21 September 2009

Wales Wins Again!

This year, New Balance UK will be staging their first half-marathon on home turf. It will be held in Warrington, but is called the Great British Half Marathon, because Warrington is really not such a nice place. Anyhow, I was excited for this as a bunch of co-workers decided to do it and I rarely get to run with people I know. However the date of this event falls on October 3rd and as most of you know there is something slightly more important happening that day. Therefore, I decided to find another race and in an extremely hung over state (thanks Colin), I signed up for a half-marathon on Anglesey island. So this past weekend, we once again decided to set out for North Wales, which is really the most amazing part of the UK. Anglesey is an island off the coast of North Wales so we decided it would be fun to book a dog-friendly hotel and make a weekend out of it.

Despite the grey skies, we set out eagerly on our trip. Our first destination was at the furthest tip of the island, called Holyhead. There are huge cliffs overlooking the sea here and supposedly there are puffins as well, so we were super excited. When we arrived the scenery was incredibly dramatic. The sea was a few different beautiful shades of blue and although there were no puffins, there was a nice lighthouse to our North. The place felt a lot like our trip north of San Francisco last year and immediately made us both realize how importance the sea is to both of us.

We were also really excited to find out that something was being filmed. We saw three men dressed in ‘period’ clothing surrounded by a bunch of Americans filming and shouting instructions. A fourth actor came out and he even had an assistant. We both racked our brain to try and see if we knew who these people were. We finally decided we had no clue, but deduced that it was some B rated made for TV Sherlock Holmes thing. We watched numerous run throughs of a scene where they look over the cliff and discuss how best to climb down to the boat. They then started to film and during the second take, our good friend Miller shook his head violently making loud noises much to the dismay of the Production Assistant. He shot us a very American and very dirty look so we decided to be on our way. I thought it was pretty exciting nonetheless and Kathleen enjoyed the crew’s American accents.

At this point, it was getting a bit late so we decided to adjourn to Beaumaris where we had booked a room at the Bulkely Hotel. This was a hotel that was built in order to accommodate the queen a century ago. It was subsequently purchased by Best Western, who made it a much more ‘common’ lodging. As we checked in to our room, we noticed that a wedding was taking place there. Oh, cute we are getting married in a few weeks… yeah, more to come on that in a bit. The room was not the nicest, but we were stoked that Miller could stay. We spent the evening exploring the beach area and downtown which boasted ‘the most technically perfect medieval castle in the world.’ I still don’t know what that means, but it looked cool.

Rather than leave Miller in the room while we went out to eat, we opted to order from their Bistro menu and eat in the Lounge. Well… the food was pretty terrible. Kathleen had a leg of lamb that tasted like ‘what you remember bad lamb tasting like as a kid.’ My lasagne (usually a good pre-race meal) was some meat and weird saucy cheese liquid. I really think there was no pasta in it at all. However, the worst was the other people in the Lounge. Well these people were actually all the young kids from the wedding. By kids, I guess I mean drunk (really really drunk) 12-15 year olds acting very inappropriately, screaming toddlers who had way too much candy, and a few early twenty-somethings inhaling helium. Oh and they were all very interested in Miller who kind of had the best response to them by just growling away.

Needless to say, we booked out of dinner and decided to retire early. We watched some TV while Miller took full advantage of roaming freely on the furniture. At around 10ish, we decided to try to sleep. I could be wrong, but I think this was precisely the time the DJ decided to crank the dance music at the wedding reception. It was an awful, awful two hours. The only good thing coming out of this was we have a long list of Do Not Plays at the wedding including such favourites as:

YMCA – The Village People

Hips Don’t Lie – Shakira

Tell Me More – Grease Soundtrack

The Twist – Chubbie Checker

Kung Fu Fighting – God Knows Who

And much, much more…

I’m sorry if anyone is partial to these, but it just ain’t happening. After a very angry call to the Front Desk, they quieted a bit and then shut down at midnight. Then for the next hour there were the sounds of various drunken guests roaming the halls and urinating in the alley outside our window. I believe I fell asleep until about 4:30 or so only to be awakened to another post-wedding couple activity (our neighbours?) that I won’t go into detail about. Sooner (rather than later) my alarm went off at 6:45 for race day.

We got out of the hotel without any issues, but also without successfully getting our rate reduced. It was drizzling as we pulled out of town and to be honest, we were both feeling a bit surly. However, as we drove on a bit, the rain gave way to sun and a beautiful day opened up for us. We followed the directions we were given to the race finish. I was to register here and receive my chip, and then they would transport me 13.1 miles to the start. The worst part of a race is waiting around for it to start so I made sure I took the last possible bus. Kathleen and Miller put me on, like it was my first day of school, and off I went.

