Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wrong Way Ferreira Strikes Again! St. Louis Style

Only a week back from South Africa and I was back in the airport, this time to St. Louis for my first marathon of the season. Arriving at the start line wasn't easy(more on that later) but I was ready to run. The race combined the marathon, half-marathon and marathon-relay so the start line was crowded with some super-fast guys but as I looked around I could see the bibs of the marathoners and tried to keep them in my sights as we took off.

Probably due to those same super-fast guys, I went out a little fast but felt comfortable and strong. I slowed it down a bit to get back into marathon pace, and enjoyed the run. In the first few miles we cross over into Illinois and into East St. Louis(Who knew it wasn't in Missouri?). The welcome we got was amazing! The crowds, even in the most run down sections, were very supportive. We crossed back into St. Louis and started around the city. This race is one to PR at. Very flat, plentiful aids stations and a good amount of rabbits to run after. A must do race.

I had a vague idea where I was in the pack, probably 7 or 8th running hard but comfortable. Around mile 12, I felt strong and was in a good pack of runners many of whom were running the half. A bunch accelerated but I just let them go as I still had 14 miles to go. Cresting a little hill, I had realized why they had accelerated. Just ahead was the finish line! I must have missed the turn!

Okay so that didn't happen. Sorry about that. I came up with that story around mile 5 when I realized that I wasn't going to finish the race. It is always easier to blame it on someone or something else rather than yourself but this race it was all about me. Within the first mile of the race, I knew my heart and head wasn't in it. I continued running but didn't feel any better. Physically, I was fine. I was clicking off marathon goal pace miles with ease but I had no desire. Hollow. All I wanted to do was to shower, curl up under a blanket and sleep away the day. So I DNF'd. Which wasn't easy. Not because I have too much pride(I lost that at the VT88.6), but because the volunteers were all so good that they kept on trying to get me to continue on the marathon course rather than stop at the half's finish. Despite their best efforts, I quit at 13.1 and frankly don't feel too bad about it.

So I may be revising my 50 marathons challenge. As I don't really have any interest right now in that but still love traveling, maybe I will do something like: visit every baseball park in the country, drink at every brewery(I realize I'll have to set very specific guidelines since micro and nano-breweries are popping up on every corner). Or maybe I can just travel for the sake of traveling and not have a challenge attached to it at all? Interesting thought.

Okay, back to the trip!

My dad dropped me off at the Manchester Airport where I met up with my friend Kendra who was using the St. Louis half as a training run and fitness test for the Delaware marathon where she hopes to qualify for Boston. As the airlines recommend we got there about an hour early for our flight, during which time there was no mention of delays. However, as we were preparing to board a woman came on the intercom saying there would be a 2 hour delay! Which was just long enough for us to miss our connecting flight in Newark and therefore not be able to get to St. Louis.

No! Not again, after the Mississippi trip, I thought for sure that the bad flying luck was behind us. Not so. I rushed to the front of the line and the woman behind the counter said that there was no other options out of Manchester but if we hurried down to Boston we could make a flight that connected in Chicago and would bring us in to St. Louis around midnight. Better later than never! We sprinted back to Kendra's car, paid the full day rate for parking and hustled down to Boston.

We arrived in Boston only to find that our new flight was now also delayed(again no email updates informing us of this) and we would most likely now miss our connecting flight by 5 minutes. Can’t they hold the flight for us? To which the response was, probably not. We would have to hope that the pilot could make up the time in the air to get us there. The woman was nice enough to get us seated near the front of the plane so at least we could get off quickly.

Nothing like a little speed work two nights before a marathon, right? We got off the plane and sprinted to our gate hoping to get there before it closed only to find that not only did they not wait for us, they actually left ahead of schedule! Craaap! Now it’s 11:30pm and we’re stuck in Chicago with no flights to St. Louis until the next morning. I briefly toyed with the idea of renting a car and driving it down that night but after getting stranded in the airport rental car lot last time I did that, I opted to sleep over in Chicago and take the first flight out the next morning. By the time we had gotten to our over-priced hotel room(apparently United didn’t think comping us a room was an option), it was well after midnight and we had a 7am flight. Suffice it to say we didn’t get an ideal night’s sleep for a marathon taper.

