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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Final England Adventures

Instead of hurrying back to London from Ireland, I did more of a slither down England and encountered some awesome new faces and places along the way.

Stop #1: Manchester
I stayed with my good pal Daren, who has officially assumed brother status, and caught a few of Manchester’s neat running scenes. We spent one afternoon at Sportcity, the training and performance center for many of GB’s best athletes, with Michael Rimmer. He’s a 2-time Olympian in the 800 who you might recognize by the white long-sleeve shirt he always wears under his singlet. He was soft-spoken and humble, and impressed me with his honesty- he never trained more than 3 days a week until he was 20, yet has set every British age category record in the 800 that exists: under-15, under-17, under-19, and senior. He attributes his success to natural talent and “managing his chimp”- a term his sports psychologist gave to switching off emotions to achieve maximal performance. The technique can be applied to any area of life and is fully explained in a book called “The Chimp Paradox.” Check it out!
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Daren also drove me to nearby Leigh to watch the annual Northern 6 & 4 Stage Road Relays, which attracts hundreds of club runners from all over England. The senior women were on teams of 4 that each ran a 4k loop, while the senior men had 6 to a team and each ran a 6k. The starts, finishes, and exchanges were on the track, and closely monitored by officials. This was the first race back for most runners after the track season, and it seemed like the perfect, stress-free re-introduction to racing.
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Stop #2: Nottingham
On my way out of Manchester, I took a day trip to Nottingham to see where my Mom studied abroad for a year in college. I had a blast rooting around her old dorm, Derby Hall, and seeing a few of her regular spots. My absolute favorite was Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, England’s oldest pub that dates back to 1189 AD. It was nuzzled in the base of the Nottingham Castle, and was basically a snug, renovated cave with a bar and a fireplace. Admittedly, part of the appeal was imagining college-aged Suzi throwing back a few pints inside those same walls (but only on special occasions like birthdays and perfect exam results, and never more than one in a single night, right?).
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Stop #3: Cambridge
For my last week in England, I’ve been living with a few members of the Cambridge University Cross Country Club, the Hare & Hounds. James, who is now a triathlon and heart surgeon-in-training, invited me to crash in the house that he shares with Stu and Miranda. Interestingly enough, the place is owned by Tim Johnston, who was eighth in the 1968 Mexico Olympic Marathon. Between his old running pictures and library of running books that are mostly out of print, I haven’t had to search too hard for interesting running material.
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I also met up for a few runs with the club, and was filled with Cambridge running lore. I knew from my visit to Oxford that the rivalry between the two was old and heated, but this video took it to a whole different level:
1930 Inter-Varsity Cross-Country Match

On my last night, I got to participate in one of the Cambridge H&H “tea runs”- an easy jog followed by tea and desserts, hosted by a different club member each week. The tradition originated to facilitate friendship between the faster and slower guys who didn’t normally train together, and has become a weekly highlight for many in the club (and visitors too!). The tea run brought back great memories of Maureen’s “banana runs,” when we would scurry through the neighborhoods behind Ursuline trying to hunt down the bananas and oranges that she had written inspirational quotes on and hidden in the grass.

Well, my time in the UK is almost complete. After a quick trip to London to grab a bag and hang with my girl Bianca, I’m heading to Switzerland for the month of October. I’m anxious to see another beautiful part of the world, and to gain some experiences that I can compare with everything I did and learned in the past 10 weeks.

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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

My Week with Finn Valley Athletic Club

I left Donegal with over 300 new teammates, 40 new coaches, and a Finn Valley singlet that I’ll proudly wear all over the world.20120920-091736.jpg

To say that Finn Valley Athletic Club is unique, or inclusive, or successful, or friendly falls painfully short. Perhaps a few of my experiences last week will give you an idea of what I mean:

