Thursday, May 30, 2013


Despite 27 years living in the Land of Opportunity, there is (at least) one opportunity that, until this past weekend, has evaded me: competing as an international athlete.

Welcome to the athletic complex of Dubnica nad V├íhom, Slovakia.

Welcome to the European Champion Clubs Cup, aka ECCC.

Photo by Luuk Wagenaar
How did I get here?  Heck if I know!  My boyfriend got an offer to move to Amsterdam for work, we decided to make it a team effort, I started running more, I joined a track club, some teammates had babies and became temporarily distracted from running sub-38-minute 10k times, another teammate was forced to leave Amsterdam for a work opportunity elsewhere in the Netherlands, another teammate became injured, another teammate is focusing on her first Ironman, another teammate is studying abroad in Argentina... and suddenly, with a fairly ho-hum 11:19 3000m, I become the most likely female 3k candidate to travel to Slovakia with the 2012 Dutch track and field champions, Phanos.  Expenses paid!  From whence came this life of mine?  Ask no questions.  Just take the train to Rotterdam, get on a plane to Vienna, get on a bus to Dubnica, and go with the flow.  And take your camera, this may never happen again.

From the first rendezvous at tiny Rotterdam Den Haag Airport, the sub-cliques and goofy groups found among track and field athletes emerged.  There's nothing quite like it, and it's one reason that track and field is my favorite sport (sorry, Ultimate). 

It was our high jumper's birthday.  Lovely wave.
Throwers always seem bigger when standing in the airplane aisle next to your seat.

This pretty well sums up distance running, in my opinion.

My race itself was nothing to shout about.  The womens 3000m began at 10:50, which allowed me to spend the remainder of the day earnestly spectating.  I was easily the least concerned runner at the start line of my race, and ostentatiously the only person snapping photos during the pre-race warm up.  I think most of the other runners were at least 5 years younger than me, as well.  They represented athletic clubs from Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Israel, and the Netherlands (that's me), and generally fell into two camps:  tiny and intimidating, or tiny and intimidated.  I felt like Yogi the Bear in comparison.

No better place than the warm-up area for catching Wouter's 3000m steeplechase.

The race started slowly and ended faster.  I was told (after the fact) that track meets in which point accumulation is more important that individual performance often see this trend in the longer distances.   Runners bide their time until deciding to make a race of it in the final laps.  Why?  In my mind, it is a foreign strategy in more ways than one.  I ended up running in lane 2 for most of the race, and finally made a dash for it sometime after the first mile.  A series of three 50-meter accelerations sufficed to pull myself and those interested in racing away from those who were not.  After intentionally slowing to allow the girl from LC Zurich to pass me, it turned into a 1200m race and ended with me placing 2nd to her by less than one second.  Of course, I've been thinking about that one second.  Other exciting moments in the race included the girl from Denmark elbowing me for position in the first 50m and saying the f-word twice.  Also, Miriam van Reijen (she's kind of a big Dutch deal) called my splits!  Very kind.

The day comprised a definite mixed bag of athletes.  Overall, the level of competition was lower than I'd expected, which certainly worked in my favor.  "With all due respect," said a teammate, "I didn't expect the womens 3000 to be one of our strongest events."  Neither did I, friend.  Neither did I.  

That said, almost every event had a Phanos face present, and there were several that featured a Phanos face among the top three.

This is Nynke, my roommate for the weekend and mother of one.

These girls are, I believe, 17 and 16 years old.  The girl in 4th has an older sister who competed for the Netherlands in the 4x400m  4x100m relay at the 2012 Olympics.  Our top 100m girl is not pictured here.

Koen Smet, in red and kicking ass at the second hurdle, is on his way to the under-23 European Championships for the 110m HH.

This is Madiea Ghafoor.  She turns 21 in September.  She ran a 52.72 400m.  If running in the USA for an NCAA DI college team, she would be ranked in the top 15 nationally.  Her anchor leg of the 4x400m relay was something to behold.

Most of our prodigy sprinters and jumpers train with Team Terol Rozenstruik.  Oscar Terol is well-liked by his athletes, and is also somewhat of a professional smart-ass, which I appreciate.

