Monthly Archives: May 2013
In the past week, I’ve attended three unique races in my Swedish base of Stockholm. Through them, I’m learning about a culture of running beyond my personal discoveries in the sublime forest trails. What I’m finding is a movement to attract more people, youths especially, to the sport through inclusive, innovative events. Given the recent Stockholm riots, the time is ripe for community-building, healthy and productive activity in the streets. Running, in my mind, packs unparalleled potential to meet that need.
First up was last weekend’s Skarholms Loppet, featuring a course fun enough to rival its name. Not your ordinary road race, this annual 5k attracts people through its hip, urban atmosphere and trademark element: a purple-carpeted segment through the corridor of a shopping mall.
My host Brian and his co-workers worked tirelessly the past few months to pull off a smooth and memorable race, and let Matt and I get in on the action from a few different angles. We stayed in the race hotel the weekend of the event, getting an intimate look at the behind-the-scenes work as well as a feel for a different part of Stockholm.
The night before the race, I got to share a bit of my global running journey in a presentation to a small group of race officials and participants. I spoke about my running background, the Watson Fellowship, and some of the overarching themes and differences I’ve discovered around the world so far. My talk and the questions it prompted nudged me to start organizing my scattered thoughts and considering other productive outlets for them.
The following morning, Matt and I hung out at the finish line of the kids’ 2k race and handed out medals to the finishers. We were impressed by their efforts and highly entertained by some finish line theatrics.
Afterwards, we took to the streets for the 5k fun run, which we originally planned to jog together and soak up the atmosphere. It was all fun and games until we realized that a girl in skinny jeans was beating us, so we had no choice but to step it up a notch and at least make a tempo run out of it. Matt and I really enjoyed running through the mall, past a few DJs, and through a quiet Stockholm neighborhood, and are eager to follow the race’s development over the next couple years.
Tullinge Tumba Friidrott
The next race I saw swapped the purple carpet for a pine-needled one, and attracted about 30 local children to a 700 meter dash through the forest. The drizzly conditions had nothing on those little rascals, as they huffed, puffed, and piggy-backed their way to the finish line.
The warm-up was eerily reminiscent of the “confusion training” I was subjected to a few years back in an effort to regain a normal stride after hip surgery. Mere– this one goes out to you:
Swedish Relay Championships
Finally, this past weekend I spectated for the first time at a national championship dedicated solely to relay events. Track and field is typically such an individual sport that it was rejuvenating to witness a more team-oriented, spirited affair than most meets are.
I went to support a new friend, Lisa (in the green uniform above), who I ran with last week and will run with some more this week. She and her team did great in the 4×800 and are looking fit as they approach the meat of the outdoor season. Even though I only knew a couple of competitors, I had a great afternoon in the sun, watching the magical effect of that baton over and over again.
My timing in Sweden couldn’t be better because I’ll also be here for the Swedish Marathon Championship, which will be run within this Saturday’s Stockholm Marathon. Brian is coming off of a super impressive 2:27 personal best in the Manchester Marathon about a month ago, and should be right up there in the mix. I’m planning on biking around the course to cheer him on and see as much of the race as possible, and can’t imagine a more fitting last weekend of a fabulous month in Sweden.
Finally, I want to give a shout-out to everyone in Florida for the Sanderson family reunion this week. Have a blast, show FLA how the Rock Lobster is done, and watch out for those gambezis! I miss and love each of you, and can’t wait until I get to see you all together.
I would actually have been surprised if Matt HADN’T forgotten his passport and missed his original flight to Sweden. Even after he got on the next flight, I was certain he missed his new connection, was detained in security with his precious ice-pick, or had accidentally booked a flight to Switzerland instead of Sweden. So I was delighted to see those curly locks and cowboy boots burst through Arrivals only a few hours late and in full form, despite being a mere 20-hour journey removed from Harvard law exams and a total move-out from his house.
For the past week and a half, I got to hog Matty Boy all to myself and share with him a little segment of the road I’ve been traveling since we parted last summer. We had a lot to celebrate (our reunion, his second year of law school in the books, my continued Watson Fellowship, and summertime, to name a few) and decided that we should live up our reunion to the max. And that we most certainly did.
