Friday, 27 August 2010

Sierra Nevada

I had a very big smile on my face Monday morning.  Partially because I'd managed to sleep most of the way on my overnight train journey from Barcelona to Granada without getting even the slightest bit of motion sickness, but mostly because, despite an unplanned change to my journey, I still managed to arrive in Granada on time, and without the least bit of stress.

The little yellow train - my mode of transport from Font Romeu to VilleFranche.  The 45 minutes journey by car takes over 2 hours by train.

My total journey from Font Romeu to here was scheduled to take 22 hours, and include changes at VilleFranche (with only 5 minutes to spare), Perpingnan, and Barcelona.  However, given that I was travelling such a long distance, with different train companies and across 2 countries, I could not buy a ticket the whole way.  After making the change at VilleFranche without any hassle, I arrived at a very busy Perpingan station to be told that the train to Granada was full (there is only 1 train per day), but that I could give a ticket as far as Barcelona, on a slower train, that incurred an additional stop.  Unfazed by this, I took the ticket to Barca, optimistic that once I got there I could blag my way onto the train to Granada.  Worst case scenario, I figured an additional day in Barcelona wouldn't be the end of the world. 

Beautiful blue skies as we leave Font Romeu behind

Some hours later I reached Barca, and sure enough there was space on the train to Granada, but only sleeping space.  At an additional cost of just 15 euro from what I was originally quoted via the Internet, I happily took the bed, and thanked myself for not wasting energy getting stressed-out about the situation.  If quiting my job, and spending all my savings on travelling the world achieves just one thing, I'm happy that I've found optimistic Eliz again.  She makes a much better travelling partner than the stressed-out version.

It occurred to me yesterday that I haven't seen a single cloud in over a week now.  Font Romeu warmed up nicely just before I left, and reached 30 degrees on my penultimate day.  And here, at 2,400m above sea level in the Sierra Nevada, the temperatures reached 32 degrees.  Nobody that works at the camp here can ever remember the temperatures getting that high before, though temperatures in Granada regularly reach 40 at this time of year.

View of the Sierra Nevada from the camp

While the temperature is almost too hot, it's the lack of cloud that makes this place so amazing.  The camp is almost at the top of the mountain, surrounded by other peaks of the Sierra range to the North, South and West, and overlooking the Granada plane in the East.  And on clear evenings like we've been having, that means one thing - amazing sunsets.  I've tried taking some photos, but they dont' quite do it justice.

View of sunset from my bedroom window.  It's much more spectacular in real life.

Unfortunately, while the mountain-top position means beautiful views, the training is somewhat tough.  There are not as many trails as at my previous destinations, and so steep are the roads that it makes Font Romeu look like a plateau.  I'm still managing to get some running in, and spending a bit of time working on my core.  Who knows, I might even develop that six-pack that I've been talking about for so long.

I've got just less than a week left here now, and then I'm back home to Wexford for a few days.  After all these hills, the sight of Curracloe beach will be a welcome one, though I'm guessing the temperatures will be somewhat cooler.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Caption Competition Winner

Since it seems that Nic is never actually going to be inspired enough to contribute to the caption competition, I have decided to announce the winner.

Runner-up spot goes to Mike for his contribution: The one on the left (let’s call him Bud for whatever reason!) is saying to the other (let’s call him Bob!) “this group is juuuuust magic and has massive potential”. If you know Bud and Bob, you'll know what he means!  unfortunately Mike there are no prizes for 2nd place.

But the winner, and the opportunity of a career in the humorous card caption business goes to Alex. Alex's entry was: 'The snake impression that Bob produced wasn't exactly what Tracy had been hoping for.

Some of the other contributions were:
Future Employer: Congratulations Ms Egan, you are the successful candidate, however I must inform you the job is 9 to 5.

Eliz: One is not amused!!!
(Fair point!)

Eh, who pinched my bum?

Congratulations to Alex, and thanks to all those who contributed.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Barcelona By Pictures

Barni, the B10 Mascott trying to get the crowd going.  Bless him, he tried, but Berlino was always going to be an impossible act to follow.

A view of the city from inside the Olympic Stadium

The track as the sun is setting

Barcelona's Olympic Port, reginerated for the 1992 Olympic Games

The detailed Navity Fascade on the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  Gaudi's masterpiece is only 60% complete, but what is done is amaging

Detail of the 3 wise ones on that fascade

Stained glass detail from inside the church.  The interior is due to be finished later this year

Detail of the interior support and roof structure, designed to represent trees and branches in the forrest.  Gaudi was a bit of a nature lover

The work inside continues

Probably the worst buscar in the world.  To be avoided at all costs!  Scott and AnnMarie can vouch for that.

More of Gaudi's work

The National Moseum of Art of Catalunya as seen from the Placa d'Espanya

The Magic Fountain desplays that light up Mountjuic at night.

And no photo collection of mine would be complete without an animal of some sort.  This is a wild parrott that we saw in the hills above the city.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Font Romeu Update

Greetings from Font Romeu, where the daily average temperature has fluctuated from single figures to something a little closer to 30. When it's nice, it's very, very nice, and when it's not, well it's pretty horrid!

I've put in a decent week's training over the past 7 days - made easy by the fact that I've had my little brother to train with, and because he always manages to find the best trails. As he hired a car while he was over we also managed to see a bit of the country. We even took a trip to Andorra last week - I'd love to say that it's a beautiful country, but quit frankly we didn't see a bit of it. So covered by cloud and fog, all I can actually tell is that it's got roads which are very windy and steep, and that the petrol is very cheap! The rest you'll just have to read in a guidebook.

