Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dan in Iberia II

This is my second trip to Iberia. The first was last September, when I spent only a couple days here in Madrid as well as Lisbon. This time it is to be 2 weeks in Madrid, so I went thinking I ought to be able to see and do more. The good news is that the hotel is only a short walk to the office. The bad news is that we're in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of town. This area, north of town is hard to believe and even harder to describe. The word, stark comes to mind.

There are miles upon miles of multi-family residence buildings, office buildings, some restaurants built into the buildings, AND THAT'S ALL! No trees. No schools. No single family houses - I found not one in dozens of miles of running. No schools. Oh yeah. Plenty of construction. More construction than you can imagine.

Upon arrival Steve and I took the bus to the subway station, and the subway downtown. We did lots of walking, including a long stroll through one of the city parks, Parke Del Buen Retiro. There were many many folks out for their Sunday afternoon strolls. We also walked through the main train station (including the indoor arboretum), and a few other areas. You've got to enjoy the architecture here. The theory is that it's so nice here because Spain was not involved in either world war, and their civil war didn't cause much local damage. We ate dinner at an outdoor cafe, even though it was getting a bit cool. We laughed at our suffering there at an outdoor cafe, whilst the poor folks back home only have a couple feet of snow and cold to put up with.

Not much happened during that first week of work. Our client kept us fairly busy, but we did have some time for walking. We went to Hippercor (large discount store/supermarket) and El Corte Ingles (large department store chain) one time, and to a mall another night. That was about it for excitement, except this: We walked into the mall, which is quite exclusive, and almost immediately heard the fire alarm. Sure enough, we could smell and even see smoke, and it was coming from somewhere near the cafe I had been recommending for dinner. We got out in a hurry. Later that night we tried to walk back along side and in back of a golf driving range. We were "escorted" back. I thought the security guard was either being very helpful, or we were about to be arrested.

Eating here is a challenge. The food is great, but it's only available at certain times, and you'd better just get used to those times. Lunch is at 2 to 3 pm, we work until 6 or 7, and then dinner is at about 9pm. This doesn't sit too well with a guy who likes to go to bed at 9:30 or 10, and then get up to run at 4 or 5am. So Steve and I are always trying get an "early" dinner at 7:30 or so. But it's a real challenge to find ANYPLACE that's open.

Friday night Steve and I checked out of our middle of nowhere hotel (which looks like it was designed and furnished by Ikea), and into one in the middle of everywhere central Madrid. That hotel, the Best Western Atlantico, is beautiful classic European. The streets are truly alive with people. There are street entertainers, discos, theaters, you name it. And did I mention throngs of people? We walked to Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple moved here as a gift from Egypt to Spain for their help in retrieval of other antiquities. It was awesome. Then we walked around the renowned palace (it was closed) and through Plaza Mayor, the famous square.

Our friend and interpreter, Sergio, drove Steve and I to Salamanca, which is about 2 1/2 hours west, almost to the Portugal border. Salamanca is first and foremost a university town. The university is built into the medieval city center area, near the main square. I learned that Plaza Major means main square, so that's why multiple towns have squares by the same name. Duh. We walked around quite a bit and saw shell house, an ancient Roman-built bridge and the cathedral, in addition to the square. Sergio's friends from earlier years, Louda and Nikki, were visiting Salamanca from Brazil and the UK, so we all did some crowded tapas bars. We didn't eat much - only a bit of some of the famous jamon - but had lots of good conversation. It was a great day.

The next day Steve and I took a train for a half-hour ride to Alcala de Henares. It's another university town with more historical buildings. There were dozens of huge storks making gigantic nests on the tops of the buildings. We ate and toured the Cervantes (the author of Don Quixote - Man of La Mancha) Museum and an archeological museum. We also saw a quasi-military band playing music in front of the university.

-Everyone I work with seems to be genuinely friendly and accommodating. Great folks, these Spaniards!
-When you sneeze, they say, "Jesus".
-When they dubbed Terminator 2 into Spanish, Arnold's "Hasta la Vista, Baby" was changed into "Sayonara, Baby". (I think that works just as well!)
-You don't find chicken on too many menus, but plenty of pork and jamon. -The Spanish have never heard of "Spanish Rice".
-Running here is so strange. When I head out at 5:30 or so, someone has to open the hotel door for me, and there is no one, not one person or vehicle, about. The streets are empty.

