20 June 2009

Hilbre Island Run

For my birthday this year, Jeremy sent me a dope book called Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall. It is written by a journalist who spent some time down in Mexico with the Tarahumara Indians who are apparently amazing long distance runners. It is not terribly well written, but it tells a great story and is full of all sorts of interesting information (at least interesting if you are in to running at all). Since the book begins with the question, ‘Why does my foot hurt?’ he spends a lot of time discussing the merits of barefooted running. I won’t go into too much detail about the theory behind this, but essentially the theory goes that shoes are blocking important information from reaching our body, which does not allow it to react accordingly and hence the reason running injuries have increased since the invention of the modern running shoe (1970’s). He does not really go into the fact that this could be because the number of runners have increased dramatically since then, but I’m sure he can find a way to make the numbers work out.

Anyhow, a lot of what I was reading did actually make sense and I thought I should give it a go. I decided to run 3 miles Friday morning without my sneakers. It went pretty well despite all of the stares I got running down Lark Lane to the park barefoot with my dog in tow at 6:00am. My legs felt great, but I did have some pain on the bottoms of my feet (wow, surprising huh?). Anyhow, I emailed Kathleen my accomplishment and her response was: “In Liverpool? That is not safe.” Fair enough, after all I did see a dirty diaper on the sidewalk the other day, and there is usually the one two combination of broken beer bottle on one block, human vomit on the next. Regardless, it left me wanting to try a longer run barefoot. On Friday afternoon, I started to hunt around on the interweb to see what I could line up for Saturday. The weather was questionable, but I knew I wanted to get out with Miller and try to get a run in as well. That is when I came across Hilbre Island.

Hilbre Island is a tidal island located in the Dee Estuary at the edge of the Irish Sea. At low tide, you can walk the two miles to the island and explore it and two smaller islands. I quickly checked the tides and saw that they were perfect for an afternoon excursion. I figured I could go out and around the island and back which would be roughly 6 miles round trip. Perfect. I spent Saturday morning cleaning as Kathleen would not be too into the dog hair and beer bottles in the apartment. I then set out and I got to the parking lot around 1:15 where I had a brief moment of indecision. I wanted to bring the leash, my camera, and some water. However since I only have two hands something had to go. I had run 20 miles before with no water breaks and pretty much hate carrying water bottles, so I gave Miller a big bowl full and put the bottle back in the car.

It was a bit crowded going straight to the island so I took a wide arc around the first two smaller ones to get to the main. Miller was off like the greyhound he has in him and I could tell he was having a wonderful time. It reminded me a bit of Provincetown Bay at low tide. There were some dry sandy patches, some wet muddy areas, and a lot of pools of sea water that had not yet drained out. When we came around the far side of the island, there were some rock shelves covered in shell fish and seaweed. This slowed us a bit but within no time we were on the island itself. From the far side we looked out and saw a few seals hanging out. At this point we had come about 3 miles and I took stock of how I felt and how Miller looked. Absolutely amazing, I would say for the both of us. So instead of heading straight back, we cut across another tidal flat that brought us over to the next town (even though the website expressedly said not to cross this way, but I figured we had plenty of time before the tide changed). Finally we came ashore near a promenade and a life saving station. I still felt really great, but I could tell Miller was feeling a bit parched, so we headed back.

This run was nothing short of fantastic. I can’t describe how much fun it was running for so long on the tidal flats and the beach. I was able to let Miller go as far ahead or behind as he wanted and I did not have to worry about cars. Whenever we would get too hot, I would vear towards a tidal pool and splash through. I felt so great running that we were just flying around aimlessly just simply enjoying ourselves. We would pick a landmark in the distance and head for it. Then when we got there, we would just choose another. When we finally got back to the car, I was surprised to find out it was already 3:00. I figure that with the amount of time that had elapsed, we probably ran about 10 miles. Now, I won’t lie and say I did not feel a thing, but all in all my body felt great. My strides were much shorter and I was landing on the balls of my feet rather than my heels, just like I had read about. Of course this was 10 miles barefoot on the beach and not 10 miles barefoot in the mountains. I am not ready to throw the shoes in the garbage and quit my job, but I think this is something I will definitely play with more.

All in all, I am so psyched we found this run and I can honestly say the Hilbre Island Run is in my top five (others being in no particular order: 4 miler in Falmouth from my parents, Shelburne Farm in VT in the winter, the NYC marathon, and the Lake Champlain causeway in Colchester, VT). I am now enjoying a frosty beverage and slow cooking some chicken for burritos. Thanks for the book Jerm!