The other trainer, Urta Rozenstruik, is a one-time Netherlands bobsledder, hilarious storyteller, and threw shot put for our team.

Here's an unfortunately not-so-action shot of Jorgen, the other "buitenlander" on the team, and our triple jumper.  He moved from Italy (near Firenze/Florence) to Amsterdam only a few months before Ed and I moved here.  His Dutch is much, much better than mine.  His dad is Dutch.  That's my excuse.

This is Luuk, who typically runs the 800m in about 1:55 or so, but tried his legs at the 1500m and did a pretty good job.

Here's Daan (running in 3rd), the other half of "Team 3000" this weekend.  He wins all the 10k's around town.  Had I been hired at ASICS back in the fall, I would have been his manager.  Ha, ha.

And then there's Maureen Koster.  This girl busted out a 4:17.87 for the 1500m, crushing the second-place finisher by just shy of 20 seconds.  A 4:17.87, for context, converts to roughly 4:37 for a USA-standard 1600m high school race.  If Maureen Koster were an American high school girl running outdoor track in 2013, a 4:37 would land her the #1 time for US high school girls by 2 seconds, edging a gal from none other than Camas, WA.  Maureen (say "Mo-Rain", with a Dutchy-"R" sound) also delivered a 2:04.36 800m scarcely a week ago... which would be another #1 USA high school girl time (again, a crown currently worn by Alexa Efraimson of Camas).

I am faster than all of you.
Since Maureen Koster is 21, ranking her times among American high schoolers isn't a fair comparison.  Let's see how she measures up to the 2013 NCAA DI Tracksters headed to Nationals.  Oh... hm... top 15 nationally ranked in the 1500m and top 5 in the 800m.  No big deal!

Relaxing at lunch.

I was a bit shy and star-struck when I learned that Miriam van Reijen, top-marathoner and author of this newly-released runner's cookbook, would be running the 5000m for Phanos.  The meet schedule ordained that both mens and womens 5k would kick off much later in the afternoon, thus she and our other top-marathoner-cum-5000m-moonlighter, Jelte Brontsema, wore faces of utmost (and uncharacteristic) severity throughout much of the day:

Miriam = 2:41 marathon.  Jelte = 2:23 marathon.  Me = Whoa.

The meet concluded with fireworks and team awards.  Phanos women were a mere two ten points from a podium finish, which was tough, and I think that a lot of people were visualizing the flubbed baton exchange in the 4x100m, or thinking about one-second spreads in the 3k that could have garnered an extra point or two.  All in all, though, there wasn't too much griping.  Did I mention there were fireworks?

Note:  Oops!  It was a two-point spread BEFORE the final event.  For several days I've been mistaken in thinking (and, to my chagrin, sharing) that the final difference was only 2 points.

Fireworks... hopefully no PTSD was triggered this day in Dubnica.

Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Mens team (nearly everyone), closing ceremonies

Womens team (somewhat less than everyone), closing ceremonies.

Yet more adventures followed, especially for those with a bit of extra juice in the legs.  Someone had the excellent idea to run back to the hotel, about 9.5 km away in a spa town tucked between leafy green hills.

By the time we reached the hotel, we'd endured a pretty steep uphill, a pretty steep downhill, and good-natured heckling from other teams who'd beaten us back to Trencianska Teplice via bus.  I slept well that night.  Which was good, because... we had until 3:00pm Sunday to squeeze in another 1:45 of trail running.  

Nynke, me, Daan, Jelte, Luuk
I made a somewhat immature decision to follow Daan and Jelte down and up and down a second near-700-foot "hill."  It was, for my less-conditioned legs, een beetje zwaar, but Daan and Jelte are kind companions and saw me through.

Here's all that needs to be said about the difficulty level of that duurloopje:

It was a highly memorable run, definitely makes my lifetime top 5 for best long runs.  Completely wasted, I enjoyed a massage from our trainer, Gerard, who magically made my piriformis knot disappear, and offered me a volunteer spot in the medical tent for the NK (Netherlands Championships) in July, for which I am very, very excited.  Then, brain cells worthless from lack of sugar and oxygen, I passed out on a bench in the hotel gazebo to the music of a million rustling leaves, birds, and a backdrop of uncountable shades of green.  

