Sunday, 26 April 2015

Amicola Falls

On the way back from Tennessee a few weeks ago I stopped off at Amicola Falls in Georgia on the way home. I had three reasons for this 1.) I love waterfalls 2.) this is pretty much the southernmost point of the Smokies/Blue Ridge Parkway which we've been exploring for two years now and 3.) I've always been intrigued by the idea of just heading off hiking for a few months. Amicola Falls is the start of the Appalaichian Trail which runs all the way from Georgia to Maine. 
Maybe some day I'll go hike this or the PCT (out west) or maybe even the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain. I'm mostly inspired by books The Way, Wild and AWOL on the Appalaichian. What we hiked was the approach I think I'd need to stop for the night after that ha ha!
Boomer was pretty afraid of the steps on the way up, all 400+, as they were made of metal grate, we had to carry him for some of them so it was an upper body workout too. However at one point he coached the most adorable little two year old girl up, as she wanted to catch the puppy! I'd definetely suggest a stop here if you are in North Georgia it was absolutely beautiful.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Almost a week in Philadelphia

I love Philadelphia!! It's probably my favorite US city. It's busy without feeling so crazy that it's claustrophobic. I loved the mix of buildings with historical buildings up against modern architecture. A great vibe the whole time. I was in town for the AACR conference so were 18,000 other people. 

Besides a brief foray into New Jersey for a race the only free time I had was on Friday afternoon. We used that to go see the Liberty Bell, Carpenters (and independence) hall and constitution center. Throughout the week we got to see different parts of town while out for dinner and drinks. Let me say Philadelphia has the best food. Real restaurants not just fast food. 

With my new commitment to eating healthier I tried to keep it very light for breakfast mostly fruit and a piece of toast. Then for lunch I stuck to sandwiches, everywhere had the best bread...not that junk with honey in it. Dinners started on Friday night with a vegan restaurant was amazing. Non veggies don't let the vegan part put you off, the flavors were unreal. Then we had tapas two nights......delicous. Tapas in Columbia can consist of pizza and sliders..basically smaller plates of fast food. This was real Spanish food. Amazing.  I did drink a good bit :( mostly Saturday. After that I was so tired I felt almost jet lagged. 

I didn't get out to run at all. I wanted to get to run by the river and maybe a brief trip up the rocky steps but I definetely want to go back to Philly, so next time!! I feel like I've fallen off the running bandwagon, mostly not by choice, but the last few weeks training have not been good. I guess all that matters is getting back out there and continuing to try and improve.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Runapalooza-Asbury Park Half NJ, 2015

I'm alive. So I've been a bit quiet lately with good reason, I've been at a conference since last Friday. I've also been suffering from what I'll now term conference-lag aka extreme exhaustion. 5 days of science talks from 7am-7pm as well as post conference "networking". Not too much running but I did manage to squeeze in a half in NJ right before the conference started.
Being there already meant the only thing I paid (extra) to cross off NJ was a day's car hire, sweet!!! Even better the race was voted New Jerseys best half marathon. I got up on race morning and got the car I'd hired the night before. I was so pleased, I got a car the exact same as mine just in grey and the car hire place was on the same block as my hotel, so convenient. 
The race started at 8.30 am so I wasn't rising too early as we only had an hour and a half to drive from Philadelphia to Asbury Park. After a few wrong turns, almost run ins with crazy speeding drivers (think 90mph in a 45 mph zone) and some beautiful views we arrived at the race in one piece. All the public parking lots near the start were free all day and we found easy parking within walking distance of the expo/packet pickup.
The expo was small but they had one. Packet pickup on race day required an additional donation by check of $5 but that money went directly to charity...I'll donate $5 to Special Olympics quite happily. The area around the boardwalk was really nice some of it was a bit run down but in a cool looking way and it wasn't tactastic like some of the other seaside towns I've been to. I'd timed my arrival pretty well and didn't wait too long for the start. Most of the time was spent lining up for porta potties, they could have done with a few more for a very large crowd.
The start was crowded and once we got going I spent the first few miles weaving around slower runners until I worked my way closer to people holding a similar pace. I'm not trying to PR right now but I was under pressure to finish at a decent pace because the car was due back at 1pm before the car hire office shut for the weekend. Every minute counted especially since I've sat in traffic one too many times to know how even a very small set of roadworks can add a lot of time to a drive. I decided on finishing just under 2 hours. A decent pace that I knew I could do. It wouldn't leave me feeling trashed but it wasn't a relaxed pace either. I also decided it had to be even splits the whole way.
Unfortunately, I'd been expecting colder weather and had only packed long sleeved running tops. Even at 8.30 the sun was beaming down and feeling quite hot, doh!!!  Before the start I was feeling thirsty, the outlook for this race wasn't looking good. I missed out on the first water stop because I was too far over and it was too crowded to get there when I eventually saw the tables. After that I took in as much water/gatorade as I dared, walking through the aid stations throughout the race. I think the breeze from the sea saved me. By the end of the race I had a crust of salt on my face, I was fantasizing about cold drinks and my stomach was upset with me but I didn't overheat badly and that really was a small miracle.
The course itself was pretty interesting. There were small out and back sections that had us running through the town, around a pond, through some nice neighborhoods, some sidewalk running and along the boardwalk. Lots of stretches with nice views. Two parts I did not like were the sections of the boardwalk that were old, the boards were uncomfortable to run on and hard to maintain pace as a result, and the small section of sand. Honestly, I found the sand section amusing and thought it was a bit of a novelty more than anything else. The course was as flat as a pancake with aid stations spread out every couple of miles. 
Like the start I think the course could have done with a few more porta potties. My stomach was not so happy in the last 4-5 miles, I tried one set of restrooms on the boardwalk and they were locked. Then around mile 9 I saw a bathroom door standing opened. I ran in, used the facilities and realized as a guy walked in and started to use a urinal that I was in the men's, I bolted out of the stall I was in without washing my hands or looking in either direction he he!
I ran/dragged myself back to the finish after the last turn around at mile 10ish and still managed a little kick at the end. 1.59.05 how's that for just under two hours with even splits (even with a bathroom break). 
I got my medal (small but unique, themed around Tillie painted onto Wonder Bar at the start) and quick marched back to the expo to pick up my t-shirt. I see the logic in picking it up afterwards but I was in a rush so the extra walk back was unappreciated. In the expo hall they now had a bunch of food including pasta salads etc. they looked awesome and the spread  was big but I was a.) in a rush and b.) I'd been too hot for too long to even think about food. I just grabbed an extra gatorade for the car to replenish some lost salts.
I got my long-sleeved t-shirt. I loved the design so I was hugely disappointed when I realized it was unisex. I get that once upon time all race shirts were unisex but most races I run offer gender specific shirts so I wish that they'd mention that on the registration form when choosing sizes. I asked if I could swap but they said I had to wait until later, which I couldn't do. I still wore it on the drive back to the hotel :) I hopped in the car and made it back with 30 minutes to spare. Then after a quick shower it was off to the conference center to start listening to some cool science for the rest of the day!

