The Top Pop

After one of my dad’s many 8-hour round trips to watch me race a few laps around a track, a friend joked that he would swim across the ocean for his kids. I had to chuckle– not because it was such a preposterous statement– but because I could honestly picture him in his deer-skin moccasins, green hunting vest, and trusty headlamp, researching late into the night about the best wetsuits and shark-avoidance tactics, brooding over the best route through the water, and training in the pool until it was time to go.

That’s the kind of dad I’ve got, and I couldn’t be more thankful for him or pumped for a parental reunion in two short weeks.image

Happy Father’s Day to you, Pops, and to all you other dads. I love you very, very much and am endlessly grateful for everything that you do.

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 16, 2013 in Uncategorized




And a special birthday shout-out to two of track and field’s greatest gifts: the late Paavo Nurmi and James “Jungle Gym” Bevan, my coach, mentor, and inspiration of six years and counting. I’m not sure what the inverse of “coachable” is, but you’re it to the maximum. May your day be filled with as many stranger fist pumps, bumpin Pandora jams, steering wheel drum beats, and outrageous conspiracy theories as you can handle. I’m looking forward to that first North and South session back, you pumping alongside on the Elliptigo and your “Goooood”s and “Beautiful!”s firing me up, more than I can say.

20130613-104037.jpgHappy Birthday, Gem!


Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Land of the Flying Finns

Oops, wrong ones

There we go! Ville Ritola, Paavo Nurmi, and Edvin Wide (born in Finland but later competed for Sweden) in the 1928 Olympic 10K race

“Why Turku?”

It’s a question I got when I first proposed my Watson year, and one that I now preemptively pause to answer every time I explain my itinerary. And fair enough– even though it’s the former capital and oldest city in Finland, this small city on the southwest coast doesn’t have too many chances to creep into an ordinary conversation.

Unless that conversation centers on track and field; then it’s another story.

Not quite a century ago, Finland was the nest of middle- and long-distance running. The East Africa of the early twentiety century, you could say. Between the resurgence of the modern Olympic Games and the start of World War II, the nation of less than 4 million people took home every Olympic 10,000 meter title except one and won a slew of other middle- and long-distance medals on the world’s biggest stage as well. By the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when three Finnish runners swept the 10k, the distance contingent from that country had appropriately been dubbed “The Flying Finns.”

No one was more pivotal in establishing Finland’s global running dominance than Paavo Nurmi, perhaps the most famous Flyer. Born right here in Turku, Nurmi’s resume boasts 9 Olympic gold medals, 3 silvers, and 22 official world records at distances ranging from the 1,500 meters to 20 kilometers. He’s the only person to win the Olympic 1500 meters (1924), 5,000 meters (1924) and 10,000 meters (1920 and 1928), and two of those were won with only 55 minutes between them (the 1500m and 5k in 1924). In his prime, Nurmi accumulated a 121-race winning streak at distances from the 800 meters and up, and he died in 1973 with an undefeated record in cross-country races and the 10,000 meters. It’s unlikely that any of those feats will be reproduced by a single person, much less the whole lot of them.

While amassing those accolades, Nurmi also played a major role in the advancement of long-distance training. Recognized as one of the first runners to take a systematic and analytic approach to the sport, he demonstrated the value of even-paced racing as well as interval and speed work. He also popularized the use of a stopwatch in training and advocated for a cross-training regimen of walking, running, and calisthenics. Those elements, which seem obvious and natural today, have not always been so.

So here I am in Turku, familiarizing myself with the breeding grounds of the legendary Flying Finns while getting to know the Hellstens, my sweet host family. In between some stunning running around their home, the Paavo Nurmi Stadium, and a nearby national park, Juha and Helena have been showing me a Finnish summer done right:

Outdoor grilling…20130610-151244.jpg20130610-151249.jpg

A visit to their summer cottage…20130610-151011.jpg

An evening in old town, Naantali…20130610-151025.jpg

A stroll through the woods…20130610-151020.jpg

And my personal favorite, the sauna (branch-beating included of course).20130610-151030.jpg

My two-week stay in Turku will culminate with Paavo Nurmi’s birthday, celebrated annually with an open-house and track meet in his honor, before I move onto Helsinki for the second half of my Finland stint and the essential conclusion of my Watson year.

I’ll leave y’all with one of my favorite running quotes, spoken by Nurmi and introduced to me on one of Maureen’s legendary Ursuline banana runs:
Mind is everything. Muscle– pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.

