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!

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