Sunday, January 25, 2015

Max Tott Half Marathon 2015

Annette picked Carrie and I up at 6:15am this morning.  The plan was for her to drop me off to run the half marathon, and then she and Carrie would wait for me at the finish line. 

The Max Tott Half Marathon is the oldest race in Guatemala, I think.  This year was the 78th edition. The race starts in Zone 1 of the city, then winds through Zone 5 and up into Zone 16, passing through my home turf as it then cuts down onto Blvd. Vista Hermosa in Zone 15, past Campo Marte, and along 10 Avenida to end at a stadium back in Zone 5.  Unlike the Guatemala City Half Marathon held at the end of August, this route is anything but flat.  The race includes two serious climbs and a handful of smaller ones with a total elevation gain of 1000ft. 

The route (and my pace, if you're curious).

I had been training well, but the last two weeks just hadn’t felt the greatest.  I told Carrie and Annette on the ride there that I was not really nervous, but I had a feeling as if the race wasn’t going to go all that well. 

Apparently I shouldn’t have worried.  I ran the first mile in well under 8 minutes (previously unheard of for me) and didn’t actually slow down to anywhere close to my “normal” pace until the first big hill around mile 5. 

Start of the race.  Photo by Carrie Renaud.

As I cruised past Paseo Cayala in Zone 16, where many of my friends live who had planned to come out and support me, I realized I was passing almost half an hour earlier than the time I’d told them to expect me.  Unsurprisingly, I didn’t see any familiar faces. 

At 11K, I looked down and realized I’d been running for 58 minutes.  If I could keep up the pace, even slow down a bit, I could realize my goal of 2 hours easily. 
Miles 8 and 9 included the biggest climb of the day, and I had to consciously push myself to stay under a 10 minute mile.  When I crested the hill, though, I sailed down miles 10 and 11, and the realization that not only would I finish in 2 hours, but under, made me want to cry from happiness. 

After one more small hill, the last mile was all flat or downhill, and I coasted mile 13 at a 8:36 mile pace.  I came across the finish line feeling strong and extremely proud of myself. 

The final stretch.  (That's me in the tie dye). 

Crossing the finish line.
Photo by Carrie. 
After a quick stretch, I picked up my finisher medal and some water and went to meet Annette and Carrie.  They’d seen my finish from high seats in the stadium and congratulated me on my run.  They also let me know that everyone was wondering where I’d been since no one had seen me.  Jen had been out to cheer, Joel had waited nearly half an hour, Kenra had texted to find out what time I would be passing by…and there I was, passing all of those spots before any of them got there.  We laughed, I texted everyone to meet me for breakfast, and we enjoyed a hearty meal under bright blue skies to cap off the morning.
Goal met.  Amazing day. 


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Time Passes

All of a sudden it’s been nearly a month since I’ve written anything.  Perhaps it’s unnecessary for me to say that January has flown by in a rather uneventful sort of way. 

On the 2nd, I spent the day in airports and flying.  Leaving from my hometown’s small airport, I am always ensured at least 3 flights and 12 hours of travel time to get to or from Guatemala City.  While I don’t particularly enjoy these long travel days, I have found that the three flights provide a sort of natural transition from one life to the other.  Take this most recent trip, for example.  My first flight was on a small plane filled with mostly small-town people leaving home.  We were nearly homogenous group.  The next flight was filled with more variation; we traveled from one big US city to another.  By the time I boarded my final flight, I was already feeling farther from home.  But then on that plane, filled not only with vacationers and business men bound for Central American, but also with Guatemalans going home, when the pre-flight instructions were read both in English and in Spanish, and the customs forms were passed out, returning to Guatemala became real. 

Moon over the wing.  Last flight of the day. 

Still, it took a full two days for me to get back into the swing of life here and to appreciate once again all of the things (small and large) that keep me so happy.  Once I’d had a chance to see my closest friends again and spend some time in the sunshine, though, I was able to stop dwelling on the people I had left in Wisconsin and live in the moment once again.  

And oh, I am happy here. 

Calendar with great pictures of my friends for each month.
Amazing gift to welcome me back!!!  

I remember shivering my way through last January.  I had mentally prepared to endure the same this year, but I really haven’t been as cold.  When I get up on Tuesday mornings before the sun and go to the school pool to meet my friends and swim, while they fret about how cold they are, I don’t usually feel cold until I put my toes in the water (which is generally warmer than the air).  On only one day did I don my new penguin mittens during the school day to warm my hands.  This week, I even opened the windows to let the breeze in more than once. 

