9 Things I Learned in Europe

All year Europe, to me, seemed like this mythical journey that everyone talks about, but no one plans, and somehow it all comes together.  It felt like there was a lot of talk but that it would never actually happen, even all the way up to the day before I left.  But finally ten days ago I hopped on a flight to Ireland and it all began.  It was quite the adventure, and though I’m writing this while trapped in the Zurich airport for nine hours just trying to get home to a stormy NYC, I’m already thinking about next year.  Here are a few lessons for next time that I’ve learned along the way:

1. Pack less and re-wear clothes.  I didn’t know what it would be like for me because my races were so close together that I didn’t have a home base.  So through ten days, three countries, and four flights I carried a large bag with things I probably didn’t need.  Of course running clothes become gross, but there are ways to do laundry and I can definitely cut down on street clothes.

2. Ireland uses euros, not pounds.  And Switzerland uses Swiss francs, not euros, and is extremely expensive.  Thinking I’d be in Belgium until the day before I came, I changed a bunch of money to euros.  Then for some reason assumed Ireland used pounds and didn’t bother to do any research, switched to pounds and was wrong.  Next time double check.

3. Bring your own shampoo, soap, and towel. This ended up being less of an issue than I originally thought.  When I got to Cork, all I wanted was a shower and I was in a dorm room with a shower that didn’t turn on, no towel, and no toiletries.  All was fixed by the following afternoon, but you never know where you’ll be and it’s probably best to be prepared.  Also, every place I went had only liquid soap that was used as shampoo as well and no conditioner.  European thing?

4. Looking both ways before crossing the street is even more important in countries where they drive on the other side of the road.  I almost died.

5. Check in for flights and check your bag online a day in advance.  The one time I didn’t do this, going from Dublin to London, a massive fee was attached to the bag.  They told me that is often the case and it is much less if you do it online ahead of time.

6. Deer in England are not afraid of people.  I was only in Teddington for a day and a half, but it was the perfect place for down time between races.  Bushy Park was great for running, and the deer don’t even flinch when you go by.

7. Get out and see things.  Of course it was important to remember why I was there and I made sure my legs were rested well enough, but I didn’t want to forget where I was.  Running provided me with an amazing opportunity and I’m glad I took advantage of it and was a bit of a tourist as well.

8. Europeans love athletics meetings.  Athletics meetings = track meet.  Great crowds and, as mentioned in my race recaps, fanatic little children greeting you at the finish line to ask for your bib number and have you sign hats, t-shirts, and programs.

9. Track athletes are a special breed.  Here’s the sappy part of my reflection on the trip.  And instead of a lesson learned, it’s more like reassurance of something I’ve always known.  But as someone who has never done this before, and without the teammates that I train with and know well, I was welcomed and guided by so many whom I’d only met a day or so before.

Luzern, Switzerland (via Teddington)

Legs 2.5 and 3. July 12: Dublin -> London -> Teddington by bus, and stayed until July 14 -> Zurich -> Luzern by shuttle.

Teddington was a great spot to stop between races.  Big thanks to the Brooks Beasts for welcoming me!

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Luzern might be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.  I had heard that it was from so many people before I came over here, so when it was cloudy and pouring rain the first day I was pretty disappointed. But I woke up today with the sun shining and got to see the amazing views in those pictures just a few blocks from my hotel.  I wish I had more time to enjoy it post race, but I’m headed home tomorrow morning.

So Luzern was a quick trip for me.  A nice walk to the river in the morning, followed by watching American TV shows in German (this was the only non-English speaking country of my trip), and a shake out was all I had time for before getting into race mode and heading to the track.  Europeans love their track meets. The stands were packed and standing room around the whole perimeter was at least three people deep. And the whole event was like a fair with food carts and people walking around drinking beers and eating sausage. 

I knew the race was being paced well and that there were plenty of fast women.  Within a lap the race had already split and only a few women went with the pace, so I had the option to go with them (even if it was a bit fast), start slower and settle with the second pack, or run alone between them. One of the things I’ve been trying to work on is not being afraid of fast races, so I decided to go with the lead pack and we went through a mile in 4:51.  I held it for a little while, but by the last 2k I started to feel cooked. 15:43 for 8th.  I really would have liked to end my Europe trip with a PR, but it was good to experience that and I’m glad I went for it.  Trying to think of and be proud of everything I have done this year, and at the same time my mind is already filled with everything I can do a little differently to make next year even better. 

Spitzen Leichtathletik Luzern (the name of the meet:Top Athletics Lucerne) was a pretty incredible production. The night ended with amazing fireworks set off from the infield.  They were pretty much right on top of while we stood at the 5k starting line collecting our bags and changing our shoes.  Really cool end to a trip through Europe and a great send off back to the US.

Dublin, Ireland

Leg 2! July 9: Cork -> Dublin by bus. Morton Games Mile.

 

Blogging via my phone because my outlet converter mysteriously disappeared in my Dublin hotel room and my tablet is out of juice, so just a quick update for now.  A new place with even more new people.  I think I can be pretty outgoing at times, but I’ve never before spent so much time with people I only previously knew by name.  I’m so glad I’ve had some awesome people to be a tourist with instead of being a hermit in my hotel room with no friends.  On Thursday, I got to see a bit more of Dublin on another castle tour and a visit to the Guinness factory, which ends with a pint at the top of the building overlooking the whole city. Pretty sweet.