Another race and another state down. A few very minor glitches, mostly due to the sheer number of runners but a great course. Thanks NJ you were great.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Oak Barrel Half Marathon, TN 2015

I'm quite enjoying my relaxed state of running halfs. I feel like a hotel were the potta-potties...not so clean,  oh well only  3-stars. Really that is all I'm doing right now, logging some miles to maintain my endurance fitness, having fun and traveling to new places

Another race, another new state. This race was a bucket list one for me. I tried to register for it last year race but it sells out really fast. It was definitely differently themed thats for sure...taking place in the home of Jack Daniels in Lynchburg, TN. JD were one of the sponsors so packet pickup took place in the distillery visitor centre and the 'medals' (is it called a medal when its made out of wood?) were made from old JD barrels, hence the name Oak Barrel Half Marathon.

I took a day off on Friday and spent the day driving (around 7 hours). I checked, Atlanta traffic still makes me so mad!
We arrived, checked into the hotel and drove the 20 minutes from Tullahoma to Lynchburg to get my bib. There was no expo just a simple packet pickup with a really nice long sleeve top. I wanted to run a couple of miles that evening to loosen up after the drive but mother nature decided to throw a massive thunder storm at us right as we got back to the hotel.

On a side note Lynchburg is possibly the smallest town I've been to in the US hence the 20 minute drive for a hotel.

The next morning I got up at 6 (thank you again central time zone I love you) and got a bagel and coffee at the hotel breakfast which opened early! I left ASAP to get to the race because I knew parking would be limited. Once we got there everything was very well organized with spaces being assigned.
 It was freezing and everything was soaked from the night before so trips to and from the car were begrudgingly done, especially since we were parked on grass and I hate running with wet shoes. The race was big and as we lined up to start runners filled an entire was kind of cool. I lined up around the 10 minute per mile sign and tried not to freeze my ass off with the breeze that was blowing on us.

As soon as we got started and got off that hill the breeze was non-existant and I warmed up quickly. I was still happy to have my gloves as well as a long sleeve t-shirt but the jacket I was wishing for at the start would have been overkill.
The course took us out into the countryside straight away and I saw a large number of cattle for the first time since I left Ireland. Then I immediately regretted my nostalgia. We ran past a stinking poo covered field and some cows eating silage, I knew I had lost my country almost made me sick. After that it was very nice and pretty and not-smelly, ha ha.  All went well and I took it easy knowing the infamous 'Whiskey Hill' was coming up. I think it started somewhere around mile 4.5. 
Most of it is not that steep but it goes on forever and just when it has ground your calves into mince meat and your lungs want you to die, it gets really steep for about a quarter of a mile.

