Now’s a Good Time for an Ultra Marathon

I have a 15,000-word dissertation due in a week, so I thought, yeah, now is a good time to run my first ultra marathon.  I’ll admit that I put a little too much Personal Best Pressure on myself heading into Boston, and after the race I found myself searching for a new endurance challenge and something that would bring me back down to running for the sake of running.  So I signed up for the Run the Blades 50km, which takes place at Whitelee Windfarm, just twenty minutes outside of Glasgow.  My mindset going into this race was just to finish- nothing fancy, no competitive time goals, no pressure, and absolutely nothing to compare it to.

With work and uni, even I thought I was a bit crazy for adding the uncharted waters of ultra marathon training to the list of things to do.  However, the Saturday Long Run became the most relaxing part of the week.  For this race, I trained my long runs for time, rather than mileage or pace, adding 30 minutes each week until I hit 4.5 hours, then tapering down to Race Day.  Many of the long runs felt effortless and provided a moment of pure bliss amongst the frustration of unmet word counts, unanswered text messages, and ignored emails.  The pacing was incredibly consistent as well, with mile after mile falling within tiny seconds of each other.  It felt like I was running for the sake of running again.  It felt composed.  It felt strong.

The race took place entirely within the Largest Onshore Windfarm in the UK, with 215 wind turbines towering 140 meters directly above the trails.  It was unlike anything I had ever experienced- dozens of wind turbines, as far as the eye can see, and in every direction.  Running to the tune of their whooshing, I ran 31 consecutive and absolutely undulating miles without ever slowing to a walk (okay that’s a generalization, I walked at each of the four checkpoints as I refilled my water bottle and had a little snacky snack- but in between each checkpoint, somehow, I did not walk).

Attempting a race this long is a bit daunting.  But like any race, I broke it down into sections. As there were four checkpoints, I thought the easiest way was to break it down into five parts.  Basically, I went on five different runs, and tried not to think about anything other than the section I was in:

  1. Start to Checkpoint 1 (6.5 miles)- This section basically ran itself, the miles were undulating and the heavy rains of the previous few days created a water feature, an expansive puddle, calf-deep with beautifully cold water.  I thought it was a little too early in the race to have wet shoes and socks, but wow, it was refreshing.  The pack of 179 starters spread out pretty quickly within these miles.  Throughout the entire race, there was usually another runner within eyesight, but the actual running was done very much independently.
  2. Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2 (7.4 miles, 13.9 miles overall)- I started fueling regularly during this section and was feeling pretty strong.  There was a massive hill that I managed to crush just before the checkpoint.  Other than that, I don’t remember much about it.
  3. Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3 (7.9 miles, 21.8 miles overall)- This was the longest section, and the one where I mentally wavered for a hot minute.  I kind of expected that going into it.  The sun snuck its way out through the clouds for most of this one, making it feel a bit warm.  Runners were few and far between here, which didn’t help either.  What got me through this one was the wind turbines.  I was absolutely mesmerized by them.  Borderline embarrassing.
  4. Checkpoint 3 to Checkpoint 4 (6.2 miles, 28.0 miles overall)- With the longest section out of the way, I knew I had just two sections to go, totaling less than a John Furey 10-miler.  My Garmin rang in the 26th mile as I was in the process of beasting up a steady hill and passing another runner as he walked up the incline.  I said “Ooh! 26 miles!” as I ran past him.  He turned and informed me that I was “making this look too easy.”  Honestly, I was in complete disbelief myself!  Don’t get me wrong, every bit of my body hurt at that point, but somehow I continued to find myself putting one foot in front of the other, arms propelling each step, and all with a smile on my face.  There were also some steep down hills here.  My knees did not care for that one bit, and the rocks were a bit loose and slippy.  Onwards anyways.
  5. Checkpoint 4 to Finish (3 miles, 31.0 miles overall)- My Garmin died shortly after leaving the fourth checkpoint.  I literally outran technology.  Luckily I knew there were less than three miles to the Finish Line and I was running under 10:30s, so the math was pretty easy.  Just a Park Run to go.  I just had to hold on through “That Hill,” which was no joke!  I was absolutely alone at that point and it was grueling.  I managed the hill without slowing to a walk and fought my way up a couple more minor hills to the finish where I was greeted with a post-race burrito and a huge surprise.  As it turns out I was the eighth lady to cross the finish line that day and the first in my category.  Unbelievable news to top off an unbelievable day!

