Exploring the world one word…and one mile…at a time

Archive for June, 2012

European Vacation Part Deux

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After six months of anticipation–having booked our flight back in January–we are waiting patiently in Terminal E at Logan for our outbound flight to Frankfurt via a short layover in Dublin. The clouds are rolling in, but we are hoping for an uneventful departure. We will arrive at our first destination (M’s uncle’s house in the small town of Grosswallstadt) sometime tomorrow afternoon. Our initial few days in Europe will be filled with celebration…first of M’s cousin’s wedding and then of the finals of the Euro Cup, which we hope to witness from Berlin’s famous Fan Mile. After a few days exploring Berlin and Leipzig next week, we plan to roll east through Dresden on our way to Prague, where we will explore a city new to us both. We are excited and honored to be sharing in T’s and S’s wedding festivities, and we are equally excited to be embarking on another leg of our journey together. We hope you will join us on the other side…of the Atlantic!


It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint

My training locations so far.  Week 1–Hiking the Whites.  Week 2–Running along the Atlantic.

Since we’ve started our travel blog, a pattern has emerged with the timing of our posts:  First, we hit the road, blogging three to five times per week about our trips.  Then, after a few weeks on the road, we return to New England and go quiet for a while.  Our silence is usually because our time in New England is filled with chores, errands, and visits with family and friends.  It’s not all fun and games, though…someone has to wash my stinky running gear!

We followed this same pattern after returning from our last trip to Virginia and Tennessee.  Now that we’ve been back in New England for a couple of weeks, it seemed about time to get back on the wagon and get some new posts published.  Of course, we leave for Europe next week, which should make for much more interesting posts than picking up dry cleaning, going to the bank and organizing our gear in storage.  Stay tuned!

For now, I wanted to put a little context around an activity that will color all of our upcoming travel for the next few months.  Running!  I know…I know…how is this different than any other trip?  Well, it’s time for marathon training!  It’s almost the end of Week 2 of my 18 week training plan for the Mount Desert Island (MDI) Marathon in Maine.  The marathon is Sunday, October 14th, just a couple of days after my birthday, and we’ll be spending the weekend in Bar Harbor for the event.

The race is an important milestone for me, since it will be my first marathon since I started running in late 2009.  In addition, it takes place in a location that is very important for J and me.  We got married on Mount Desert Island in Northeast Harbor in 2011, and (as you may know from some of our prior posts) we returned to the area this year to celebrate our first anniversary.  Not only is MDI beautiful, but it carries a huge amount of sentimental value.

Anyone who has run a long race or marathon before knows that you don’t just show up to compete.  You have to train.  And anyone who knows me knows that I like to train hard.  It’s rare for a race to go by where I haven’t set and trained for an aggressive time goal (aggressive for me anyway), and the MDI marathon is no different.  I’m pushing to finish the race in under 4 hours, with a target pace of 8:30 to 8:45 per mile.  I’ve run faster than this in prior races, but never anything longer than a half marathon.  Also, in addition to being voted the most scenic marathon in America and runner-up for best overall marathon, the MDI marathon is hilly.  One blogger who ran the race reported his GPS watch showing 1,700 feet in elevation gain over the 26.2 miles and just as much in elevation loss.

I’m loosely following a Hal Higdon training plan.  Higdon is a widely respected runner and author who has been helping runners succeed longer than I’ve been alive.  I chose his Novice 2 plan, since it is a little more aggressive than Novice 1.   I’ve not run a marathon before, so I stayed away from the intermediate training plans.  In a nutshell, the plan increases your training mileage and the length of your longest weekly run week-over-week for 18 weeks leading into the race.  There are some lower mileage weeks built into the plan for recovery after the longest of the training runs, and a taper period (period of rest and recovery) for the two to three weeks leading into the race.  The plan also designates the pace of each run, with several runs being completed at the desired marathon race pace (“at pace”).  The longest training run on the plan is 20 miles, and for me it will take place in late September about three weeks before race day.

So far, my adherence to the structure of the training plan has been less than perfect.  I have gotten in all of my training, but it has required some substitutions and schedule changes due to travel and other activities.  Here’s how Weeks 1 and 2 have gone so far, with the yellow representing what’s left this week: 

I moved my long run up this week because we’re running a 5K race on Saturday (part of our goal of running a race per month in 2012).  I also substituted some hikes for runs in Week 1 because we were in the White Mountains and the weather was fantastic.  I was comfortable with these adjustments in the early weeks of the plan, since the mileage is in my comfort zone of 15 to 25 miles per week.  As the plan continues, I need to buckle down.  Given the demands of the plan, I don’t want to risk injury due to over-training .  Also, since the plan is designed to provide enough rest leading into the longest run of the week and enough recovery after, it’s important that I stick to the prescribed schedule to avoid getting hurt or falling short on the important long training runs.

This will make for some scenic, interesting and challenging runs in upcoming Weeks 3 and 4, since I’ll be traveling in Germany and the Czech Republic!  We will be visiting with family and friends for my cousin’s wedding before taking the train to Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden and Prague.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of Europe, practicing my less-than-stellar German and, of course, logging some international marathon training miles! – M


Traversing Tennessee

Sunday’s Scenes (L to R): Kingsport’s old train depot and Main Street, plus Knoxville’s Market Square and a tasty brunch at Cafe 4.