Sources: “Finding Sisu” by Adam Chase, “Paavo Johannes Nurmi” by TimTim Sharma, “An Illustrated History of Distance Running” by Mike Rosenbaum,, and


Posted by on June 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Cumulative Wade Family Age Increases by Two

It didn’t matter what it was– if my older sister Rachel did it or had it, it was cool.

Self-cut tapered hair? Sweet.
Physical therapy for her broken arm? Hottest spot on the black.
Paper clip retainers that made your gums bleed? Nothin but the coolest!

Unfortunately I didn’t pick up all her cues. Hellooooo, chilibowl.

Despite the impression I’m giving, my older sister really does have it goin on (although I think we’re all glad her Avril/punk phase is over). Lucky for me, because it saved me from ever having to pick out a prom or homecoming dress, trying to figure out the hippest dance moves on my own, and even breaking up with my freshman year boyfriend. (In all fairness, I did help write the script).

While Rach spent her college years at UT and I went to Rice, I suffered some major withdrawal from my older sister, personal stylist, and best friend. Fortunately, Teach for America plopped her right back by my side for my final two years at Rice and reminded me of how insanely wonderful it is to live close to my sister. We took total advantage of our city-mate status, going to to Hungry’s approximately twice a week, cooking dinner for each other regularly, having sleepovers in her cloud of a bed, watching Intervention and depressing documentaries until Leslie made us stop, and bringing D.E.A.R. time back in style. I also got to witness the sweetest, cutest, most inspiring teaching on the planet as Rachel gained a huge fan base among her students at the Rusk School, who are undoubtedly on different life paths becauase of her.

Today that girl, who I’ve tried my hardest to be like and be around since the day I was born, gets to add one more candle to her cake and sponge up the love from her family and countless friends. Unfortunately I can’t be in Dallas with her right now, but I’m thrilled to spend a few solid weeks with her in Texas this summer, starting in just about a month. Our time together is never enough but after a year apart, I’ll take what I can get… until we make good on our promise to move next door to each other, share a backyard, coordinate our kids’ ages, and take turns cooking dinner for each other’s families every night.20130604-094545.jpgHappy Birthday, Sis! I love you!!!

Now Matt. (I thought Rach deserved to go first since I know you’ll steal her candle-blowing thunder tonight). Where do I even begin?

Probably here:
Real men wear jeggings.

I can’t really rave about my older brother’s knack for fashion or break-ups, but what he lacks in those areas, he more than makes up for in backpacks (26 last time I inventoried), brains, and a big ole grin. His teacher once used the f-word to describe how delightful he was to teach, and heck, I would too if one of my former students played such sophisticated words in a casual Bananagrams game.

What impresses me even more than Matt’s brilliance, however, is his ability to disguise it. It might be his humility– I’ve never heard him mention that he’s a Harvard law student– or maybe it’s his tendency to do some pretty not smart things for such a smart guy, which I love. Eating a big hairball from an elevator floor, for example. Locking his keys in his car with the engine running… about four times. And chewing a piece of moldy gum from the bottom of a shoe 10 times before swallowing it just so he could wear Luke’s watch for two weeks.

On top of that genuis/goofy mixture, my big brother is a talented guitarist, harmonica dabbler, distance runner, lacrosse player, and snowboarder– about as killer of a combo that I know of. I got a healthy dose of all that and more during the two summers we lived together in Colorado and at most of my important meets as far away as Indianapolis, Des Moines and Eugene. I don’t think a more supportive, proud, or kind older brother exists in this world, nor another person whose opinions and perspective I value more.

Today, we get to celebrate our buddy Possum Jones and the start of another year of law-learning, music-playing, challenge-accepting, and big bro-rocking. I’ll try to do something outrageous to make you proud today, and I definitely owe you a Town Lake run and Austin Java feast the first weekend I visit you in Austin.20130604-094709.jpgHappy Birthday, Matt! So much love!!!

Well, you two… You know I’d roll a red carpet from Dallas to Turku and parade you all the way here to celebrate with me if I could. But since I can’t, we’ll have to honor your big two-six about one month late. Enjoy yourselves and each other today and don’t forget that you have an adoring little sister who’s thinking about you all day long. I love you both so much and am counting down the days til I can say that in person. Happy birthday, Rach and Matt!

1 Comment

Posted by on June 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


Runday, the Marathon and… Swedish Ugali?

