozy and warm. He was quick to lower expectations, saying his primary chef was on holiday and his number 2 chef, his brother, was out because he had chopped into his own foot with an axe.
The owner then explained he had a very limited menu (3 dishes) because he was cooking instead of waiting tables, he was accordingly short-staffed, and he had a party of 12 coming at 8:30.
I asked the obvious question, "Can you cook"? Something about his answer made me think it was a stupid question and that his skill was not at all a part of the problem.
None of it was a problem. Awesome meal.
In talking with the non-owner waiter after the meal, I learned they closed for a week after the axe accident, canceling all the reservations they'd taken. When they reopened, they stopped taking reservations so as to prevent it from being too busy.
He pointed to the ringing phone he was not answering and said, ordinarily, you need reservations days ahead of time. I said we were lucky. He said very.
(The 3 dishes were a Peruvian raw fish dish (ceviche--drink the lime juice from the plate when the food is gone), a sorta pork lasagne (the "meal of the day"), and meatballs with rice and red sauce.)

At 10:00 pm we board a train headed back to Oslo.  It’s a seven hour ride, but we get beds to sleep on.  I have a harder time sleeping than I thought with the constant motion and noise, and many of us are sleep deprived when we leave the train the next day.

August 1st – Oslo

We step off the train, grumpy, but I try to be cheerful because it’s Michael birthday.  He’s having none of it until he can get some coffee.  No coffee shop is open yet in the train station.  None are open in the blocks around the station, but we finally settle for some Seven 11 coffee.  

We get the day to wander Oslo.  The five of us go to a large park full of famous sculptures.  Michael and I are unimpressed, but Dylan wants to stay and looks at them longer.  Michael and I follow my parents to the Oslo modern art museum.  

We board a cruise ship for another night of sleeping transportation, but at least it’s easier for us to sleep and we get a longer time before we are kicked off.

August 2nd - Copenhagen

Copenhagen is off to a bad start.  We start to take the metro the wrong way.  Luckily Dylan notices, and we return.  Then, Dad is almost pick-pocketed in the central train station.  He catches two guys opening up his zippered pants pocket where his wallet is, but we don’t know what to do besides yell at them and push them away.

Also, it smells like piss.  Everywhere.  Because it is summer, and Dylan, who spent a semester studying abroad in Copenhagen, says it’s legal to pee against outside walls. We find our way to our Airbnb (Dylan, Michael and I get to share a room with three single beds). The apartment is cute, but grimy and lacks some of the promised amenities including internet and a washing machine. We all need a washing machine, but Dylan really needs a washing machine.

The five of us venture to a tower/museum with a beautiful view of the city. We then find a castle and walk around the gardens before heading home.

View of Copenhagen

                                                               Michael and I and Castle

August 3rd

Dylan showed Michael and I around Christiania, a neighborhood that has annexed itself from Denmark.  It's an interesting place - it seems like it has expatiated itself in order to sell pot and avoid paying taxes, yet the inhabitants rely on the government in very substantial ways.

The best part of visiting Copenhagen is getting to have dinner with Dylan's former host family.  They cook us a wonderful dinner, and I get to try pork with skin on (so fatty, crisp, and delicious). We all had a good time talking about life in Denmark (most surprising fact: McDonald's treats its Danish employees really well) and making fun of Dylan.

                                                     Dylan (in the middle) and his host family

My favorite part about the city of Copenhagen is how bike friendly it is. There are bike lanes everywhere, and bikers everywhere.  One bridge had a counter of how many bikers had passed during the day.  We have a similar counter for the Fremont bridge and it gets to about 2,000 at the end of the day.  This one had tallied over 15,000 when we walked by in the evening.

                                                                     Bikes Everywhere
August 4th

I ended my trip in Munich, partly because I haven’t gotten to spend any time in Germany before, but mostly because my college teammate, Feli, lives there.  Feli is a steeplechaser who grew up in Germany, went to undergrad at Coastal Carolina University, and came to University of Minnesota for her Master of Engineering degree.  She then earned her Ph.D in Lyon, France, while simultaneously learning French.  Now she designs the power train (everything that propels a cart forward) for alternative fuel cars at BMW.  She has always been the only woman, or one of the few women in her education and her career, and, if you couldn’t guess, I admire her a lot.

Michael and I arrived in the late afternoon and went directly to BMW World (an exhibition hall for new BMW products) to meet Feli.  We walked around the Olympic Park, which is right next door to all the BMW offices, and we got to check out a great view of Munich from the top of a lookout point.