While being relatively low-key, the past three weeks have brought some high points.  The middle school staff celebrated the new year at a restaurant overlooking the city.  Good food, great conversation, and full glasses made the evening worthwhile.  The next night, I celebrated Ukrainian Christmas at my neighbor Jestina’s house.  It’s a family tradition of hers, and she shared it with us this year.  The food was delicious and the company was fantastic.  We laughed almost to the point of tears as we chatted and told stories after dinner.  I also spent a day in Antigua with Amy and Shannon, taking my first Spanish language course in years.  While the class was perhaps not exactly what I need in order to advance, it was fun to put myself in the learner’s seat again, and it was a great chance to practice my Spanish and refresh some grammar rules.  And after the class, the three of us enjoyed the colonial city, had a delicious lunch, and were able to catch up.

Looking out over the city at the MS Staff Social

Volcano sunset from the restaurant

At school, I am teaching a research unit.  It’s both one of my favorite and least favorite things to teach.  (I love teaching the process, but it frustrates me when middle school students don’t grasp the concept of paraphrasing and end up plagiarizing.  And it’s also a lot of grading.)  I’ve been getting a lot of satisfaction out of the project this year.  My students work hard, and for the past few class periods, even when I thought the lesson was boring and maybe they would choose not to focus or use their work time, the classroom has been silent aside from the music playing softly from my speakers, heads raised only to ask me a pertinent question.  But the best part?  For whatever reason, some of my students who typically struggle a bit in English reading/writing skills have been doing really well with this project.  I love the look on their faces as they realize that they’re doing it correctly.  When they get an assignment back and realize they earned the same or a higher score than their “smart” best friend, that feeling is priceless.  It makes me really really happy to see them succeeding. 

Great summarizing.  Giving an appropriate
topic?  Might still have some work to do. 

Currently, I’m in the middle of my penultimate masters course through Framingham University.  While the content is worthwhile, I am ready to be done with long nights and lectures.  I’m getting through it, but I’m glad there is only one more course after this one. 

Tomorrow I will run the Max Tott half marathon in Guatemala City.  I’m sure a blog post will follow.  It’s the first race in Guatemala that I am running on my own, without friends to pump me up at the starting line.  (We didn’t originally plan for me to run it alone, but due to illnesses, both Carrie and Amy are sidelined at the moment).  Until moving here, running solo was standard for me.  Now it feels foreign.  However, I’ll have supporters waiting for me at the finish line, and I’ve been getting ready for this race for months.  I followed a training plan religiously (even in Wisconsin, even on Christmas Day) with the intent to break 2 hours for the 13.1 miles.  However, it’s my first time running this route, I’m not exactly sure how difficult it will be, and I… well, I have no idea how it will all turn out.  I’ll keep you posted.  

View from a wintery training run in Wisco.
It's all worth it! 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep"

“When I am worried and cannot sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings”

As I lay tossing and turning the other night, unable to sleep, these song lyrics came unbidden (I hadn’t thought of this particular song from the movie White Christmas in years) and
lodged themselves in my.  It’s funny, because the words are oddly perfect. 

The fact of the matter is, I am insanely blessed and have had such an incredible stay at home this holiday season.  So when I lay in bed unable to sleep (who knows why, but this is indeed a problem I’ve been having for the past week or so), I really do find myself counting my blessings.  And there are so many of them.

On this stint home, I’ve been blessed to reconnect with old friends—hours spent sitting over a table or on a couch, saying all the things that didn’t get said via Facebook messenger or Snapchat over the last few months…or years.  I deepened relationships with people, made connections, rekindled friendships. 

A week ago on Christmas Day, I found myself earnestly thinking that I had no desire to go back to Guatemala, that I just wanted to stay here with family and old friends forever.  I confess—that thought worried me.   Since I started my international stint, I have always found myself excited to go home to family each Christmas and summer, but by the end of the visit, equally excited to hop on a plane and return to work.  I feel like if that ever changes—if I either don’t want to come home or don’t want to go back—it will signal that a change needs to be made in my life.  And since I committed to one more year in Guatemala, if I’m feeling more like Wisconsin is where I should be, that’s not really a good thing.  Fortunately though, as my departure date neared and I look at getting on a plane tomorrow, I am ready, if not excited, to go back, see my friends there, and create new adventures this spring. 

So tonight, when my mind is abuzz with the prospect of travel and unable to turn off, I will count my blessings instead of sheep.  I’ll remember this feeling of being encased in a bubble of happiness that I have had for the past two weeks.  I’ll think of the people who are important to me.  There are so many; I’m not likely to run out before morning comes.