Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Pre-Wedding Run

I went home to Wales to my cousin Miles' wedding. I didn't think I was going to be able to go initially but my wife reminded me of how important it was to me and made the ultimate sacrifice of staying home to watch our three children (over mother's day I may add) without complaint. Very impressive Mrs. Goodship! We stayed in a hotel in Cwbran near Newport in South Wales. Here's a map for those who are unfamiliar with that part of the World:

Miles and I grew up closer than cousins. Our Grandmothers were twins and lived their whole lives in the same house. Yes, they forced their husbands to live that way too. I guess it was less strange in those days. Our mothers grew up in the same house as sisters. So, Miles is more of a brother to me than a cousin. I wish he lived near me. I really do miss him and being at the wedding did not help those feelings.

Can't take the runner out of Miles.
Not even on his wedding day!

The weather was horrible in Wales. It rained incessantly but on the wedding day itself, the sun came out in all it's glory. I was anxious to run with Miles but I was still recovering from a calf injury and he was recovering from a toe injury after his marathon. We both decided that a wedding morning run would be a great way for us to test-out our recovery, enjoy a run together and I'm sure the endorphins probably aided his wedding jitters too. My sister thought it was a slightly irresponsible thing to do. She was worried that the groom would take a tumble and put the wedding ceremony at risk. So, we did what addicted runners always do and totally ignored her advice. In fact, we took her son with us too. My nephew Owen is awesome. He is 14 and a real character. He played Bach on his cello at the church and danced like Usher in the reception—a real renaissance man.

Miles took us on a 3 mile run along a disused section of the Monmouthsire and Brecon canal that was near our hotel. I believe the canal was opened in the late 1700's and it is 35 miles long. It was primarily used to transport coal and iron and when that supply diminished, it slowed down until it's eventual complete closure in the 60's. It must have taken a lot of people to keep it going. In Wales, it's not flat at all. One stretch of the branch has 14 locks back to back. I think stretches of the canal have been re-opened for recreational use. We ran along Ty Coch Lane, a path that would have originally been where the horses pulled the barges. Ty Coch translated from Welsh means red house. It was really beautiful running there and we past some cottages that were right on the canal. The distance went very quickly. How could it not with such awesome company? My calf didn't play-up and Miles' toe was fine too. The pre-wedding run was a great idea. I am so glad we did it. It will remain a very fond memory for me and I want to do many more runs with Miles. Maybe one day, I can go back there and we can run it's entire length. The only regret I had that day was not returning to take some photos.

Huge lilly pads grow on the undisturbed canal.
Photo courtesy of emmdee (Flickr).
Such a lovely place to live.
Photo courtesy of Jeremal Smith.
With the run behind us, the sun shining and endorphins flowing, how could it not have been an awesome wedding? The church was beautiful, small and really old. It was on top of a hill surrounded by fields of lambs. The service was lovely and Emma looked really amazing. The lunch was lovely and the evening reception was a lot of fun. A part of me wanted to take more photos but I just wanted to enjoy the event and soak it all up.

I was delighted to be at Miles and Emma's wedding. I got to make a speech but I kept it very short because I would have become too emotional and Miles was already an emotional wreck at that point. I was thrilled to see how happy they both were. Emma is really lovely and a great compliment to him. As a big brother, I couldn't have been more proud. Miles has become a man I really admire. I often wish I was more like him. He has a really pure heart and he's the kindest person I know. He has also transformed himself into a really great runner in a very short amount of time. I wish I could do a 17:58 5K! He also did amazingly well in his first marathon.

Congratulations Miles and Emma. Have a long and happy marriage!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Starved Rock

I'm not too proud of it but I admit that I have neglected this blog for well over a month now. I have had a calf injury and I haven't been running at all. Ironically, I think I did it doing weight exercises that were designed to strengthen me and avoid injury. I'm going to come clean and just admit that I have been depressed about not running. I am missing the endorphins and I am really frustrated about missing ideal spring running conditions. Work has been insane and although that's not a good thing, it has been a distraction for me. I have discovered that when I am injured, it's hard for me to do this blog. It's easier to avoid the subject of running entirely. I'm going to have to work on that. This blog was meant to be about inspiring others—not just about entertaining myself. I have been selfish.

