The Morning After

Marathon I

As a child, every December 1 was an exciting day. Not because it’s National Eat a Red Apple Day, but because it meant only twenty-four more days until Christmas. We hung up the advent calendar and excitedly marked off each day as December 25 approached. The anticipation peaked on Christmas Eve when, after looking at lights and placing the presents under the tree, we were shooed off to bed by our parents.

Not allowed to get out of bed until 7:00 AM (an ungodly hour for a small child on all other 364 days of the year), I would toss and turn as I dreamt of Foosball tables, Lincoln logs, and all other happiness only brought about by ripping open crisply-wrapped boxes and bags.

When all was finally said and done on Christmas Day, presents unwrapped, ham dinner eaten, and off to bed again, a not-so-small sadness would always settle in my little heart. I’d been anticipating this day for so long, but now, the morning after Christmas, I had to wait another 364 days for the next Christmas. A real bummer for a kid.

Now, after finishing my first marathon, I feel like a kid on December 26. For the past five months, I’ve been training for this one day. Waking up early, logging miles, and monitoring my eating has consumed my time. Running became my constant companion.

Taking a week off to recover will allow my body to rebuild itself after such a grueling physical test. But anything longer than a week will begin to take a toll on my mind.

As a runner, I get to choose when “Christmas” happens. And it’s not something that only happens once a year. After taking a week off, you’ll find me pounding the pavement again.

Just anticipating the next present I’ll unwrap.

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Getting My Toes Wet

Rain

When I first started running as a beginner, waking up to the sound of rain pattering on my window was a good excuse to turn off the alarm, roll over, and fall back asleep in my warm, cozy bed. Somehow, the fear of getting wet, sloshing through puddles, and the potential for chafing deterred me from lacing up and heading out the door. Unless you’re from Seattle, you probably sympathize with me.

It wasn’t until recently that this policy changed. When looking at the weather forecast for this week, I noticed that today’s forecast (long-run Saturday) included an 80% chance of rain. There goes my long run, I thought. But as the day approached, I began to reconsider.

After doing some research, mostly through Runner’s World, I decided that getting soaked was probably the worst that could happen. And, since I usually get soaked when I take a shower and I haven’t experienced any unhealthy side effects, I decided to risk the odds.

One mile into the run, it began to sprinkle. Immediately, I freaked out. What happens if i ruin my running shoes? What happens if I catch a cold? Or worse, get a blister? Resisting the urge to turn around and head home, I continued to run. And then something weird happened.

I felt like I was flying.

The rain cooled my skin, all the drivers that passed me honked their horns (as encouragement, I’m assuming), and the world seemed at peace. Although my ponytail was a tangled mess, my clothes were sopping wet, and my shoes had a distinguished squish with each step, I was happy.

Not because I had run faster or farther than ever before, but because, as a runner, I had fulfilled the ultimate purpose of running. To push my body to its physical limits, and then continue running. Because I have something to prove. Maybe not to the world, but to myself. I am capable of so much more than I think I am. Including running in the rain.

And I didn’t even melt.

Taos, New Mexico

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On Tuesday, we woke up, packed, and drove to Taos to experience the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains in north-central New Mexico. About two hours driving from Albuquerque and one from Santa Fe, it’s a perfect weekend escape from the urban life. Although we visited during the off season (the snow on the slopes was beginning to melt and the wildflowers had not yet appeared), the landscape was no less stunning. Sharp, snow covered peaks rose above dry, barren desert in a dramatic contrast.

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After spending the afternoon browsing the shops, cafes, and restaurants in Taos, we drove another twenty minutes to our hostel near the Taos Ski Valley. The Abominable Snowmansion was located in the village of Arroyo Secco just outside the Carson National Forest. Perfect for travelers with a budget, especially youth, the Abominable Snowmansion is a great base for skiing, hiking, or simply enjoying the outdoors. With reasonable priced dorms, private rooms, cabins, and tipis and friendly staff, it provided splendid mountain accommodations. While there are not very many restaurants in Arroyo Secco, AQEC Restaurant provided a wonderful atmosphere, delicious (slightly over-priced) food, and a friendly staff. However, the staff at the Abominable Snowmansion serves an inexpensive dinner in the evening and there are many dining options nearby in Taos.

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We explored the Taos Ski Valley before returning to our hostel for an evening of pool, wine, and new friends. Although my pool skills are lacking, I had enjoyable time laughing with old and new friends. After pool, we retired to the summer room and continued to drink. A new friend from New Orleans played some music and we had a little party. It was a close to a perfect day in the mountains.

On Top of the Balkans

(a view of three of the seven Rila Lakes)

Week four in Bulgaria has been just as awesome, eventful, and crazy as weeks one through three. Next Tuesday will be the one month mark of my stay in Blagoevgrad; leading me to believe that the next three months after will fly by just as fast. Each day zooms by; filled with running, classes, walking, shopping, walking, eating, walking, hanging out with friends, and a minimal amount of studying. I have not set foot (or butt) in any four-wheeled vehicle since my arrival from the Sofia airport in a taxi. Walking everywhere is definitely a facet of life I will miss when I return home to the States!

While away from America, I attempt to remain up-to-date with life across the pond; remembering the 3,000 men, women, and children who were affected by terrorist attacks ten years ago. Watching footage of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center on Bulgarian TV reminds me of the effect that day had on the entire world. Every international student I talked to recalls the moment in time when they learned of the attacks just as vividly as any American. Although I wish I could have been in the U.S. on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it was very interesting to hear the perspectives of other students concerning this tragic day. Thinking of the men and women who lost their lives on that day reminded me to thank the four military men who are also studying at AUBG for their service to our country!

In remembrance of 9/11, a Bulgarian friend (Kris) and I climbed Musala, the highest peak in Bulgaria and the entire Balkan Peninsula, on Sunday. Standing at 2,925 meters (9,596 feet), all major mountain ranges in Bulgaria are visible from the top. After waking up at 5:30AM, Kris and I boarded a bus to Borovets Ski Resort where we rode a gondola up part of the mountain to the trail head. We hiked (or should I say climbed) the summit in two hours; alternating between walking on trails and scrambling over large boulders. As we neared the top, the switchbacks became very steep; angled at 50 degrees as we continued to climb. When we reached the top, we were rewarded with a stunning view of Bulgaria; enjoyed with sandwiches and chocolate. We lay down on the soft grass and enjoyed the perfect combination of the warm sun and the cool mountain breeze. Aside from receiving my second sunburn since coming to Bulgaria and almost missing the bus back to Blagoevgrad, the day was a huge success!

Four weeks in Europe has taught me that Bulgarians know how to work hard and play hard. Everyone studies and goes to class during the day, but as soon as the sun sets everyone begins to party. In America, staying up until 4AM is very late, but in Europe, 5AM is the normal bedtime. Us Americans are beginning to look like grandparents because we are usually tired by one or two in the morning. In fact, when I woke up at 5:30AM on Sunday, my Russian roommate was just climbing into bed. All stereotypes of crazy Americans that I was warned about have flown out of the window after spending time with Irish, German, and Dutch friends!