-Less than 24 hours into my visit, I had already been given a Finn Valley jersey, the official Irish Olympic uniform, and a handful of offers for rides to training and tours of the area.
-2 days later, I ran with 500 other runners in memory of Shane Bonner, a passionate FVAC runner who tragically died last year at the age of 20.
-On a night out with about 15 club members, the guys kept me laughing with their stories and banter, and literally threw money at the server with each new round of drinks to try to pay for the whole table.
-Every conversation with Patsy McGonagle- club founder, chairman, and coaching legend- left me swelling with Finn Valley and Irish pride, and clued me into a major reason for the club’s success and longevity.
-I did a group long run in the dark and gained a newfound appreciation for wind jackets and reflective gear- and people whose runs regularly require their use.
-As per tradition, I finished each training run with good tea and even better company in the Finn Valley Center.
-Finally, my host and now good friend Kieran went above and beyond to show me a great time. Among other things, he took off work to play tour guide, gave me impromptu photography lessons, introduced me to treacle bread, and let me borrow all his running gear. Here’s a little glimpse of our many adventures:

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One trip to the Finn Valley Center is all it takes to figure that what’s going on there can’t be found anywhere else. For those of you who don’t have that opportunity, I urge you to check out http://www.finnvalleyac.com to learn more about this incredible club and its humble roots.

To draw from my new Irish lexicon, last week can be summed up in 2 words: “Good crack!” Thank you, Kieran, Patsy, and all of the other Finn Valley AC members that made my trip a phenomenal one. Y’all inspire me with your generosity, passion, and tolerance for Guiness, and I will most definitely be back for a future visit.

Next up, it’s Manchester, Cambridge, London.. and then onto Switzerland for October!

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Irish Roots

20120914-121044.jpg You know you’ve been in Ireland a good while when you catch yourself referring to people as “your man”, saying “like” after every phrase, and ending phone conversations with as many “bye”s as you can squeeze in before you’re hung up on.

I originally planned to spend 2 full months in London. That was before I made some good Irish friends who intrigued me with tales of races turned into mudbaths, their one-of-a-kind athletic club, and Coach Patsy, the Godfather of Irish athletics. In typical Irish fashion, my friend rung his running buddies, landed me accommodations, and set up a meeting with Patsy- all before I committed to the trip. Looks like I’d be going to Ireland!

Once that was decided, with very little convincing necessary, my mom got to work on her own task: tracking down some distant relatives whose only information she had was the name of the house they lived in. No address, phone number, or even village name- just a vague notion of the area our ancestors came from. But after some major sleuth work, she finally got a lead through the results of a local road race, of all things. My trip to Kilmihil was meant to be!

Many people would have been a little weirded out by all the stalking that preceded my visit. The Haugh family, on the other hand, welcomed me into their home as if I’ve known them forever, drove me all around Ireland, and served me the equivalent of a Thanksgiving feast for every lunch and dinner. I made a mistake early on by showing them that I eat a lot more than I might let on, and Bernadette seemed to see that as a challenge. Just how high could she pile the food on every plate? And how many servings could she give me before I surrendered? Thank goodness she’s an excellent cook- and that I was only there 5 days- or else I’d be in trouble!

I stayed in the beautiful house that Padraig built himself and now lives in with his lovely girlfriend Lisa, and was treated to the full Irish experience. They took me to the Cliffs of Moher, Doonbeg Beach, a Gaelic football game, and a few buzzing pubs. In addition, they ensured that I ate black pudding and heaps of spuds, watched the Guard and the national hurling championship, and even saw a few authentic Irish travelers (dream accomplished).20120914-120528.jpg20120914-120538.jpg20120914-120550.jpg

Also worth mentioning is the Matchmaking Festival I went to one afternoon, where I waltzed around the floor in a swarm of senior citizens hoping to find love. It was a riot to say the very least!20120914-120801.jpg20120914-120815.jpg20120914-121316.jpg

This week I also completed a solid training cycle on the land that has been in the family for at least 6 generations. Running by the hills, lake, windmills and national school that my relatives knew intimately was deeply satisfying. And doing it alongside Padriag, my wonderfully sarcastic and kind “cousin,” made it all the more special.
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I’m now in Donegal and will spend the next week getting acquainted with the Finn Valley Athletic Club and the traditions it has established over the last 40 years. I’ve already learned loads from coaches and runners at a training session last night, so will save a full FVAC update for another day.

On a final note: Good luck to all the Rice girls and guys who are opening their cross country season tonight. Have a blast and know that I’m thinking about y’all from afar!

