Sunday, July 29, 2012

10 Days, 4 Countries, and 3 Races; My (ongoing) European Adventures

Day 1: Travel Day #1
After a few hours of trains and buses, I make my way from Teddington, England to Cardiff, Wales for my first race in Europe.  I am scheduled to race a 3k the following evening with reports of Ezekiel Kemboi (reigning World Champion in 3k Steeplechase) and a few of his fellow training partners on the starting list.  I am excited to be able to have a good fast opener.
Day 2: Race Day #1
After not seeing any Kenyans at the meet hotel, my weariness grows that this might not be everything that I was promised.  To make matters worse, it’s raining horizontally out.  Beautiful gusts of cold wet wind.  Lunch is served in the hotel at 1pm.  My race is at 8:40pm.  Not other options for food between.  I load up on as much food as possible, pack my pockets with rolls, but still know I will be starving on the starting line- as there are no stores in the area.  Once at the track, I realize that my fears have come true.  The 3k start list comprises of me and five local runners.  Great.  The pace setter asks what pace I want.  I mention running 63 seconds per lap and he claims he would be able to go for 4 laps.  Race starts- extremely windy.  The pacer goes through the first lap in 63.  Perfect I think.  Wrong.  He continues to slow lap by lap, dropping out after 3 laps after going 63-65-65.  I go to the front and decide I’ll run it as a workout, gradually increasing the pace lap by lap and finish in 7:52.  Winning by 22 seconds.  So much for fast times in Europe.  Onto Belgium.
Day 3: Travel Day #2
The entire day is spent traveling.  Bus back to London, sitting in London Heathrow for a few hours (6), then flying to Brussels.  Once I landed in Belgium, I was instructed to take a train to a certain station and the meet director would pick me up.  Well, I got myself to the correct station, arriving just before 11pm and the station is deserted.  Wait, wait.  Nothing.  Frantic phone calls and emails, and thirty minutes later a car pulls up in front of the station and flicks its high-beams at me.  Nothing else.  Is this for me?  A woman gets out of the passenger seat and, without looking at me, goes and opens the trunk.  Figuring I had nothing to loose, I cautiously approached the vehicle, still unsure if this was for me.  The lady didn’t object and I climbed into the car.  The driver turned around and in a quizzical voice muttered the only thing directed at me during the entire drive: “Ben?”  Good enough for me.  I finally made it to Ninove.
Day 4:
Two easy shakeouts and spent the rest of the day trying to find food.
Day 5: Race #2
Excited to be able to get another crack at the 5k, I was looking forward to this race.  Also knowing many of the other competitors in the race, I was (optimistically) planning on a fast time.  But things sort of went downhill from there.  It started with going to the track and being forced to pay to enter the meet.  Wait, I have to pay to enter the race?  But the race is paying for me to be here.  How does that work?  I pick up my bib number and no pins.  I ask how I am suppose to run with my bib- not their problem.  Great.  I go to the finish line and start bumming pins off runners who have already finished.  After a few minutes I am finally able to collect four.  Phew.  The meet is now 20 minutes delayed.  No big deal.  I just delay my warmup by 20 minutes and be fine.  While out warming up I happen to jog past the track to see in my horror all the 5k guys lined up and ready to race.  I sprint to my bag, rip off my warmups and trainers, lace up my spikes and hop the fence onto the track, racing up to the line while wrestling to get my uniform on.  I make it with seconds to spare (the false start greatly helped).  The race?  Another disappointment.  The pacer was suppose to take us through 3k in 8:00 (13:20 pace).  We slug through in 8:08.  While we are able to pick up the pace, I finish second in 13:20.5 (first was 13:20.4) and we just miss the Olympic/World standard by half a second.  Oh well.  After the race I was swept off to doping control, where the adventure continues.  Here, they “forgot” to provide water for the athletes, so while dehydrated and just finished a race, we were forced to provide urine samples without drinking any water.  After a few hours, I was finally able to produce a sample.  Goodbye Belgium, hello Ireland.
Day 6: Travel Day #3
Another day of train rides, buses, and sitting in the airport (9 hours total) as I make my way to Ireland
Day 7:
Made it to Ireland and able to relax a bit.  Went to the track for an easy workout.  Rest of the day was spent finding food.
Day 8:
Hung out with some fellow USA athletes, went to the movies, relaxed.  First day to really let the body recover.  Spent most of day trying to switch from the 3k to the Mile in tomorrow’s race.  No such luck.
Day 9: Race Day #3
Another 3k.  At least I knew the guys I would be racing (fellow Americans) and was intrigued that a fast time was possible.  Race went fairly undramatically with us three Americans pulling away after 2 laps.  Finished in 7:44 for the win.  Actually happy about this, as the race felt very controlled and easy, proving that I can run much faster in the right race.
Day #10: Travel Day #4
Spent the day in airports and train stations as I made my way from Ireland to Davos, Switzerland.  Originally planning to take some off time, I now may continue and race in Stockholm in mid-August, so just when I though the adventure was over, it begins again.
Until next time,

