Sunday, 25 April 2010

Caption Competition and More Photos

I got this snap when I was in the zoo in Mexico City a few weeks ago, and thought that it was a little funny. Please post your caption suggestions as a comment below, or e-mail me (nothing rude please, my mum reads this blog). The best one (in my opinion) will win a prize. I'm not sure what the prize will be yet, but it will be some sort of souvenir from my trip.
I have also set up a Flickr account where you can view the photos that haven't made it to the blog. There are lots more animal photos from the zoo, and there will be many more to follow.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Mommoth Lakes Update

I've spend just over a week in Mammoth Lakes now, and thought it was about time to update you all on what I've been up to. Spotting a bear in my first hour here is always going to be difficult to top, but I've seen some nice sites, ran on some amazing trails and incurred a couple of 'sports' injuries since then.

Being Irish, I'm obsessed with the weather (one of the many traits that I inherited from my mother), so I feel that any update should start with a weather report. Where to begin though? Well today it's very sunny. The sky is completely cloudless, and it is close to 15 degrees.

Yesterday was a whole different story though! Two days of heavy snowfall turned to sleet, and it really wasn't pleasant at all. It was quite cold on Tuesday night, and temperatures went below -6 degrees. Luckily, the nature of the terrain and the climate here means that if you get in a car and drive towards the valley, you usually can find some fine, snow-free weather to train in within 40 minutes or so. There are strong winds, rain, and more snow forecast for Tuesday. And there I was thinking that winter (whichever way you define it) was over for 2010.

On Monday, before the snow started, we took the opportunity of the clear skies to take a gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain so that we could view the surrounding area. The mountain is a dormant volcano (a swear word in Europe these days I believe!), and apparently there are daily earthquakes in the area - though these can't be felt. The mountain itself is California's 'premier ski resort' and receives up to 15 meters of snow per year. Such is the climate and the altitude that July 4 skiing is possible on the mountain, despite California's reputation for beaches and sunshine. The mountain receives an unusually large amount of snowfall compared to other Eastern Sierra peaks due to its location in a low gap in the Sierra crest.

The summit of the mountain is 3,370.8 meters, and the views from the top are amazing.

We stopped off for some food half way down, and the temptation to give skiing a shot was great. But common sense did prevail. Maybe before the year is out I'll give Nordic skiing a try, but clumsy reputation (and my distain for adrenalin inducing activities like roller coasters) suggest that downhill is not for me. It does look cool though!
Another of the local sites that we visited was Mono Lake (after an attempted trip to Lake Mary was aborted due to snow walking fatigue). Formed by tectonic activity, Mono lake is almost 3 times as salty as the ocean and too alkaline for fish to survive in it. Despite this, with over 1,000 plant species, and roughly 400 recorded vertebrate species within its watershed, Mono Lake and its surrounding basin encompass one of California's richest natural areas. The pictures below show some of Mono's salt deposits.

Right, that's enough of the geology lesson for now.

Apart from the snow, this place is amazing for running. Within a 40km radius of the town there are an endless variety of trails to run on. In over a week, I haven't done the same route twice. It's not surprising the America's best marathon runners choose to train here. From desertscapes to forest trails, it's difficult to find an excuse not to run.

Even 2 training related injuries haven't stopped me! A slight exaggeration I know, but they demonstrate just how clumsy I am. The first, a grazed shin, was incurred on my first run here. We were running on a rocky trail, when I, just for one second, took my mind off the task, hit a stone and came crashing to the ground. The fall itself wasn't witnessed by anyone but myself, but the subsequent belly-slide across the gravel was. Despite the scabbing, which is affecting my tanning, all that was really hurt was my pride.
The second was even more stupid, and a lot more painful. On Wednesday, while doing a weights session, my mind was full of lb/kg conversions, when I let a 15.8kg plate slip while taking from the rack and pin my finger between it and another plate. It was a real 'jump around and scream in pain' moment but the resultant blackened fingernail is slowly healing, and with any luck I won't loose it this time.And so, in a few days time, hopefully with all fingers in tact, I'll leave the snow of Mammoth Lakes behind, and go in search of some serious sunshine. Check back in a few days to see whether or not my quest is successful.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Beach, bear, snow and criptic crosswords

The last few days have been crazy.

