Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A new start by getting to the finish line

photo credit: colloquial soliloquy
I ran a half marathon this past weekend. The full thing. Without getting hurt. Without even feeling that tired. I expected none of this.

Running always reminds me of some of life's rules:

  1. Sometimes you can do everything right, follow the rules, do the training and still get hurt. Yet, sometimes you can do everything wrong and somehow get the result you want. 
  2. You never have 100% control of your own destiny.
  3. You have to take everything one step at a time, and
  4. You shouldn't underestimate yourself.

These were certainly my lesson from Sunday. I had signed up for the half marathon in December. Then in my diligent, regimented fashion, I had printed my training material. I made sure I had the right shoes, the right socks, the gear for cold weather, the iPod play list... all the things I had painstakingly discovered as necessary from the first couple times I tried to train for a marathon, all of which ended up in injuries that knocked me out of training groups and races. I learned the hard way what my body could and could not do, which of the thousand recommendations out there worked for me, and it was only three years after my first attempt that I was finally able to build up to a marathon, the Rome marathon in 2007.

So since my days of injuries, I have been pragmatic and cautious. I follow training schedules properly and stick to methods that are, for me, tried and true. At the beginning of January, I was on target for the 26 February RomaOstia half marathon, running every other day the appropriate number of miles and sessions.

Photo credit: RomaOstia site
And then life kicked in. I ran 8 miles, but I had left my "proper socks” in Italy. Wearing the wrong socks got me a half-softball sized blood blister that lasted 1 week, consequently cancelling all runs. In the meantime, I left for Rome and promptly struggled with jet lag. Then, for the first time in literally 20 some years, Rome got snow. Schools were cancelled. Work was disrupted. Roads were a mess and parks were closed. Amidst this, I had a surprise trip to ice-covered Budapest.

By the time I was back, that Rome had defrosted and that my feet were healed, it was one week before the half marathon. I gave up the idea of doing it. After all, I hadn't followed the rules. I hadn't trained. I hadn't mentally prepared. I didn't buy energy gels. I didn't check the weather to know what to wear. I didn't have sweat-wicking t-shirt. I decided, "I shouldn't run." I made other plans. I said, if anything, I’ll walk part of it.

But then I went to the runner’s expo, and the call was too strong. I didn't care if I couldn't finish it. I had to try. I had made it a resolution. I needed it.

The morning of the run I hadn't slept well. I hadn't eaten enough. I hadn't found a t-shirt that wouldn't chafe, I hadn't warmed up properly, but I was high on the energy of the run, on the support of my love and on this opportunity that I had wanted to do for years. And I thought,  “I'll just listen to myself, stop when I need to and run at least 16 km” (what the training schedule would say that I was up to).

So February 26th, I ran. And while running, I people watched. I enjoyed the sun and the feeling of spring. I sang along to my iPod. I didn't focus on the hunger or crowd. And the minutes and hours slipped away. Before I knew it I was at km 16 and still going strong. 17. 18. 19.  All of a sudden, I had 2 kilometers left to go and I was astonished. I wasn't hurting. I wasn't tired. I wasn't going to stop. "But you did everything wrong! How is this possible?", my head screamed. "Shut up!", my body yelled back. And I began to sprint. I sprinted the last 1.5 kms and finished the race in less time than I had given myself had I trained properly.

The rush of emotion at the finish line was almost overwhelming. It wasn't the run. It had never been the run. It had been life in the last couple years. It had been the feeling that I did everything wrong and maybe ended up in the right place anyway.

And it felt like with every kilometer that I ran away from Rome and toward Ostia I was leaving behind another hang up. The past with all its "mistakes" (that perhaps weren't mistakes after all), where nonetheless getting farther and farther behind. At the finish line, I was at a new start.

I had underestimated myself. I had underestimated that even if I hadn't trained according to my perfectionist standards, I had been in training for years. I had been building up endurance for years. And though, this particular time I didn't take inventory of what I needed, I knew what I needed. I had learned those lessons from past experiences. I knew myself better than I thought and all those things came together.

I have a medal now to remind me that I am better equipped for life than I thought... uh, I mean better equipped for a race...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A frozen February weekend in Budapest

Chain bridge, Budapest
Europe has frozen over. It then of course makes sense that this is the year I decided to leave all my hard-core gear back in North America where they get "real" winters. Shame on me for underestimating Mother Nature. But despite the wet socks, frozen toes, and layers of sweaters that are making me bulkier but not warmer, I do enjoy seeing Rome and other European cities under the snow.

I went from cold to colder, snowy to snowier this past weekend when we flew from Rome to Budapest. As a surprise birthday present, this was a trip that I had no prior knowledge of, and I had even less knowledge of exactly how cold it could get there (-21 degrees Celsius). Yes, real winter. So my silly assumptions came back to frostbite me in the a--.

But enough of the grumbling, and let's talk about Budapest. It is an amazing city. The grandeur and class of Vienna with the folk tradition and pride of, for example, Romania: it is a fabulous mix. And on par with (or perhaps even better) than Paris or Rome, the city glows at night. A trip down the Danube in the evening will leave you awestruck.

Budapest Parliament Building

I have a new camera that I promptly put to use and subjected to the elements. (It survived the snow and cold). And I had a mighty fine time trying to capture just how GRAND Budapest was. In French, the word means large; in English, it means stately or elegantly large, if you will. Perhaps not Holden's favorite word, but certainly one fitting for Budapest. The palaces were GRAND, the bridges were GRAND, Andrassy avenue was GRAND. It was easy to feel regal there.

Best Marzipan ever!

Food-wise, the humorous advice I got before leaving was, "Try not to starve." As a vegetarian going to Hungary, land of gulasch, this wasn't a completely facetious comment. I, of course, did not partake in the famous Hungarian tradition of gulasch or the Mangalica pig roast. But I had three things in Budapest that I could have substituted for every meal and still been happy:

  1. Mutligrain bread (dinner)
  2. Marzipan (dessert)
  3. Gluhwein (beverage)

The greatest thing was that you could get these things in almost every restaurant. (Don't worry. I did eat more than that, and all of it, particularly the sauces were great).

Layered Coffee at Central Kavehaz
The coffee houses (Central kavehaz to be exact) were definitely a highlight, especially my sugar-infused coffee: one layer of honey, one layer of coffee, one layer of whipped cream. This more than made up for my "french toast" that, in Hungary, I found out means deep fried bread served with sour cream.

The thermal baths, of which there are 130 in Hungary, were exactly the remedy for frozen-stiff limbs although my body almost waged a full-fledged battle not to go back outdoors afterwards.

Mangalica Pig Festival in reality. Christmas Market in my eyes.

But my favorite part of all was the Christmas market. Ok, it wasn't a Christmas market. However, if I ripped off the wall the calendar page reading February, I could have pretended to be in an authentic Christmas market. The temperature was right (below freezing with snow flurries in the air). The setting was perfect (a GRAND open square in a northern European city). The sights were perfect (little wooden hut-type stalls selling food and crafts). And the smell was perfect (gluhwein and, sad to say, meat. Not my choice smell, but undeniably Christmas market-esque).

I had been desperate to go to a Christmas market this year and had looked longingly at flights to Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen and Stockholm only to be overwhelmed by new major changes (job, apartments, cities) and the days went by without a confirmed plane ticket.

But here it was! My Christmas market in February. So the timing might not always be right, but life does indeed tend to deliver what you really want.

Thanks Budapest. I'll have to visit you again when you begin to thaw.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Featured: My Mini Travel Guide on Rome

My mini travel guide on Rome featured on a great blog: Yes and Yes. What do you think? Did I do a good job with my highlights?


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