On the front and back ends of his visit, we steamrolled around Stockholm and filled each other in on all the juicy G (gossip, that is) we knew. The Nielsens kindly let us stay with them during that time and pointed us in all the right directions for our explorations.
Matt and I also poked around a few more cities on a very mini Scandinavian adventure. We spent two nights each in Copenhagen, Denmark and Gothenburg, Sweden, with an afternoon in Malmo on the way. We squeezed in as much sight-seeing as we could…
We probably spent as much time in transit as we did in each place, but those train rides were good for deep chortles and deep thoughts, courtesy of Matt’s unrivaled social commentary. That guy has a way of finding the funny in every situation, even those that make my blood boil, and I think that’s one of the many reasons that he makes friends quicker than the sample lady at Costco.
I also took advantage of my brother’s humor, logic and wisdom en route to a 75-mile week of running and the official start of his September marathon build-up (on the condition that he could end every run at a bakery of his choosing). It was so awesome to test out new trails together and introduce him to the Nielsen’s forest, and our conversations always left me feeling like I could take on the world. He’s way too nice to ever acknowledge it, but I attach such weight to his thoughts that I badger him with questions about life and everything in it, and our runs are the source of some priceless advice.
In addition to running for our own enjoyment, Matt and I also made some progress on my Watson project during his final weekend in Sweden. Brian hooked us up with a hotel room near the site of the Skarholmsloppet (an annual 5k road race) and let us take part in the build-up and race action. I’ll explain the event and our involvement in my next post, but I thought it was neat that my brother contributed to the mission that brought me here in the first place.
All of that sight-seeing and running around was very demanding on our energy stores, so we had no choice but to load up on lattes and pastries all week long. We also taught some lessons to a few hotels with sub-par amenities but free breakfasts, and learned a few ourselves (namely, eggs don’t travel well, sandwiches are very difficult to pocket, and it’s kind of embarrassing to be seen smugglin).
Let me take you on a ride through one of the more outrageous food sprees I’ve been a part of, topped only by Matt’s quests to eat/drink a gallon of ice cream in one sitting and to polish off an entire table of chicken nuggets with a few buds.
I will admit that we got a little reckless with the pick-and-mix candy, but with flavors like bumlingar jordgubb and skumsvampar, how could we NOT grab two of every different type and synchronize each nibble?
It was hard to see my big bro hightail it back to Texas just in time to start his summer law internship, but after such an awesome reunion with him, I can’t complain. It’s also comforting knowing that I’ll never again go that long without seeing him or my other siblings if I have anything to do with it, and that there’s an awfully good chance our next adventure together is just around the corner.
…but I will say that Matt would be an easy choice for my Oregon Trail team, and everyone knows the seriousness of that statement. He’s as great of a travel companion, running partner, and life guru as he is a brother, and between this romp across the world and his numerous self-funded trips to NCAA Championships and the Trials, need I say more?
Ten months into my trip, there are few things I appreciate more than an airport pick-up and a home to settle into straight away. Such comforts aren’t anything that, a year ago, I considered a luxury, but having traversed 18 countries and lived in 57 rooms so far, there’s something about a ride “home” after a long journey that uplifts me and keeps my mounting weariness at bay.
In addition to my own bedroom for the month of May, the Nielsens are providing me with one of the most valuable assets to any distance runner: front-door access to hundreds of miles of soft, quiet, rolling trails (many of them marked, thankfully). It’s hard to imagine living in a more inspiring or tranquil place to run and process this whirlwind of a year.
Brian, a very accomplished runner with 1:08/2:28 personal bests in the half and full marathon, is also an ideal representative of the Scandinavia running scene and host for a running guest. Example A: Preparing a hearty dinner while streaming the first Diamond League meet of the year.
Brian is tightly connected to other runners and running events in the area and works for two running-related organizations: Loparakademin (The Running Academy), which aims to use running to achieve social improvement, and Running Relations, a non-profit that seeks to better the living conditions of runners and their families around the world. It was actually through Running Relations that I met Brian in Ethiopia when he traveled there to discuss a potential collaboration with Kenenisa Bekele. We met briefly at the Great Ethiopian Run, chatted more at Haile Gebrselassie’s post-race party, and ate lunch at Yaya Village the day he was going back home. He extended me an invitation to his home if I happened to make it to Sweden, and here I am!