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Bannister’s Stomping Grounds

From London, I headed up to Oxford and spent 5 days living with members of the Oxford University Cross Country Club. Two of the guys are PhD students from England, and one is a Rhodes Scholar who ran at Haverford College. They were really helpful and welcoming (not to mention intelligent), and made great tour guides of the city, trails and university.
20120906-185235.jpg I had the luxury of seeing the Iffley Road Track every time I stepped out the door, and secretly hoped every man I passed was Bannister himself (as far as I know, none were).

I also had a few great runs in the unforgivingly hilly Shotover Park, where Oxford trains and hosts cross country meets, and along the river path, which was full of narrow houseboats, punting students, sunbathing swans, and bearded fishermen.
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One of my housemates, Andrew, walked me through a number of the Oxford colleges and gave me the insider’s tour. He showed me the college where J.R.R. Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings, the river where Lewis Carroll created a story about the dean’s daughter that became Alice in Wonderland, the gargoyles that inspired C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the staircase and commons seen in Harry Potter, and the college where 5 kings and a slew of other influential people lived and studied.
20120906-184553.jpg The colleges are gorgeous- many of them dating back to the 13th century- and like little self-sustaining villages. Each one has immaculate lawns, professionally manicured gardens, massive fields (one with a pack of deer- I knew Martel was missing something!), student dorms, great halls, ancient libraries, and chapels that would draw almost anyone in for a church service or evening song performance. Although the Rice colleges aren’t as elaborate (to say the least), it was really cool to see one of the predecessors of our college system and the origin of so much groundbreaking work.

I also found one of my new favorite towns when I took a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. It was everything I imagined and hoped for: cobblestone streets, gingerbread-type houses, tons of used bookstores, wild gardens, and meandering dirt paths. I strutted past Shakespeare’s houses and Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and rambled down as many small streets as I could.
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After a long trudge with my belongings and lots of public transportation (4 trains, 1 ferry and 1 bus), I’ll step foot in Dublin tonight and will spend the next 2 weeks in Ireland. I’m first passing through Clare County, where some distant relatives live on a sixth generation farm, and then making my way up to Donegal, where some of my London friends grew up and ran. I have plans to train with their club (Finn Valley), meet with the Irish national coach, and experience the rain, mud, and chill that characterize running in Ireland.

Until next time!

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Later, London!

I can’t imagine a more perfect end to my stay in London.

On my last night in Teddington, I cooked a big TexMex feast for 15 of my new friends from England, Ireland, Kenya, and the US that made my visit a total blast. In the past 6 weeks, I’ve run with them, cooked with them, roomed with them, laughed with them, and learned more from them than I can begin to describe.
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Vivian, Winny, Veronica and Moses were eager to help and learn, and took their chopping jobs very seriously. While I expected my European and American friends to do some damage on the fajitas (and they did), I give mad props to all the Africans who dug right in, despite the meal being radically different from the ugali, rice, potatoes, and stew they’re used to. Watching them eat fajitas in a bowl, ugali-style (scooping up the contents with tortillas) was awesome.
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We ended the night with a little photo shoot, an exchange of contact information, and lots of hugs. At least 8 of them have promised to visit Texas when I’m home next year, so Kim, Suz, and Dallas buds- get ready for the biggest (and most diverse) sleepover the Wade house has ever seen!20120902-152945.jpg20120902-152958.jpg20120902-153010.jpg20120902-153023.jpg

Naturally, the left-overs were used for breakfast tacos the next morning. After hopping in the Bushy Park Run, 5 of us brewed some coffee, whipped up eggs and potatoes, and went to town on everything that remained. (As a side note, I have now beat 2 Olympians and a sub-4:00 miler in a 5K. The fact that we jogged the whole thing and I sprinted ahead of them in the final 10 meters is irrelevant, right?)
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So long, London. You’ve been so, so good to me and I’m sad to go. But now it’s time to take a spin around the UK and Ireland, beginning with a week in Oxford. I’m living in a house of runners that is legitimately 20 meters from the Iffley Road Track, where Roger Bannister clocked the first sub-4:00 mile. Not a bad place to start the next phase of my journey!

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Uncategorized