That's me doing a little spot of training.  Ok, that's me posing for the camera!

Frustrated by the cold, and by the great weather reports that we were hearing from home, after training in the clouds (literally) we decided to head for the coast and a bit of sea-level yesterday. Thankfully it was sunny there, but by the time we had filled our stomachs (where John and myself are concerned that can take a while), bought a beach towel, purchased the world's most expensive pick-and-mix (17 euro of jellies that barely even gave us a sugar rush), and found a space on the beach, it had clouded over there too.

Somebody has a little bit too much time on their hands.  I'd love to say this is one of my creations, but even I'm not that artistic.

The good news is that today the weather is considerably better, and the beautiful blue sky is visible again. I may have even got a little burnt in places, but nothing as bad as the heat that John is going to feel radiating from himself later.

Just 6 more days in the Pyrenees, before I head to the Sierra Nevada in Spain (as apposed to Calafornia where I've already been) for 10 days. Then I'll have to dust off my limited Spanish again, and try not to say Merci and Bonjour all the time.

But for now it's au revoir, adios, chao, laters, take-it-handy, or whatever way you say goodbye where you come form.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Two Mini Adventures; Two more Olympic Stadiums

It's Tuesday 3rd August 2010, and stage 2 of the altitude adventures has just begun. Yesterday afternoon I arrived by train in Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees, but before I update on what this venue has to offer, I thought it would be an appropriate time to update everyone on what I've been up to over the summer, how my brief track season fared, and how attending the European athletics Championships has given me even more motivation to train like hell over the coming weeks.

The aforementioned championships concluded on Sunday in the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. Having long been on my hit-list of venues to visit, I wasn't going to turn down the chance to visit Spain's second largest city. Attracted to the city for it's architecture, the legacy that Gaudi and his contemporaries left behind did not disappoint. The magnificence of the world's most famous building site (the part completed Sagrada Familia), the wonderful views from Gaudi's Park Guell, and the magnificent nigh time magic fountain displays would have been more than enough to make the trip worthwhile, but 6 days of action packed athletics within the stadium and on the streets of the city centre made this a truly epic experience. The athletics was made even more memorable when I knew people taking part; the tension of waiting to see if Hannah England has made the final of the 1500m, and the excitement of seeing Hatti Dean battle for (and subsequently just miss out on) a podium position and knock a massive 8 seconds from her personal best in the 3,000m steeplechase were about as much as my nerves, and my vocal cords, could handle.

There's something special about Olympic Stadiums, and Barcelona was only the 2nd one that I saw in the past month. Earlier in July my brother Patrick married the lovely Tatiana Bogdanova in Moscow, and the wedding provided us with the opportunity not only to view the beautiful Red Square, but also to witness the venue of the 1980 Games. The wedding was a great event, and despite serious lack of sleep, lost luggage and swollen feet, the action-packed 48 hours were some of the greatest of my life. Russia was definitely a pleasant surprise and the food was great (always a bonus!). Let's hope that it's not too long until the next family celebration.

And so to the track season. I always knew that it was going to be difficult to get close to my personal bests given the complete lack of track sessions in the past 2 years, but it was going to be interesting to see how I responded to the first block of altitude training. As expected, for the first 10 days I felt great, and I'm really glad that I spent a small fortune to get to Watford for a steeplechase race in early June after the chase had been cancelled at short notice at the Northern Ireland Championships. Despite the lack of speed in my legs, I felt amazing. The benefits of sea-level oxygen pressure soon wore off though, and less that a week later, I felt like crap. This is a normal reaction to returning from altitude, the magnitude and time delay vary depending on the individual and the duration of altitude exposure, but I had forgotten from my previous visits just how difficult this slump can be. I definitely won't be scheduling a race for 2-3 weeks after returning from an altitude training trip!

This track season was always going to be about returning to some level of fitness, getting some races in to inspire me for the coming winter, and implement some positive hurdling technique. All of these targets were achieved, but somehow there is a feeling of a missed opportunity, and a sense of what might have been. An opportunity of a national steeplechase title was practically handed to me on a plate, and I messed it up. Nerves, a lack of confidence, and a slip on the final waterjump denied me the chance of being in a 3-way sprint for the title. In the end, bronze (the same position as I finished in 2006) and a season's best performance was all I could do, as I watched my rivals excite the crowd with a very tight finish just meters in front of me. On reflection, disappointed as I was, a small part of me is glad I didn't win. In the grand scheme of things, a national title in 11:15-odd would mean very little to me, and the hunger generated by just missing out this time round should take me a long way into winter training. And so, with this year's goals achieved, I drew a line under this year's track season, took a week off training, and set about building up for 2011.

After 2 weeks of moderate volume mileage, here I am in Font Romeu where thankfully it is a lot warmer and sunnier than it was yesterday (not that I'm completely solar-powered these days, but sunshine definitely helps. I'm about to embark on a few weeks of high volume training in preparation for a half marathon in September. The target for that is simple: my first PB over any distance in 6 years.

Apart from my quest to find fresh milk (the frenchies love their UHT crap), and a proper tin opener, my biggest challenge now is trying to exchange my Spanish vocabulary (which no extends to si, mucho, hola!, gracias, por favor, and verde), for my equally limited French one. Inept as I am with foreign languages though, 'si' is still very much 'yes', and I have used 'gracias' instead of 'merci' on at least 5 occasions now. People who fluently speak 3 or 4 languages without getting mixed up between them amaze me. Ah well, I guess I just can't be good at everything.

How can you call this a tin-opener?