Sunday, July 15, 2012

European Adventure

Thursday I packed up my bags and headed to Europe.  My plan?  Up in the air.  I wanted to be able to get in a few track races before the Olympic break, so here I am in Twickenham, England.  I am currently staying in the dorms of St. Mary’s University and while the accommodations are sparse to say the least- for thirty pounds a night I’ve got a place to lay my head, a track just steps from my door, a huge park to run in, and all this within close proximity to London Heathrow.  The plan is to stay and train here for a few days before a whirlwind of travel and races.  Deciding to meet hop, I will travel over to Cardiff, Wales on the 17th to race a rust-buster 3k on the 18th.  From Wales, I will head to Ninove, Belgium (or Szczecin, Poland depending on which race looks best) to race a 5k on the 21st.  Taking no time to rest, I’ll head back west to Dublin, Ireland, for another race on the 25th (either a 3k or mile, to be determined), and lastly I’ll jet-set to Sweden for my final race of the adventure, a 5k in Uppsala on the 28th.  And all this, subject to change on a whim.  Once exhaustion sets in (and with this much travel and so many races within a short period of time, exhaustion is not a matter of if, but when) I will head to Davos, Switzerland to meet up with my superstar girlfriend and aid her in her final preparations towards the Olympics.
My time in Twickenham has so far been an interesting one.  While rumored to be summer, the weather has been rainy and cold since I’ve arrived.  Today the sun bursted through the clouds for the first time of my visit and I still had to be bundled up in pants and a sweatshirt.  The town itself, and it’s neighboring town of Teddington, are nice little villages of shops along the Thames.  Bushy Park in Teddington, only a few minute jog from my dorm, is a great place to run, filled with herds of deer that take no mention to you running past.  During yesterday’s shakeout, a herd of twenty found their way onto a cricket field as a match was in progress.  Play had to be suspended as the players attempted to persuade the ruminants to graze elsewhere.  Teddington and Twickenham are also on the Olympic cycling course.  Huge signs are posted everywhere about the impending race, warning that all cars must be removed from the designated streets for the three day period surrounding the cycling races.  Seems like there are mixed emotions regarding the Games in England.  After talking to a cab driver the other day, people have been asked not to go to work and remain at home for the entirety of the Games as to not populate the roadways and cause congestion.  He seemed to be rather against the government’s policy on the Games, muttering “if this was for the World Cup, that’d be one thing, but for sport?  Ridiculous.”
So, onwards and upwards for me from here.  Hopefully I will be able to find my way from meet to meet and not get lost along the way.  With a tightly packed two weeks, I am hoping to make it out alive and to get some redemption from my disappointing last few races.  I am now healthy and ready to run, so I just need to make my way to the starting line and good things will come.  I am excited to race again, and ready for the adventure.
Until next time,

The track at St. Mary's

The clouds break for the first time over the River Thames

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Another Four Years

Today I finally returned home from Eugene after a long and exhausting two weeks.  Over the course of seven days I raced a 10k and two 5ks, ending in severe disappointment.  Words are hard to come by to describe the emotions and feelings coursing through my mind.  The one thing I can articulate is my heart felt thanks to all those who believe in me and continue to believe.  Your support, encouragement, and love has been wonderful and makes me want to prove to you how great of a runner I can be.  The messages, calls, emails and support have been tremendous.  Unfortunately my body was not where it needed to be for the 10k.  Going into the race I knew I was coming off a few days of not running and over two weeks without working out due to illness.  I was wishfully hoping that I was finally completely healthy- and well rested.  But as soon as the gun went off and a mile raced, I knew it would take a miracle.  I put myself in position, hoping that I could trick myself into racing opposed to surviving, but knowing how my body was responding to the effort, it was not to be.  Demoralized I couldn’t compete in the one race I had focused my entire year on, I jogged across the line heart broken.  For the rest of the week I was in a fog.  I tried to pump myself up, knowing I still had a chance in the 5k and still had two more races to run- but all I wanted to do was flee from Eugene, head tucked low, tail between my legs.  In the first round of the 5k I tried to get my head back, tried to escape the fog and disappointment by going to the lead early, and lead the entire race.  The body responded well, the legs embraced the pace and hinted that my body might be returning to its normal self.  The mind, however, thought differently.  I could not outrun my own head.  Nothing changed.  The doubts, the disappointment, the shame- not shame in the failure to qualify for the Olympics- no, but a disgrace in not being able to compete.  By the time the 5k finals rolled around, there wasn’t much I could do.  I knew I was fit, I knew I could run with everyone in the field, but mentally I was already destroyed.  I raced, I hung on, I actually felt surprisingly good.  The drastic pace changes, elbowing, fighting for position, was easy.  I was relaxed.  I was calm.  When the pace quickened I was ready, was in position and responded.  A faint glimmer even arose in my head with a little over 400m to go, that yes I could do this.  But unfortunately, I could not.  I didn’t have the extra gear that I needed, and again, the fog overwhelmed my head.  Now back in Hanover, it is time to get myself healthy again, both physically and mentally.  There are more races to run.  I know I am fit, I know that I am ready to race, it’ll just be four years before I get another chance to live out a dream.
Until next time,