My first full day in Stockholm, I got a taste of Brian’s day-to-day when I tagged along to work with him and helped orchestrate an annual 4x2k road relay. We organized race bibs and batons for the 100 or so teams, marked the course, set up the DJ’s stage, cheered on the competitors, and cleaned up when the event wound down around 9pm.
The next day, I joined Brian and his teammates for their weekly Wednesday workout in a park next to the 1912 Olympic stadium. Still adjusting to the timezone change, I just ran and encouraged them while they did 4-minute repeats. Afterwards, I spent some time snooping around 100+ years of club history and regretting that most of the memorabilia burned to the ground, along with their original clubhouse, not too long ago.
While Matt and I trounced around Sweden and Denmark this week, Brian and his co-workers have been tediously prepping for one of their biggest events of the year, Skarholms Loppet. The unique race, which weaves through a shopping center and features a live music show afterwards, takes place this Saturday, giving Brian just under two weeks to recover from all of the work he’s put in and get ready to conquer the Stockholm Marathon on June 1st. Matt and I are excited to see the race come together in the next few days and to participate in the events this weekend.
Before my brother arrived on Friday, the Nielsens also took me exploring around Stockholm on a perfectly sunny afternoon. Some of my favorite spots were Gamla Stan (Old Town), the bank where the original Stockholm Syndrome captives were held, a cherry blossom canopy, and moving perspectives of Stockholm from trolley and ferry rides.
I’m loving this part of the world so far and am extremely thankful to have a family to share it with me and a brother that I can share it with. Matt’s a little over halfway through his trip here and we’ve already crammed it with enough activities, lattes, and pastries to last a lifetime. Pictures and updates on his visit will be next.
Interesting fact of the day: A mile is not the same worldwide. While the most commonly accepted distance of a mile is 1609 meters, a Danish mile is 7.5 kilometers and a Swedish mile is 10 kilometers. Something to consider if you ever encounter a Scandinavian with an absurdly slow mile PB or astound one with your unthinkably fast one.
from an otherwise perfect Scandinavian reunion with this fella….
…is the hero of a human who hatched us into existence and is the star of the show today.
Happy Mother’s Day to you and to all of our aunts, grandmas and other lady friends, both with us and in heaven, who make this world go round.
Matt and Becky
Zoe and her friend Abbey (now mine too!) are teaching in a suburb of Seoul, South Korea for a year and arrived about two months ago. Perfect timing! For five days, the three of us giggled, selfie’d, and body rolled our way around Seoul while catching up on life and taking in as much SoKo culture as possible.
The next day, Zoe and I went on a little sunrise run by the river and spent the day at her school. I loved watching her interact with her kids, who absolutely adore Zoe Teacher, and I had a blast playing soccer with them and teaching them “exercises”… a.k.a. the worm, wiggle, bunny hop, etc. Now I know where to go for comedy and entertainment without spending big bucks at the movies.
Over the weekend, Zoe, Abbey and I did some major Seoul-searching and found a few gems…“Sprit: Wild birds fly forener,” Seoul’s sock and hair accessory obsession, and “Mexican May Me Rachel.” If you have any idea what that insinuates or went wrong in that translation, please share!
Identical twins? Try again! Head-to-toe matching couples is trending big time in Seoul. If my future husband ever stumbles upon this, don’t get any crazy ideas… about appearing in public without looking like clones!
We also brought a little Cinco de Mayo flavor to Seoul, starting with some killer tacos and ending with a little two-stepping and line-dancing at a hole-in-the-wall bar. Unfortunately we didn’t film any of our moves, but let me tell you: they were good. At least a straggly-hair man in a fur hat who danced the night away by himself and distributed candy to every table at the bar thought so! That counts for something, right?
On Sunday, my last day, we walked all over an adorable market area and along a river that was decked out in hanging paper lanterns and massive floats for Children’s Day. Speaking of which, Mom and Dad– your Children’s Day gift to me seems to have gotten lost on its way to Asia. Don’t fret though; a deposit into my bank account doesn’t require snail mail so it’s probably safest to take that route. 🙂Shots of Seoul and ice cream in an esophagus-like tube made of puffed rice. Oops.. did I ruin that for y’all from now on? SINS!