The biggest kudos of the day goes to my friend Mhairi for her incredible performance as a one-woman Support Crew.  She cycled the course and met me at each of the four checkpoints, eager to keep me well-fueled, offer analysis on the course, weather, pace, etc., and take fantastic photos and videos of the day.  I could not have attempted this race without her, and recommend that everyone have a hype person with them for this type of challenge.

And now, if you’ll indulge me in a sappy moment, I’d like to share a reflection on the past few years of running.  Five years ago I ran my first marathon in 5:08:02- which sizes up to an average pace of 11:45 per mile over 26.2 miles.  Since then, I’ve cut an hour off that time, but this past weekend, I completed my first 50km race in 5:28:41- which evens out to an average pace of 10:35 per mile over 31 miles.  I am utterly astounded by this progress and am actually shedding tears as I write this.  I never could have imagined tacking on an extra five miles beyond the marathon distance with just a twenty minute difference.  And this is concrete proof that hard work and perseverance really do matter- the sub-freezing long runs, the squats, the ever-painful yoga sessions, the scrubbing portion of Tired Tootsie Tubby Time, it all matters.  For someone who, in recent history, couldn’t run a mile without feeling like the world was caving in on her, this race helped me to put it all in perspective.  I have learned and progressed through every single mile.  I could tell you it’s a metaphor for life, but if you’re a frequent flyer on this little blog, I’m sure you already know that.

Thank You Notes:

  • Thank you to Mhairi– See above, plus also thank you for completely immersing yourself in the activities and rituals of Race Weekend- everything from pre-race fueling to… post-race fueling, and… mid-race fueling.  Such a hardship, I know.  And thank you for carpool karaoke, Mamma Mia 2 screenings, casually cycling 50km through an undulating windfarm, taking glamour shots and horizontal videos, and carrying all the stuff.  Every bit of it is appreciated.
  • Thank you to all of the volunteers at Run the Blades– The checkpoints were beautifully orchestrated and full of cheer and positivity.  Each checkpoint was a welcomed sight on the long trail through the windfarm.
  • Thank you to my 7-year old laptop for an ultimate showing of endurance– Currently in the minor edits and formatting phase our third dissertation and fourth major academic project.  A true champ.

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Running

The first Wednesday of June is Global Running Day- a day to celebrate running and the physical and mental wellbeing it brings. Whilst life got in the way of me being able to celebrate by actually going for a run, I was able to sneak in a moment to reflect on the meaning of running and the roads I have been fortunate enough to travel since picking up this little hobby that managed to reinvent my life.

Running is an escape, but equally so, an avoidance tactic.  It is both a healthy and unhealthy coping mechanism for life’s stressors.  I’ve flirted with this fine line more than occasionally, but thankfully I usually end up on the escape side of that line after a few miles of pounding the pavement.  Running has the power to stop time, suspend responsibilities, and clear the mind of frustration, anxieties, and endless overthinking. Should I send that text?  Why haven’t they answered my email?  They said they would call. This weekend’s Long Run was blissfully longer than the entire week that led up to it.  The to do list was long and never seemed to dwindle.  I let my mind wander and fixate on things, people, and situations over which I have no control.  Through it all, I looked forward to the weekend’s Long Run- three hours of me and the pavement.  The stressors and “what ifs” of the week cease to exist in the dream world that is a Long Run.  Sure, they were still there when I stopped my Garmin, but they felt smaller and more manageable.  And that is the power of running.

Running is simple, though hardly ever easy.  Running can be reduced to simply putting one foot in front of the other.  But it is not easy to get out of bed to go for a run when you could be having a lie in.  It is not easy to trek out into the bitter cold, the pouring rain, the blistering heat, or what ever adverse element is happening that moment.  Sometimes your legs and lungs feel like they’re made of lead.  Sometimes all you have is a spare twenty minutes and you wonder if it’s even worth it.  It’s always worth it.  Every run is a little bit of self-care and a celebration of what your body is capable of.