That was not the case for my one and only run from downtown. There were throngs of people everywhere, still reveling from the previous night. Of course they must have thought I was pretty strange. But that was mutual. Then I went into Casa de Campo, a very large park near the city center. There I encountered a plethora of prostitutes. I obviously wouldn’t be interested in their wares, but that didn’t stop them from making a few inquiries about my intentions.

Running in Madrid

For my last run before leaving, I did 15 in about 2:04. It was pretty steady - one of the better ones.

I went north again, and this time much farther into the open field area. I got onto some trails, but didn't do much of them because it was hard to see in the dark, and they were uneven. I went further north and west and made it to the university. Came back after 2 hours and finished with some faster stuff. 20 in 2:48. Not too bad for these days.

One of my worst runs of the trip. 6 in 54. But I did get some exploration done - Josechu had told me about a large open area to the north. I hadn't been able to find a way to get up there, but he showed me on a map. I did get up there, but not too far, and the traffic was starting to pick up, so I turned back.

Still tired, I only did about 8 in 66 minutes today. Going to try to do a longer run tomorrow.

We're back at our northern home. The running really isn't that bad here. I found a few trails and did 11 in 92.5.

Well this was a memorable run. We had moved to central Madrid, so I set out from there at 5:40am. Had to run around throngs of revelers from the previous night. Didn't like that. Had to run up and over a major construction area on a makeshift walkway. Didn't like that either. As I entered the park (Casa de Campo), I had to run the gauntlet through several prostitutes. Didn't like that too much. Then I finally found some nice trails to run on, but it was dark and scary. And there was *no one* around. I got lost. But I did thoroughly enjoy this part of the run. So yes, memorable is the word. Call it 16 miles in 2:21.

I was on my feet for 2 hours, fifty minutes, so I guess I can call it 20 miles. Most of it was pretty slow, but at least it was steady. Some nice areas here, some usual stark areas and some not-so-nice running along a highway.

Another run in Madrid. More of being dazed and confused in this strange area. More low traffic, wide streets, construction (of office buildings, apartment buildings) galore. After 25 miles of running this time and last, I have yet to find a park or a residential housing area. In fact, I haven't seen one single family home, period. Very strange. I'll call it 13 in 1:48.

Pretty nice 12 or so in 100 minutes here in Madrid. Although I've been here before, this is my first run here. Very wierd are here. Got lost a bit. I guess I'll get used to it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Today's Run - 2007-02-17

A pretty solid 20 with Dave and Amy today after 3 on the mill yesterday. Today it was fairly cold (12-16) and there was some snow, and many hills (up the parkway), but it was a fairly solid run in 2:40. Starting from Dave's we did the subs for a while and then ran the parkway down to station rd. And (eek) back. Decent.

I'm taking off for Spain today.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Today's Running - 2007-02-15

3 in the tundra after shoveling (it was 0F and there was plenty of slush, snow and ice on the roads). It wasn't pretty.

So I followed that up with 4 on the mill, including 3 at tempo pace.

What I thought was bronchitis I now think is a sinus infection. I can feel it draining down in the back of my throat. No headache. I had this once before.

Went to Mom's today - we've been getting it ready for Debbie's paint project. We also had the range delivered today.

Gonna be doing the taxes tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow and Recent Running

We got way over a foot of snow yesterday. Now the wind is making it drift. Clearing it is a major chore - I did it yesterday and Debbie today.

I did 8 on the mill yesterday, including 6 x 1200, and 7 on the mill today including a 3-mile tempo. Can't wait to get outside again. It'll happen this Saturday, and then again in Spain.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Made it home and Recent Running

No problems getting home. Kathy and Jessy picked us up, and then we went to dinner. Yesterday Dave, Jill and Mario came over and we went out to dinner. Today I went to their place to help Dave with his basement finishing project.

I ran about 17 with Dave and Amy yesterday in 2 1/2 hours. It was cold (8) but not so bad. Fairly slow and enjoyable. Today (prior to working in the basement), Dave and I did his 10-mile loop in 79 minutes. That was a really good time considering the cold (6) and yesterday's run. OTOH, I was huffing and puffing the whole way - especially up the hills. Glad to get this one in.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Running in Hawaii

For my first morning on Maui I met up with Rita and we ran to the end of the road. It was so nice to run that stretch - one of my favorites - with her. We made several pit-stops - a couple at the Maui Price Hotel and one to talk with some of her run club friends who we happened upon. The course is 15 miles, but I'm calling this one 17 with the extra I ran towards Kihei to hook up with Rita. Rita herself was pretty tuckered out by the ordeal; she had run even more than I.