After two weeks in the Virginia mountains, we hit the road yesterday with the goal of picking up a few more “new” states and national parks before we head back to New England for a while.  We spent Saturday night in Kingsport, a small manufacturing city in northeast Tennessee we first discovered on our March road trip.  Upon arrival, we made full use of the hotel’s fantastic gym, indoor pool, hot tub, and restaurant.  This morning, we drove to the Kingsport Greenbelt, a recently-completed mixed-surface fitness trail that traverses nearly ten miles of the town.  We were a bit surprised by the hilly terrain, which was a change of pace (literally) from the flat rail trail we’d run a few times in Virginia, but the pleasant scenery helped the time and miles pass.  We completed an enjoyable 4-mile run before heading back to clean up and repack the car.  We took a driving tour of downtown and then hit the highway to conquer the remaining stretch of I-81.  We picked up I-40 into Knoxville, home to the University of Tennessee, where we made a spontaneous decision to take a break and check out the downtown area.  We parked in a city garage (free on Sundays!) and wandered around a bit before deciding on a place to eat.  We enjoyed the weather and the people-watching as we ate a late outdoor brunch in Market Square.  We picked up coffee for the road before driving the last leg of the day down to Chattanooga, on Tennessee’s southern border with Georgia.  Chattanooga was featured in a magazine article we read last year as the best place to live for outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s been on our list of places to check out ever since.  The weather is looking stormy tomorrow, so we’re off to study the hourly radar with the hopes of picking the right hour for a running tour of downtown…  -J


Putting Charlottesville to the Test

We started our day today just outside of Charlottesville, VA (C’Ville) at Thomas Jefferson’s famous home, Monticello.  The rain held off as we walked through the gardens and took in the view.  As we toured the home itself, the place that Jefferson loved more than any other, a quote from Jefferson about his home struck me.  “I am as happy nowhere else and in no other society, and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.”  This is how I want to feel about the place that I live, at least most of the time.  It should be enriching and inspiring, while providing a venue for both the social and recreational activities I enjoy.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Scenes from Monticello (L to R): J in the Garden Pavilion, extensive vegetable gardens, the main house, gravestones with a story and a view

In addition to exploring ourselves, the United States and the National Parks, one goal of our road trips has been to seek out places that we someday may want to live. Each new city or town we enter goes through a review process either openly or in our minds.  All locations are ultimately compared to the New Hampshire Seacoast.  Why the Seacoast?  Aside from it being our current home and a familiar place, it has several characteristics that we look for in a home base:  Not too crowded and not too rural (our ideal is somewhere between 8,000 and 100,000 people), great places too run (long roads with low traffic, low risk of crime, beaches and/or bike trails), an arts/music/literary scene, and a downtown with quality independent restaurants and coffee shops.  Our current hometown has most of these characteristics, but given our recent freedom, we enjoy entertaining the idea of moving to new places.

One mistake we’ve made during our travels is to build up new places in our minds before actually visiting them.  No town is perfect, and unrealistic expectations can ruin a place before even getting there.  The first example of this for us was Portland, Oregon.  We had built Portland up to be the ideal place to live: progressive, artsy, West Coast (sort of)…it sounded perfect.  When we arrived in Portland, it was raining, gray, cold, filled with homeless people and nothing like the place we wanted it to be. Although we eventually grew to like Portland, we were disappointed by its inability to live up to our escapist/utopian expectations.  It’s easy to overlook the flaws in one’s hometown.  They are familiar, which by nature makes them less threatening.  The flaws in a new place stand out, especially when you haven’t imagined there would be any.

Before we came to Virginia, a friend recommended that we check out Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia.  “You’ll like it,” she assured us.  We asked our host, B, about it, and he concurred, mentioning the pedestrian mall, Friday night live music, yummy pizza, etc. as highlights.  Despite the threat of severe storms, we left Monticello and continued to downtown C’ville, anxious to give it a look before we headed out of Virginia for a few more stops on this leg of our journey.

We started our visit with a walk hand-in-hand down the pedestrian mall, taking in the mix of independent and chain stores, shops and restaurants.  So far, so good.  We stopped at the most highly recommended pizza joint in town, Christian’s, for a slice and a local beer.  Lots of veggie options and definitely delicious!  We sat by the window and enjoyed our late lunch while watching the eclectic mix of passers-by:  business people, students, children, grandparents and homeless folks, and they all seemed right at home in this downtown center.  It’s a welcoming place. 

After lunch, we waited out a downpour in a used bookstore called Blue Whale Books.  We chatted with the cashier, a UVA poet, and picked up two used books for $2 (a biography of Rilke for J and an analysis comparing Jungian philosophy to Tibetan Buddhism for me).  We left the pedestrian mall and headed for a drive around the UVA campus where the academic buildings were right across the street from the coffee shops and pubs…my kind of town.

Snapshots of C’Ville (L to R): Orienting ourselves on Main Street, the rainy pedestrian mall, tasty pizza and beer, and the UVA campus

The final test for C’Ville, and any town, was the grocery store.  As vegetarians who do our best to cook and eat healthy, local, organic food whenever possible, the quality of the grocery store is a key factor in determining the livability of a city or town.  When it comes to grocery stores, a town with a Whole Foods is pretty much a sure thing.  With the exception of higher prices, Whole Foods is like a candy store for vegetarians.  It’s a place to buy the specialty items that most grocery stores don’t carry. Tack on a weekly supplemental trip to a regular grocery store for staples and a farmer’s market for seasonal items, and you’ve got everything you need.  The C’Ville Whole Foods was clean, bustling and close to downtown, rounding out the Words Per Gallon livability checklist.

So how did C’Ville stack up?  We could definitely see ourselves living there.  For now though, there are so many other towns to explore, more roads to run on and more National Parks to visit.  Plus, our new place on the Seacoast beckons; it will be ready later this summer.  Maybe we’ll move next year… -M