Running is both an independent journey and an opportunity to develop a support system of likeminded Weekend Warriors.  Kicking asphalt solo is necessary and rejuvenating.  It gives you time to be alone with your thoughts and to develop a mental toughness applicable well beyond the realm of running.  It teaches you how to adapt, persevere, and endure.  But running as a social vehicle is equally as powerful.  The running community is one full of support and positivity.  You hold each other accountable for getting out the door in the morning, for logging the miles, for challenging the pace, for one more rep, and for signing up for that race you said you wouldn’t sign up for.  Your chat ranges from the weather and politics to pure silence or your innermost thoughts and feelings (and poop, poop is a common topic of conversation).  You carry each other through the longest miles and come out stronger on the other side.

Running shows you how to feel comfortable getting lost (literally and figuratively) while simultaneously showing you how to find yourself.  It allows you to operate within a comfort zone while continuously challenging your limits (I love me some Vygotsky).  In this way, running has the power to reveal inner strength that you didn’t know existed.  This unearthed strength carries over to life outside of running.  It makes balancing 101 different things at the same time a little easier.

I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to running for helping me to discover this inner strength and so much more.  Running has helped me to explore new cities and roads less traveled.  It has led me to new friends and new PBs.  It aligns strongly with my other hobbies of eating food and drinking beer, making the phrase “uno más?” a whole lot more rewarding.  So, thanks, Running, if you’re reading this, for all this stuff.

It is also valuable to recognize the importance of balance with a hobby like running.  Like anything, too much running can be bad for you.  Overuse injuries are painful and frustrating.  Likewise, running shouldn’t be used to avoid aspects of your life that require attention.  Learning balance through running is also valuable when staring at that endless pile of marking, thinking about approaching dissertation deadlines, or putting off social plans that you said you’d make.  Put the marking away, don’t think about the deadline, make those plans.  Though it may seem like it, I don’t like spending all of my free time running.  I savor time spent not running just as much as I enjoyed the pure bliss of this weekend’s Long Run.

Summer running is already upon us and with three races on the calendar, I’m excited and nervous to be trying something different.  I’m being exceptionally vague here so y’all’s stay tuned to find out what’s up next.  Also, as per, I haven’t a clue what I’m doing with this “something different,” so there isn’t much to write about yet!  One foot in front of the other!

Happy Running!

xoxo

Christina Rose

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Barefoot Boston 2.0

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I said these words to myself, eyes closed, palms together and fingertips rested between my eyebrows, as I toed the line of the 123rd Boston Marathon.  It was a moment of calm amongst the wonderful chaos of the starting corrals of the World’s Oldest Marathon.  Reflecting on my training and the reasons why I run, which motivate each step, I knew I was capable of doing some damage to my Personal Best.

But part of marathon running is surrendering to everything that is out of our hands and performing under conditions in which we have absolutely no say.  Adapting, persevering, and enduring are all requirements, but accepting that, while, yes you may be capable of faster and stronger, there are uncontrollable factors that will ultimately determine your race time, is paramount.  It is not your fastest time, but the ways in which you react and adapt to race conditions that determine who you are as a runner.

I can proudly and confidently say that, this Patriots’ Day, I ran the fastest time that my body would allow under the day’s conditions.  And with that in mind, here is a personal recap of the 123rd running of the Boston Marathon:

After a strangely restful night’s sleep, waking up to humidity, pouring rain, and thunderstorms was nothing more than comical.  My friend Kelly (a badass veteran marathoner) and I laughed as the rain poured and thunder roared.  She outfitted me in waterproof clothes and saw me off to Boston Common where my teammate Steve (another badass veteran marathoner) and I boarded a bus bound for Hopkinton.  Along with the humidity, excitement was in the air as we reflected on training, fundraising, and general excitedness for the day.  After a little mix up with the bus taking the wrong exit, we found our team meeting spot and geared up for the race.

Marathons can be broken down in a million ways, but after reflecting on this race for a few days, the 2019 Boston Marathon has broken itself down into three specific parts:

Part I: Humid & Cloudy-  Right out of the gate I was running fast, but it was a manageable pace.  With these conditions, I knew it was a pace I could sustain.  I laughed as I crossed each checkpoint and wondered what my Support Crew around the globe was thinking as they got notifications of my speedy times through the first half.  I don’t often enjoy humidity, but the cloud cover made it pretty manageable for running.  The crowds through this part were epic, as per, and I was happy to completely immerse myself in their energy.  The run was fast, but I felt in control and ready for the hills.