Having a morning to punch in in LA before flying to Mammoth Lakes, I was determined to make it to the beach for a run. After 2 bus connections and almost 90 minutes later I made it to Venice Beach all decked out in my running shorts and tee-shirt. I did look a bit of a state in this fashion conscious city, but I didn't care. I was off to run on the beach.

On the run I felt amazing. I'm not sure if it was the sea air, the fact that it was my first run at sea level in over 2 weeks, the result of having had a rest day, or a combination of all 3, but I'm pretty sure that's the best run I've had in months. I was just floating along, and had I not had to get a bus back to the hotel in time to check-out, I could have run for hours.

I realised while I was there, that this was the first time I had ever seen the Pacific Ocean - a momentous occasion in the life of Eliz Egan! And man it was good to smell the sea air! It wasn't Curracloe Beach, but for now it will do.

And then I headed for the hills again. Or at least tried to. After spending an arm and a leg on lunch at the airport, I boarded the plane (one of those tiny, noisy, propeller types) to Mammoth. Just as we were ready to take off, the pilot spotted an over-heating warning sign, and the engineers were called in. It took some time to sort out the problem, and after a considerable delay they decided to unload us and put us on a different, equally-small propeller plane. In fairness the whole episode delayed us less than two hours, and considering the number of flights I've been on already this trip, a delay was overdue. After all, it's better than been stuck in Portugal not knowing when you're getting out of there! Volcanoes, they're so inconsiderate!

When I did finally make it to Mammoth, there were two friendly faces waiting for me. GB Internationals and all round superstars Hannah England and Luke Gunn, who had already spent 3 weeks training in the town, had came to pick me up. It was really good to have a proper conversation in English with someone! After dropping my bags off at the accommodation, they took me for a quick tour of the town. We were driving up a road by the forest, looking at some nice (and rather expensive) houses, when I spotted it. After considerable debate with myself, and at the risk of sounding stupid, I decided to mention what I thought I'd seen. Luke and Hannah didn't know whether to believe me or not, and to be honest I wasn't certain myself, but Luke decided to reverse back anyway. And there it was. A brown bear, not too long after waking up from hibernation, prowling around on a bank of snow searching for some food. Seeing a bear in the wild, now that was a pretty special experience, and trumps all the animals I had seen in the zoo two days previously in Mexico City. Some of the athletes have been living in Mammoth for over a year, and not seen a bear yet, and here I was, not in the town a full hour, and I'd spotted one.

Mammoth is a beautiful place. During the winter months it's a ski resort, and during the summer a hikers paradise. There is still a lot of snow on the higher ground, but it's still warm enough to run around in a tee-shirt most days. We have been doing some training runs on the plateau at a lower altitude, and I've even managed to get a little tanned. I can now comprehend how people can go skiing and come back brown.

The town is ideal for training. There are few distractions, beautiful scenery and endless trails. Olympic marathon medalists Denna Kastor (who I met briefly yesterday morning before she headed to London) and Meb Keflezighi train here, as do Ryan Hall, Alistair Cragg and a host of other distance runners. Unfortunately, most of the athletes have headed to sea-level and are racing over the coming weeks so I don't get to meet them. It won't stop me from name dropping though.

Training's been going well so far. The crazy altitude dreams have well and truly started, and I did have to stop on the run this afternoon with altitude stomach cramps, but apart from that everything's going swimmingly. Aside from training and the bear-watching there's been a little bit of time for site-seeing, and Luke and Hannah have been trying their best to get me hooked on cryptic-clue crosswords. That might just be working. I'm not brilliant at them, but as a team we're unstoppable. In two days, between the 3 of us, and with the help of the solution and a dictionary, we've almost completed 1 crossword. By the end of play tomorrow, we should have it done and dusted!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Mexico City Recap

I have just one more sleep in Mexico now. And tomorrow the US, some colder weather, and another set of security questions awaits. Two weeks have flown by, and there was so much of Mexico that I didn't get to see. But then I'm not here for a holiday. Cancun can wait for another time!

Mexico's been nice, and despite the few initial hiccups, and the lack of English speaking natives, it's been good. Mexico City definitely pleasantly surprised me.

We're going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo
Today, I took a trip to the Zoo. And it was on the way to the Zoo that my photo taking got into full swing. I spotted some red squirrels, and had to make an effort at capturing them on 'film'. It did take over 100 shorts to get this, but I think it was worth the effort. Peter this one's especially for you!