But I was feeling fine, so the next day I did the same 15-mile route alone in the dark. Rita needed that time off for recovery. I enjoyed this run as well, but the mileage apparently did me in - my on/off cold came back with a vengence afterwards.

Rita and I hooked up for another run where we ran towards each other, and then ran back through Wailea and turned around. My legs were tired but I did manage to keep up and did 8.

That was it for a while - I was just too sick.

I was still sick when we arrived on the Big Island, but after 3 days off I did manage to run 4 around the Waikoloa resort area.

And then came the big one: the 20 mile run up and back down the mountain - Waikoloa road well past the village of the same name. I had been worried because I was still recovering from the cold, but this is an awesome run and I actually did fine: 1:35 going up and 1:19 coming back down. I only hope I didn't ruin myself further.

Although I wasn't feeling my best that day and next, I didn't. After a rest day I did 11 - over to the Orchid and back. Out in 49.5, back in 45.5. Took a while to loosen up, but this was an ok run.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

2007 - Hawaii

"The winds are wrong." That, according to Rita, is what the long-time kamaina's (island residents) were saying. Instead of the usual trades from the north, these were coming from the south and were quite fierce, bringing damage and destruction. We got our share of rain over the 5 days we had in Maui, but also some nice weather as well. From our experiences, rain in Hawaii is never much of a problem, because it a) doesn't usually last real long, b) you can usually see and get to areas where the sun is shining and it isn't raining at all, c) it's liquid sunshine and you're in Hawaii to enjoy it and d) there's usually a rainbow to accompany it.

So after a day of lounging, we decided to drive up to the top of Haleakala to hike the Sliding Sands trail within the volcanic crater. It had been raining at our place in Wailea, but not to worry, I said. We would be above the clouds at the 10,000 foot summit and could laugh at the poor slobs getting rained on below. Sure enough, as we drove up the mountain, we did go through several layers of clouds. There was only one problem: they didn't stop. We didn't make it as far as the summit because the lady at the entrance to the national park told us it was cloudy and raining up there as well. The trip itself was neat anyway. Those rain clouds were pretty awesome, and there were plenty of rainbows in the places where the sun broke through.

We did manage to get a hike in though. Down past the end of the road (see the running description below), there's a trail over extremely rough lava flows with some great shoreline views. We had done it partway one other time, but this time we went farther, all the way to what I'll call a light beacon: a light-house without the house. It was on a cape at (I think) the very southern tip of the island. Feels like the end of the earth. The surf from those "wrong winds" was splashing all the way up to the top and over 50 to 100 foot sea cliffs. Although the footing is awful, this is a great hike.

Besides our usual 3-4 mile morning walk along the shoreline walk-way in Wailea, which we did a few times, we did one other memorable hike. It was actually more of a climb, down to the "olivine pools", so named by our guidebook. These are on the shoreline on the northeast side of West Maui - the back of the head. The pools are not unlike the Oheo Gulch, aka Seven Pools, but are much less known. They are tranqil pools almost entirely surrounded by rough ocean surf. We didn't get in for a soak, but they were neat to see. And we were the only ones around. After the climb back up to the road, we continued to circumnavigate West Maui. That drive is every bit as beautiful and harrowing as the famous ride to Hana. After a while we got tired of stopping to admire the view (ho hum, just another spectacular view) and just kept driving, dodging the occasional oncoming vehicle in the one-lane areas. And of course we didn't take the recomended clockwise direction. Going counter-clockwise as we did means that the cliffs are ALWAYS next to you on the passenger side. Seemed like only inches away.

It was great to see Rita during our time on Maui. She and I ran together a couple times, including once to the end of the road. (I did another solo run there.) Did I mention that it seems like the end of the earth? It really does - especially when the early morning darkness is still there. It's such a memorable running venue, and I'll never forget it. But back to Rita. She's such a great friend, and not just because she lives in paradise! We ate one breakfast (where she was beat-up from our just mentioned long run), and several dinners together. George couldn't make it - he was stuck in Cleveland with the flu. Too bad - we missed him, and Rita seems downright lonely there. Rita and George do have a wonderful condo in Kihei, and she even took us to her office. We couldn't find her desk though - there was only a huge pile of papers with a chair in her cubicle.