The race itself was pretty gruelling, but I pretty much loved every second of it. The beginning reminded me of that area in Welfleet where the Cape is at its narrowest. There were tidal flats off to my right during the first mile, whereas on my left were beach pines, very reminiscent of Truro. I have some pretty terrible shin splints these days, but the scenery helped me to forget. At mile 2-3, we turned inland and the surrounding became much more Vermont like (but with more sheep). The course was pretty hilly and wound through small towns and many, many farms. Off to my right rose the mountains of Snowdonia, still decked out in morning fog. The sun stayed out the entire time and I was definitely glad I had the hat my mom bought me before the Cape Cod marathon a few years back (thanks to Mom for the gift and to Kathleen for reminding me). As I said, my shins kept me a bit reserved the first two miles, but I was then able to open up. My splits were coming in faster and faster, and I even managed one of my quickest miles ever. Finally I saw the finish area, and as I came around the last bend, there were Kathleen and Miller waiting with big smiles, yelling and screaming. I had told Kathleen I would be in between 1:45 and 2:00 as I knew the course was pretty tough. Luckily she erred on the side of caution because according to my watch, I came in just under 1:42. Not my fastest, but quicker than Liverpool in the spring and this was a much more challenging course, so I was stoked.

Soon after, I was showered and hydrated, and we were headed back home. We decided to stop off in Conwy to have lunch. We ate paninis in the harbour underneath another gigantic medieval castle. Afterwards, Kathleen took a quick tour of the Smallest House, and we then meandered back to the car in the crisp fall weather. Despite a horrible night’s rest, our trip was pretty fantastic. The race itself reminded me of 100 on a 100 in Vermont and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. Anglesey itself, is extremely beautiful and worth a day excursion. North Wales is truly an amazing place and if nothing else, we are psyched to be able to spend so much time there.

12 September 2009

Happy Days

The past few weeks have been a flurry of activity - busy days at work for me and Mark, late dinners, and the weekends have seemed too far and few between. Nevertheless, we've managed to squeeze a lot of fun in, including the Wirral Food and Drink festival a few weeks ago.

As we've mentioned in previous posts, we're starting to pay a lot more attention to what we eat and where it comes from. The northwest of England is blessed with some great local food options, and we've sampled local ice-cream, lamb, cheese, fruit and vegetables. The food festival was a great opportunity to see more of these local vendors, ones with amazing food but a little too far to go for a weekly errand. The festival was held on the grounds of the Claremont Farm, our current source of fresh vegetables and meats, and we had a great time - sampling from the tents, horsing around and, of course, people watching.

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. - H.G. Wells

Last week, a giant box arrived in the mail for me. Mark was good and didn't take a peek (I was away for work), but on Saturday we ripped it open. I'd ordered a bike from a little shop in East London, and we set to work trying to put it together.

In an hour or so, we'd assembled what looked like a bike, but it didn't quite work like a bike. I'd like to say that we soldiered on and made it work (ah, Tim Gunn, how I miss you), but Mark recommended that we take it to a local bike shop and have them make a few adjustments. After all, when you're talking about brakes, it's probably not the best idea to just ignore the problem.

We took it for a debut ride last Sunday, into town and then over to the farm, but it wasn't until today that we really showed her off.

Mark spent the morning skateboarding in Runcorn, and when he came back we grabbed the bikes and headed downtown to Everyman Bistro for lunch. Sated and happy, we then rode down to the docks and fooled around for a while - trying out some 'Agility Training' (sort of a private joke, though there is an Agility Training course near Liverpool where dogs can learn to jump through rings of fire... Mark really wants to enroll the dog) while thoroughly unimpressed pedestrians watched.

We rode along the promenade back to our neighborhood, then took Miller to the park. He's slowly getting used to the bikes, but I think his favorite part is the constant running and weaving between and in front of us to see our reactions.

After a little rest on the grass, we both felt refreshed. A pretty perfect Saturday afternoon.

PS. This was really all I meant to write today, but I just ran out and picked up a book at the library. Normally, this wouldn't be very exciting, but as the librarian wrote out the due date on the front page, I realized she was writing our wedding date.

WHOA. We are officially getting hitched in three weeks!

I got a little giddy (the librarian wishes us both the best) and practically skipped the whole way home...