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,