One month, one week and one day

It has been an intensely busy season in our lives. I kept meaning to sit down and write up a post, but it seemed like something was always pulling me away. Now I’m holed up at my cabin and finally have a moment to breathe!

In the past one month, one week and one day (this post was supposed to talk about the past month, and then I got sidetracked yet again with blogging):

We ran the Blenheim Palace half marathon in Woodstock, England. It was our slowest half marathon to date, but the course was stunning, the sun was shining and we got to check England off our list of countries we’ve run a half marathon on. The race was pretty stressful at the start, thanks to delayed public transportation and our late arrival at the course!

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We packed up and moved from England to The Netherlands. We agreed that it was, without a doubt, our worst day of travel ever–shrieking babies, excess baggage fees, my credit card got frozen, Joost’s debit card got frozen, delayed flight, broken suitcase, missed train… and the icing on the cake: pulling up at Joost’s family’s front door at 1 am, only to find out that the cab driver didn’t take credit cards. We had to turn around, go back into town and find an ATM. Overall, it took us 20 hours door-to-door. For the record, it’s about 250 miles in a straight shot from where we started to where we ended. Next time, I’ll swim/walk, thank you!

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We ran the Amsterdam Marathon. This was our first full marathon and the months of training paid off; we finished! It was a long day, but one that we will never forget–except for miles 16-22. I seem to have blocked most of those from my memory. To be honest, I’m not sure if I would recommend this marathon. With the exception of a couple kilometers on each end, we didn’t actually get to run in the city itself. There’s not a lot of crowd support and the race organizers seemed to be overwhelmed with how many runners they had this year. No matter what, though, WE RAN A MARATHON!

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We played tour guide for my parents, who flew into Holland for a long weekend. We saw the Rijksmusem, which recently reopened after an extensive, 10 year renovation. It was gorgeous, but very crowded. Be prepared to stand in a lot of long lines. They had a beautiful library, in addition to the famous Night Watch and the very strange coffin made to look like a vagina (entitled ‘Womb tomb’). I’m not going to pretend to understand that one. We also walked around Amsterdam, toured the inside of a private windmill and had our engagement party!

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Joost’s parents hosted a wonderful engagement party for us in Holland while we were there. About 80 of Joost’s friends and family were able to attend, which was such a blessing, as many of them will not be able to fly to America for our wedding in May. It was fun catching up with friends and meeting new people, even though I can’t pronounce about half of their Dutch names. I had been a little worried how my parents would fit into Holland, but my fears were unwarranted; I had obviously forgotten that my dad is capable of making conversation with a blank wall and my mom is nearly just as social! The party was held in a little restaurant, decorated by pictures of us from around the world that Joost’s parents had surprised us with by blowing up and hanging. The food was incredible. There was a legit cornucopia on the buffet table. Need I say more?

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We celebrated our three year anniversary with a night out in Amsterdam. Man, meeting in Australia feels like forever ago! We went for a run around Vondelpark, checked out the real estate and then had an amazing dinner at a restaurant called Fondue Fondue. It was, in case you hadn’t yet guessed, a fondue restaurant. Highly recommend.

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We said goodbye. I swear, if I had a penny for every tear I’ve shed at the Amsterdam airport, I’d be a bajillionaire. Joost and I are back to being in a long distance relationship until his visa paperwork clears. We’re hoping that he’ll be able to come to America at the end of March or beginning of April. We are both suffering from the severe re-acquisition of what I call the ‘LDR humpback,’ which is permanently and painfully slouched shoulders resulting from leaning over a computer screen or phone screen for so long. Ah, nothing like dating a pixelated face a few thousand miles away. Luckily, he’ll be in the US for Christmas and then we’ll only have three more months of long distance to go.

Joost took the GRE, a standardized test required for PhD applications in the US. He scored within the range of all the universities he’s applying to and I am so, so proud of him! Ironically, as a non-native English speaker who is almost done with his masters degree in applied mathematics, he scored higher on the verbal section than the math section. Go figure.