We then met up with Feli’s boyfriend, Etienne and went for a walk through the huge open park where Oktoberfest is held.  Even now, two months before the festivities begin, many of the the temporary behemoth beer halls have been erected.  In my travels I had heard a bit of grumbling about Germany – how Germans were stoic and strict, and didn’t like to have fun.  But tons of people were out and about, enjoying the nice summer evening.  We stopped for dinner and drinks at a beer garden, and the tables were full of boisterous groups, basking in the lovely weather and good food.

August 5th

Michael and I set out to explore old town while Feli and Etienne worked.  We had a great time wandering through Baroque chapels, watching hipsters surf in the city river, and looking at a plethora of archaic paintings of baby Jesus.  But the real full started when Feli picked us up in one of her BMW test cars to go run a small mountain race in the foothills of the Alps.

Feli With Test Car

We drove about 40 minutes outside of Munich to a small village at the base of a mountain.  We met up with a few of Feli’s colleagues and about 200 other runners to race 7.5 kilometers up the mountain, climbing about 2,000 feet.  The race was difficult, butI had so much fun.  After 1k of running flat, we entered the forest and started a steep uphill.  There were a few flat sections, but for the most part we were slowly climbing.  The race took me about 43 minutes to complete, which is a long time for me, but it was one of the most fun races I’ve ever done.  The scenery was beautiful, we got to finish at a beer garden, and I received my best trophy ever: pretzel bread in the shape of a one.  Many of the runners stripped, showered, and changed at the finish line with not embarrassment of nudity.  Then everyone ate a hearty meal and the parents drank beer while the children ran helter skelter over the hillside.  When awards were over and it got dark, we turned on our running headlamps and walked down the mountain.

Finish Line
Michael and I

Matching Shirts and Trophies

August 6th

I am so thankful I had the support to travel to Europe this summer.  In four races, I set personals records in two events (flat 3k, and 1500m) and ran a World Standard in the steeplechase.  I got to relax in Wales on my own, race with friends in Ireland and Finland, and travel with my family and boyfriend in Scandinavia.  I’ve loved it all, but goodness gracious, I am excited to sleep in my own bed, dress myself from my dresser, and cook my own meals.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Europe Trip Part IV: Finland

I was hoping to keep an up-to-date account of my European trip, but I broke my laptop about a week into the trip.  I managed to post my second and third posts from borrowed computers, but now I'm playing catch up.  I also had trouble adding pictures to my second and third Euro blogs, so check them out.

July 16th

I flew from Manchester to Copenhagen, where I had an eight hour layover before I flew to Helsinki. During the eight hours I left the airport to get a run in.  I took the subway a couple stops out to what had looked like a giant park on the map.  It was more like a business area with a lot of green space, but I found some brush to hide my backpack in and got my run in.  All was successful - I got my run in, my stuff wasn't stolen, and I got to pet a pug mid-run.

I must have looked slightly Danish because people kept asking me how to use the metro.  One young man looked and smelled like my brother (I.e tall, shaggy, and smelly), and was on a European hitchhiking trip, something Dylan would do. 

When I arrived in Helsinki I got a shuttle to a nearby airport for the night.

You know you're in Finland when all signs in the hotel include how to find the sauna

July 17th 

In the morning I took the bus from the Helsinki airport (which is actually about a half hour outside the city) to the central station to meet my dad. My dad did a great job planning out the remaining part of the trip, and he has a daily itinerary saved on his phone.  We were supposed to meet at a fast good restaurant called Sybilla at 10:45 in order to make the 11:12 train to Kuopio.  I arrived about an hour early, and spent the first half an hour looking around the station for this restaurant.  I asked an information person, who kindly looked it up on his phone.  The map showed the restaurant as being in the main room, but it was not there.  Thankfully, both my dad and I decided to go to Burger King instead, since it was the closest place in existence to where Sybilla was supposed to be.  

We rode the train five hours to Kuopio, the closest city to Lapinlahti, where I race in a couple days.  I love the landscape - endless forests and even more lakes than Minnesota.  

We checked into a hotel and set out to explore.  There wasn;t much going on.  We saw a lot of Soviet-style buildings and a paucity of the people who must live in them, even though it's Friday evening.  The main square is just about empty, although s few people sip beers on a restaurant lined street just off the square.  We pick the most crowded restaurant, and I order a liver burger to get a good dose of iron and see if the Finns have a trick to make liver more palatable. 

July 18th

Dad dropped me off in Lapinlahti and continued by train to check out the next small city.  I was collected by Heli, who was one of the meet organizers.  We drove the mile across town to a private Christian school that was converted to room rentals in the summer.  I shared a room with Kim Hansen, a javelin thrower and a common space with steeples Addy Bracy, Maggie Callahan, Rachel Johnson, and hurdler Sirena Alise. 