Part II: Here Comes The Sun(burn)- For those of you who know my history with running Boston, I must have been foolish to think Patriots’ Day would let me escape without a sunburn.  The surprise appearance of the sun for miles 10-21 threw me for a loop.  I was able to hold it together through the half but nearly fell apart after that.  It was amazing to see my Crew at mile 17, as that was when I was feeling at my lowest.  I upped my water intake, started feeling sick to my stomach, and ditched my shoes just after the 20-mile marker.  Thankfully Kelly was able to force them off my swollen feet and I felt like a new person.

Throughout this part, I repeated to myself the mantra with which I began the race:

  • Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change– I cannot change the weather, I can only adapt to it.
  • The courage to change the things I can– Taking off my shoes was a change that I could make to help adapt to the uncontrollable weather factor.  It was a risk to run without shoes for that long, but it was a change that I could make in an effort to help the situation.
  • And the wisdom to know the difference– It’s easy to get frustrated by race day conditions when you know you had a strong training season that would allow for a faster time, but, ultimately, that is not what marathon running is about (and I’m glad I remembered that during the race).  I made changes within my control and thought about my people I run for- especially Meme and Tracey, who both showed courage and determination throughout their lives.  I am forever grateful to have had these ladies as role models in my life.  I also thought about the Stepping Strong ethos, which truly encapsulates the spirit of the marathon.  I am honored to run for such an incredible cause that is making an innovative impact on trauma survivors around the globe.

Part III: Washed By The Water- Barefoot and crazy, I beasted up the final hill of the Heartbreak section as rain started to pour from the sky, getting heavier and heavier with each step into Boston (I unashamedly reacted like that scene in Holes when it starts to rain.).  The fresh feeling in my feet, the mid-race motivation from my Support Crew in the Sky, and the cool rain lifted my spirits and my pace- I was back.

As the rain poured, I dug deep, engaged with the lively crowds, and tried to avoid pebbles and uneven bits of the road.  Overall, it was pretty smooth thanks to pre-race street sweeping.  Pro Tip: If you ever find yourself shoeless and in the midst of a marathon, run on the painted lines in the road- it’s a lot smoother than the road itself.  Some spectators questioned my shoeless-ness while others applauded and encouraged it.  I will admit that 10km is too far to run without shoes, but I would not have made it much further with them on.  Running without shoes does indeed hurt, but it hurt differently and a bit less than when I had them on, so I just embraced it.  Let’s be real, the latter miles of any marathon hurt.

 

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It was wonderful to see my Crew again near the end of mile 24.  Everything about that moment was so drastically different from when I saw them at mile 17.  It felt as though it was a completely different day!

The headwind up Hereford Street was strong, cold, and drove the rain into my eyes.  Mixing with the sweat on my face, it burned and made it difficult to see, but the famed Right on Hereford and Left on Boylston was impossible to miss.  The roar of the crowd down Boylston Street never fails to make me cry and, while I’ve never want that stretch to end, I was able to pick up the pace for a strong and fantastic finish.

Almost immediately after finishing, I was greeted with the biggest and best hug from Martha (yet another badass veteran marathoner I am lucky to know) as she bundled me up in a heat sheet to stay warm.  I missed a PB by 4 minutes, but I knocked about 30 minutes off my Boston PB, which is something I am quite proud of.  The challenge of the course between Hopkinton and Boston, the energy of the crowds, and the inspiration of the charity running community is something that I will never grow tired of.  Thank you, Boston for another incredible run.  I said I wouldn’t say it, but I’ll be back.

Thank You Notes

  • Thank you to Caroline and Ali for their hard work throughout the training season and race weekend.  You both make the logistics of charity running so simple and 100% enjoyable.
  • Thank you to Coach John for his invaluable training and racing advice.  You make me feel so prepared for and at ease about the Marathon Quest.
  • Thank you to Daddio for being the rock of the Support Crew (as well as the Crew’s official offline donation manager and Strava analyst).  I know you say that I’m your hero (which honestly, I don’t understand), but you are truly mine.
  • Thank you to my Sister/Best Friend for literally everything.  This woman is the most supportive and prepared human being to grace the planet.  If spectating a marathon was an Olympic sport you’d win the gold by a long shot.
  • Thank you to the rest of the Support Crew on the ground, including but not limited to, Leah, Jaz, and Chris Ray, Debra, Mum, Kelly, & Garrett.  Thank you for helping out with race logistics and cheers.
  • Thank you to Stepping Strong- I am so grateful to run for this incredible organization.  I get chills every time I read about the work and research they’ve been doing and the positive impact they are making for trauma survivors and their families.
  • Thank you to chocolate milk (as always) for that on point carbs-protein ratio, just perfect for kickstarting post-race recovery.
  • Thank you to that lady who gave me that freeze pop around mile 15 (?).  It was everything I didn’t know I needed in that moment.
  • Thank you to absolutely everyone who lined the course from Hopkinton to Boston.  Oftentimes spectators make the race, and this was no exception.  I am so thankful that I saw everyone who said they were going to be there and then some! x