 

As for the meet, I can’t think of many other races that have been more fun.  I was a little nervous, which is natural, but even though I wanted a pr, I really felt no serious pressure and wanted to see what I could do. Having that relaxed attitude was definitely part of my success last night.  I got in line with a perfect pace and a great field and it felt pretty amazing.  Another 4th place finish, but I got my big pr. 4:28.02 🙂 Again, the little Irish kids all swarm you at the end, asking for your bib number, autograph, and selfies. 

 

The rest of the night was fantastic as well and I already hope I’m coming back to the Morton Games next year.  Now I’m in Teddington for a short while before heading off to Luzern!

Cork, Ireland

Leg one of my European Adventure! July 6: 8:15am NYC -> London -> Cork (just about midnight local time). Cork City Sports 3k.

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I’m an anxious person.  And a planner.  This trip is a true test in my ability to just go with the flow and trust that it will all work out.  And fortunately, so far it has.  My first day of travel was pretty smooth with no delays or cancelations.  Though I felt like I was going through a maze, I made it through Heathrow Airport and on to Cork with two new stamps in my passport. 

It took me the night and a bit of the next morning to settle in and get my bearings.  Cork is five hours ahead of New Jersey, so I had to force myself to sleep and get up early to try and adjust.  Already learned some lessons for next year, like bring a towel and soap/shampoo because you’re in a dorm room (though later on they did bring these things, my room just wasn’t ready yet, the shower didn’t even turn on the first day).  Speaking of the dorm, I didn’t unmake the bed but I’m pretty sure this is an accurate comparison:

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The next morning I ran in Kyle Merber, NJNY teammate, who introduced me to more Americans, and I wasn’t alone anymore.  We all went to the track for a run and strides together, and then took a short bus ride to Blarney to see the castle and kiss the stone.

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(Another lesson learned, they use euros in Ireland, not pounds.  Probably should have done some research.  I’ll have a whole list of Europe lessons by the end of this)

That night (night before the race) I was actually feeling tired, even though it was mid-afternoon at home.  I thought my plan to force myself to get up early was working.  So I played a movie on my tablet and fell asleep very quickly.  Unfortunately, my body thought it was just an afternoon nap and I woke up two hours later.  Once I fell asleep again, though, I was out for the night and I hopefully I’m okay from now on.

The restaurant downstairs is providing us with meals, which is pretty nice.  Corn Flakes and dinner rolls aren’t my typical race day breakfast, but it’s something to eat and there is coffee so I’m doing just fine.  All of these things (hard-springy bed, broken shower, different meals) sometimes make me nervous, but I feel pretty calm.  I’m enjoying the experience and learning to just go with what I’ve got.  It’s teaching me to let go of the rigid race routine I like to pretend I don’t have.

So on to the race…same old things going through my head (put yourself in it, no gaps, don’t wait too late to move, etc.) but I was also trying to push the fact that I was coming off a much less than ideal USA Champs race out of my mind.  I stayed relaxed and in a good position.  When I fell off the leaders, I found myself alone with some wind for a bit, but I was still okay.  I got caught at the line and bumped off the podium, but I still consider it a solid start.  I ran 9:01, which is not a PR, but it’s far better than what I did a week and a half ago.  It has reassured me that my mind and body are still in race mode and given me confidence for my next two out here.  And the little kids that swarm you at the finish line, asking for autographs and pictures and if they can keep your bib number make you feel like a rock star!

This is what the rest of my time in Europe looks like:
Morton Games Mile in Dublin, July 11
Two days of hanging out in Teddington
Luzern 5k, July 15
July 16 I fly back to the good old USofA

2014 USA Championships

Lesson learned: bad things happen that won’t affect anything but your brain. You can’t let them.

It has taken me a while to think of what to write about this weekend.  Not much can ease the feeling of disappointment in a bad race.  I’m fortunate enough to have my Oiselle and NJNYTC families’ support, which made it a little easier.  I was often reminded that everyone has bad races, something I’ve certainly always known, but the USA Championships are never a good time for it to happen.  I had high expectations for myself.  I’ve improved so much this season and felt great in preparations. 

Unfortunately, I let a little bad luck with some poison oak get in my head and I just didn’t have it on race day.  A rash first showed up Thursday morning and I spent most of my time for the next 24 hours trying to figure out what it was and how to get rid of it without taking something that would make me fall asleep or be on the banned substance list.  Poison oak is irritating and itchy, but it doesn’t affect your ability to run, and therefore it is absolutely no excuse for my poor performance.  No matter how many times I told myself I was fine, I wasn’t very convincing and I let myself stress out about it instead.  By race time, I put myself in a decent position at the mile, but by 2k I felt spent.  As I felt myself falling farther and farther back, it took some mental strength to remember that I never want to drop out of a race.  It was far from the USA Championship race I imagined, but it happened.  Now it’s time to pick myself up and learn from it.

On a happier note, it was a pretty great weekend for many of my NJNY teammates.  With so many finals qualifiers and podium finishes for Ashley Higginson and Donn Cabral, I couldn’t be more proud to be part of such a group.  It was also very exciting to see so many Oiselle birds competing.  Only big things ahead on both fronts.