Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Travel Notes: We all have stories. This is from Athens 2004.

I arrived at the airport in Athens jet lagged and dazed after the long flights from Victoria, Toronto and Montreal. My luggage was predictably lost in the exchange from Toronto’s Terminal 1 to 3, after a delay from Victoria and a switch to the Greek Olympic Airways. After the usual rigmarole to report lost baggage, made slightly more difficult with the language barrier (my rudimentary knowledge of French and German was to be of little use deciphering Greek), I left the arrival hall empty handed and joined Lance in the airport. I was officially in Athens, on holiday, reunited with my husband and a spectator at the Olympic Games. Jet lag and lost luggage were not a problem. The sun was hot, the sky was blue, and I was on vacation for the next eight days. I was not racing, which was poignantly clear in my complete freedom from anxiety about my luggage, my accommodation, my hydration or my feelings of fatigue. I was dazed and happy.

My first impressions were not all what I expected. I saw evidence of the Olympics as we drove towards Vouliagmeni, the triathlon venue and place we were staying. The roads were all freshly paved and black and there was a fast Olympic lane to drive in, the surrounding environment was dry, dusty and sparsely vegetated with shrubby silvery green leaved trees (olives). Everywhere was evidence of rubble, the whitish rock that is the foundation of Greece. The road led between storefronts and empty buildings, car dealerships and firewood stores, and everywhere lay the empty shells of half built abandoned structures. Almost every second building was unfinished, as if ambition to build, to start, was all that mattered. Concrete shells of two and three story buildings were littered everywhere, like a bombed out landscape, although these were merely abandoned starts, not fallen down rubble. It was hard to fathom the feeling of looking at all these ugly skeletons of houses, why they are allowed to exist and why people are allowed to abandon such projects, leaving eyesores littered along the streets and over the arid but beautiful Mediterranean hills. As the week progressed and this empty building phenomena became a discussion point, the theory emerged that there was some tax break in starting new house projects, so developers started buildings that they never had any intention of finishing, and also that the huge rush to complete Olympic venues created a massive shortage of builders and tradesman for regular projects. Whatever the reason, the appearance that these buildings gave the area surrounding Athens was a constant source of bewilderment to Canadians I was traveling with.


From time to time, I will post excerpts from my extensive travelling journals.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Today it is two weeks since I ran the New York City Marathon. To mark the occasion I went for a 20 minute unscheduled run. I ran just as it was getting dark, a bright wedge of moon slung in the sky, and I felt great. It's been a good rest. I didn't do much but walk and a few pool runs for a whole week, then I gradually started running a bit this week, keeping it very light and very short.
I don't think Lance figures I can last more that about two weeks without running or training anyway. He almost fell off the sofa when I said I was going to take a big break after NYC. "That'll last about 2 weeks"' he laughed.
But I am not going to launch into full training tomorrow. I am going to be clever and take my downtime from training and racing. It is definitely something I have had to practice. Resting while I was pregnant was easy, but resting for the sake of resting has taken some work. I'm very good at hanging up the bike and extremely good and letting the bathing suit dry out, but stopping running? That just feels plain unnatural.
I won't race for a while and in another couple of weeks, I will start building into longer endurance runs and increasing my volume. I was talking to a young athlete in the triathlon development squad and he mentioned, with a big smile, how excited he was for next season. I thought that was great. Even though the excitement was not focussed at any one race, he felt hopeful and positive about racing after a winter of training.
Sometimes unfocussed enthusiasm and joy for what you do is important. That's why I went and ran tonight. Not because I was training for anything in particular, but because I wasn't training for anything in particular. It's great to have a part of the season where individual training sessions don't mean much, where you go run in an unstructured way (sometimes I leap up steep hills because it's fun, or break into sudden fast strides ), and just relax a bit from performance.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My New York Trip

I didn’t take my laptop to New York. I wanted to travel light, and to record my thoughts and observations with pen and paper, the way I started journaling my running, when I was a young girl. I wanted to pare my trip down to the essentials: my running shoes and orthotics, essential running gear, my heart open to possibilities. Faced with a lot of free time and down time (no kids, no training!) I wrote a lot over the weekend. Here are some of my reflections from new York.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The TRIP is finally here, the voyage to New York has begun with the issuing of boarding passes. I’m sitting in the afternoon sunlight, in the pleasant international boarding lounge of the Vancouver Airport. I love the silence and the softness of just sitting in a boarding lounge, waiting for the departure to new places. Even before I had children and life became so much more than my own path, I liked leaving for trips.

I have always loved the adventure of travelling and a life in sport has afforded me many such adventures. I chose sport because I was well suited to the training and attention to optimum health, the time spent outdoors and the competition. Life in high performance also means travelling and hotel rooms and strange food and cities. I have come to understand the layers now: that I love the challenge of having to arrive at a starting line many time zones away, and be prepared and ready to execute a perfect race or as near to perfect a performance as I can. In my career I can honestly say that I have enjoyed and felt grateful for the privilege that my hard work has given me; the chance to race as an elite athlete, the bonus of hotel rooms and flights to new cities, the opportunity to toe the front of the line.

