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.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Europe 2015 Part II: Ireland

July 5th

      I got picked up at the airport by Terry O'Rourke, whose daughter, Derval, won a gold medal for Ireland in the 60m hurdles at the 2006 Indoor World Championships.  He was volunteering his time to drive in circles between the athlete dorms and the airport all day.  All the athletes were housed in dorm rooms which were empty for the summer.  I had my own room, but I shared a common space with Riley Masters and Ford Palmer.
      We were given three meals a day at a restaurant a few steps out our front door.  At the first meal we were served three types of potato: steamed, fried, and mashed, along with some meat and more root veggies.

July 6th

     I was lounging around on the first floor with many of the other athletes, trying to get some wifi in the one room with internet, when one of the meet volunteers told us a bus was  leaving in five minutes to visit downtown Cork.  I went to my room to put on some shoes, grabbed my wallet, and ran out to meet the bus.  I got on with two high jumpers, Garrett Huyler and Donte Nall, a long jumper, Norris Frederick, an Irish woman, Kathleen, and her daughter, Queva.  On the bus I was told we were going to walk through the English Market and have a meet and greet session with the Lord Mayor of Cork.  I was not in my best form with my Chacos, sweatpants, and greasy hair, but it was too late to change.
      The English Market was similar to an indoor farmers market.  We met the local seafood vendor who is infamous for making the Queen laugh when he tried to sell her fish.  Apparently the Queen is notorious for her stoicism, but his raillery helped lighten the mood.
       We then walked to city hall to say hello to the Lord Mayor.  Kathleen informed us the Lord Mayorship is more of an honorary position than anything else, and each of the five parties takes turns having the post for its one year term.  The Lord Mayor was very friendly and patient while we took numerous pictures with him.  He said he would be cheering us on at the track meet the following day.

Athlete Delegation with the Lord Mayor

                                                Signing the Guest Book with the Lord Mayor

    We ate at least two types of potatoes with every meal.

July 7th

      I ran the 3k race with a deep field of mostly American athletes.  Abby D'Agonstino won the race 8:58, and I set a PR of 9:12.49.  The weather was windy and chilly, but it felt great to me, especially after competing in soaring temperatures in Eugene and Nashville.

July 8th

    About 15 athletes were going to Letterkenny, Ireland to race after Cork.  The meet organizer had told us they would send a bus down to pick us up from Cork, but yesterday they emailed us to say we should catch the public bus to Dublin, and they would pick us up from there.  This was a pretty stressful proposition for us Americans and South Africans.  We could no longer reserve tickets since it was less than 24 hours before the bus left, and we didn't know if there would be enough seats on the bus.  Also, the Cork meet organizers suddenly had the responsibility of transporting another bunch of athletes into the canter of Cork.  As we stood anxiously in line for the bus to Dublin, it didn't look like thert would be enough room for us, but thankfully they wre able to drive a second public bus at the same time as the first, and we were all able to get on.
    Between the bus ride to Dublin and the bus ride to Letterkenny, we rode for about eight hours.  The Irish countryside was beautiful; happy sheep and cows munched on green grass all along the route.  When we arrived, we were shown to apartments similar to the ones we had in Cork.  Danny McDaid, a two-time Irish Olympian brought us to a restaurant inside an arcade that was surprisingly tasty and unsurprisingly featured potatoes.

July 9th

       I walked in to the small city center of Letterkenny with the other Americans, and Michelle Finn, an Irish steepler who had trained with Team Rogue for a year after she was done with college.  We found the Catholic Church, a used bookstore, and had lunch at a little diner.

Addie Bracy, Mary Goldkamp, Sarah Pease, Me, Michelle Finn, and Maggie Callahan

July 10th

     I ran the World A Standard!!  I went 9:40.99 to win the race.  The standard is good for a year, so I have run the time I need to go to the Olympics.  But, I also have to get top 3 at the US Olympic Trials in July of 2016 to go.
    The race was very low-key.  We ran on a track with no stands, slippery barriers, and the officials tried to put all the barriers on the track before the start of the steeple (we run the first 200m without barriers, so officials have to put 2 barriers on the track after the race has started). But, the weather was cool, the train hadn't started yet, we had a pacer going through the 2k at 9:40 pace, and we had a deep field of athletes.
     I hung on the back of the front pack for the first few laps because I wasn't sure how well I would do at 9:40 pace since my fastest time so far this season had been 9:54.  I felt tired, but in control after three laps, so I slowly started to pass people as they fell off the front pack.  With two laps to go, I put on a surge and took the lead.  I got passed by a couple of Irishwomen.  With 150m to go, we jumped the last water barrier at the same time.  I landed first and sprinted to the finish.  Three other women in the race, all Irish ran big PR's to get the Olympic A standard, and two of them hit the World A standard for this year.  Since Ireland doesn't have many people who hit the World A Standard, they will go to the World Championship this summer in Beijing.