Do Damage: Dublin Edition

The past eighteen months or so have been stressful.  There has been a lot of uncertainty in my career and personal life.  There has been a lot of frustration and a newly developed disdain for bureaucracy that came along with this uncertainty, and I am grateful that I have running, hiking, and cooking (and a great Support Crew) as releases for that.  It’s safe to say that I was looking forward to this marathon training season to help me navigate this rut.

That is until I ventured back to New England for an overdue visit.  A double-edged sword, it was wonderful to see family and friends, but the training season that I was so looking forward to succumbed to the heat and humidity.  My training lagged and I lost more fitness than I anticipated.  I hoped for the best, but didn’t bounce back quite as well as I had hoped as the season came to a close.  My paces were off and I made the mistake of comparing them, split-for-split, to last season.  Knowing that each season was run under very different circumstances, I still beat myself up over it.

After a quick vent sesh with a friend, I shook it off and adapted my plan.  Reflecting on the sheer exhaustion of the year, I let go of my time goal and switched to an “In It To Finish” mindset, and looked forward to a fun Irish getaway that just happened to include a wee 26.2 mile fun run.

I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the other little thing that has been affecting me and many people that I know: I read and watch the news.

The news has been disheartening lately.  Seeing horrific acts of violence and hatred and watching so many lawmakers vote against logic, seemingly neglect compassion, and attack each other leaves me with the impossible question of “why?”  In addition to several facets of anger, it makes me feel small and a bit useless.  It makes me wonder if we’re still on the same team here.

I won’t digress too much into this, because I’m sure you feel similarly and know that finding words to accurately describe your feelings towards the current state of affairs is an impossible task, but this weekend, I remembered that there is a way to restore your faith in humanity: be part of a marathon- run, walk, volunteer, cheer, honk your horn while you drive by- just be part of it.

Okay, so here’s a rundown of the 2018 Dublin Marathon:

“Fresh” isn’t exactly the word I’d use to describe how I felt as I toed the start line of the 2018 Dublin Marathon (although I wore compression socks to bed the night before, so my mind felt like my legs felt fresh).  I’m sure it would be lovely to start a marathon feeling “fresh” and confident in your training and the amount of rest you got in the weeks leading up to the race, but I’d say it was more of a “Here Goes Nothin'” kind of feeling.  The usual nervous-excitement, butterflies-in-your-tummy feeling was there, but I also felt like, “wow literally anything could happen in the next 4.5 hours, and I’m excited to find out what will happen next.”

It was an absolute battle, but I felt strong, physically and mentally, the entire time.  Not once did I second guess myself or question the idea of the marathon.  And for the first time in over a year, I felt in control.

Right out of the gate, I was running too fast compared to my watered-down season of training.  It was a challenging pace, but I went with it.  The fatigue and discomfort that naturally set in every time around mile 16, while incredibly present, were no match for my ability to run on auto-pilot.  I never walked, knowing that if I slowed or came to a stop, starting back up again would be nearly impossible and incredibly painful.

The entire journey from start to finish was entirely renewing.  It restored my faith in humanity, as marathons tend to do.  Seeing human barricades of spectators lining the streets with witty signs, demanding high fives, and shouting words of encouragement reminded me that people are good and we are all still on the same team.

And the encouragement wasn’t limited to the sidelines.  Other runners lifted each other up and pushed each other physically and mentally closer towards the finish line.  I was genuinely asked on several occasions how I was doing, and honestly, I don’t think it was limited to the task at hand.  We offered each other snacks and broke down the course for each other- “It’s just a 10km now, an hour at most!” I said to a runner, struggling as her GPS watch rang in the twentieth mile.  “That’s 5km, two times!” someone else chimed in.  Twenty minutes (but what seemed like three hours) later, we remarked at what seemed like the longest 10km of our lives, but found comfort in the fact that everyone around us was also embarking on what felt like the longest 10km of their lives.