See all photos from the track meet here, and more miscellaneous and long run photos here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Visitors Galore

 We've just capped a 6-day visitor carousel!  The house is disturbingly quiet.  I spent this afternoon taking a massive nap, eating leftover mango sorbet, the work of one of our guests, and working off the sugar rush by dancing crazily to Lady Gaga.  I will spend my sleepless hours tonight answering emails of interest from sprinters and their managers.  But first, a quick recap of the past five days, which included two sets of highly enjoyable houseguests:

Last Wednesday at 11pm, the girlfriend of one of our "regular" (he's stayed twice!) houseguests arrived from the train station with her cousin.  They ended up being kindred spirits: fun-loving, polite, and hilarious.

New friends!  Katelyn and Nora.

Highlights of their stay included, but were not limited to:

  • The most spectacular food truck fair I've ever attended
  • Taking the above photo while walking near the Weteringplantsoen
  • Talking books and libraries with Nora
  • Running about 12k with Katelyn at the Phanos monthly "Free Friday Night Run"
  • Visiting this awesome cat museum

The food fair included open roasting pits, a literal mustache ride, and the best gazpacho I've ever had outside of Spain.

You might recall our old Utrechtsestraat neighbor, Mustache Bar.

Many children queued up to ride the mustache.  This was the second mustache-themed truck featured.
Spitted, roasting pork.  Yum.

Every few minutes, this sweaty-looking man would employ a garden hose to cool off the huge steel can housing these franks and chickens.

Amateurs skewered and roasted their own pig meat, on a less-intimidating scale.

Diners could rent this tiny tapa-bar-for-two.  10 minutes for 3.50 euro, per person.
I stuffed myself happily on gazpacho, itty-bitty fried bacalao, white asparagus with butter and garlic, a lamb sandwich, and a piece of chocolate-beetroot cake.  Perhaps reward overkill for the measly 800m run that I completed earlier in the day in Heiloo.  Oh, well.  

The second set of guests arrived Saturday morning... early.  In fact, they arrived early enough that our first set of guests were still happily tucked away in the guest room.  All involved parties had been forewarned of this exchange, so all six of us had breakfast together and went to the NEMO before Katelyn and Nora departed for their final night's lodging locale, near Ed's work.  This left us with Jack and Lisa, Ed's married college friends (as they are known), who probably don't remember much about Saturday due to jet lag.

Highlights of Jack and Lisa's stay included, but were not limited to:
  • Jack's training for his first marathon, to take place in just over one month.  This required a 4-mile and a 9-mile run, which were plotted as tours of Amsterdam's numerous runner-friendly parks.  Between the two outings, we covered Flevopark, Oosterpark, Vondelpark, and Rembrandtpark.  If I ever do the second run again, it occurred to me, I could easily squeeze in Sarphatipark.  What a great city.
  • Going to the newly reopened Van Gogh and Rijksmusuems.
  • Leading Jack and Lisa on rented Mac Bikes through the Amsterdamse Bos, along the Schiphol runways, all the way to lunch in Hoofddorp.  Lowlight of the highlight:  Biking into a headwind the entire way.  Highlight of the highlight:  Taking the train home.  Except for Ed.  He rode his bike home.  I only beat him to the front door by a bike length.  
  • Playing my favorite board game, Ticket to Ride, where all four of our long routes began... as in life... in Amsterdam.  
  • Oo-ing over impressionist paintings with Lisa, whose favorite style is, like mine, impressionism.
Any photographs I took of Jack and Lisa's visit were, unfortunately for me and those looking for some color at this point in this post, were taken with their camera.  I do, however, have a photo of a nice art nouveau vase.  Enjoy.

Monday, May 6, 2013

By-The-Ways, like Norway and Runways

In the past month, I've become about 200% more busy.  While I may not be earning money at a steady rate, I am still tutoring and babysitting weekly, which totals to about 5 hours per week.  The tutoring pays well, about 15 euro an hour; the babysitting not-so-well, given the "friend/neighbor discount" that I would feel guilty withdrawing. 5 euro an hour or 10, it's not going to be my livelihood in either case.