Beginning of the Race

Last Water Jump


July 11th

    We had another stressful travel situation trying to get to the airport.  Three of us had flights out of the Derry airport, and we were told we would get a ride at 6:30am.  I happened to check my email right before I went to sleep last night and saw our pickup time had changed to 6:00 because a fourth person, with an earlier flight, was added to our car.  Unsurprisingly, the other two people didn't see the email and weren't ready until 6:20.  The driver drove like a NASCAR racer through the tight turns of the single lane road to the airport, and we all made our flights on time.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Europe 2015 Part I: Southern Wales

June 30th-July 1st

Of the last 24 hours, I have been flying for 15, traveling by car, bus and train for another 3, and I’ve been waiting to travel for 6.  It’s been a long day, but I finally arrived in Cardiff, Wale in the evening.  I went for a quick run along the Taff River.  I’m surprised how similar the climate feels to Seattle.  On my run, I see all the same flora and fauna I see in the Pacific Northwest, even the Oregon Grape bush. 
I’m staying at an Airbnb with a Malaysian family near the city center.  The neighborhood is predominately Muslim but there are a lot of Chinese owned businesses.  The houses are built sharing their adjoining wall, so there is a straight row of concrete down the block.  We are half a mile away from the huge Bute Park, but it’s strange imagining a childhood without exploring among the flowers and bushes in a yard. 

July 2nd

            I tried to get on the track for a morning workout, but I failed.  I tried one stadium, then I tried a high school, and finally found a third track open to the public, but a kids meet was in progress.  Loosing access to reliable facilities is one compromise of heading to Europe.
            After running, I went the Cardiff castle.  As soon as I got inside the castle, it started pouring. After waiting inside for a couple minutes, I got bored, and braved the elements.  As I climbed out of one of the topmost rooms, a bat tried to fly in, and bounced off my chest full force.  

                                                    "The Mound" inside Cardiff Castle

The most recently renovated living quarters were luxurious, with golden ceilings, elaborate hearths, and Italian marble floors.  
                                                                     Fancy Hearth

My favorite room was the library with animals carved into the bookshelves. 

                                        Even the Welsh love gophers. M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A!

            Next I visited the Cardiff Nation al Museum, which housed both natural history and art exhibits.  My favorite peice was the first known painting of a Welshman holding a leek.  According to the museum, the Sovereign and courtiers wore leeks on St. David's day.  James I commented, "the wearing of leeks by Welshmen was a good and commendable fashion.

            I tried the track again in the evening, and was successful getting in.  I was impressed with the array of people already practicing on the track.  A couple high school students practiced water jumps with two coaches while a masters runner practiced his hurdle form and another masters runner did a long interval workout under the guidance of another coach.  As I finished up my workout, about 70 middle school students came out with their coaches to start practice.  I wish we had as many enthusiastic runners in the US.

July 3rd

I didn’t set an alarm clock and sleep in until 2 pm, making a total of 15 hours of sleep for the night.  Oh my goodness, what a mistake.  I was planning on taking the train to Swansea for the day, but instead, I run and then walk over to Cardiff Bay.  According to the guidebooks, the city has done a remarkable job of turning the bay around.  What used to be a run-down, seedy shoreline has been transformed.  I was most looking forward to seeing the Roald Dahl Plass because he is one of my favorite childhood authors.  While the walk along River Taff was pleasant, the Mermaid Quay area was just like any other outdoor shopping mall and restaurant area.  The shops were shiny, but boring.  I got some coffee, read a book, and watched a Wales family eat a deep-fat fried American dinner next door. The Roald Dahl Plass was also disappointing.  All it was an irregularly shaped basin now used as a public space.  Tents were being set up for an event.  I couldn’t even find a statue or a plaque talking about Dahl or his books.  Someone should be sent to The Chokey.

July 4th
After a melatonin-induced few hours of sleep, I woke up to my alarm, ran, and got onto the train to Swansea, a small town about an hour away.  I saw the Swansea castle, the Dylan Thomas Musum, the Swansea Museum, and the National Waterfront Museum.  