In the end, I pulled off a PB…and it felt good.  It felt challenging.  I finished in the best way you can finish a race- feeling like I couldn’t have gone any faster.  When my legs checked out, my heart took over and persevered onward to the finish line.

No stranger to crying in airports and on airplanes (happy and/or sad crying), I shed an actual tear on my short flight back to Glasgow Monday morning as I replayed the day in my head.  I can honestly say that every moment of the race was enjoyable.  It most definitely wasn’t easy, but the challenge, the pain, and the exhaustion, were all deeply personal and reminded me of my own strength, the strength of others, and the kind and supportive people in the world.

Thank You Notes:

  • Thank you to my Support Crew (near and far), including the four lovely ladies I was lucky enough to spend the weekend with.  It would be impossible to train for and run marathons without a Support Crew.
  • Thank you to Dublin for putting on an incredible race! It was a gorgeous day and the atmosphere and support along the course were amazing.
  • Thank you, as always, to chocolate milk for being the most perfect, immediate, post-run recovery drink.

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The Power of Yet

I believe in the Power of Yet.  Job hunting has been a long, tedious, frustrating, and absurd process this time around.  Despite every rejected application, ignored enquiry, and being strung from one HR “professional” to the next, my faith that someday and in some way everything will work out and I will reach my goals has never wavered.  I’ve put in the work, done the research, written over 40 pages of essays for applications, I’ve prayed, sent countless positive vibes into the universe, and I’ve come up short every time.  But I have a goal, and I’m marching towards it.

Recently, I’ve learned not to listen to people when they tell you to “not worry” about something that means a lot to you.  If something means a lot to you, it warrants worrying.  Faith that everything will work out in the end is constant, but worry and frustration in the meantime only prove that what you’re tirelessly working towards will be worth it.

I’ll be honest in saying this has been a very trying year.  It hasn’t been easy to keep faith and remain positive.  I’ve taken several time outs for warranted break downs. My mental and physical endurance as a marathon runner have been tested, and I owe much of my strength to my Support Crew of family, friends, and ever-wise co-workers.

I’ve heard tales of fellow teachers and their tribulations in finding and keeping a teaching job.  Twistedly, this makes me feel better.  I’ve also been told I’m limiting myself, but I don’t have the energy to tell those people just how many jobs I’ve applied for and my reasoning behind every step I’ve taken.

The color-coded pro-con charts intensified to a new level.  Late nights of immigration research and job applications on top of my full-time job as a first year teacher in a foreign school system started to take their toll.  Countless unexplained rejected applications and outlandish waiting games between interviews and subsequent rejections have kicked what little confidence I started with square in the face.  But again, I run marathons for fun- I’m built to endure and I will.

This, combined with the dwindling clock of another expiring visa, forced me to do a lot of reflecting on my career.  I can confirm that I love teaching and I am still at a point where I really enjoy living abroad.  My current inability to land a job on either side of the pond leads me to believe that now is as good a time as any to go back to school and explore a side of Education that I am less familiar with than the rough and tumble world of High School.

While the plan to go back to school was “sorting itself out,” I made a trip back to New England where I stocked up on vitamin D and quality time with friends and family.  My training took a real hit because of the heat and humidity, the lack of proper long running routes safe from traffic, and a gaggle of friends and family saying, “let’s grab lunch and catch up,” “let’s grab a drink and catch up,” or “let’s grab ice cream and catch up.” While the latter may not seem like that horrible of a problem to face, the temporary loss of control over what and how I was eating combined with my watered down training plan affected my fitness, which is not something I enjoy with a marathon quest around the corner.

Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time with friends and family, got in some good hiking, a lovely beach week, and some long drives with my sister.  And now I’m back in the UK on the cusp of what I hope is a great year.  Quite the detour from where I thought I would be, but I don’t see this negatively affecting my long term career goals in any way, so I’ll continue to meander through life and learn all that I can while living the Power of Yet.  The best teachers are lifelong learners, no?