I moved back home to America. After ten months abroad, everything seems very large and very loud and very fast-paced. I’ve been home for a bit over a week now and still cannot bring myself to unpack.

I said yes to a dress! My first week at home was crammed with doctors appointments and wedding dress boutique appointments. We went to three shops and I tried on probably 25+ dresses before I found one, but I love it and can’t wait to wear it. I never thought I’d be the kind of gal who gets excited about poufy white dresses, but apparently all things are possible. My grandma was able to accompany my mom and me to the last appointment, and the fun girls day ended with champagne for all of us!

The holiday season is going to be busy for both of us. Joost is finishing and presenting his Masters thesis at the start of December. I’m working holiday retail at the mall (PSA: BE NICE TO MALL EMPLOYEES!), which is sure to keep me busy, although most likely on the brink of insanity. The Europe/America time difference is much harder for us than the Europe/Australia time difference was, so we’re trying hard to squeeze in Skype dates when possible, but it’s definitely been a challenge having to re-tether ourselves to technology. If we don’t get around to updating soon, we wish all the Americans a happy Thanksgiving, all the Dutchies a happy Sinterklaas (say hi to the black slaves for me) and everyone a happy holiday season!

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Edinburgh

This past weekend, I added a new city to my list of favorite places in the world: Edinburgh, Scotland.

Sarah, Joost and I packed our bags (plural, because homegirl cannot pack light to save her life) and hopped on a train to Scotland for the Edinburgh half marathon!

The train ride itself was long and boring and noisy, but we were greeted at the train station by a very welcome face: my friend Lisa! Lisa is Scottish, but studied abroad in Brisbane for a year when I was at The University of Queensland. It was extremely sad when she left Australia to return home, and seeing her again was fantastic. As cheesy as it sounds, I really cherish the times I get to see friends from school–being that I went to school 10000 miles from home and now live on a different continent than home or school, it doesn’t happen nearly frequently enough. This trip was also the first time ever that I’ve gotten to hang out with a friend from school, a friend from home and my boyfriend all at once!

Lisa gave us a mini tour of Edinburgh as we wandered the city on the way to pick up our race bibs. The city is stunning, and even more so with the sun beaming down on us. I had no idea it was so hilly, though. I was getting pretty nervous about the race. We had been training on completely flat trails since we left Africa and my glutes could feel it!

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After we got our race stuff, we went back to Lisa’s apartment and bummed around. She was a phenomenal hostess, making up beds for us and cooking us an amazing pasta dinner with her boyfriend, all while we sat on the couch and watched tv. #worstguestsever

The next morning, we woke up early for the race. It was a long, uphill trek to the starting line–a good warm up, that’s for sure. I also got to meet Olivia, who is part of the online running club I’m in and was in my starting corral!

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The start of the race was a little nerve wracking. Right before we crossed the starting line, my bladder started calling. I was planning on waiting for the first on-course pit stop, but Joost convinced me to stop before we started so it wouldn’t add to our time. I ended up having to wait for a few minutes for the people who were already in the portapotties (they were taking their sweet time) and by the time I got out, the starting area was empty! The sweeper van was already set up to start driving the course. To add to my anxiety, I had squirted and rubbed soap all over my hands from the portapotty thinking it was antibacterial hand gel–so my hands were sticky and covered in soap. Luckily Joost had some extra water with him, so I rinsed my hands and off we went.

Our late start actually turned out to be quite nice. We were two of the last people to start the race, so we missed the usual elbowing and weaving in and out that you usually have to do at the start. The course was wide open and we got to really enjoy the scenery without worrying about tripping over anyone. We passed a few people in animal suits, a lot of race walkers and an incredibly inspiring man. He had something wrong with one of his legs and looked like he had been on crutches for most of, if not all, of his life. And there he was, starting a half marathon. I decided that if he could do a half marathon on crutches, I could do a half marathon without complaining about how tired my legs were.