Here are some pics. And I know there are a ton of dog ones… sorry, I am officially a weird dog owner.

13 June 2009

Wales is Just Rad.

As you all probably know, Kathleen is back in the US seeing some friends, hitting the beach, and enjoying her time off. In the past when she has left me alone, I generally turn it into a Boy’s Weekend of sorts which means my friends come over and we drink a lot of beer, eat Crab Rangoon, and usually surf. However since 3 out of those 4 things are not currently available I had to think of another way to ‘seize the opportunity.’ One of the things I have learned about Kathleen is that she absolutely hates to get out of bed in the morning. It does not really matter what is planned for the day, weekend or weekday, she likes to sleep in. As do I, but my idea of sleeping in is to about 7:00 am or so at which point I am ready to take on the day. Since we had come back from Wales, I had been thinking about hiking the tallest peak in the country – Mt Snowdon. The problem is that there is only one small parking lot from the trail head and everywhere stated how early it filled up. Considering we are about two hours away from said car park this would mean that if I were to climb it, I would have to leave the house early… like early early. So when I saw the weather was looking decent for today, I began to plan it all out.

My day started at around 4:15 AM. That is when the alarm went off and my partner for the day, Miller, was at my bedside immediately licking my face. I took him for a quick walk, and then debated whether I should feed him so early or wait. I figured it is not great to hike on a completely full stomach so I fed him quickly and headed out. The drive over was pretty painless and we were making good time. That was until the sat nav told me to get off the highway and I found myself on the scenic route. Oh yeah, Welsh roads… I had forgotten how they are like mountain biking single-track through the woods: Narrow and windy with not a lot of room for forgiveness. We wound our way through some amazing countryside and picturesque towns until we reached the trail head. Luckily, there were some parking spots left and we quickly geared up and headed out.

Our route was to follow the Pyg Trail up until it converged with the Miner’s track. Here the incline would increase dramatically and I had heard tales of people down on all fours climbing. I was a bit nervous about Miller as this was a pretty hefty hike with some supposedly technical ascents and some very steep faced ridges. I should not have worried one bit as he did much better than I. Although he’s no Darryl Strawberry (well I mean, who is really?) catching fly balls in the park, he is one agile little mutt. This part of this hike was absolutely outstanding view-wise. I had heard many people compare this hike to those in the Scottish Highlands and I was not disappointed. We were surrounded by sheer rock cliffs and clouds you could nearly touch. Below us were a series of lakes, which I had promised Miller we could hit on the way down. The weather was at times sunny and bluebird and then pouring down rain. It was a bit windy but the air temp was good though so we were doing well.

Miller even met some friends.

He was also good at blending in with things.

Well, only in Black and White.

As much as I was looking forward to the hike itself, I was not looking forward to the summit. They have a steep railway up to the top and I had heard on nice days it can be a mob scene. Additionally, word was they built a café on the top and today was opening day! However, I was going to overlook these as I was really there for the hike itself. Miller was not too excited about the summit either though.
Luckily the crowds were scare because the summit was socked in with cloud cover. However, this did impede my views.

On the way down, we took the Miner’s Track in its entirety so we could hit the lakes. Miller swam a lot, much to the enjoyment of a group of school kids.

Overall the hike was amazing, but not nearly as long or difficult as I had thought. It was only 11:00 when I got back to the car. Since the sun had come out (for good it looked like) I decided to take Miller down to Criccieth. This was a small sea-side town where Kathleen and I had visited earlier. I remembered the beach was pretty decent so we packed up the car to head down. As we were doing so, I found a small surprise in the back of the car. It seemed Miller does not really like Welsh roads either and my decision to feed him first thing this morning was a bad one. Vomitous dog!

After a quick clean up we drove down to Criccieth (this time I tried to drive more slowly). We parked at the beach and walked a ½ mile down or so to avoid the crowds. The water was actually clean and there was no litter. There were a lot of rocks on the beach, but it was great. The sun was out and Miller swam a lot. I even decided to take a swim as well, however Miller was not into the two of swimming together. At this point, I must admit I began to miss the Cape and Surfing a bit. However, seeing the old Criccieth Castle sticking out on the horizon to my right:

and the mountains of Snowdonia to my left:

I was pretty damn psyched to be in Wales!
On our way home we had another harrowing drive on the Welsh road. This time there were runners as well! It seems like there is some sort of large scale relay race here, similar to Vermont’s 100 on 100 (fitting, no? Vermont=Rad, Wales=Rad).