That’s all for now,

xoxo Christina Rose

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The Power of Yet

History, Beer, & Running (Part III): The Best of the Rest

Traveling to five different countries with five different languages and several currencies is exhausting.  At this point in the Runcation, I knew I would want something familiar.  So I made a stop in Salzburg to take in the views and a few Stiegl.  It was nice to know that I wouldn’t have to plan anything or navigate any new streets.  The thing about solo travel is that you need to be “on” 100% of the time.  It’s all you out there.  You need to plan, navigate, and communicate every step of the way.  Having a travel partner or group allows you to share this responsibility or at least take turns, but on your own, it’s a one-woman show, which is fantastic, but also physically and mentally draining.

It felt nice to go to a few of the old hangouts and viewpoints, including a refueling stop at Stiegl Keller, a hearty bowl of gulasch at Café Central, a solid people watching session in the Mirabellgarten, and a run along the Salzach and to Hellbrunn.  My legs were absolutely beat, but stopping in Salzburg made for a perfect holiday-within-a-holiday!

Just in time for a rest day, I boarded an old-timey train to Ljubljana.  The Slovenian capital has been on my list for a few years now and has been a top recommendation of several friends.  This cosy city didn’t disappoint and is perfect for wanders along the river and nice Slovenian wine.  I definitely didn’t stick to the three themes of the Runcation in Ljubljana, and I wasn’t exactly on my proper planning game, but I walked up to the castle, took a very rainy day trip to Lake Bled, sampled Slovenia’s honey liqueur, and enjoyed some Slovenian wine with a couple other travelers and education enthusiasts.

I was pondering a run one afternoon, but seasonal allergies and tired legs pondered otherwise.  So, I took a vote, and a run through Ljubljana did not happen.  This scenario perfectly captures the beauty of solo travel.

And just like that, I was onto the final leg of the Runcation and half marathon number two of the trip: Budapest.  This was my second visit to the Hungarian capital and second half marathon along the Danube.  After straying from the themes of the Runcation in Ljubljana, I jumped right back on them in Budapest:

History– I chose to do the Communist walking tour of Budapest.  The guide walked the group through life in post-war Budapest and painted a picture of the current political climate in the country.  It’s always a nice bonus as well, when the people in your tour group ask fantastic and relevant questions.  Speaking of relevance, later that day, I walked into a massive rally protesting the results of the country’s parliamentary election that took place just one week earlier.  It was interesting to see, but it didn’t take long for my fear of crowds to take over and navigate myself elsewhere.

Beer & Food– The last time I visited Budapest, it was Christmas Market Season- a joyous occasion.  This time around, the spring markets were up and running!  Here I was able to refuel with Hungarian gulasch, Hungary’s national dish, chicken paprikash, and what ever they had on tap.  I also sampled Unicum, the 80-proof Hungarian herbal liqueur.  My top recommendation for a trip to Budapest, however, is a meal at Kisharang Étkezde.  This gem in the heart of the city offers inexpensive, authentic, and hearty Hungarian cuisine.  I went for dinner after the race, and I was starving.  I started with csülkös bableves, which is a delightful ham, bean, and dumpling soup.  I then enjoyed hortobágyi palacsinta, which I can only describe as a magical cross between an enchilada and a pierogi but with a paprika sauce.  The combination of the two made for the perfect last meal of the Runcation.

Running– Before this, I had never attempted two half marathons so close together, but figured if my body can keep up with marathon training, then back to back races wouldn’t be the end of the world.  However, my legs wanted absolutely no part of it at this point in the trip, so I ran solely with my heart (15 April is a day where the heart tends to take over).  The pre-race logistics were a bit of a nightmare, and will probably prevent me from recommending this race, but the race itself was lovely (shoulder-to-shoulder for several of the first miles, but otherwise lovely).  Running this race was an absolute battle, and I left it all out there on the streets of Budapest.  Despite a frustrating Garmin malfunction in mile 3 that left me doing mental math for the next 10 miles, I can say with certainty that I couldn’t have run any faster, and that is a good feeling.  The chip time says I ran this race one minute and ten seconds slower than Bratislava, a consistent showing that impressed me.  I then spent the afternoon soaking my tired legs in the Széchenyi Thermal Baths.

All in all, I would rate the Runcation as a challenging success.  Two very consistent and quick races outran my previous half marathon PB, which was set in Glasgow in October 2017, and I am so grateful that this trip turned into an opportunity for several of my passions to collide.  Now that I’m back at work, it’s time to start planning the next adventure!  Stay tuned for that.  Click here if you missed Part I and Part II of this series!

