I've spent most of my running career injured. Last year was my break through, we finally found a way to stay healthy. I only run about 4 or 5 days a week and spend the rest cross-training. Not particularly enjoyable, but it works. I kind of think of this past year as my first really running. It's the first time I've been to USA's or to Europe. Although it ended with injury I'm out of a rut and I'm ready for big things this year. Here's a little bit about my time in Europe. I'll get back to you about how things are going at this moment. Sorry about the length....
Thomas, Kyle, Ryan and I boarded a plane in Charlotte at 5:00 on the 8th of July. 18 hours later we touched down in Brussels, Belgium. Groggy and disoriented we exchanged money, hopped a train to Lueven, checked into our rooms, bought rudimentary groceries and went to dinner.
The menu left us lost. We all ordered the first slightly recognizable dish; a ham and cheese omelet. Ryan ordered water. It came in wine glass and cost about 4 dollars. I ordered milk and it came with whipped crÃÂ¨me a biscuit, sugar cubes and creamer. I didnÃ¢ÂÂt know what to do so I just mixed it all together. As delirious as we were all the strange knew things seemed extremely funny.
On our way back we started running into other athletes, Kim Smith, Amy Mortimer, Matt Gabrielson, Andrew Carlson, you name one, they were there. It was odd to see familiar faces in such a foreign place.
After a long night sleep we woke up and headed to the bike place. Everybody in Belgium rides bikes and everyone knows where to rent them cheap; Velo. It was in an old warehouse marked only by a small green sign. Inside were hundreds upon hundreds of old bikes. Rusted and chipped, each was fitted with its own unique bell and a light that would omit a meager glow when the wheel spun. They were all quite unique; mine I dubbed 'White Lightning', though with its creaking parts and loose chain it was anything but. RyanÃ¢ÂÂs was the ugliest green you could ever imagine, but ended up being the most effective.
Equipped with our trusty bikes we were mobile. The downtown was only ten minutes away. We took off on a run through the countryside, just three minutes from our dorm. We jogged along groomed dirt trails out through the woods, along a river, by cows and pasturelands.
When we returned we showered up, gathered a few of the other athletes and headed into town. We cut through campus, passed old stone buildings, over small bridges through tight cobblestone alleys to the base of the downtown. From there we walked on through a narrow street packed with restaurants. People sat, relaxed, chatting, drinking high gravity beer from large chalices. We took a turn up a small hill and hit the townÃ¢ÂÂs center. Huge cobblestone courtyards, packed with cathedrals, outdoor restaurants and cafÃÂ©Ã¢ÂÂs. Thomas and Kyle made a b-line to the upper corner where BillyÃ¢ÂÂs and Com Media sat (a restaurant and a gelato place). Apparently these were the regular haunts of the US runners the previous year. A cheep, quality, filling meal at Com Media, then a dollar gelato cone at BillyÃ¢ÂÂs.
Sure enough within 20 minutes there were 20 - 25 athletes from the US Canada, Ireland, New Zealand. Later in the month, on that corner, there could be as many as 40 or more familiar faces, with coaches, agents and flotrack guys named Mark. We would sometimes venture off the strip to other restaurants, always checking the price of spaghetti bolognaise (spaghetti with meet sauce). Spaghetti bolognaise was our staple and the best way to determine the general price of a restaurant. Example: Ã¢ÂÂOh look this ones a six dollar spaghetti bolognaiserÃ¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂYeah but this ones a five and a halfer, plus it comes with bread.Ã¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂOh were there.Ã¢ÂÂ The dollar gelato cone was a constant.
Finished eating drinking and socializing we would take to our bikes and head back to campus. On the way back there would sometimes be as many as 10 or 15 of us. We always got a kick out of this mis-matched bike gang. A large group of elite distance runners, jumpers and sprinters winding through the Belgian streets, with long legs and short bikes, ringing our multi-tone bells, flying through the dark with 50s style headlights.
By the time our second full day rolled around I was already settled in, enjoying our new setting and getting pumped for the races. Maybe I was a bit careless, I donÃ¢ÂÂt know, either way it didnÃ¢ÂÂt last. In the afternoon I went out to do a tempo with Ryan. I had forgotten my flats, but it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt a major workout. I thought running it in trainers would be fine. Well, they were a brand new shoes and I think I tied them awkwardly, a bit too tight at the top. As the workout wore on, I noticed my foot was kind of jamming, slapping down, not really rolling through like it should. I only had a bit more so I just finished up, nothing was hurting.
The next morning, my foot just felt a bit odd, but by the afternoon I was having trouble walking. I kept trying everything over the next few days; massage, tape, alternate shoe laces, you name it, but nothing allowed me to get up on my toes. I finally had to admit to myself it was more than just a minor strain. I talked to Pete and we made the decision to call it a season.
Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed. The outdoor season never came together the way it looked it might and now I was stuck in Belgium watching all the races I was supposed to be a part of.
After a few days or so of wallowing in self pity I decided to try and make the most of a unique experience. Its times like this that it's best to get your mind off your own running and enjoy whatÃ¢ÂÂs around you. And so I did.
I went out on the town, biked through the country, met a friend in Germany, listened to great outdoor concerts, sampled the delicious Belgian ale, rubbed elbows with number of locals, met athletes IÃ¢ÂÂd never known and along the way witnessed some truly historical track races.
On a still afternoon in Brashcaat Belgium I watched the fastest mile IÃ¢ÂÂve ever scene. As the sun dipped below the tree line, I sat trackside, eating grilled sausage and sipping cherry beer with a few members of the New Zealand team. Three minutes and forty-six seconds later we were on the backstretch celebrating Alan Webs new American record. It was a great setting. As small as it could be, I donÃ¢ÂÂt think the locals even knew what was going on, but those in the know had been rooting him on for weeks. We had all been living in Lueven together and felt like part of one big team. To see the buildup the anticipation and such a stellar execution was inspirational. That night, on the corner by BillyÃ¢ÂÂs a few dozen athletes were there to toast his record and wish him luck in the big meets to come.
Two weeks later, in a fair-like atmosphere in Huesdan I watched the finale of the Belgian series. The flags were still, the rain held off and the times were fast. 5 or 6 AmericanÃ¢ÂÂs, most of whom where in our training group, broke 13:25, Lisa Aguilera broke the womanÃ¢ÂÂs steeple record, 2 runners hit the menÃ¢ÂÂs steeple A standard and Web won the 800 in a huge PR of 1:43.9 adding to possibly the deepest year in US distance history. This was our last night and as the music stopped and the crowd dwindled we took to our car and headed back to the cobblestone streets of Lueven to meet the group and thoroughly enjoy every minute we had left.
So, in the end, I never raced or gained racing experience, I lost money and I lost fitness, but I gained incentive. I found a world IÃ¢ÂÂm driven to be a part of. IÃ¢ÂÂm now more determined then ever to get the absolute best out of myself before I hang up these shoes. Screw Ã¢ÂÂwhen are you going to get a real jobÃ¢ÂÂ this is a real job and one few people in the world get to truly experience.