When I got to the top I wanted to walk to catch my breath, even after walking on some of the hill, but I knew an aid station was coming up so I made myself crawl along at a jog and then walked through that to get some fluids. The course flattens out for a few miles and then the last 5 miles of the race are  glorious downhill most of the time. That was really fun. Other than the big hill, I felt fantastic the entire time. No knee or hip pain, nothing other than some slightly tight shoulders from the drive, yay.

There were aid stations every two miles and the volunteers from various charities went all out trying to compete for some extra money for their charity. The bibs had an extra tab to vote for the best one (No. 6 all the way-Wizard of Oz themed). I also saw some potta-potties on course but my stomach was happy this time so no stops, but I do know they had them at more than one point.

The finish area was set up around the town square. There was lots of food and drinks. No alcohol, ironically Lynchburg the home of JD is in a dry county. Despite that there was quite a party atmosphere. There were a lot of slower runners with a generous time limit of 4 hours which meant lots of first time finishers and their families were out supporting  them. I think that and the fact that they let all the supporters and runners mix completely in the finish area made it fun.

 I was trilled with the medal and as a bonus they had sports socks and the choice of a visor or hat for finishers. I've never worn a visor so I got that to try out. We hung out for a while, browsing all the small shops around the square.

The people here were so friendly and nice. Most of the shops even let Boomer inside. I didn't even try to go in with him, the owners made a point of inviting him in!! He really is going to think he is a little prince. We might have spent a bit of money as a result finding some cute things to remember the trip.

That afternoon we tried and decided not to go on the JD distillery tour, which I've heard is really good, as it was over an hour long and we'd have to take it in turns as we had Boomer with us. If you like JD they were also offering to engrave bottles with the race logo, your name and finishing time for $10 but since I can't drink JD I didn't go for it.

The next morning the long trek home started. I don't know if it was because I was tired but it seemed so much longer on the way back. We took a different route and detoured to see the Amicola Falls where the Adirondack Trail begins. The falls were huge and the hike up the trail and 400+ steps to the top were tough...tougher than a recovery run! Another 2.5 hours of driving and we made it to beautiful Greenville and Mikes Burgers (really good) for a late dinner before starting the last leg home.

An exhausting but fun weekend. Tennessee is now off my list unless circumstances make it really easy to do a race there. A beautiful state and a great race!!
Chip time 2.01.55

I have two more races that I've registered for this year in order to complete new states; Hatfield Mccoy Half Marathon in WV (another long drive in June) and the Ashbury Park Half Marathon in NJ  later this month (work conference associated). I have one more that I might be able to do in RI the morning before I go to another work conference but that conference is not rock solidly organised right now so no registration. Other than that one local race and thats it. Once life settles down I might try figure out a few more in the fall or just sign up for some 5/10ks. One I do want to do is the Mrytle Beach Mini Marathon in October for their awesome surf board medals. Yes I'm a bling junkie!!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Life right now

Well the last couple of weeks have been a ball of joy and stress all wrapped up in one. Between that and the worst pollen season on record my running has not been the priority at all.

The joy and stress is all life stuff. Thanks to finding out my other half is getting a very fancy fellowship award, the kind you don't ever turn down, it looks like I'll be staying here in South Carolina for the next 2-3 years. Thats awesome, hence the joy. The stress is because that comes with a whole lot of decisions. 

What do I do about jobs and visas? I'd been planning on a move to somewhere bigger with a bit more biotech industry, somewhere that I could teach in a university or 4 year school OR go to industry and just do 100% research. I love all those options, I love teaching and I love research so basically as long as I use science on a day to day basis and get paid a decent salary I'm not too fussy about where I work. However, I'm now restricted to a pretty small geographical area with a limited number of jobs. Eugh!
Then factor in getting a visa and its very tricky.  Even if we got married that adds a whole lot of other visa decisions. I could stay but might not be able to work. I wish someone could just come in, take over my body...sort it all out and then wake me up.

Then do I move house or stay put! Luckily thats been one of the easier decisions. Although our house is old and not the most stylish, the rent is fantastic, it has a huge yard for the dog and its close to work. Add in paying another pet fee, the cost of moving and then possibly losing some of the security deposit and that decision was made.
Now I'm just pushing reset on the house, decluttering, deep cleaning and investing in some furniture for neglected areas. Knowing that we'll be here for a while makes investing in sprucing things up a bit easier. 

I thought I'd be disappointed to not move but doing stuff with the house has added in the fun things about moving. Buying new furniture, decorating etc without the stress of actually moving. South Carolina is a beautiful part of the country so living here is definitely not the end of the world.
We also found a breeder to get another cocker spaniel puppy from. An actual honest breeder who rarely breeds, but breeds champion show dogs, health tests out the wazhoo and doesn't charge the sun and moon for it. Basically breeds quality dogs but not for profit. Lets cross our fingers that Boomer will behave for the interview that we have to do. We'll probably be waiting a long time to get a second dog as a result but it feels right.
Hopefully the stressful stuff will sort itself out in the next 6 months, but there you go thats where my life is at right now!! I'm behind on posting but I have another race recap coming up as I crossed another state off my list this weekend with an awesome race in Tennessee.