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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Last-Minute London

With only a few days in London left, I’ve been squeezing activities into my schedule like a little sister in a fold-up couch (It’s cool, Matt and Luke.. I’ve moved on). Here are some highlights from the past week:

1. Meeting with the captain of the world’s oldest cross country club, the Thames Hares & Hounds. Since 1868, the club has revolved around 3 equally important activities: distance running, eating, and drinking. One of the coolest things I gleaned from our conversation is the notion of a “mob match.” These are essentially dual meets where both teams bring as many runners as possible, and the lowest number of runners on one team scores. For example, if 60 Thames Hares & Hounds and 45 Ramelagh Harriers show up for a race, the top 45 finishers from both teams count. And as usual, the lowest team total wins. How fun!

2. A day trip to Bath. The Circle and Royal Crescent were charming of course, but my favorite part was the organic garden inside the royal park.
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3. My 4 new Kenyan flatmates. I’m telling you, the East African culture has a grasp on me that I can’t explain! It’s a good thing everyone living here- 1 Irish man, 1 American girl, and 4 Kenyans- gets along well, because we’re sharing 1 shower and a microscopic kitchen. I actually appreciate the close quarters, though, as some of my best conversations have come from meals eaten on the hallway floor, crammed cooking sessions in the kitchen, and late night chats in the girls’ room.
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4. Coffee with the distance coach of the Australian Olympic team and watching some of the Melbourne Track Club runners work out. After talking to them, I’ve decided to spend January in Falls Creek, where around 200 Australian distance runners go for altitude training each year.

5. Notting Hill Carnival, an annual celebration of Caribbean culture and Europe’s biggest festival. At first, I heard “Carnival” so naturally I thought: merry-go-rounds, ferris wheels, cotton candy… right? Nope! This was the scene I walked into: thousands (literally) of people parading down the street, massive floats with DJs on top, bumping and grinding in every direction, traditional Caribbean clothes and extravagant costumes, and bodies doused in paint, glitter, and chocolate (yes. chocolate). Was it overwhelming and totally different than what I expected? Totally! But did I love it? You bet!
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I’m leaving tomorrow for a month-long tour of the UK and Ireland (more deets on that soon), but not without fulfilling a promise I made to my Kenyan and Irish friends. The Kenyans are huge Walker, Texas Ranger fans and the show Dallas is huge in Ireland, so tonight I’m going to reinforce every stereotype they know and show them what TexMex is all about!

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Organized Chaos

I went to the Tate Modern to peep some cool artwork, but something entirely different stole the show.

First, this happened:

Then there was a little bit of this:

And finally…

(unfortunately I stopped recording just as the lights started flickering and the group chanted, “Humans! Humans! Humans! Nature! Nature! Nature!”… but you get the idea)

So what was the purpose of all that?

I have no earthly idea. All I know is that they provided some unexpected entertainment and serious confusion.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Ugali

“…the reason we’re beating you at your own game.” -Moses Cheruiyot, Vivian’s husband

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At dinnertime in Kenya, ugali is almost a guarantee. Like naan in India and pita in Greece, the spongy bread made of maize flour and boiling water lies at the heart of the Kenyan diet. Once it’s cooked, pieces of ugali are torn, balled up, indented, and used as a scoop for the accompanying stew. And as Moses reminded me throughout the night, the Kenyan reliance on ugali is one of the reasons that they’re generally healthier- and faster- than Americans, despite our technological and materialistic advantages.

Last week, I got a little taste of Kenya in London when I cooked and ate ugali with Vivian Cheruiyot and her housemates. While I took notes and did a little chopping, Vivian walked me through the cooking process, Moses helped us mix the dough, and their 3 friends joined us for the finished meal.

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When I took my first bite, I felt the weight of 10 Kenyan eyeballs waiting for my reaction. “Do you like it?” “Is it good?” “You can use a spoon if you want…”

I tried not to sound too excited… but I loved everything about it! The flavors, warmth, texture, and especially the excuse to disregard the kitchen table rules I grew up with as I ate with my hands. They were thrilled that I liked it and recorded the recipe, and told me I’ll be an expert and can make it for them when I visit Kenya.

After I cleaned my bowl and had a few more pieces, they taught me how to cap off a dinner Kenyan-style by simultaneously drinking milk and chewing bites of ugali. It wasn’t bad- more unfamiliar than anything- but I think it’ll take a little longer to develop a taste for that combination.

From my ugali lesson, I gained an authentic recipe that’s unlike anything I’ve ever made or tried. But I also learned something I was not expecting. Like running, cooking is an almost perfect way to connect with a person from a different culture. When verbal communication is possible, the activity prompts all sorts of culinary and cultural comparisons. But a common language isn’t necessary to follow someone’s lead and throw ingredients into a pot. Even with a language barrier in tact, the cooking process opens the door for the exchange of basic vocabulary words and the opportunity to express appreciation and respect for a different way of living.

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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Back to Business

The Olympics are over, but for many runners who competed, the track season is not. They have a few major meets on the European circuit to run before they shut it down and take a hard-earned break.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of watching 2 of the best US distance runners train: Leo Manzano, a recent silver medalist in the 1500, and Shannon Rowbury, whose 6th place finish in the 1500 was the highest ever by an American female. Leo ran 1K repeats while Shannon did 400s and they both made some salty splits look comfortable and smooth. They also treated the warm-up as seriously as the workout itself, spending at least half of their time at the track jogging, stretching, drilling, and striding.

