I’m officially past the mid-way point of my Watson Fellowship year and beyond what I expect to be the toughest parts of my journey: the good-byes and take-off from DFW, the first few country changes, and the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season.
It’s impossible to capture in words everything I’ve experienced, learned, and gained in the past 6 months, but I’ll try to give you a little snapshot of where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to…
Countries lived in or traveled through: 12 (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican City, Ethiopia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Australia)
Planes ridden: 11
Beds slept in: 33
Miles run: 1842
Mid-Year Superlatives: Top Fives (lists in chronological order)
Most interesting meals
- Ugali (made by Kenyans in England)
- Haggis (Scotland)
- Black pudding (Ireland)
- Donkey meat on pasta (Italy)
- National dish: injera topped with a variety of wats as well as tibes, shiro, firfir, and a boiled egg (Ethiopia)
Favorite running spots
- Richmond Park (Teddington, UK)
- Open roads in the town some of my ancestors came from (Kilmihil, Ireland)
- St. Moritz trails (St. Moritz, Switzerland)
- Mount Entoto (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
- Falls Creek tails (Falls Creek, Australia)
Coolest animals spotted
- Huge deer (Bushy and Richmond Park, England)
- Gelada Baboons (Simien Mountains, Ethiopia)
- Ibex (Simien Mountains, Ethiopia)
- Hyenas (Mount Entoto, Ethiopia)
- Kangaroos (Falls Creek, Australia)
Olympic and World Champions I’ve met
- Peter Snell, New Zealand
- Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, Jamaica
- Vivian Cheruiyot, Kenya
- Haile Gebrselassie, Tirunesh Dibaba, and Million Wolde, Ethiopia
- Taoufik Makhloufi, Algeria
Most impressive sites
- Iffley Road Track (site of first sub-4:00 mile, England)
- Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
- The Pantheon (Italy)
- Haile Gebrselassie’s house (Ethiopia)
- Lalibela Churches (Ethiopia)
- “I’m going to exercise my corpse now”- pretty positive she meant core, not dead body
- “Do you mind raping those potatoes?”- I do, actually… but I’ll gladly grate them!
- “Foot fingers”- toes, if we’re being technical
- “Chessburger and French frize”- seen on a menu in Ethiopia
- Upon asking for a place to find juice, Dan and I were directed to a Jewish neighborhood. That one took me a whole day to figure out.
Favorite artists from different places
- Alt-J (England)
- Söhne Mannheims (Germany)
- Jah Lude (Ethiopia)
- Teddy Afro (Ethiopia)
- Fat Freddy’s Drop (New Zealand)
Things I miss most
- My people! Friends, family, teammates, coach…
- Familiar running spots: White Rock Lake, Herman Park, Outer Loop, North and South
- A full wardrobe (I forget that I have more than 6 outfits sometimes!)
- Piano and music collection
- Favorite restaurants: Hungry’s, Whole Foods, fro-yo, etc. (although I’m realizing more and more that it’s not so much the places I miss as the people who I frequent them with… although I’ll never turn down a Baja Chicken Wrap, that’s for sure!)
Most practical items packed
- Lulu Lemon tights (thanks, Rach!)
- SmartWool socks
- Foldable bags (you’re my girl, Deb)
- Everything Matt (the gear master) gave and lent me: Osprey backpack, Moleskine notebooks, cocoon, headlamp, towel, pillow, SteriPen…
Some random thoughts:
> Only about half of my original wardrobe remains. I haven’t bought new clothes or gotten any from home, but have worn out, given, or traded a good deal of what I started with. I especially like scattering around Rice apparel and knowing that the Owls are gaining a few more fans around the globe.
> This is, by far, the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing any of my family members (not counting our regular Skype sessions of course). Anyone who knows how attached I am to my siblings and parents knows how difficult being away for so long is, so I’m massively looking forward to a definite visit from Matt in March and potential visits from Rach and Luke this summer. Kim and Suz don’t think it’s likely that they’ll be able to come anywhere, but I’m holding out hope that I’ll walk into a restaurant someday and there they are, showering me with mounds of confetti and tin foil balls like my sibs and I used to do whenever they came home from trips.
> While I won’t say that I’ve become the world’s BEST navigator, I’m happy to report that my directional skills have increased (slightly) since I left home. Or maybe I’m so used to getting lost that it doesn’t really rattle me anymore. But some of my most enjoyable moments have actually occurred after taking wrong turns, meeting strangers, and doing a little exploring on my way back. I’m also hoping to prove myself so Jim allows me to do more than straight out-and-back runs when we race in new places.
> People often ask me how I’m documenting my travels. Well let me tell you! I’m keeping a daily journal (full of interesting/funny happenings, ticket stubs, notes and such), contact information for people I want to keep in touch with, a massive playlist of songs and artists I’ve picked up in each country, a recipe book full of interesting and local cuisines, a huge photo collection, drawings from each month, and notes on different runners, coaches and training styles I’ve encountered. I don’t know what I’ll do with all this when I get back, but I certainly will have some material to work with!
> Simplicity is way underrated. You can get by with surprisingly few possessions, and it’s actually pretty liberating.
> After missing family and friends, the next toughest part of this trip for me is never having a normal routine. I’ve had such a predictable daily schedule for the last 5 years– coffee, run, breakfast, classes, lunch, nap, practice, training room, dinner, schoolwork, bed– that it became a security blanket and source of comfort, but also a limiting factor in my life. Now, without a routine to guide my every move, I’m forced to live in the moment, act spontaneously, be more flexible, and adjust to other people’s schedules. I think it’s a positive change and one that I wouldn’t have loved trying out in any other situation.
> I absolutely love hearing different lingos and learning where they originated. I’m keeping a list of cute/funny/practical words and phrases, and so far Ireland and Australia have provided me with the most to work with.
> People regularly ask me whether I’m still training seriously, and if so, what I’m doing. The short answer to that is yep, very much so! I’m doing more volume now than I ever did in college (mainly due to injuries and races) and building a solid aerobic foundation that I hope to tap into later on this spring and summer. My college coach Jim Bevan is still writing my workouts and guiding my day-to-day training, after taking into consideration a slew of changing variables (terrain, elevation, training partners, weather, nutrition, etc.). In the past 5.5 years, he’s figured out my body and the way I respond to different stimuli pretty darn well, so I’m extremely grateful for his continued coaching and guidance and that enthusiasm and optimism we all know and love!
> I’ve realized that no matter where I am or what my life situation is, I’m going to wake up early, fill my schedule to the brim, and try to be productive at all times. No use fighting it… it’s inevitable!
> I’ve also learned that I’m super easily inspired. I always carry around a little journal and fill it with ideas for training, living, decorating, cooking, crafting, etc. I’m constantly thinking about different things I can try or create and things I want to incorporate into my normal life back home.
> One of my biggest fears about this whole trip is forgetting how to play the piano. No matter how rusty I am come July, though, I’m committed to making up for lost time and tickling those ivories like old times. Speaking of instruments, one of the first things I’m going to do when I get home is buy a banjo and get pluckin’!
> Another (possibly more serious) fear is becoming an even worse driver than I am now, after a year away from the steering wheel. Pops, I just might have to hire you for Driver’s Ed, round 2!
Turns out my feet aren’t the only things that ramble these days… so do my words! All that being said, if the second half of this trip is anything like the first, I’m in for a real treat. Thanks to every single one of you who have contributed to my journey so far. I’m sincerely grateful for y’all and will always have room for any of you who want to visit Texas (well, not ANY of you… I’m talking about you, Colorado man who sent me 15-page handwritten notes and 10-lb. packages in college!)