The run was so much fun. The course was gorgeous, so we had a lot to look at. The sun was shining for almost the entire race. Joost and I kept talking about how happy we were that we had perfect weather for the race. Meanwhile, all of the Brits around us kept complaining about how it was way too hot/sunny/humid (um… NOPE). They were all either so pale that they were glowing or tomato red. Honestly, how the entirety of the United Kingdom doesn’t suffer from SAD year round is completely beyond me! There was one point of the race where I could have used some music and one point towards the end that felt like a death march, but Joost and I just chatted and laughed the miles away.

Both Joost and I were struck by how different this race was than the Kilimanjaro half marathon. For one, everyone was wearing running shoes. We didn’t see anyone in crocs or flip flops. We also saw a lot of kilts. But mostly, they handed out bottles of water at each water stop. People would take a sip or two, then chuck the rest of the bottle onto the street. All I could think about was what a waste of water and resources it was! It was hard knowing how wasteful we were being after spending nearly three months with kids who have to walk miles to collect clean (or clean-ish… or not clean at all…) water. After the first stop, Joost and I started sharing a bottle. It wasn’t much, but it was the best we could do. It’s amazing how fast your perspective can change.

We crushed our half marathon PR and had the best time doing it. We both felt surprisingly good and strong when we finished, which makes me excited to start training for the Amsterdam full marathon! After the race, we met up with Lisa, Olivia (they both ran as well) and Sarah.

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Naturally, our first thought was food, so we trekked/hobbled to the shuttle, rode back into the city and stuffed our faces with cider, beer, mac&cheese, onion rings, french fries and garlic bread at one of Lisa’s favorite pubs. No haggis though, despite Lisa’s best attempts at persuasion.

That night, Sarah, Joost and I went on a ghost tour through town. I hate the dark, all things creepy and having to walk up steep hills after running half marathons, so it wasn’t my favorite, but we learned a fair amount of history and I think it’d be cool if you’re into that sort of thing.

Our time in Edinburgh was way too short, so I hope that I’ll be back soon so I can explore more! If you ever get the chance to visit, I cannot recommend it enough. The people are friendly and welcoming, the scenery is gorgeous and the history is fascinating.

Dear Sunshine,

WHERE THE F-BOMB ARE YOU?!

Depressed and shivering,

Katie

All of the warnings and stereotypes are proving true; English weather sucks. Our few days of blue skies and sunshine early on in our stay were apparently a fluke. I was informed by an Oxford local yesterday not to expect it to get too warm or too sunny, even in the middle of summer. My Ugg boots have reappeared and I find myself wearing fleece and down jackets on a regular basis. On top of that, I wear my rain jacket, because it’s rained almost everyday for what feels like eternity. How the entirety of the United Kingdom does not suffer from SAD year round is beyond me.

Despite the weather, Joost and I have soldiered on here in England.

A few days ago, we stumbled upon… well, this:

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Your attempt at captioning this picture would probably be just as accurate as mine. All I know is that I immediately texted my mother informing her that I will fully support her should she someday have a mid-life crisis–as long as it absolutely does not include belly dancing half naked in the town square. Really, people.

 

We’ve had many a date night. By ‘date night,’ I mean to say that we sit on the couch together while Joost watches Game of Thrones and I watch Glee.

 

 

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We went for our final long run–just over 12 miles. We are extremely lucky to have a gorgeous trail along the Thames that runs all the way to Oxford and it’s fun to keep exploring further up the road. The only problem is that it rains so much that it’s almost always muddy! Even still, our last run was great. It was sunnyish and I finished feeling good. Joost’s run was a little rougher, mainly due to the fact that he’s been working so much that he doesn’t have much time to devote to training. Either way, I’m confident that we’ll finish the Edinburgh 1/2 marathon!

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We had a quintessentially British day in Oxford: rode a double decker bus, ate pies and mashed potatoes for lunch, drank coffee at an old cafe and wandered along the Thames. One of Joost’s co-workers, a lovely lad from Wales, showed us around the city and gave us some pointers on things to do and see.