June has arrived and there’s no better time to be a runner in Sweden. The eternal winter nights have given way to over 18 hours of daylight and the Swedes don’t let any of it go unused. It doesn’t take much prodding to get them outdoors at this time of year, but there are plenty of neat groups and events that make exercise, and running especially, sociable and fun.

20130602-085157.jpgOne of the most inspiring and inclusive running programs I’ve come across yet is Runday, an idea that three elite runners (Lisa, Charlotte, and Linn) hatched in 2011 to promote running in Stockholm. What began as a free weekly run (Runday Monday) has since developed into a popular business that offers corporate training, personal training, lectures, workshops, training camps, and other running events throughout the city.

Despite the group’s growth, the free Runday Monday sessions still constitute the heart of the organization. Lisa, one of the founders and a former NCAA runner who has shown me all over Stockholm, invited me to attend one of the sessions last week (after our own run in the beautiful area). I was so impressed with what I saw as the coaches introduced passionate but untrained runners to the fundamentals of the sport as well as more advanced concepts like drills and dynamic stretching.20130602-085404.jpg

After a proper warm-up, the coaches, all of whom are young, bubbly, elite female runners, split up and gave the attendees three workout options: 3×5 minute hard efforts (mainly for those gearing up for the marathon the following weekend); 4-6×800 meters around a dirt track, surging the 100m backstretch of each lap; and a 40-minute circuit of jogging, drills, and strength exercises. They offered tips and encouragement to each runner and made sure they were all pushing themselves to an appropriate level.20130602-084945.jpg

All 100 or so runners who show up each week clearly want to learn, improve, and belong to an athletic community, and Runday is the perfect setting to achieve all of those. I find it truly awesome what the Runday gals and their group are doing to make running fashionable, fun, and a worthwhile activity for even the busiest worker and most recreational plodder, and I know their clients agree. I think there is so much value in sharing knowledge and structure with the masses, and I’d love to see groups with similar philosophies take off in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The Stockholm Marathon
Yesterday, Lisa and I teamed up to cheer on a handful of Runday clients, her running friends (about every other person in the race, by my calculations), and my host Brian in the Stockholm Marathon.20130602-091442.jpg

The course was scenic and spectator friendly and the weather, though a little cool and drizzly for spectators, was ideal for those competing.20130602-164901.jpgI’m so thankful I had Lisa to dart around with because, in addition to great company all afternoon, I got the scoop on the field and to see the runners three times on the course as well as at the finish line in the historic 1912 Olympic Stadium. The runners that she works with did great, all finishing with pretty devastating kicks for the end of a marathon, and made her one very proud coach. While Brian didn’t have the race he was hoping for, he recognizes that his turnaround from the Manchester Marathon was a bit swift and is already fired up about laying a solid base for the fall racing season.

My Temporary Kenyan Brother
My final bit of this Swedish running update is actually less about Sweden than it is about Kenya! Last week, the Nielsen household increased by one and I gained a temporary brother when William, the Kenyan representative for Running Relations, arrived for his annual month in Sweden. If you have a few minutes, check out his inspiring story here:

William has an upbeat, personable demeanor, an impressive 63-minute half marathon to his name, and the typical Kenyan love of ugali (which I’m thrilled about since it’s been nine months since I ate it with my Kenyan flatmates in London!). I only get to overlap with him for a week, but that’s plenty of time to scoop up some running tips, motivation, and an even stronger desire to visit Kenya.20130602-091449.jpg

Between my brother’s visit, spectacular trails, neat running events, and the Nielsen family’s generosity, May has been a month to remember. I’m moving to Finland tomorrow with wonderful memories and a heart full of gratitude for everyone, the Nielsens and Lisa especially, who have shown me the best of Stockholm. I’m not quite ready to brave the brutal Swedish winter, but y’all can expect to see me back here in the (warm-weathered) future!

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 2, 2013 in Uncategorized


April Adventures



Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Scoop on Swedish Races

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.

Skarholms Loppet
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.20130526-100521.jpg20130526-100534.jpg

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.20130526-100649.jpg20130526-100658.jpg

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.20130526-100930.jpg

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.20130526-100247.jpg

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:

Both Nielsen girls did great, looked adorable, and had a good time, and that’s what it’s all about!20130526-100744.jpg20130526-100749.jpg

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.20130526-102025.jpg

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.


Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Uncategorized