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Shannon and Leo teaming up for part of a rep

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St. Mary’s track, where they and other Teddington runners train

During their cool down yesterday, dinner last night, and a run this morning, I got to know them beyond our brief interactions and their post-race interviews. And believe it or not, they’re even nicer than they are fast! (And I’m not just saying that because Leo is a Texan and my former running camp counselor, and Shannon is dating a friend and former Rice runner). They helped pace each other when their reps matched up, happily answered all of my questions, and genuinely appreciated every compliment they got from younger runners at the track. The sport of track & field sure lucked out with these champion runners and individuals!

In other news… I could get sentimental about this pair of shoes that I’m retiring today: they carried me to the NCAA Championship and Olympic Trials, logged a few fun miles in Dallas, and started my Watson journey with me. But, since I had to bring all the trainers I’ll need for the first few months, the luggage space and weight they’ll free up definitely trump my attachment to them.

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RIP, guys- you’ve been good to me!

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Parkruns

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England is onto something, and the US should take note.

Last week, I experienced my first ever Parkrun. I went to the one in Bushy Park, but each London borough hosts one of these informal 5k races every Saturday of the year at 9am. The races are hugely popular- Bushy attracts nearly 1,000 people on a given Saturday- and it’s easy to see why: they’re free, regular, timed, social, and inclusive of all ages and abilities. They’re powered by volunteers and sponsored by Adidas, Lucozade Sport, the Sweat Shop, and the London Marathon.

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This is how they work:
1. Find the Parkrun nearest you, register online (if you want to record a time), and print out your individual barcode.
2. Show up at your race’s starting line a little before 9:00 am on any Saturday and bring your barcode print-out.
3. Race the 5k and latch onto a pace group if you want help achieving a certain goal time.
4. Scan your barcode at the finish line and see your results posted online that afternoon.

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The range of talent levels at Bushy was really cool. A 2012 Olympic miler dominated the field (and continued running 2 more loops as a workout), while whole families and very recreational runners filled out the rest of the course. And afterwards, lots of runners stuck around to mingle, put down some muffins and coffee, and answer questions from a curious American.

These races have been so well-received in London that they’ve spread throughout the UK and to other countries as well (including a couple that are in the works in the US). The Parkrun directors make it almost too easy to establish new ones- their website says that they “aim to have an event in every community that wants one” and they offer help and guidance getting them rolling. If you’re at all interested in finding or starting a Parkrun, check out http://www.parkrun.org.uk (maybe drop the UK if you’re in the US?). I would love to see the movement take off back home!

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

What a Day.

I’m a little afraid that yesterday was the pinnacle of my life.

I went suit shopping with Yohan Blake, gave rides and delivered groceries to Usain Bolt, and sat trackside at their training and weight sessions.

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Fastest sandwich I’ll ever be the meat of.

As if to cram as many World Champions into one day as possible, I then had dinner with Vivian Cheryuiot and her husband.

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Vivian’s silver and bronze medals. She’s hoping to complete the collection in Rio.

So how did little ole me weasel my way into the company of these living legends? As Daren, my Irish roommate would say, I blagged it! He and his sister work with the agency that represents those athletes and others, and he took me along on a typical workday. I almost died when he asked me to text Yohan that we were on our way, and that was just the beginning.

Highlights of the day: Watching Yohan give every suit the dance test, being called Shorty by Usain, getting a little lesson in Jamaican Patois, and hearing about Vivian’s position as inspector of the Kenyan Police Force.

I’m (mostly) kidding about my life being all downhill from here. If anything, today sparked some friendships and connections that I hope to build upon for the rest of the year and beyond… starting with a run and ugali-making session with Vivian today!

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Olympic Recap

Another Olympic marathon, another Olympic turn-out.

Yesterday’s brilliant weather and energetic crowd ended the London 2012 Games in style. While it was hard to see 2 more Americans drop out due to nagging injuries (that makes 3 out of 6 of our marathoners), the fact that nearly 20% of male marathoners that started didn’t finish puts the brutality of the event into perspective. On the other hand, it was thrilling to watch Meb, a 37-year-old Eretrian-turned-American who was dropped by Nike, move up from 19th to 4th in the last half. It was also neat to see the 3 Kenyans talking and working together during the later stages of the race. The real hero of the day, however, was Stephen Kiprotich, who rallied from behind to earn Uganda’s second gold medal ever and first one in 40 years.

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Meb (white hat) and Kiprotich (Uganda) in the lead group early on

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Kenyans sharing the lead

As the last marathoners crossed the finish line, I was a little sad to think that 4 whole years separate us from the next Olympics. From the friendly volunteers manning every city corner to the excitement that filled most pubs at night, my experience here has been inspiring, eye-opening, and unforgettable. I found myself pulling for Team GB nearly as hard as I did for the USA, and was thankful that my red, white and blue showed support for them both.

Four years is a long time to wait for the next Games, but also a sufficient amount of time to make some major jumps, both athletically and personally. No matter where 2016 finds me, however, I will always treasure the London Games, my first Olympic experience and the beginning of my Watson journey.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in Uncategorized