After my efforts, I took a seat, placed my camera beside me, and started to enjoy my lunch. Next thing I got the fright of my life to look down and see one of the squirrels sitting on my camera. I think I may have let out an audible scream (well yelp at least). Mr. Squirrel wasn't being very shy.

A free Zoo, now that's my idea of fun. And a very nice one it is too. The bird section was particularly good. Here are just a few of the hundreds of shots I took. Enjoy.

Driving me Crazy
If there's one thing that annoys me about the Mexicans it's their lack of indicator use when driving. And it's not just the Mexicans, that annoys me about drivers of all nationalities, but the Mexicans are particularly bad at it. And in a country like this, where a green pedestrian light does not mean that you have the right of way (as cars that are turning left can still proceed), it's not only annoying, but it's also dangerous.

And that's not the only crazy thing about the driving. Now a big huge round monument in the centre of two intersecting roads suggests roundabout to me. Not so to the Mexicans. Right in the middle of one of the main roads through the city's financial district is the bizzarist junction I have ever seen. It's a bit difficult to explain, but I'll try anyway. Road A is a two way dual carriage way. Road B is a one way dual carriage way running from south to north. There is a big circular monument in the centre of where they meet. Traffic going from east to west go to the north of the monument, and traffic going from west to east go to the south of the monument, exactly as you would expect in a country where they drive on the right hand side of the road. Now the confusion comes when the traffic travelling from south to north can go either side of the monument and the traffic going from east to south, and from west to north go clockwise around it. It's all fine when the traffic lights are working, and everybody is obeying them, but I witnessed total mayhem this morning when, in heavy traffic, cars were essentially facing each other on the same piece of road. It was total chaos! Not my idea of fun!

How not to write an essay
I think that my 'How not to travel around the world' book will be followed, swiftly afterwards, by 'How not to write an essay'. In my last blog, I mentioned that I had an essay to write. It's something that I've been too busy to do for a few weeks now (i.e. something that I kept putting off), and so on Friday, with no other choice, I sat down on my hotel bed, and didn't get up until it was done. Now writing an essay in a hotel room, with a netbook, poor internet connection and no software with either spellcheck or wordcount isn't easy, believe me. But it's done now, and with any bit of luck, I'll pass it.

Just Reward?
As a reward for getting the essay done, I treated myself to a light run on Saturday morning. Or so I thought. Forty minutes into the run (I had only planned on doing 35), I finally admitted that I was lost (which wasn't easy as I pride myself on having a good sense of direction), and had no choice but to retrace my steps. All 40 minutes of them. That's ok though, I thought. I'll spend a nice relaxing afternoon in the city's historic centre. I decided to walk the whole way into town, and as I walked down Paseo de la Reforma, a beautiful tree-lined street, I contemplated if indeed this was my favourite city in the whole world. I think I may have spoken too soon. The city centre was my idea of hell. Too many people, too many beggars, too much noise. Maybe a sunny Saturday afternoon wasn't the best time to choose to 'relax' in the centre of the world's second biggest city.

Anyway, I lived to tell the tale. And to be honest it was quite interesting. But I decided to spend Sunday in the park. That was equally busy, but peaceful at the same time.

Where it all began
Now, in my opinion, there's no point in going to an Olympic host city, and not visiting the Olympic Stadium. And Mexico City is particularly significant, as that is where it all began - not the Olympics, but the general consensus that altitude affects performance. And that's part of the reason why I choose to start my Altitude Adventure right here in Mexico. It's also the Olympics where the East Africans started to dominate the distance events, and shape the world of athletics as we know it today.

The Olympic Stadium, Estadio Olimpico Universitario, as it is known locally, was built to represent the crater of a volcano. Today it is home to the Pumas de la Universidad, the National Autonomous University of Mexico's (UNAM) Premier League football team.

The Stadium is located within the Ciudad Universitaria (University City), the campus of the UNAM, the largest University in Latin America. It boasts a student population of over 300,000, and it has as many staff members (almost 35,000) as most UK Universities have students. I spent much of yesterday afternoon walking around the campus, which a UNESCO world heritage site. And what a big and beautiful campus it is. My only gripe, and it's the same gripe as I have with most of Mexico City, is why does a place with so many pedestrians have to have two main duel carriageways running through it? The park (Bosque de Chapultepec) where I have been doing most of my training, also has a couple of main roads running through it, making what is otherwise a very pleasant run, a bit of a nightmare with having to cross roads and watch traffic.