I am now a professional volunteer.  Phanos is organizing a massive one-day track meet that is really two-track-meets-in-one, and I'm helping (or hindering, given my oft-shaky grasp of the Dutch language) with organization, website updates, and responding to emails from international athletes/coaches/managers.  That, currently, is about another 5 hours per week, and should increase gradually between now and August, at which point it should reach near-full-time status.

By February, I still had not succeeded in involving myself with a healthcare (preferably community healthcare) organization here in the NL.  Via an American community/public health nurse educator (ACHNE, specifically) listserve, I learned about an innovative and well-respected home nursing organization here called Buurtzorg.  I emailed the office in my neighborhood and set up an interview with their nurse team leader, who told me about another very popular home healthcare organization called "emile," and I'm sure you will hear more about them from me in due time.  I'm now helping emile with a pilot training program for their employees, which, when completed, will form part of a portfolio, applicable to receiving a diploma in what is here called wijkverpleeghulp, or "district nurse aide."  In the last couple of weeks, I've spent 6-8 hours per week working on stuff for emile.

That's almost part-time!  Roll your eyes, but after six months of working spotty 2-hour tutoring gigs and babysitting, it seems like 40-hour-a-week "proper employment."  And may explain why spending additional time on the computer to update this blog has not at all appealed to me in recent weeks.  That, and the weather, which is finally starting to look like this:

Ahhh... spring.

Before I get into that, here are some backlogged pictures from our early April trip to Oslo.  We can't say enough good things about our host, or the view from our balcony, or how impeccably clean and shiny the floors in his house were, or how much we enjoyed sitting for over an hour with him over breakfast each morning we spent there.

The Oslofjord.
Gleaming, honey-colored... if I dropped food on this floor, I think it would taste better.

Our host knows cozy.

Roof of the Oslo Opera House.

 More funky architecture going up just east of the opera house.

Looking NW up Karl Johans Gate toward Slottsparken and the Royal Palace.

The Olso ski jump.  We also went to Lillihammer, but their ski jump was not as impressive...

And that was Norway!  We hiked around in the snowy woods and dodged Nordic skiers.  It was sunny but cold.  Which is why I am very happy, again, that we are seeing more weather like this:

Enjoying dandelions and the Schiphol "Outer Limits" Runway during yesterday's Clasico Boretti.

Our friends Mark and Suz, with 17km to go.

Enjoying a saddle-free sit after the ride.

Suz did the entire ride on a single-speed with a beautiful leather seat.

In other news... Ed and I biked over 100 miles in the past 7 days, not including commuter cycling around Amsterdam.  In addition to the 65km yesterday, we also did 70km to Bloemendaal aan Zee and Haarlem last weekend, and biked to the gorgeous Keukenhof gardens from Hoofddorp and back.

Oh shoot!  And we ran in the Batavieran Race, which is a relay near the border with Germany in which around 8,500 people, in teams of 25, run a 175km relay from Nijmegen to Enschede.  In this case, into the wind, passing a ridiculously floppy dragchute of a vest from person-to-person, resulting, as one teammate put it, in multiple Balotelli moments.  I wadded the flapping beast up and stuffed down the front of my shirt about 2km into my 7.1km stage, which featured running about 300m through a muddy field and wind in the face the entire way (most everyone battled wind at some point).  Ed and I both met or exceeded our teams' expectations, and my team placed 2nd overall.

I got to finish in Enschede center!  So cool!
I think that fairly summarizes the last month.  We had a couple of visitors from the Midwest.  We are about to host four more people in the week ahead.  I had two track meets last month.  I have another track meet on Wednesday.  We had a "May the Fourth be With You/Cinco de Mayo" party this weekend and our friends Maaike and Lennart demonstrated admirable aptitude for crafting margaritas.  I demonstrated my aptitude for drinking them.  We have been eating fajitas for three days now, which is probably comparable to how you feel after reading this blog entry.  Ed's birthday is coming up.  I get to run in Slovakia on May 25.  I need to plant some lettuces and herbs, but first I need some planters to hang out our windows.  The End.