I weaved my way through the runners, on-coming traffic, and some bikers as well. I am not sure of my time, but as you can see I finished the leg.

The rest of the drive was uneventful: Miller stinking up the car and me fighting yawns. I got back and took a long nap. I am now enjoying a well-deserved glass of Irish and trying to decide what to plan for next weekend!

10 June 2009

Maydays, Maydays, Maydays

It’s been a crazy few weeks, and I’ve owed an update to the blog for some time now. Since Mark’s last post, we’ve welcomed the other Yates brother to Liverpool, explored Manchester through the lens of 80s post-punk bands Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays, and others, celebrated a birthday (Mark’s thirty-third) and I’ve visited Finland, among other marathon business trips, for work. After all that, I was left holding down the fort in Liverpool with Miller while Mark headed home for some much-deserved R&R and time with friends. I kept meaning to post while he was gone, but we got some long-awaited sunshine and warm weather, and I found myself restless in the house and every time I opened the laptop, I would shut it again to grab Miller’s leash and head outside.

First things first: besides the Factory Records tour in Manchester, we also showed Bill some of the local sights here in Liverpool, including another visit to Crosby Beach. I think we can all agree that we don’t need to take anymore people here. Plus, it just seems to get sadder and bleaker with every visit (see previous references to British litter). 

But his trip was quick, and before we knew it we had dropped Bill off at the airport. That night, I took Mark out for a great meal at 60 Hope Street, our new favourite restaurant in the city, as part of a belated birthday celebration. Then, it was off for a few nights visiting customers down south and then back to Liverpool to catch a flight to Helsinki.

I had been really excited for my Finland trip, but I can’t say that it was particularly memorable. I hadn’t mentally prepared myself to spend over nine hours a day in a trade show booth, and our hotel location (abutting the airport, a €30 taxi ride from the city) didn’t lend itself much to exploring. Nevertheless, we managed to see a bit of downtown and enjoyed the crazy daylight hours (the sun didn’t set til after 11pm each night) while walking the cobblestone streets of Senate Square. I also managed to convince my colleagues to spend our final evening having dinner in this gem of a restaurant, and I highly recommend you take some time to explore the website and the dinner menu. I had the sautéed reindeer, which was… interesting. Glad I tried it, but don’t know if I will be having it again any time soon.

My arrival home was bittersweet, as I only had two nights with Mark before he departed on his own trip. I dropped him off at the airport at 445AM, bleary-eyed and with a confused Miller in the back, and couldn’t help but feel jealous.

That weekend, to stave off depressing homesickness and loneliness, I took Miller for a long early morning walk (we’ve got some friends along the route, now) and returned home to find 20 roses on our doorstep; a seven-year anniversary gift from Mark.

I cleaned up the flowers and then headed in to the farmer’s market. There was fresh rhubarb and tiny strawberries, asparagus, lettuce, and all sort of other gems. I found myself filling my bag with all sorts of vegetables, fresh bread (though, to be honest - £2 for a loaf of bread is just stupid), and some spicy North African merguez sausage, pushed into my hands by a very vocal butcher armed with a knife the size of my thigh. I couldn’t say no.

The streets were also full of photographers, armed with digital SLRs and patrolling our little street and the Lark Lane market. I did a little sleuthing online and discovered this flickr photo set and thought I would share. The shots of the street full of plantings and flowers is our street, and the guy with the crazy hair is our kayaking neighbour. I think his name is Steve, and he literally kayaks almost every day - though I’m not sure where. All the flowers are grown and taken care of by another neighbor, Brian, who is also helping me plant some flowers in our backyard.

The rest of the weekend was spent doing errands, cleaning, long walks with the dog, cooking some more and trying desperately not to eat all the strawberry rhubarb crumble immediately. I succeeded, but only kind of. (I saved a bite for Monday morning, just so I could say it lasted three days).  

And, actually, the rest of the week was sort of more of the same.

I have to confess, another reason I haven’t posted is because I’ve been fighting a sort of, not really, but kind of can’t ignore maybe-depression. Chalk it up to homesickness, belated adjustment to a new home, or a combination of other things (and those of you we’ve been speaking to know what I’m talking about), I’ve just been finding it more and more difficult to ignore.  I am trying to stay focused on the positive, though, and am looking forward to my own trip home as a way to recharge.

So, come to think of it, I’d better head to bed. My 4AM wake-up is only five hours away...