Sunday, August 12, 2012

Running in Ireland, Olympics recap

As anyone following Megan Hyland Tajlili on facebook has seen, we traveled to Ireland recently.  Megan is still there taking a summer class for her doc program.  I am back in the States -- notably in North Carolina, where, like Ireland it has been rainy and humid every day.  Unlike Ireland, however, it never gets below 70 here in early August, as opposed to the 50s and 60s I 'enjoyed' over there.  I also was a bit confused upon my return when it seemed like the Olympics in London were replaced with the beach volleyball world championships.  Where was BBC or RTE (the Irish national channel) when I needed it?  The contrast in the type of coverage in the US versus Europe can be highlighted by our one night out at a pub in the tiny village of Keshcerrigan.  While there, on prime time TV, I was able to entire women's 10K uninterrupted (yes, I'm a track nerd ... this would cause a riot in the US) and a men's Flyweight boxing match.   For the record, watching an Irishman win an Olympics boxing match in a pub in Ireland with a pint of Guinness in hand is the right way to watch the Olympics.  NBC streaming was a lifesaver, but not exactly the same experience.

First, a side bar about the trip, then some more Olympics talk...

We rented a car and I drove from Dublin to Northern Ireland, we stopped in the small coastal town of Port Ballintrae near Giant's Causeway and the Bushmills whiskey distillery.  Two nights there, then we drove down to the Hyland family homestead in rural Leitrim County, and met about 20 of Megan's 'cousins' over two days.  We drove down to a rocky mountainous area called The Burren, saw The Cliffs of Moher in a torrential rain, then spent a raucous night in Galway during the Irish equivalent of the Kentucky Derby.  Finally, we made our way back to Dublin, at which point I felt like I was somewhat back in America.

A few random learnings:

1) driving on the left hand side of the road is not as bad as it seems.  It helps that the steering wheel is on the right hand side which helps put you in the state of mind of doing everything opposite... renting a car is expensive, but was the only way for us to see some of the things we wanted to see easily.

2) crossing into Northern Ireland is anticlimactic.  Even 15-20 years ago, the border was heavily patrolled due to the conflict (the "Troubles").  Now the only indication you are crossing into a new country is a sign reminding you that the speed limits are changing from kilometers per hour to miles per hour.  And they use different currencies just to make it a little more confusing (pounds in N.I., the Euro in the Republic).

3) Ireland now has zero tolerance DWI laws (basically, you can't drink anything and drive).  They also banned smoking in bars several years ago.  This may seem a little odd based on the stereotype of how hard the Irish go out, but things have definitely changed there.

4) the weather is strange; one minute it will be raining heavy, then it will stop a few minutes later, and the sun will come out, and then it will begin raining again sometimes while the sun is still out.  I recall one time in particular driving in a hail shower (yes, hail) while simultaneously being blinded by the sun.

5) the Irish know more about our politics and follow it closer than most of us; they really are terrified of Romney and are pro-O'Bama (not just because of his distant Irish relations).

6) Being possibly 1/4th Irish, I have some distant family roots in Leitrim County, which ironically, is where Megan has some closer relatives.  As far as we can tell, the family trees do not cross anytime since the 1770s which is about as far back as Megan's family has records, meaning we can't be any closer than 6th cousins.  My mother's surname is McTernan (pronounced McTiernan, so incidentally we have been mispronouncing all these years...) and they are from the Drumohaire near Sligo.  This is about 45 minutes from where we were staying in Drumshambo.  Back in the early 1800s (when my family was last in Ireland), this would have been a considerable distance.

I went on a few great runs out there, with temperatures that I have not felt on a run since late March.  Nothing too long, but got in about 6-8 each day I was in Northern Ireland and Leitrim.  Below are some pictures from the Antrim County part of the trip, which is where I had some of my most scenic runs.

 running on single track trail beside cliff near Port Ballintrae, Antrim Co.

Ran to Giant's Causeway from our hotel before official opening 

"Giant's Gate" at Causeway

Ran up to the top of this cliff overlooking the Causeway


US distance runners get little respect at the world class level, probably most of all from Americans themselves, who are used to seeing gymnasts and swimmers rack up a plethora of medals.  Even the sprinters somewhat get shortchanged in the public image.  On the surface Usain Bolt's 3 gold medals seem insignificant compared to Phelps' 16 from Beijing.  However, if there were 4 different ways to run (backward, sideways, three legged race - which actually was an Olympics event in 1900), and if running events didn't beat up the joints and muscles as much as swimming, Bolt could probably win everything.  He is a freak of nature.  

The distance events are even worse.  Other than a 5K-10K double, which is hard enough in itself, it is practically impossible to run 2 events and actually compete through preliminary and finals rounds.  Anyone who has run a 5K or 10K all out knows it takes a few days to get back to 'normal', let alone turning around and racing again.  That makes Mo Farah's accomplishment all the more impressive.

That being said, this was an Olympics where our men competed as well in the 800m+ events as any recent one, but won't exactly show it in the medal count...

Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds breaking 1:43 (!) in the 800m but finishing 4th and 5th.  Kenya's Rudisha did something in that race that you never see... leading wire to wire and breaking a World Record in an 'unrabbited' race.  It makes me wonder if he could break 1:40 with a pacer and with 100% fresh legs...

Leonel Monzano's surprising silver in the 1500m and Matt Centrowitz's near miss at 4th.  Monzano had some bad races earlier in the season, but in a tactical race where the last 100m in the deciding factor, he always seems to deliver.

Bernard Lagat's near miss with a 4th in a 5K that basically came down to the final sprint.

Galen Rupp finishing 2nd to training partner Mo Farah in the men's 10K.  Having the UK and US finish 1-2 in an event that has recently been dominated by Ethiopians and Kenyans made for a good story.

Ryan Hall and Abdi had bad days in the men's marathon and dropped out (Hall has been injured a bit this year), but Meb Keflezghi surged to 4th in the last few miles.  At 37, it will be his last Olympics.  He always seems to be consistent performer in high profile races, despite having a much slower personal best than many of the other guys.

The women had a little rougher time.  Duke's Rowbury finished 6th in the 1500m and Shalane Flanagan was 10th in the marathon.  Morgan Uceny probably had the best chance to medal before falling.

Admittedly, all the track viewing has given me some pretty good training motivation here at the end of the summer as the days get shorter (but thankfully a little cooler...) I'm still on track in my own marathon prep -- with a 19 miler at Umstead yesterday including a killer out and back on Turkey Creek from 10-17 (ouch).

July mileage:  161 miles (36 per week); longest run - 18 miles in Umstead Park

Notable races:  25:07 4 miler at Four on the Fourth (muggy morning), 2:57 1000m at Godiva Summer Track, 5:13 mile

August goals:

Average 40 miles a week

No races planned, just steady training, buildup to 'peak' month in September
Stay healthy

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