We arrived in St. Louis around 9am and headed immediately to the Gateway Arch. It was very impressive and I bet will look even better when all the construction around it is done. It is pretty cool how you can see it from pretty much everywhere in the city so serves as both a physical landmark as well as the metaphorical one that the architect had envisioned(to symbolize the St. Louis as the gateway to the west). If you want to do the trip to the top, arrive early because as we were coming back down the line was out of sight. Does afford good views of the city and helps you get your bearings. However if you are at all clastrophobic, you may want to stick with viewing it from the safety of the ground. The elevator shafts(more of a tight-fitting gondola) is best described as snug.
Kenny and the arch


The rest of the day was spent in a whirlwind of exploring a new city. Anheuser-Busch may be the most famous brewery in the town but definitely not the only one. Both Schlafly's and Kirkwood Station are well worth a stop over. Also needed to sample the local cuisine which high on the list was toasted ravioli. We went over to Cahokia Mounds State Park which was the site of an ancient Indian city that in 1250AD(or is it CE?) had more people than London! In fact, Cahokia's population at its peak in the 1200s would not be surpassed by any city in the United States until the late 18th century. It is considered the largest and most complex archaeological site north of the cities in Mexico. And yet Columbus "discovered" America. It is a pretty amazing place where you can walk around this field with high mounds on it that was once an impressive city.
Cahoxia Mounds-Monk's Mound
After the race we explore Forest Park and had time to see the Cathedral Basicila which boasts the largest collections of mosaics in the world. Not my cup of tea but impressive nonetheless.
The Cathedral Basilica

The architecture throughout the city has also very impressive and lots of nice green spaces throughout the city. The botanical gardens and Forest Park are great and if I hadn't just come back from Africa, I probably would have been more interested in the St. Louis zoo which I hear is nice.
In all, St. Louis was far nicer than I had expected with a good selection of places to eat and drink, and explore. Actually very similar to Pittsburgh where I hadn't heard many nice things but was pleasantly surprised.

Up Next: Not quite sure. The Emerson Trail Race is May 2nd and you will see me there volunteering. It's a great race and supports a local pre-school.

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 South Africa Trip

If you haven't had an opportunity to read our previous post, I'd recommend reading it before moving on to this one. You can read it here. Okay sorry about that. Now onward to our South Africa trip!

When the Ironman points system changes were announced this year, it became clear that Amber could no longer be competitive if she only raced in the US. With the elimination of Ironman Florida and Lake Placid as point scorers, there would just not be enough races available to her. Plus, I think that she wanted to race against the highest level athletes out there.

So after deliberation and cost analysis, she decided upon South Africa and invited me along. Besides wanting to support her at a foreign race, this might have been my only opportunity to go to Africa so I jumped at the opportunity. I must say it was a good decision.
The country is amazing! The animals, scenery and people were truly awe inspiring, beautiful and friendly, respectively.

I would definitely recommend signing up for this race if you are into triathlons and if not, just do it as a trip. Below is a sample 2 week itinerary very similar to what we did(We did it in reverse starting in Port Elizabeth and ending in Cape Town but I think this option is probably better). The reason I feel it imperative to give you a sample itinerary is because of the interactions with other triathletes who reported they did not nothing besides train and stay in their hotel rooms! Seriously. That is no way to live and definitely no way to see an amazing country. So here is one option for a better experience:

Day 1: The Flight
Do not opt for the more expensive flight with short lay-overs! Instead choose the inexpensive flight with a 12 hour lay-over in London. Not only will this give you time to stretch out before the 11 hour flight to Cape Town but it will also allow you time to get into the city and explore. Amber had never been to London before and after clearing customs and taking the Tube right to Parliament, we were able to see pretty much all of the sights. It was a great first day of our trip.

Day 2: Arrive in Cape Town
Cape Town is a good sized city and deserves several days if you have the time. If not, minimally make your way up Table Mountain and pray that the weather is clear to afford some spectacular views. The drive up Chapman's Peak is pretty amazing as well! Just make sure to bring some Rand as they don't accept foreign credit cards.
Danny Ferreira's photo.
View from Chapman's peak drive

Day 3(or 4 or 5): Start Driving the Garden Route
The garden route is arguably one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Take your time on it. Meander through wine country and stop in Hermanus where you can see whales from the shore and there are a plethora of great eateries.
View from the Sandbaai Country Estates in Hermanus
Day 4: Drive to Mosselbaai
After you have had your fill of wine and seafood, continue driving and end up in Mosselbaai: home to one of the biggest number of great white sharks in the world.  Reserve a shark tank dive trip with White Shark South Africa and take a short boat ride out to Seal Island where you will be lowered into the water amongst swarming sharks nearly the size of the boat. The sharks are so huge that you barely notice that there are also hammerheads circling you too.
Now if you're doing the Ironman, you may want to skip this part because there is nothing separating the waters here and a few hours east where you will be swimming 2 1/2 miles.