Thank You Notes: Runcation Edition

  • Thank you to ice cream for being the most perfect snack for an afternoon wander.  The best part about being on holiday is that it’s pretty much expected that you break for ice cream around 1500.  No questions asked.
  • Thank you to fellow hostel-goers for plenty of stories, laughs, and travel recommendations.
  • Thank you to travel days for being a built-in rest day with scenic views.
  • Thank you to race medals for being the most perfect souvie.
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Home Sweet Salzburg

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Travel days are scenic rest days

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Rainy day in Ljubljana

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Budapest Half Marathon!

History, Beer, & Running (Part II): Beautiful Bratislava

Based on multiple reviews from trusted travelers, I had minimal expectations for Bratislava.  Not only was I pleasantly surprised by this charming city, but over the course of three and half days, it worked its way into my list of Top 5 Favorite Cities.  A bold statement, I know, so here’s the lowdown:

  • History– To get acquainted with this small city, I started with my go-to: a free walking tour.  This three hour lay of the land was fantastic, and easily one of the best walking tours I’ve been on to date.  The passionate guide walked the group through the history of her city, including its medieval, WWII, and communist histories.  She gave the history of Bratislava a very human emotion and bridged the past to the present while explaining the current and growing political unrest in the country.  She also gave an incredible recommendation for high quality and inexpensive Slovakian cuisine.
  • Beer & Food– Let’s start with the tour guides recommendation- Bratislava Flagship Restaurant.  This seat yourself, beerhall-style eatery offers scrumptious Slovakian cuisine and local beer.  Based on the tour guide’s recommendation, I had bryndzové halušky, which is a dish of gnocchi-like dumplings with a sheep’s cheese sauce.  Sprinkled with bacon, this national dish of Slovakia is an absolute delight.  I dined with a couple lovely Canadians who, together, sampled the bryndzové halušky, garlic soup, and potato pancakes.  They recommended all of it.  For beer, we had Kláštorný ležiak, which perfectly balanced out the richness of my meal.  The other food-related experience that pushed Bratislava higher and higher up on my top list of cities is Konditorei Kormuth.  For €15, you get 3 courses of dessert: a specialty coffee or hot chocolate, a piece of cake of your choosing, and a spirit of your choosing.  The decadent hot chocolate rivaled that of E. Wedel’s in Warsaw.  For cake, I chose the Esterházy torte, a favorite of mine from my studies in Austria.  And finally for the spirit, I chose Slovakia’s famous Tatratea.  The original tea liqueur boasts 104 proof, and the entire line of Tatratea ranges from 44 proof to 144 proof.  The entire dining experience at Koditorei Kormuth was complimented by the atmosphere and artwork of the cafe.  I definitely recommend everyone carve out a couple of hours of their time in Bratislava to enjoy this gem.
  • Running– Here we go, the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  The first half marathon of the Runcation.  My only goal was to finish.  I had been loosely maintaining my base of 10 mile long runs since February, but this trip came together fairly last minute, so I didn’t have time to properly train.  That being said, about 4 years ago, I made it a goal of mine to always be in reasonable fitness to complete a half marathon, and I suppose this was the first real test of that endeavor.  The race was fantastic and the course through Bratislava and along the Danube was fast.  It was my warmest run of the year to date, but I still managed a pretty sizable PB.  It was definitely a battle, but I felt strong.  My performance in this race was so unexpected that it made the victory so much more enjoyable and justified another serving of bryndzové halušky.  Also, the medal is of a fine quality.  The evening before the race, I went on the complimentary history run of Bratislava, which was one of the events of marathon weekend.  Talk about passions colliding!  This run reminded me of how strong and fantastic the running community is.  It was so nice to explore Bratislava with other runners.
  • Bratislava Bonus– Sculptures are scattered throughout the streets of Bratislava.  “Man at Work”, or Cumil as the locals call him, is a sewer worker who watches passersby in the heart of Bratislava’s old town.  According to the walking tour guide, many lighthearted sculptures like Cumil were added to the city to make the streets “more fun” after the communist regime.

Overall, I was impressed by my visit to Bratislava.  I went for the history, beer, food, and running, and all were met to the highest degree.  The next leg of the Runcation: a trip back to Salzburg, my home away from home(s).  Click here for Part III of the Runcation.  Click here if you missed Part I.