Friday, October 19, 2018

Boston Athletic Association's Half Marathon

A few months ago Don suggested we run the Boston Athletic Association (BAA)'s Half Marathon in October. That would be two weeks after I ran the Disneyland Paris Semi Marathon. At least I would be trained for it! On the downside, it was only a week after coming home and I was working full-time at Princeton University.

Right after hitting the commit button we read the fine print: must finish in under three hours. Meaning must maintain a 13 minute pace -- which is faster than the 14 minute/mile pace required by the Princeton Half Marathon, a race I was doing good to finish in 3:15. Yes, I can run faster (not much faster), but if I am spending that much money to do a race, I also want to sight see. I'm never going to win the race in a field of 6,000 runners, so I may as well just have fun.

Cousin Martin lulled us into believing it was a flat course. 

He lied. Or at least it seems flat in a car, but not on foot.

We booked an AirBnB about two miles from the start line. I know it was that close because we passed it at the two mile mark of the race, then again at the eight mile mark (the race did some looping in the park to get to 13.1 miles).

In a "God Always Provides" moment, we realized we should have brought throw-away sweatshirts for the start of the race. While chatting with our AirBnB hostess she was folding sweatshirts to donate to Good Will. We asked her if we could have two, that we would donate them after the race. She said yes and we didn't have to look for Good Will in Boston. Turns out, it was warm enough we did not need the sweatshirt, plus bag check was close to the start.

We walked to the subway station a mile away, then took a shuttle bus the last mile so we could actually find the start line in the big park. We were at the start line in Franklin Park super early. Boston and BAA does a great job organizing their races. The start area was a party zone. There were lots of spectators along the route cheering us on -- often by name because our names on our bibs were large enough to read. 

My head was not into this race. I really just wanted to be home. I had been away from a lot in the past two months. My feet hurt (I have since switched to
new sneakers, and that pain has gone away). As the race Don said he was going at his own (faster) pace and he'd see me at the finish. His training runs had been slower than mine, but suddenly he had the energy to leave me in the dust. It was his day, not mine. 

The threat of having to finish within three hours loomed over me like a dark cloud. My plan was to just run it, not take any pictures, and certainly not stop for a port-o-pot.

The race started on time. Unlike Disneyland Paris who took nearly an hour to get 9,000 racers to start with much too much fanfare (allowing 300 runners to start in two minute increments with mini-fireworks in-between), this had no fanfare (other than the National Anthem) and we all started in under ten minutes.

It was warm and muggy for October. 

Passing the house where we were staying did not help me mentally. My GPS measured the 13.1 miles as less than three miles, so I can't even go back and study where the wheels completely fell off of me that day.

On the plus I loved how each mile marker showed the time. I calculated from one mile to the next how I was doing, and what I had to do to finish in time. 

We ran through the Emerald Necklace and Brookline section of Boston, note my choice of peacock emerald sparkle skirt. We passed Olmsted Park and Jamaica Pond from the road nearby. The area runs on the street below where Don's Aunt Elva lives (yes, below as in downhill from). At 102 she is still the youngest centenarian I know. 

Checking to make sure there are still a lot of people behind me. It is still early. The plan was to take the early downhills fast and walk the uphills. Only problem was there seemed to be more uphills early on than advertised

Back to I was having mental issues with this race.

Back to some scenic pictures. I know I said I wasn't going to take any pictures,  but it took my mind off the main goal of running a half marathon. My race. My pace.

To continue focusing on the positive, I loved some of the signs I saw, including these two:

Around the nine mile mark began the truly mentally draining portion of the race -- switchbacks. This is where we keep passing the much faster people (seemingly) on the uphills, to then pass the slower people (who look like they are dying) on the way back. I think we did this two times in the park. 
Pretty vista along a golf course in the park

Then we ran through the zoo, past the start line (also a mental challenge), for another kilometer to the finish line on a track. 

I was happy to finish just under three hours according to the gun start.

Official stats:

Net Time2:52:12
In Gender3202/3319 (Female)
In Division228/235 (F45-49)
Checkpoint Time at 5 Miles58:18
Checkpoint Time at 10 Miles2:05:32

Overall within my true zone. I prefer the five to ten mile distances. I can do a half marathon, but I am rarely happy about it.

I do, however, love the long-sleeved shirt and the medal. I'll have them long after the pain of the half marathon is in the past.

My next race is two weeks away. It is "only" a 10k. I'm working on getting my head back in the game.

Aachen, Germany

On Monday morning of my trip to Belgium, we mapped out our week. Monday we would go into Liege, Belgium for lunch at Asti Restaurant (the Asti website is down), Tuesday I would go for a run in their village then meet up with the third host family and stay over with the first host family, Wednesday I would spend the day with the first host family, then stay over with the second host family. Confused? I woke up one morning unsure of where I was -- town, country, continent and all. In ten night I slept in four different beds plus an overnight flight. Friday night I was so happy to see my own bed.

This left Thursday free on the calendar. The weather on Thursday was forecast to be perfect. It was late September. The sun was shining. Temperatures reached into the 60's. The area had already faced a frost. It was the type of weather you treasure and want to boil when the weather turns again. 

In other words, the perfect weather for a road trip.

Liege. Belgium is located about 20 minutes away from Maastricht, Holland and Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), Germany. I thought I had been there before, but upon reflection I think I went to Konn (Cologne), Germany on a road trip from Belgium. The houses I lived in were on the Flemish / French border. Two of my host mothers grew up speaking Flemish, but married Francophones. The two cultures seem to live in harmony, but I bet they don't.