                                                          Lake next to our housing

I felt like I was at summer camp. We ate three cafeteria meals a day in the school gymnasium.  Breakfast always included deli meat and cheese, hard boiled eggs and porridge.  Lunch and dinner usually had some combination of salad, pasta, fish, and meatballs.

                         Me, Addy Bracy Maggie Callahan, and Rachel Johnson enjoying the fish.

July 19th

I pr'd in the 1500m by running 4:16 and winning the race.  I felt really comfortable through 1100m, when I took the lead.  The rabbit was supposed to go through 800m in 2:14, but we ended up going through in 2:19.  By running a more even race, I think I could run between 2 and 4 seconds faster.  Results:

                                                        Steeplechasers in the 1500m

After the meet the Americans, some Finns, and a couple others decided to hang out and drink some beer.  Liquor sales had already shut down at 9pm, but sprinter Joe Morris asked the meet organizers if there was a different way to obtain alcohol.  There was rumors of a son of someone having some beer to sell.  We went inside to sing 80s karaoke, and when we were done, a car full of early 20s young men pulled up.  "We are gangsters. Don't mess with us," they told Joe.  We all had a hard time these young men seriously, but Joe bought some beer from their trunk, and we went inside to play some card games.  

Games - A Russian athlete, me, David McNeil, Terrell Cotton, Sirena Alise, Mike Atchoo, Joe Morris

We eventually ended up jumping in the lake

July 20th - July 22nd

Most athletes who ran at Lapinlahti are also going to run in Joesnuu on the 24th, so the meets paid to keep us housed and feed in Lapinlahti were it was probably less expensive than a city.  Summer camp continued with runs on dirt roads and lounging around with fellow athletes.  The most stressful action I had to take was figuring out how to work the Finnish washing machine (there was a knob separate from the machine which controlled the water). 

The meet organizers kept us entertained each evening.  One evening we roasted marshmallows and hot dogs in a small hut, which was especially fun since the Japanese athletes had never roasted food over a fire before and kept dropping pieces into the flames.

                                                  Just the cutest hut with a fire pit inside

Japanese athletes figuring out marshmallow roasting

Another evening we got to go to the local Strawberry and Cheese festival.  The festival included a stair-climbing contest and a safety-boot kicking contest.  The athletes excelled at the stair-climbing contest, and a Ukranian 400m runner set the festival record.  But the Finns showed most of us up in the boot-kicking contest.  We had to kick a rubber blog off our non-dominate foot.  While many of the athletes kicked the clogs straight up in the air, out of bounds, or, sometimes, in bounds but not very far, the Finns walked up to the line and with no issue, kicked the shoes super far.  Apparently boot-kicking is somewhat of a national sport, and they had the technique down.

Mike Atchoo in the stair climbing competition

                                                                 Boot kicking field

I got to forage for wild blueberries - Yum!

Boarding the bus for Joesnuu

July 23rd

I had high hopes for my last steeple of the season.  Unfortunately I felt sluggish from the start.  I bought heel cups because my plantar in my left foot had been really tight since the Letterkenny steeple.  Each water jump hurt my foot and the buoyancy I felt in my other European races was gone.  I struggled to a third place finish behind Rachel Johnson and Victoria Mitchell.    I did have fun watching para-athlete Richard Brown break his 100m pr twice, thus setting the world record.  Results:

After racing the meet organizers took us to the only sports bar in town, which was showing our meet on the big screen!
                                                                          Track on tv

Me, Rachel Johnson, Victoria Mitchell, Addy Bracy, Maggie Callahan

July 24th

I walked through an art museum, enjoyed the first cup of good coffee I'd had in days, and met my dad to take the train to Helsinki.

I had a low key day between traveling, taking the day off running, and going to bed early.

July 25th

Dad and I wandered around Helsinki.  Our main stop was at the modern art museum, where we were lucky to catch a tour in English.  The tour guide asked us where we wanted to start and two guys in the group immediately asked to start with the Mapplethorpe exhibit.  I hadn't seen Mapplethorpe's work before, but I wasn't particularly excited to look at photographs with my dad from an artist who was controversial for S and M and objectification and exploitation of race in his pictures of naked men.  I ended up really liking the exhibit, except for two photographs where I felt like I was being flashed.  In the two photographs the heads were cut out of the frame, and the bodies were fully clothed except for their penis' hanging out.  The tour guide did a great job explaining the critiques of Mapplethorpe's work and his reasons for choosing his subjects.  For the most part, I thought it was a really cool to see his definition of beauty to include black men and and muscular women.