And so that's Mexico City. Much better than I anticipated, and I'm glad that I spent longer here than originally planned. And I didn't even get to visit the pyramids! It looks like things do have a way of working out for the best in the end afterall.

Next stop: LA, but just for a day. (Not an attempt at being poetic, but I'll take it all the same!)

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Beetle Mania and Premium Class Travel

It was on my taxi ride to the bus station this morning that I realised just how many Beetles there are in this country. In the space of just 2 minutes I had counted 10 of them, and when I arrived in Mexico City there were even more. I have seen hundreds today! No I don't mean the hard skinned creepy-crawly type, nor do I mean the shaggy-haired 60s pop stars (because then I'd have spelt it wrong!). No I mean the car. And I don't mean the ugly remake. I mean the proper clapped-out original. I've never seen so many of the thing in my life. What a great place to play the Beetle-Box game! It begs the question: Is Mexico where Beetles go to die, or is it were they live forever?

Apart from my car spotting, I've had a fun day. Resisting the desire to fly from San Luis Potosi to the capital, I went for the cheaper bus option. Now I've read good things about the bus service in Mexico, but I was bowled away by just how amazing bus transport is here. After paying for my taxi (which incidentally cost about £3 for a 2 mile trip across town - I can't remember paying that little for a taxi since our days in Limerick when as students we begrudgingly payed that much between 3 or 4 of us), I entered what looked more like an airport terminal than a bus station. I can't get over how clean, tidy and safe it looked. Before boarding the bus, we were given a complementary drink and ham sandwich. And what luxury awaited when boarding the bus. There were only 24 seats on a bus the size of a normal 52 seat coach, plenty of space, a nice footrest, and 2 toilets, neither of which smelled like a bus toilet, and a tv. Oh, and the 5 1/2 hour journey only cost about £25. Bargain!

The journey flew by too. The scenery was amazing and the roads are first class. We even arrived at the final destination half an hour early. The place is huge, but much nicer than I expected. I'm staying in a really nice hotel, just on the edge of Bosque de Chapultepec, a huge park on the western edge of the city. English is a little more widespread than it was in San Luis and best of all, I had pasta for the first time in 9 days (Spaghetti Bolagnese never tasted so good!).

Well that's all from me for a few days. I have an essay to write in the next 48 hours, and I plan on spending the weekend exploring the city and surrounds. Until next week, Chau

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Adios San Luis Potosi

I'm about 1 week into my adventure, and tomorrow I'll leave San Luis Potosi for Mexico City. I'm a little nervous. I only realised a few days ago that Mexico City is the second largest city in the world (second only to Tokyo). With a population of 18 million, more than 4 times the population of the whole of Ireland, it's really difficult to get my head around the size of the city.

At just over half a million people, San Luis Potosi, on the other hand, is a much smaller place. It was a lovely little place to begin my travels, but I think I'll try and learn Spanish before I visit again. There are a few competitors from the World Senior Tennis Championships (which is currently being held in the city), staying at my hotel, but apart from that, I haven't encountered anyone that can speak English. But then why should they? I should be a little less lazy with my languages.

Two days ago, I inadvertently ordered a whole pitcher of papaya juice in a restaurant. It's clear now that the waitress was questioning my choice, but I persevered with my order. I was a little embarrased when she put a massive pitcher of red-orange coloured juice on the table. There must have been 3 liters of the stuff in there. Too proud to admit my mistake, I drank glasses and glasses of the florescent orange liquid until it was all gone. Thankfully I haven't suffered from vitamin poisoning, but it must have been close.

Training has been going well so far. I did a small amount of bounding yesterday for the first time in about 2 years. I was a little concerned when I woke this morning not to feel sore, as from memory the session normally causes quite a bit of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). I shouldn't have worried - ribs, abs and gluts have gradually got sorer as the day wore on, and now I very much feel like the legs and core got a good workout yesterday. Apart from that, most of the training I've been doing has been easy running and strides. There is always the risk of working too hard at altitude, but I'm being very cautious. After all, there is no hurry to adjust - I'll have plenty of time to train hard later in the trip.

Right, I'd better get some sleep now before my trip to the big, bad city tomorrow. The bus will take about 6 hours, so I can't wait for that!


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Holiday Snaps

'Some pretty pictures' I hear you cry! Right, so here are the first few pictures from my adventure. I've not quite got into full photo-taking flow yet, but don't worry, that WILL happen. Let's just say, I'm pacing myself! There will be lots more to follow in the coming months.