                      My Favorite WWII poster on display at Swansea Museum

             A typical Welsh kitchen on display at the Swansea Museum.  I like how                                                               the portion of cheese is as big as the portion of meat.

After seeing Swansea, I took the bus to Mumbles, the first town of the Gower region, along the sea.  I explored the well-preserved Oystermouth castle.

            At the end of the day I bused back to Swansea and trained back to Cardiff.  As I walked home from the train station, I took a detour back the monstrous Millenium stadium used for rugby.  On the sidewalk outside the stadium, an artist had created a mosaic square for each country that must participate in Rugby.  Most county's squares featured some combination of plants, food, clothing and animals.  The United States square had a car, a dollar sign, Mickey Mouse, baseball, a teepee, and a hamburger. Happy 4th.

July 5th

I have one last run through Bute Park and along River Taff before getting on the train to the bus to the airplane that will bring me to Cork, Ireland.

Friday, July 3, 2015

2015 Outdoor National Championships: Folks, it was a hot one out there.

I would rather race in a snowstorm than the heat and humidity any day of the week.  This is why I was thankful the Outdoor US National Championships were held in Eugene, OR this year.  Eugene can usually be counted on to be temperate, even if that means sometimes navigating water jumps in the rain.  Last weekend had other plans, however, and temperatures ran in the 90’s for the entire meet. 

I was thankful to even participate in the Outdoor US National Championships Track Meet.  I’ve spent this track season chasing the auto-qualifying time to get me to the Outdoor Championships.  By hitting the auto time (9:53.0 for the women’s steeple), runners automatically get to run at the meet.  If you don’t hit the standard, meet officials will fill the field (26 women in the steeple) with a descending order list from race times over the past year.  Usually a few people get in who haven’t hit the standard, but it’s better to not have to worry about it. 

I started things off by running a 9:59 steeple at the Payton Jordan meet in the beginning of May, followed by a 9:57 at the Hoka High Performance meet 10 days later.  I tried again at Nashville on June 6 and was running on pace for about 9:48 until I belly flopped into the water pit on my last water jump and finished in 9:54.  Even being a second off the auto time was nerve-wrecking since a lot of runners had hit the time or were very close.  I signed up for the Portland Track Festival, the last chance to qualify, but had to bow out due to an angry calf muscle.  That week I held my breath hoping not too many people would pass my time on the descending order list at the meet.

A few days after Portland declarations to USA’s were due. A couple collegians scratched from the list (unsurprisingly after three long NCAA seasons), and was finally able to exhale as I made the meet with a couple seconds to spare.  Even though I was near the bottom of the descending order list, I felt confident I could make the final round of the steeplechase.

As I warmed up for my prelim at 7 pm, I was able to keep my core body temperature from going too high by running with ice packs in my sports bra and a ice-water soaked towel around my neck.  But as soon as I the race started, my body heated up and tensed up.  I didn’t think running at 7 would be so hot, but the heat had peaked at 5 pm, and there was still direct sun with no cloud cover.  I was running near the back for most of the race. I tried to make a move into mid-pack a couple times, but  was unable to hold the position and got passed back each time.  I was in so much pain I didn’t know where I was in the race.  Despite my fatigue I rallied on the last lap to run my fastest lap of the race and I was able to pass a two runners who had gone out too fast.  While I got  9th in my race, I got into the finals on time.  After the race I was worried that I was not in as of shape as I thought, then I noticed that it had been so hot that the track and melted onto my spikes - something I have never experienced before (and something I hope I never have to experience again).  This gave me hope that everyone else had hurt just as much as I had.

Although it was still in the mid-90’s for the Finals on Saturday, I got lucky and there was some cloud cover during the race.  I had made a plan to not get caught up going to fast in the heat and I was able to relax at the back of the race for the first mile.  With three laps to go my plan was working and I was still feeling good while several runners in front of me showed signs of coming back to me.  That’s when I made my move.  I ended up passing three runners in those final three laps and finished 12th in 9:56.  This just happened to be the same place and time I finished at the 2012 Olympic Trials.  I’m happy to have come as far as I have since surgery, but I also had a hard time accepting where I am at right now.  I want to be at the front of the pack, challenging for a spot on the World Team.  I know I dropped 20 seconds from my PR in 2013, and I can drop that time again.  I have put many of the pieces in place to train well next year.  Now I just have to put in the work.