Now that I have settled in Aberystwyth (Wales), my emotions and more abstract thoughts (I mean thoughts beyond what goes in which box) are catching up to me, and I realize that the latest in my long string of relocations has been by far the most difficult. There are several reasons for that. First and foremost, I left behind my closest friend, who also happens to be a person that I can connect to professionally in a way that I have not experienced with anyone else. This is rare, and I don’t really expect to find it again. Our families have also fused to the point that I am not really quite sure how to tackle the thought that we can no longer just get together for Sunday afternoon ice cream, semi-planned dinner, or just a play date. There better be a biofuels breakthrough soon because the current prices of plane tickets will not cut it. Second, just before moving, I had discovered the joy of training with other people, and I really liked the group I was running with late on Wednesday nights and, occasionally, early Saturday mornings. I was also really enjoying the Tuesday night hill reps with Phil Turk and the great conversations we had, whenever we could manage anything more eloquent than grunting up the hill. Finally, there were several races in the Eastern US that I really wanted to run because I was curious what they would feel like (Hellgate, Massanutten), because I had messed them up big time on previous attempts (Highlands Sky), or because I wanted to have a little more of (WV Trilogy). But several things have helped tremendously with getting over most of that and regaining my positive outlook.
This is a really nice little town on the Irish Sea, and it has a lot to offer to runners, especially those who prefer trails and hills. Here are a few pictures to illustrate that:
Ceredigion Coast Path: 60+ miles of this with plenty of hills.
And then there is this for when I decide that I miss the forests of West Virginia or I am tired of the wind.
I recently joined the local running club and was completely blown away by its depth. In Morgantown, we were doing great on nights when there were five of us on a social run. Here, I am yet to go on a run and know more than half of the people! There is plenty of good conversation, and if one feels like going for a hard speed session, there are several competent coaches, as well as running ability sufficient to challenge anyone.
Man of many talents Joel Wolpert was quick to surmise that I would get into fell racing after I move to Wales. Well, he was spot on about that. Less than a week after the Brecon Beacons 40-miler, and with my quads still burning from the ~10,000 ft of elevation gain, I heard about the Cader Idris race, which was going to take place on the following day. My first reaction was “no way,” but I think it took people from the Aberystwyth Athletic Club less than 30 seconds to persuade me to do it. What is there not to like in a race that covers 3000 ft of elevation gain (and as much loss) over ten miles of rugged, rocky trails? These races are fairly competitive too. I gave it a fair effort on the ascent and felt like I was taking some chances on the downhill, but that was still only good enough for placing 20th overall, after an epic battle with the winner of the 50+ age group! Fell races are awesome. Steep terrain, sickening pace, great atmosphere – the espresso of mountain running! I am not sure I am ready to write ultramarathons off yet, but I will certainly be running a lot more shorter races than I used to.
The Mountains of Wales
My exploration of the mountains of Wales took me to the Snowdon last Saturday. The experience is probably best summarized by a little episode I had on the way there. In Beddgelert, a small village in Snowdonia, I picked up a couple of hitchhikers, who had just got off the mountain and were too tired to walk back to their cars. “Are you camping before heading up the mountain?” They asked me after I told them I was planning to head up (it was 5:30 pm). “Nope,” I replied, wondering what they would think if I told them that my plan was to actually run up and down the Snowdon twice. As it turned out, their hypothetical judgment would have not been completely baseless – this was much harder than I expected. But I did make it back just before it got dark (which is after 10 pm around here), exhausted but happier than I remember being in a very long time. With all this running in the mountains, I feel like I am rediscovering a part of myself that I thought had died when I stopped climbing and caving. It is nice to see it is still around. And I am curious to see where else it will take me.