Busy Helsinki Street

In the evening, when we boarded a cruise ship.  I had never been on a cruise ship before, but it was a great way to travel to Stockholm.  We got to eat a gourmet seven course meal, while watching the ship pull away from Helsinki, then slept through the night for most of the travel.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Europe Trip 2015 Part III: Northern Wales

July 11th

I arrived in Liverpool and found my way to the Manchester airport to pick up the car I had rented.  I was not excited about navigating a new place on my own, while having to concentrate on staying on the left side of the road, but the area seemed even more difficult to navigate by bus.

I drove into the center of Manchester before taking off.  I enjoyed exploring the People's Museum and the Ryland Library.
Ryland Library - Fremont has a nice library, but I wish I would check out books from a place like this.

Driving was terrifying.  My sense of place was off so I was much closer to the curb than the center lane.  I tried to go the speed limit, but slowed everyone down at that speed.  Once we got into Wales, all the driving was on single lane, curvy roads.  On the left side of the road was usually a stone wall, about a foot away from my mirror.  On the right side of the road oncoming traffic whizzed by very close to my right mirror.  I think NASCAR has a lot of untapped talent in this region.

Everything that day took a lot longer than I had anticipated, and I didn't arrive at my hostel, in the small town of Dolgellau, until 6:30.  My hostel was above a gift shop which had closed at 6.  I had a key code, but there wasn't a door where I could enter a code.  There was no reception office, no sign for the hostel, and no information for guests.  The shop was part of a continuous stone building, and I didn't see a way to get around back. 

I assumed the hostel reception area had closed down with the shop at 6.  There hadn't been much information on the website, such as reception hours, so I gave up and walked around town trying to find an Internet connection or a different room to stay in.  The town had a raft of b and b's, but they were all full.  

I went into a pub which had hotel rooms upstairs.  A very nice older man was standing in line, and started making conversation with me.  He asked the bartender if there were rooms available (there weren't), then walked with me to another hotel to ask.  They were full too, but they called another hotel outside of town and, thankfully, they had a room free.  

The man and his friend were very excited to talk about Seattle.  I should have bought them a beer, but I hurried off, hoping to secure a bed for the night.

I was in luck.

July 12th

By looking online for recommendations, I found a scenic gravel trail along a river for my run.  However, I had to pay 20 pence to drive across a rickety wooden bridge I wasn't convinced could support my car and was barely wide enough god if to get across.  This bridge is one of many reasons I haven't seen an SUV on my trip.

                                                                Wooden Driving Bridge
                                                              Beautiful Trail Running

After running I tried to hostel again since I had already paid for two nights there.  I emailed the owner saying I would try again at 3.  I should have asked for more information, but I assumed if I showed up during regular reception hours, entering a hostel would be easy.  But the shop was closed on Sundays. I had gotten a reply from the owner saying my key code would work until 11pm, but she didn't tell me where the door was that used the key code, and it didn't say on her website. 

I drove to Bewts-y-coed, a town recommended by my grandparents.  The place was as picturesque as the tourist books claim.  Along the Main Street is a babbling brook with a small waterfall.  I got desert at a pastry shop and ate while icing my feet in the stream.  On the way back I listened to the Wales male choir who were giving a performance at the church.

                                             Brook Flowing Through Middle of Bewts-y-Coed
                                                                 Bewts-y-Coed Church

July 13th

I visited nearby Swallow Falls and Castle before heading to Conwy, a town along the North Coast of Wales.  
                                                                       Swallow Falls

I found a track to do a workout on before heading to the Airbnb room I had reserved for the next three nights.  The Airbnb was great.  First of all, I was able to enter.  Second, it was inexpensive.  Third, the hosts were both runners who had written a book about trail running in Northern Wales.

                                                               View From My Room

July 14th

I ran the first route suggested in my hosts' book.  The path follow the shore.  The footing varied from pavement to grass to sand.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the Anglesey region.  I visited the Beaumaris castle, the former largest copper port in the world, and Holyhead.

                                                                    Beaumaris Castle
July 15th

My hosts tried to convince me to run up Snowdonia, the largest mountain in Wales, but I had to spend the day as an athlete.  I spent the morning doing the track workout, core, and stretching.  I spent the afternoon getting a leg massage and acupuncture.  

I've been craving fish n chips for a couple weeks, so I finally got some at a place that claimed, "probably the best fish and chips you've ever had." I was very surprised they were, by far, the worst.  

July 16th

I was very relieved to drop off my rental car at the Manchester airport without any damage.  I'm excited to be traveling on public transportation for the rest of my journey.