My new best friend - I call him Pedro, of course!

One of the many pretty Plazas in San Luis Potosi's Centro Historico

...and another one

...and some pretty stone work on one of the many churches in the city
Pretty sunset last night
The entrance to Parque Tangamanga where I have been doing most of my training

And the track at La Loma club, with the 5 Star Cameo Real in the background (costs £400+ per night!)

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Egan's Adventure - What it's all about

Why I'm sitting in a 4-Star Hotel in San Luis Potosi
So my first blog detailed why I'm currently unemployed, and why writing a book is fulfilling a childhood dream. Now it's time to let you all know what the book is about.

Ever since I was 14, athletics has been a major part of my life. I love to run in all weathers, but sometimes, just sometimes, I need to escape the British/Irish winter and do a spot of training somewhere else in the world. I like to travel, and am interested in other cultures, so running gives me a great opportunity to do that. In 2005, after finishing my PhD, I went on my first of 5 (to date) trips to Kenya. Initially I found it difficult to find information on how to organise the trip, and subsequent warm-weather training trips around Europe have proved to be just as difficult to organise. Where do you find information on the best places to visit? What venues have access to weights equipment? Can you use the local track? Where is the best place to stay? Is it a safe place for females? Do you need a car to get around? Is it safe? Is it suitable for solo travellers? And most importantly, as someone who generally despises running on the roads, what are the trails like? So many questions, and so few answers. Sure, if you know someone that has been there before, they'll be able to answer your questions. But are there places out there that are underused as training venues - and some that are grossly overused?

I had an idea a few years back about putting together a book or a website about the best altitude and warm weather training venues around the world, but for a long time this has only been a crazy idea at the back of my head. Now I'm about to make it a reality, and am currently gathering information for what I envisage to be a travel guide for distance runners and provide practical information for those planning altitude training trips around the world.

On Tuesday 30th March 2010, I set off on the first leg of my exploration journey, which will see me visit and train at various altitude locations in Mexico and the US. Now 4 days later, I am sitting in a 4-Star hotel in San Luis Potosi with not a care in the world, still as excited about the whole adventure as when I first decided to live my dream last December. I hope to visit locations across Europe, Africa and Australia in the coming months, and 18 months from now publish what I hope to be the first of many books.

Can anywhere compare to Kenya?
I can't pinpoint when it was, but I fell in love with Kenya long before I visited the place. My first visit in 2005 not only lived up to my expectations, but greatly exceeded them. It was as I had imagined but more. More colourful. More peaceful. More exciting. More friendly. It's difficult to explain, but Africa truly does fill up the senses, and Kenya in particular is a must visit for all running enthusiasts. It truly is the distance running Mecca! As I've said, I've been 5 times before, and never get bored of the place. It is definitely number 1 on my list of places to train, and I can't imagine that changing. Over the next 12 months I'll look to see if anywhere else comes close.

How you can help
The more information that I can gather for this book, the more useful that it will be. I want to include venues that suit all tastes and budgets. If you are running-mad like me, and you have a favourite (or not so favourite) altitude training venue that you think I should visit, then please let me know. I will also be looking for travelling partners along the way, so please let me know if you would like to join me at any stage of my journey. (Male travel partners for a few weeks in Morocco in late September/early October would be greatly appreciated).

BTW, this is the 4-Star Hotel - for £34 per room per night, it truly is a bargain.

Right that's me for now. Please feel free to post your comments about my project at the bottom.

Until the next time,


Be careful what you wish for

Be careful what you wish for - or so they say. Well for the past few months I couldn't wait to get away from the crap British weather, and escape to somewhere warm and sunny. Of course I would have settled for a little bit of sunshine in the south of Europe somewhere, and temperatures anywhere in double figures - instead I hop on a plane and travel for 19 hours to Mexico. Since I arrived I haven't seen a drop of rain, or needed to wear any more than a tee-shirt. Daytime temperatures have consistently been around 30 degrees and even at night it's still really quite warm. I'm sun burnt (despite applying suncream regularly, and avoiding the sun as much as possible), and my ankles are huge!

I walked into the city on Thursday, and it was so warm my hands swelled up like balloons (I'm really not used to having fat hands). Here's the photographic evidence:

Now I'm not complaining! All this sunshine makes a pleasant change, and if I get bored of the heat, I'm sure that the temperatures in Mammoth Lakes, where I'm heading next, will make me feel a little more at home!