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I’m still continuing to try new recipes. I’ve made a couple up–some more successfully than others. My biggest kitchen win this week was baking cornbread! This is the first thing I’ve ever baked that hasn’t come out of a box. Cooking here is a bit of a challenge. Everything needs to be converted. More than once, we’ve found ourselves in the aisles of the grocery store converting ounces to grams and googling “What do British people call half and half/provolone/_________?”

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**As usual, I’m playing blog catch up. I wrote this two weeks ago and am just getting around to posting it. However, it should be noted that I’m still in Uggs, hoodies, my down jacket and my rain jacket. I’ve even had to reintroduce mittens to my wardrobe. This is getting ridiculous.

The worst house girlfriend

I believe the list of duties for housegirlfriends includes, but is not limited to:

  • Look hot
  • Keep things clean
  • Make healthy, delicious meals
  • Blog about how you look hot, keep things clean and make healthy, delicious meals

I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop wearing a pair of running tights with a giant hole in the knee and the world’s ugliest race shirt, which I’m just starting to wonder why I carted across the world with me, and half of my hair has fallen out of my french braid, so I’m obviously failing the first bullet point. I’ve also developed a minor, but growing major, aversion to our washing machine, which somehow makes our clothes smell worse after a cycle than they did going into it. Okay, so I’m learning to cook, so I’ve got that going for me. And… I am terrible about keeping up to date with blogging! #winning

Here’s what we’ve been up to over here on this side o’ the pond:

We’ve been riding bikes! Joost had his bike shipped over from Holland aka the Land of Giants. English bikes just aren’t tall enough for him, so he had to have his brought over by a ‘man with a van.’ A man with a giant white kidnapping mobile showed up at his parents house, threw his bike in the back and then we hoped for a few days that it’d make it to our doorstep. And it did! Joost also found a secondhand bike for me in Oxford. I am in LOVE! I’m used to riding my brother’s 57206 pound, camouflaged mountain bike, so having a lightweight bike with a basket and a bell is quite a treat. We found a lovely path along the Thames that leads to/from Oxford, so we’ve been out enjoying the sunshine.

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We went to the Abingdon Air Show. I woke up on Sunday morning with visions of a coffee date, reading Harry Potter and cooking something new dancing in my head. Joost woke up with the idea that we should attend the local air show. In an attempt to make up for my shortcomings as a housegirlfriend, I agreed–and I figured it’d get me out of attending the jousting tournament Joost wanted to go watch the next day. First, we wandered the fields where they had a bunch of planes sitting a mile away. Then, we I got drunk on cider. Then we watched a ‘falconry show’ (is this a thing?), in which a man stood in the middle of the crowd swinging a piece of meat over his head, while the bird refused to leave its perch and tried to fly away. So they brought out another bird, which also refused to participate. They also had a bunch of old cars and steam engines on display, so we spent some time picking out our future cars. I’m sad to report that we missed the ferret races. Shame. A few hours later, the air show started. It was actually pretty cool, as much as it pains me to admit it.

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We’re stilllllllllll running. We’ve got under three weeks now until the Edinburgh half marathon! We’ve finally booked train tickets and a hostel (<–fact: sleeping with eight strangers in a room is the best way to prepare for a race), so I’m feeling a little more settled about that. We found a GORGEOUS trail the other day, so we logged our 10 mile run across the fields, next to the river and through the woods.

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We’ve been playing tennis. We both finally have our racquets here! Joost beat me. Just like he has every.single.time. since we started playing three years ago. That’s all I’ll say about that.

And yes, I’m still cooking. If I was a really good housegirlfriend, I’d share some recipes with you, but we’ve already established that’s not the case. I’ll just go ahead and say that my crowning moment of glory this week was cleaning not one, but two, trout. That internship in animal husbandry at the local aquarium back home finally paid off!