One day I will miss the racing at the elite level, and can already appreciate the richness that it has brought to my life.

I said good bye to the children this morning, already missing them and already looking forward to my time to be a professional. The irreconcilable emotions of motherhood.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The lobby of the Hilton is like Grand Central Station: huge and noisy. It is a circular room, and lined with rose coloured marble. It is busy and bustling and not cold at all. People are friendly here in New York this time, maybe excited, like I am for the start of the marathon. Walking across the Avenue of the Americas, someone holds the door of Starbucks open for me, people make small talk in the elevator. My room is on the 39th floor and from my room I can clearly hear the continuous intermittent honking of horns, the rush of traffic, the sirens, the blasting whistle of the bellman as he calls in a never ending demand for taxis. When I look down I see the tops of yellow cabs, stuck at intersections, moving right and left again. It’s all fabulous. it's a world away from my home in Victoria, where all we here is the wind. It’s New York.

I am being treated very well. The New York Road Runners are adept and practiced at putting on events and taking care of elite athletes. The best in the world come to race here and to win, and all their needs are anticipated. Before I even raced, I was given gifts. A shoulder bag filled with goodies that I shall cherish, inlcuding an engraved pen from Tiffanies. You’d think that by now I wouldn’t care so much about getting race gear, but I still like it!

In the elevator (and I’m in there for a few moments as it rised from the Lobby to the 39th floor), there is a small television screen playing an endless loop of the ING promotional video of the marathon. They have a runner’s eye view of the marathon course, speeded up so that you see the whole course in about 5 minutes. It’s awesome, though it makes some people dizzy; I don’t have time to see the course, but this gives a visual picture of the streets we will run through.

It’s so quiet in my room with the king size bed. No singing or laughing, or wrestling or dancing to music. No Hotwheels cars. I like it, this time on my own, but now and then, from nowhere, a loneliness rises up from deep inside me. Love for Maia and Ross and Lance floods into my heart. I look out the window to the high-rises of Manhattan and I can’t wait for race day.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A quiet day, trying to find a balance between staying off my feet and resting, and getting a little light activity. I don’t like feeling stiff from lying about watching TV all day. I went for an easy run in the morning, at the tail end of the Olympic Marathon Trials for US men. It was hard to run anywhere. The sidewalks were packed with Saturday morning shoppers and spectators returning from watching the race. Central park was likewise crammed with people and many roads were blocked. I jogged along lightly, dodging pedestrians and trees, trying to get some sense of rhythm. The thing about NYC is that there are so many people in this place, they are everywhere, on every street, in every shop. Nothing, and nowhere seems to be devoid of life. It’s sort of nice really. Humanity.

At breakfast the rumours started. Questions and quiet talk about a tragedy, possibly a death in the marathon that morning. By mid afternoon, the rumours were confirmed that Ryan Shay, one of the promising young American runners, had died after a collapse at the 5mile mark. I did not know Shay, but it was quite shocking and one of those moments in life when you realize, yet again, how precious our time is. We were told to be strong, to race in the morning with life and joy as that is what he would have wanted, but there were close friends of Ryan’s in the race and I know this was not going to be easy for them. It felt strangely familiar to be looking at death while amid such life. Emily Mondor's tragic death last year before the National 10k Championships, Benny Van Steelant passing away right before Long Distance World Duathlon Championships in October.

I spent a long time at dinner, getting my carbs in, but catching up with Bruce and Rosemary Deacon, just chatting and laughing about running and life and children.

Later, I sat in my room, going over my morning routine, visualizing how I wanted to feel when I woke up, checking and re-checking that all the clocks were ready for the time change.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Coming Down from the Runner's High

Well, that was pretty much the most fun I have ever had racing. It was definitely my most fun marathon experience even if it wasn't the fastest. I will have much more to say over the next few days but for now, here are the highlights of my weekend in Manhattan.

1. Riding the bus to the start with a police escort and seeing the Statue of Liberty standing way out in the bay.

2. All the helicopters and motorbikes and fire trucks everywhere. It seemed like every police officer and firefighter in the city was there.

3. Seeing Lance Armstrong's black SUV parked in the elite area and thinking about making funny faces in the tinted windows.

4. Starting on that massive bridge with really really loud music!

5. The music all along the course. All types. Loud and fun.

6. The masses of people everywhere, especially 1st Ave. and Central Park.

7. Running the bridges.

8. Hearing someone call me by my first name and seeing Peter Reid in the crowd at mile 14.

9. Then seeing Malaika!

10. Having the elite men's motorcade catch me from behind and feeling like I was running from the cops. Then watching these incredibly beautiful runners bound by effortlessly.

11. Running the last 2 miles on air in Central Park.

12. The last 400 yards!

13. The elated, bright and joyous feeling I got at the finish. I was moved and overcome with a feeling of life. I wanted to run those last 2 miles again.

14. The feeling of wonder, that at 40, I can still have this passion about running!