Not only have I had the heat to contend with, a 19 hour journey to recover from, and a 7 hour time difference to get used to, but I've also had the altitude to acclimatise to. And that of course is why I'm here. Though I've done the whole altitude thing before (5 times to be precise), I always forget how good that first 10 minutes of the first run feels, and then how it hits you like somebody has punched you in the ribs. I'm slowly adjusting though, and just done some 100m strides today, which not only breaks up the routine of easy running, but reminds me how much I love running fast. I just can't wait to get fit enough to race on the track this summer - I definitely have some unfinished business there!

I've just noticed a sign in the reception of the hotel reminding guests to adjust their clock by 1 hour tomorrow morning for daylight saving - after forgetting about British summer time last weekend, very little and I would have missed out again. That will be the 5th time I've had to change my clock in just 8 days! (British summer time, NY, Huston, Mexico, and Mexico daylight saving time). Not that time matters much these days!

How not to travel around the World
I've just been doing a bit of reflecting on all the things that I've done wrong so far this trip - and given that I'm just 4 days in, there have been quite a few!

1. A few days before the trip started I realised that my credit card was about to expire, and that the new one had probably been sent to my old address. I ordered the new one, but there wasn't enough time for it to arrive, so I'm travelling without a credit card. I really should know better!
2. When I went to confirm the dates of my stay in Mexico with the camp that I was hoping to stay at (3 days before I was due to leave), I learned that they were booked out. I'm not sure where I get this reputation for being organised from.

3. I didn't have enough time to locate and book alternative accommodation - now that's taking 'no fixed abode' to a whole new level.

4. I arrived at Birmingham airport at 6:30am on Tuesday morning after having far too little sleep the previous 2 nights, and having just finished work 13 hours before that. At least that explains some of the lack of organisation above. Starting a 19 hour journey on 20 minutes sleep really isn't a good idea.

5. I forgot how annoying the questioning can be before boarding a flight to the US. Travelling on an Irish passport, from the UK, with no current UK address, and no current employment, doesn't go down too well. Going on vacation on my own is not viewed as normal (well maybe it's not), and 1 large suitcase, a rucksack, and a large carrier-bag is not viewed as adequate for someone that's going to be away until June (little do they know, that I'm travelling unusually heavily for me). Oh ya, and a Jordanian visa in your passport gets you noticed for all the wrong reasons.

6. When checking-in for my flight I completely forgot to request an aisle seat and was put next to the window. The confinement of my seating was compounded by the fact that it was just a little plane, and I couldn't stand and stretch during the flight. Now, I really should know better!

7. When I arrived in Newark airport, I attempted to book accommodation, but realised that the only way I could get internet access was by paying for it with credit card, but as we know I don't have a current one of those! Luckily, when I got to Huston, I was able to get a complimentary 45 minutes, and managed to book myself in for 2 nights.

8. When I arrived at my final destination, San Luis Potosi Airport, I couldn't find my baggage. The one with the film wrapped all around looked closest, but wasn't it... or was it? Yes, the helpful baggage man confirmed that it was indeed mine. The handle for pulling it had been broken off in transit, and the whole thing was about to burst open. Note to self: before travelling, make sure that suitcase is in full working order.

9. When I arrived at the hotel they had no confirmation of my booking, and had not received payment. Luckily they had a room, but at 10pm (5am British time), and potentially nowhere to stay, I really was living life on the edge.

10. My mobile phone hadn't worked since leaving Birmingham, so I couldn't let the people that I had promised to text know that I had arrived safely. Maybe the £18 phone isn't that good afterall!

11. And finally, as I wrote yesterday, my debit card was stopped by the fraud people. Hopefully this was the last in a long line of things to go wrong.

So, now that I've learned what not to do, hopefully the rest of my trip will go swimmingly.
Take care for now, and Saludos de Pascua


Friday, 2 April 2010

April Fool's Day

What a day! I thought I had been April Fooled this morning when I went online to check that I had been paid this week. To my dismay, my current account didn't appear on my online banking. Yes, that's right, it didn't appear at all. A credit card account for which I don't yet have the card, and a savings account which I have no account to transfer money from, are a fat lot of good when I'm stuck in Mexico with no money! A trip to the ATM machine confirmed my worst fears - my card didn't work. There was a bit of deja vous about all this. Looks like the fraud squad have spotted some international action on my account and blocked it. One long-distance phone call from the hotel (I'm scared how much that will cost), later it's all been sorted, but honestly, did the woman in the bank not pay any attention when I told her that I was going travelling in a few days, that I'd jacked in my job, was heading to Mexico, and that I wasn't coming back any time soon?