Zoe and Abs– it’s been beyond real. Thanks for sharing your sweet SoKo life with me, letting me borrow your cute clothes, and hosting the most memorable sleepover I’ve been to since the one when Rachel choreographed a dance for Leslie, Chelsea and I to Summer Lovin, dressed me in baggy black jeans and long chains and threw me in the background, and stole the show as Sandy with some sassy dance moves and a cute poodle skirt. But I’m not bitter or anything…
After my last odyssey of this year (Seoul to Moscow to Stockholm), I made it to Sweden on Monday night and am getting all settled in the home of a man I met in Ethiopia and his family. Already their generosity is astounding and I’m all over the Swedish trails and scenery. I’ll be here for the rest of this month and Finland for the next as I explore what running in Scandinavia is all about. In the meantime, I have one more special visitor who I’m so excited to see on Friday that I’m actually losing sleep. Here are a few hints: he’s got a big brown mop, once tried to change his name to Possum Jones, and recently performed his own version of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” for his law class.
…Matt Wade, ladies and gentlemen! Finish up those zams and get on over, boy!
Looks and sounds a little something like this:
Celeste and I became friends my sophomore year at Ursuline, she a basketball and soccer star and me, well… I tap danced once in a senior farewell show! She was two years above me and by the time our friendship really got going, the University of Virginia recruited her to play soccer and smothered our plans for more music videos, costumed outings, and general tomfoolery.
Fast forward eight years, which were unacceptably void of any reunions. Once we heard through the grapevine that we were inhabiting the same continent, she working in Singapore and me Watson-ing in Japan, it was all over. Like a champ, she booked an overnight flight to Tokyo and spent four full days frolicking around Japan with me before catching another red-eye back to Singapore.
We considered wearing matching Sailor Moon outfits for our reunion moment to A) fit in, and B) make sure we recognized each other, but fortunately (or unfortunately– it’s a personal preference) were able to manage without. From the instant we connected in Tokyo Station, we were just as comfortable and goofy as the golden days in Ren’s office and on those Harry Hines escapades, and we spent the rest of the weekend making up for all of our missed memories.
We started off with a 4-hour bullet train ride to Kyoto, where we ran (more like parkoured) around the city, karaoke’d with the most perfect strangers, and cheesed in front of the Golden Pavilion. We then spent 2 nights just outside of Tokyo in Yokohama, staying with the a Japanese couple who are the parents of a guy I met in Switzerland who’s friends with a girl whose dad met my dad on a train in Italy 40 years ago… got that? I say this a lot, but the Hattoris are one of the most lovely, precious families I’ve ever come across, and did so much for us in 48 hours. Celeste nailed it when she said that they welcomed us into their home and lives as if we were their Prodigal Sons. They took us to a great viewing spot of Mt. Fuji, a foot bath cafe (just as heavenly as it sounds), the Landmark Tower (tallest building in Japan), downtown Yokohama, some great restaurants, and the Asakusa Temple in Tokyo. Machiko, who is so wonderful that I might name my firstborn after her, also cooked us some unreal Japanese meals, dressed us in kimonos, and prepared the most comfortable tatami mats imaginable. (Dallas buds– think playroom pallets on steroids. Pallet patrol’s about to get real!)
Celeste and I didn’t have time to accomplish everything on our to-do list (stumble into a geisha, take on a sumo wrestler, buy Hello Kitty souvenirs for everyone we know…), but I’m kind of glad about that. It gives us an excuse to plan another spontaneous reunion and overuse the peace sign the entire time. My only hope is that the next one is way sooner than 8 years… and that my karaoke skills actually match the Adele-like quality I think I’ve got until I see them later on video.
After a full and electric month in Tokyo, on Wednesday I booked it to Seoul, South Korea to visit my great friend Zoe on my way over to Scandinavia… but not before having one last amazing Japanese dinner with my dear friends and hosts from this past month. I so enjoyed the time that I spent with each of them, am incredibly appreciative of all they did for me, and am honored to rock the Namban Rengo singlet wherever I am (maybe without a fluffy undershirt next time).
Finally, I thought it would be immoral to withhold this from y’all. Enjoy…