Day 5: Drive to Harkerville
Harkerville is the next days destination just to make you drive slowly on this part of the garden route. Take some time in Wilderness and again in Knysna as they are both really cool towns.

Day 6: Tsitsikamma National Park
The waterfall
The Otter Trail
While we did not go on the highest bungee jump in the world or the zip lines, this is the place to do it. What we did instead though was to hike the Otter Trail which is a wonderful trail along the ocean, with beautiful views and an immense cave.  ending at a waterfall. If you have four more days, you can hike the entire 50 kilometers of it as there are huts along the way. Or you can, as Amber and I did, get lost and find yourself on a barely visible trail with a troop of baboons trailing you. Maybe stick to the Otter Trail?
View from the cave

Day 7: Arrive in Port Elizabeth
If you are as lucky as we were, you will be met at the rental car place by your amazing home stay family and bike mechanic. The latter will take your bike and assemble it while the former takes you into their home and makes you feel welcomed.
Donkin Pyramid
Now after all the traveling you may feel like you need a rest day, but don't do it! Instead make your way to Port Elizabeth's city and go to Fort Fredrick and the Donkin Pyramid. There you can pick up a Nelson Mandela Bay Pass which will come in very useful as it allows you to get discounted or free entry into many of the local attractions.
Fort Fredrick overlooking the city
Downtown PE

If after that you are exhausted, head back to your homestay, where there is sure to be a well cooked meal prepared for you followed up by Koecksisters or another wonderful dessert and coffee. If you're still feeling lively, head to the Cape Reclife Lighthouse.
Cape Reclife Lighthouse

 Day 8: Addo Elephant Park
This HUGE nature preserve has it all! Elephants, lions, buffalo, antelope, wharthogs, black rhinos. Pretty much anything that lived in this area. You can hire a guide, or just go it alone which is what we opted for since it gave us the flexibility to stay at a place as long or short as we wanted. Give yourself a full day here. If you picked up the passes, you can get in here for free.

Day 9: Don't Forget You Have a Race
Training? Yes this is important if you are planning on actually racing the Ironman. Hopefully you can sneak in some morning workouts that don't interfere with your experience but also make your training part of your experience. For example, while Amber swam in the Bay, I did stand up paddle boarding. Now in all fairness it was more like kneeling paddle boarding as I struggled to stay upright. I couldn't believe that athletes would be swimming in water that choppy. Plus, I don't think I've ever been so afraid of falling in the water knowing water lies beneath.

Day 10: Kragga Kamma
If you were unlucky and didn't see any lions or if you want to see giraffes and rhino up REALLY close, then head to Kragga Kamma and Seaview nature reserves. You can definitely do both of them in one day and are well worth it as you will see pretty much everything including some rare predator and maybe more importantly: meerkats. haha those little guys are very cute.

Kragga Kamma also has this half mile monkey walk which is pretty cool and where you can see vervet monkeys. More cool if you didn't realize that locals consider them an annoyance and that they can be seen all around the University campus.

Day 11: Pro Meeting and Interviews
If you happen to be a pro, this day may be spent doing logistical stuff and sitting on a pro panel. If not, enjoy a lazy day luxuriating in the sun.

Day 12: Penguin Island Tour
Yes there are dolphins in South Africa. And that by itself is pretty cool. However what really made this boat trip amazing was the pod of 200+ dolphins that swam all around us and then a surprise visit by a Bryde's whale, partially captured by me on video but with Amber's hand blocking part of it :) Go with Raggy Charters whose captain all is a Master's student doing research on whales and whose wife has a doctorate on penguins and they were the ones responsible for increasing the fishing restrictions around the island to help preserve the penguins. Definitely worth the trip!

If you still have time after, you may want to drive the race course and check out the amazingly huge sand dunes as well as the beautiful view of the ocean.

And maybe a nice sun set?

Day 13: Race Day!

Amber will write more about the actual race, but here are some pictures of her during the race, starting with a video of the swim start. Amber fell apart a little bit on the run but otherwise had a strong showing-especially when you consider this was the first time she had ridden outside since Kona!

While she was racing, I got to learn a little about cricket. Actually just enough to realize it is another ball sport I'm not very good at.
Day 14: Fly Home

On your flight home out of Port Elizabeth, the layover in London will be just long enough to take the Tube into Hyde Park where you can walk to Trafalgar square and enjoy a nice cup of coffee. A great way to stretch out the legs a bit after the race.

So that's it. A packed 2 week trip South Africa. Better option? Make it a two month trip and hit up Comrades Marathon in May. That way you will be able to see more of the Eastern Cape.

Up Next: St. Louis Marathon April 11th(Danny) and Ironman Texas May 16th(Amber)