Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Traveling and Training

A little over 3 weeks has passed since the London Marathon, but it feels much longer. I spent about 10 days in Prague before the race, and after relaxing for a few days in London, I made it back to Prague. My old teammate from Oklahoma State, Dan Watts, now works for the London Marathon, and we were able to spend some quality time catching up. It truly is a small world. 
The in-laws in London
My wife, Eva, couldn't make it to Europe until about a week after the marathon, but her parents made the trip to come support me in London. For those unfamiliar with Central Europe (like I was before meeting my wife), Prague is very close to Western Europe; it's only an hour and a half flight to London. I spent the day after the race in the hotel room bed ordering rooms service (fish and chips!), but the next day meant a sightseeing excursion with Eva's parents. This was as painful as expected, climbing up and down stairs and enduring the general agony that comes from walking after a marathon. It was a wonderful experience, but I was ready to leave and meet my wife at the Prague airport.

Future Sunday Lunch
Eva and I always try to take advantage of my down time at the end of the season, and this year was no different. Unlike after my past marathons, we didn't quite have the time for a long backpacking trip, but we did manage a short road trip through Central Europe. From Prague we made our way to Eva's parents' village, about an hour and a half south, near the Austrian border. The village consists of about 200 people, and the running is fantastic. There are many old dirt roads connecting villages which used to be the only option of transit before wider paved roads were available. There is a village or town every few kilometers, so each run feels like an adventure as you explore unique places during every training run. Every village and town has at least a small chapel and often a full square, hopefully including a castle. The area is rural, but not rural in the US definition. In the US, rural brings to mind vast expanses of vacant land dotted with farms. While the Czech rural areas feel underpopulated, another small cluster of agricultural homes is not far away. The relatively new push for locally sourced meats and vegetables in US towns and cities has been a way of life for centuries in the Czech countryside. It is expected rather than trendy. Variety is not available, but the quality of local foods is excellent. Speaking of local food, the featured picture will soon become a meal when we return in the later summer. Eva's parents raise rabbits and use the meat for a variety of dishes, including rabbit sausage.

Weinersnitchel in Vienna
From Rodinov we made the short 2 hour drive to Vienna. When traveling I usually end up judging a city on it's "runability" since that will make or break my experience there. No matter how beautiful the architecture or how impressive the museums, if I can't go for a run, the experience is lessened significantly. Fortunately Vienna has a great park (Prater) sitting right alongside the expansive city center. Vienna is very flat, and this park is no different, but it offers a wide variety of soft and paved paths. Some are even marked each 100 meters, and a track sits just outside the park. It gets busy during peak morning and evening hours, but it's nice to see so many people taking advantage of the area.

Next stop, Budapest. After another 2 and a half hours of driving, we arrived at our small AirBnB flat in the city center. Budapest is also a "runable" city. Two large parks in the city limits offer great running opportunities, although there is no track open to the public without a paid membership. There is also a river path along the Danube which connects Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava. The park I spent most my time in was called Margaret Island which actually has a lane of track circling the island that is 5km long! This park would certainly get boring after a bit, but for our short time in Budapest it was perfect. We also managed to make it to a traditional bath house which the city is famous for. Since this was aiding in my recovery, do I get to count it as a tax write off?
Budapest Riverfront
The biggest surprise for us was the quality of Hungarian wine. I'm certainly no wine expert, but Hungary does not come to mind when considering European wine. I don't think it's terribly easy to find in the US, so we will be bringing some home. Their heavy Cuvee was great alongside a plate of traditional Hungarian Goulash, or any of their other famous paprika laden dishes.

After a quick stop in Bratislava, we were back in Prague. While I do have some bias, I still feel Prague is the most beautiful and most runable of the Central European capitals. The network of hilly parks overlooking the city is tough to beat. Once such park, Ladronka, has a paved and packed gravel path running parallel and marked each 100 meters. The top loop just so happens to be exactly 1600, surely by accident; it's the best mile repeat surface I have ever been on. This park also happens to be within a few minutes of a track, and near one of the biggest parks in city limits in Europe (Divoká Šárka). All of this is within a 7 minute bus/tram ride to the city center. I love this city and can't wait to come back and use it as a hub for some summer European racing.
Prague Castle

We squeezed a lot of sightseeing in over the last couple weeks, but I've also squeezed quite a lot of running in. After taking one week completely off (not counting an acre of lawn mowing in Rodinov) I started with a slow 30 minute run and built up over the next 10 days. Last week I already managed to get over 100 miles, and I'm starting to feel back to normal. It normally takes about 2 to 3 weeks for me to feel like myself again after a marathon. I'm getting excited for a short track season, but I feel like I have a ways to go to feel comfortable at the quicker pace that will be required to be competitive at the USA Track and Field Championships in Sacramento on the 26th of June. As of right now I plan on tuning up at the Portland Track Festival in a one mile race 10 days before the USA champs to really shake the rust off the legs. This would be a great opportunity to try to break the 4 minute barrier for the first time in my career. I'm not sure, but I don't too many people have broken 2:11 in the marathon and 4:00 in the mile in consecutive races! We'll see if I can get the legs rolling again over the next month and a half. I was really fired up after watching the races from Payton Jordan. How tough is the 5k and 10k team going to be to make next year for the World Championships? Wow.

This post is already starting to drag on, so at the beginning of next week I will post my first 3 weeks of training coming off of the marathon, and I will hopefully have the summer racing plans mapped out. I'm also finalizing details on a block of altitude training in Flagstaff before a fall marathon. Nick Arciniaga has been generous enough to rent out a room in his house for the duration of my stay, which will likely be one month. This will be my first serious attempt at altitude training, so it will be extremely beneficial to be around other marathoners who have been doing it for a long time. More details to come. Thanks again for reading!


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