It was sad to say goodbye to Rita and to Maui, but it was on the Big Island. Lately we've been leaning more towards staying on one island because the trip between them takes so much time. This one sealed the deal: not only with time, but also stress. We thought we had plenty of time, but nooo: the wait for Hawaiian Air check-in was well over an hour. We did make it, but then they lost our luggage. And then we had to wait well over an hour JUST TO REPORT IT. They did deliver it to our hotel, but so late that night that we didn't actually get it till the next morning. One other problem that we were somewhat aware of coming in: construction at the Waikoloa Marriott. They have nice pools and the usual beach, but a makshift entrance and LOTS of construction noise. To top off the evening we thought we'd try the expensive hotel restaurant. The food was uncommonly bad. It was much worse than greasy spoon type stuff: they had to work at making these meals terrible. Such is life in paradise, I guess.

The best word to describe the Big Island is "sweeping". That's as in sweeping vistas. I'm thinking specifically of the coffee-growing area south of Kona, the Hamokua coast on the northeast side, and even in the Kohala region where we stayed (the Waikoloa Marriott). There are also probably more contrasts here than anywhere on the planet (at least for such a small area): rainforests, snowcapped mountains, deserts, black, white and green sand beaches, and, of course, lava flows galore. But it's those sweeping vistas that I think of first when I think of the place. There's been only one problem with these vistas: it's been more hazy than for our previous trips here. More on this "vog" later...

And the Big Island truly is big. It takes hours to get around or across it. We drove south of Kailua-Kona and toured the Bayview coffee plantation and bought a fare share of their beans. The scenery, gardens and coffee plantations make the area are as beautiful as any on the planet. But it's the Hamokua coast area where I've said before, and again on this trip, that I'd love to live. Once again, great views, and not too much development. It seems almost, but not quite, devoid of people. That's where we hiked quite a ways through the new World Tropical Gardens. Along the way we stopped at Umauma falls - a really beautiful triple tier waterfall and pools.

The running on the Big Island is as awesome as any running anywhere. Altough I've been sick with yet another cold, today I ran up the mountain past the village of Waikoloa, up to the area recently hit by the wild-fire. As the sun began to rise, I had great views of all the mountains around me: Mouna Kea, Mouna Loa, Huaalalai, Kohala, but not Haleakala - it was obscured by clouds this time. It's 10 miles up, and my legs felt it - I got slower and slower. When I turned to go back down, I picked up the pace, but even this quad-burning part of the run wasn't exactly easy. But the scenery made it all extremely memorable. I did this run once again on our last day on the island. It was even more awesome, with a great sunrise and mostly clear views of the mountains.

As my cold was beginning to get better, Debbie got it. So we spent a couple days lounging around the resort, where we did manage to get some walking and swimming in. We also made it to Kailua Kona for an evening meal overlooking the bay and the sunset.

It was also hazy at the Pololu valley up at the northern tip of the island. We'd hiked down into the valley before, but this time we were going for the whole enchilada: down into the valley, over to the next ridge and over and down that into the nearly inaccessible Honokana Nui valley. And, of course, back. After a very strenuous 90 minutes of hiking up and down the ridges, we finally got to a poit where we could at least see the Honokana Nui valley. It was a beautiful sight from the top, but we couldn't go any further: there was earthquake damage to the trail going down there. Not that we'd have been able to make it anyway -we were tuckered out and still had to get back. Which we did, somehow, manage to do. But those views of both valleys made this a really great hike.

We found out that the haziness is a "vog" - a volcanic fog. It's caused by the ash, dust, fumes, water vapor and other gasses being emitted from the volcano. It's usually blown away by the trade winds, but those winds have still been "wrong". We did wind up having a few beautiful clear days towards the end of our stay.

We spent a day at Hawaii Volcanos National Park, in part to find the source of the vog. (Not really - we knew what it was.) We listened to a talk by a ranger, did several walks including part of the Kilauea Iki trail (although not the part inside the crater), a short walk to the inside of Kilauea crater itself and a walk in "bird park", which was nice, but we only heard and didn't see too many birds. The exception was a couple of black frankolins. They're like grouse or wild chickens. We did see some bright red Hawaiian Honeycreepers while we were listening to the ranger. We intend to come back again some day (this was our third time here at the park) and do the entire Kilauea Iki trail.

And that's about it. We ...

North Canton YMCA 4th of July 5-mile

Since I have participated in the Ohio Challenge Series many years, I've done this race many times, albeit many moons ago. It's a fun...