Stay tuned this month. I have to finish reviewing the book I was sent. I am also thinking about writing a post about Rick Fisher. Yes, the one from Born to Run. He has sent me a number of emails and I need to think about how to share the knowledge I have. It will be a popular post, so I need to think about it. It can't be one of my shoot from the hip efforts. We'll see where it ends up.

This post is late coming. Right after I got injured, my family went for a long weekend to Starved Rock. Here's a little bit about it and how I did not run it...

I had heard of Starved Rock but didn't know that much about it. It turns out that it is actually a State Park and a pretty cool one at that. It's located in North Utica, Illinois. The Prairies of Mid-West America are amazingly flat. The Native Americans referred to them as an ocean of green. To a Welshman who grew up with hills and mountains, it can be tiring to see nothing but flatness. That's why the geographical freak show of Starved Rock was a welcome sight. It has many canyons that you can explore. Apparently, the Kankakee Torrent caused the geology many thousands of years ago. As cool as the canyons are, the area surrounding them is really beautiful too. Even the lodge itself is pretty amazing. We stayed there. How did the place get it's name? There is a legend that the Illini (the Native American tribe that the State of Illinois gets it's name from) had a falling out with the Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes. They were pursued and climbed onto a sandstone butte overlooking the Illinois river. The Illini would not come down to be slaughtered, so they chose to stay up there until they starved. Try telling that story to a 7, 6 and 3 year old and keeping things positive! The French built Fort St. Louis on the butte in the 1600's. The area became a resort in the 1800's and was sold to the State Park Commission in 1911.

Starved Rock Lodge interior

I was meant to run Starved Rock. In fact, I was really looking forward to it. I wanted to run more trails this year and this was going to be a part of reaching this goal. Unfortunately, right before the trip, I got injured. I tried to convince myself that it would be OK. My friends on DailyMile told me that if I ran, I should take some time off after the trip. When I got to Starved Rock and realized how bad my calf felt and how many steps there were on the trails, I did something I rarely do and decided not to run at all. I knew that I would be hiking, so I knew I would get a work-out. It wasn't an easy decision but it was the right one. I had a really nice time with my family.

The endless steps in and out of the canyons

I believe this is French Canyon
My daughter Maggie climbing

I carried our youngest in a piggy back pack. It's like a baby carrier but for older kids and their legs dangle out. For kids who are just too young to hike distance, it's perfect. That was some real exercise. After 3 miles of carrying her up and down hundreds of steps, I was feeling it. The kids had a great time exploring and climbing. There were some flat dirt trails but many of them were covered with boardwalk to make the canyons more accessible to the public I guess. The sandstone canyons were interesting because there was such an array of color. Browns, grays, whites, yellows and greens. I was fascinated by it all. The other running tie-in with this trip was that my wife Maureen, my son Charlie and I all wore minimal shoes to hike in. Maureen wore Vibram Five Fingers, Charlie wore Merrell Trail Gloves and I wore my New Balance Minimus Trail 10's. Maureen said that she felt much more sure-footed wearing minimal shoes than she had in the past wearing heavy, inflexible hiking boots. I felt the same way. When I went out for a hike with Charlie, we found some caves for him to play in. He was in heaven. On the way back to the lodge, we came across a spot that overlooked a dam. There were tones of eagles that just hovered there looking for fish. I have never seen eagles in large numbers like that before. It was pretty amazing. On the last day, we took the kids horseback riding. They always really love that. Maggie was delighted because she got to ride alone on a trail with us for the first time. Charlie did well enough that the owner allowed him to ride alone for a while on the field. Gwynnie did really well too. There is nothing funnier than seeing a tiny three year old sitting on top of a large horse. She can be a brave little thing.

My son Charlie climbing
My daughter Gwynnie having a riding lesson

If Starved Rock is accessible to you, I'd recommend it and suggest going at times when others aren't. It can get really busy there. After the weekend, the place was so much quieter. I'd love to see it in winter but with snow, some of the canyons would probably be tricky to access. I have heard that nearby Matthiessen State Park has less visitors and is more natural. I'd like to visit there at some point. I'll leave you with some Instagram pics I took on my phone. I loved that Starved Rock had lots of Native American wood carving around. It made an already beautiful location even more beautiful.

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