And so that brings me to why I'm here. One cold Saturday morning last December, when out for a run, I was doing a bit of self-reflection - something that I'm inclined to do from time to time - and realised that the cause of my recent frustration with every man and his dog (and mostly myself), was that I wasn't doing anything special with my life. Now, I don't have a burning ambition for fame or celebrity, and I'm pretty happy not to be known by the general public, but I think there is a desire within all of us to make our mark in life. And so there it was. I'd decided to do something special. A quick scan of the ideas that I'd had over the years, and the dreams that I'd not fulfilled, and I had a rough idea of what was to come next. Brief chats with AnnMarie, Bud, Alex McG, Wayne and Lee over the next 48 hours, confirmed what I already knew, and by lunchtime that Monday (21st December) I had told my boss that I was leaving.

Ever since I knew what a book was, I wanted to be an author. I've always wanted to see my name on the glossy cover of a piece of literature that others can read and enjoy. Now, to begin with, I thought that my publication was going to be of the fiction type, but a severe lack of imagination, and poor grades in creative-type essays throughout school put a dampener on that idea. It was probably always clear that I'm much more of a factual writer, and given that I've read less than half a dozen novels since my Famous Five days, fact was what it was going to be. I remember that any project that I did at school was twice (or 3 times) as long as anyone else's; each topic an opportunity for me to put together the bones of a possible future book. I can't have been much more than 8 or 9 when the two page project on insects that we were assigned, became a 6-page masterpiece - well at least for an eight-year-old. A few years later, I was assigning myself projects, and among others, set about putting together scrapbooks about clothing, the counties of Ireland, and a world atlas. Yes I truly am a gEEk! A few years later, one of our Leaving Cert Home Economics assignments involved putting together a plan for a bathroom or a kitchen, and the piece that I produced earned an A+++ from the teacher.

My obsession for books, and writing doesn't stop there. I can't go into town without spending hours in a bookshop. I own books on topics that I have never really been interested in, travel guides for countries that I may never visit, and biographies that I may never have time to read. And reading a book is never just enough - I've got to own it (and usually lend it to someone who will never return it, so that I can get wound up about that). I visit Oxfam to buy books, not to donate them.

The bound copy of my PhD thesis is my most treasured possession, and for a long time, I thought that it may be the closest that I'd come to writing a proper book.

But hopefully, in 18 months time, that will not be the case. And the topic of my book? - well you'll just have to wait for my next blog to find out! Suffice to say, it combines my other two passions in life - running and travelling.

Right, back to April Fool's day - I was on this morning, and though I went on knowing that they always do the April Fools day thing, I still fell for their pranks. I guess there is just a lot of strange things going on in athletics these days! The main quote was about the Russians admitting that blood doping doesn't really seem to work, other various, slightly plausible stories, and a report that USTAF and UKA have vowed never to send men's teams to the World Cross Country again, and only individuals if they were born in East Africa (the Mo Farah clause!). Though only a prank, I hope that this is never the case. The US and the UK should be leading the way in sending full teams to the greatest race on Earth. Any country that can field 11 half capable players (and some that can't!) enter the qualifying stages of the FIFA World Cup, and so it should be the same with the world cross country. Yes it's difficult to compete with the East Africans, especially in the men's events, but what's the point in being the best in Europe, without trying yourself against the best in the world. And that bronze medal in the women's team event is always up for grabs!

The page can be viewed at:

The less plausible, but actually true stories on the site were as follows:

* Human Being Runs 19.19
* Marion Jones Signs WNBA Contract
* Dathan Ritzenhein Has Better Year Than Ryan Hall, Running 12:56 and Winning World Medal
* Cornell Basketball Makes Sweet 16, Defending Champ UNC Doesn't Make Tournament
* Jenny Barringer Gets 5th in the World, Has NCAA XC Meltdown, Signs With New Balance, Leaves Wetmore For Henner
* American Male Wins NYC Marathon
* Dwain Chambers Wins IAAF World 60m Title

Athletics is a funny old world!

Anyway, I hope that I haven't bored you all too much. Please leave your comments, and come back soon to read more about what I'm up to.