250,000 people live in Aachen. Liege has about 196,000 people. Getting distracted here, Princeton's combined (township and borough) population is about 30,000. Someone asked me if Princeton was as big as Liege and I just laughed. Um... no.

We parked outside the center of town and walked into Aachen. Madame set a brisk pace. All that bicycling has kept the septuagenarian in shape.

Aachen is the westernmost city in Germany, and home to the first German UNESCO site. Aachen's claim to fame (every place has one) is it is where Charlemagne lived. Yes, that Charlemagne. The one who lived from 742-814 (AD) and is considered the "father of Europe" (per the link I posted). Charlemagne made his subjects convert to Christianity. 

The most famous site in Aachen is its cathedral. Charlemagne is buried there, or at least half of his bones. The cathedral's relics also include the cloak Mary wore when giving birth to Jesus, Christ's swaddling clothes, John the Baptist's decapitated head, and the clothes Jesus wore when he was killed. The Presbyterian in me raised an eyebrow at such claims, to which the guide replied (in English) testing shows these items are 2,000 years old and no one else is making such claims, though someone is claiming they have the skirt Mary wore while giving birth to the Savior. Who am I to argue with such logic?

One of these reliquaries contains Charlemagne's bones. The other has the other relics. 

A sense of the original octagonal shape
The cathedral was constructed in the 8th century, during Charlemagne's lifetime. It has eight sides and a dome, making it in the same style as East Roman Empire. It is one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe. He wanted to be buried there. His brain is actually next door in the museum. Construction of the octagonal chapel began around 790 AD and was expanded during the Middle Ages from 1355 until it was consecrated in 1414 in honor of the 600th anniversary of the death of Charlemagne.

Aachen's main industry was steel mining. Their university has about 30,000 students (Princeton has 8,623). They have hot springs as their water source. 

We had lunch at a fish buffet in Aachen. Turns out, the concept of buffets does not exist in Belgium so when they go to Germany, my host parents feel this is a treat. It does help to point when you don't speak the language. Speaking of foreign languages, based on my limited experience that day, more Germans speak English than French, so I translated. Made me feel useful.

I tried to do some shopping in Aachen (I really needed a sweater, and wanted some chocolate), but I was unsuccessful. I did stock up on chocolate at the Duty Free shops in the Brussels and Reykjavik airports.

More pictures from Aachen.

Felt lime home since Einstein moved to Princeton, NJ

In the middle of a busy square is this Roman arch. Just because.

Aachen has a mix of the old and the new. In some cases the new was built because the old could not be repaired post World War II. In other cases the new (as in 20th century new) was because someone thought modern was better than old. 

Other times they incorporate the old with the new -- such as this facade to the Justice Building.

Germany is starting to honor their war victims. I could get the gist out of signs like this.

Then we walked back to the car.

It was a lovely end to my European adventures. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Liege, Belgium

Last year I returned to Belgium for the first time in nearly thirty years. The day and a half was not nearly long enough. It was a whirlwind of visiting two out of three host families, with no time to relax and recover from jet lag before taking a TGV to Paris to meet up with Don and Ashley and run a half marathon. This year I allowed four and a half days, and learned quickly it was too much time. When I return to Liege, I will probably be with Don and Ashley and we'll stay in town together. This was not that trip.

I was able to see all three host families.

Family #3: Jacqueline, Leopold, and Florence

Family #1: Sarah, Christophe, and Sophie

Family #2: Renee and Andre
I wish I was able to connect with others. I felt at the mercy of everyone's schedules. My French, though while very good, still has many gaps in it. Still it is better than anyone else's English. I spoke French the whole time and, as a result, slept very well.

Some things I did get to do on this trip included climbing the famous staircase -- all 374 stairs.

Went to lunch with Andre and Renee at their favorite splurge restaurant.
THIS is what I mean when I say I want a side dish of vegetables.

Simply walking around Liege was magical. It has changed, and yet not changed. It has retained its Medieval flair, while also becoming a tourist destination. A quick google search showed they offer daily walking tours (no, I did not go on one, next time).

We skipped dessert, which was a good thing since I was stuffed. Twenty minutes later we were having decadent pastries. 

Absolutely love that tea comes with a piece of chocolate,
even though I was already having dessert.

All 374 stairs. Quite a work out!

L'Ecole Benedictine de Notre Dame de Pays
My experience going to an all-girls Catholic school

The library where I spent a lot of time as a student.


I really enjoyed my walk in the park behind Sophie and Christophe's house. I played with the black and white settings because some of the places looked untouched by time.

A Little Free Library!

Sophie and Christophe took me to the famous L'As Ouhes restaurant. They serve food from Liege. I should have ordered pottee Liegiouse, the first Liege dish I ate that I fell in love with. I was afraid it would not measure up to my memories, so I ordered the endive, ham, and cheese dish instead. The owner, a friend of Christophe's, came to our table to visit. Small town.

Then we took a lovely walk in a part of Liege I had never been to before.

Though I was here for relaxing four days, they were filled with games of Qwirkle and simply relaxing while watching TV in French. Probably what I needed most. My biggest wish is that I had packed warmer clothes (there was a sudden shift from summer to fall), and that I wore nicer clothes to the fancy restaurants. I never thought to pack clothes for Michelin starred restaurants.