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This week will probably be a little slow, as we don’t have anything big planned, but we’ve got lots of fun to look forward to! One of my best girlfriends from home is trekking over for a visit! We’ll be spending a couple of days in London (hellooooooooo Harry Potter studio tour!), a few days here in town and then a weekend in Edinburgh! Can’t wait!

Kilimanjaro Half Marathon

We survived! Just over 24 hours later and we’re hobbling around a bit, but ecstatic about how the race went.

We woke up at the butt crack of dawn. Well, I woke up at the butt crack of dawn (4:44 am, to be exact). After allowing Joost one more minute of blissful slumber, I woke him up by yelling, “WE’RE RUNNING THE KILIMANJARO HALF MARATHON TODAY! WHOOOO!!!” in his face.

Our driver drove Joost and me, our staff gardener and three other guests to the stadium in town, where the race was to start. We witnessed a stunning sunrise and even more stunning people watching.

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We had just enough time for the boys to use the toilet and for me to realize that there was no way I could use a squat toilet while wearing my lucky Christmas underpants, tight capris AND a skort. Then it was time to line up! The racers inexplicably had started lining up backwards so that we would cross the finish line to start, but whatever. This Is Africa. Very little surprises me anymore.

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There was a group warm up, which was one of the greatest things I have ever taken part of. Instead of the usual individual stretching and slow warm up, they pumped up the speakers and we had a dance party. Then all of a sudden, we were running!

The first mile was pretty crazy. We were being funneled out of the stadium and there were no corals, so people of all abilities were mixed up together. This meant that all the speedy runners (not us) had to elbow and push their way to get to the front. At one point, a guy grabbed me by my shoulder and yanked me behind him. A mile later, we passed him. Sucker.

The first 6.5 miles were brutal. According to my Garmin, our elevation gain was 1235 feet. Every time we crested a hill, I was certain that the route would level out. Every time, we were greeted with another hill.

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Despite the huffing, puffing and cursing that took place, it went by quickly. We got to watch the elite runners come back and pass us–they were flying. And Kenyan, of course. We also got to watch the non-elite runners: people in Converse sneakers, Crocs and ballet flats. People ran in everything from jeggings to billowy pajama pants secured at the ankle with rubber bands to ski jackets. And we had a perfect view of Kilimanjaro the entire time.

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After the turnaround point, we flew! My glutes were rejoicing. Despite the downhill remainder of the course, I struggled a bit. I’ve been dealing with some issues in the nerves on the bottom of my fight foot. It’s totally fine when I’m running on uneven terrain or a trail, but the hard, constant, repetitive motion on an asphalt road creates a fair amount of pain and discomfort. I also realized that all of my Gu (an energy/electrolyte/fuel source you can take while running) had fallen out of my pocket earlier in the race, so I was dragging a bit.

Once we were near the end, we decided to pick up the pace for the final mile. We were passing people left and right as we entered the gates leading to the stadium. I was so busy running my tush off that I failed to notice a speed bump in the parking lot we were running through. The good news is that the speed bump did its job. I slowed down. In fact, I came skidding to a complete stop as I totally packed it into the concrete. I was pretty lucky–a bruised forearm, a few pebbles embedded in my palms, torn tights (DANG IT) and a bloody knee. Since nothing was broken or twisted, I quickly got back up and we kept going to finish strong.

We sprinted into the stadium, around the dirt track and back across the finish line in a surprising 2:33:09 (our goal was under 3 hours)! Immediately after crossing the finish line, we were directed into a long, unmoving line. There was no place to stretch or cool down and no water. Instead, there was a densely packed group of sweaty, smelly bodies pushing me and sweating on me. Not ideal.

After a lot of asking around, we were told that we were in line for medals, t-shirts and water. The woman in front of me was close to passing out, so I gave her the remainder of my water, which I later regretted. We stood for about a half hour before the chaos started. People were exhausted, dehydrated and in desperate need of moving around. The crowd slowly started pushing towards the medal tent. I couldn’t see what was happening, but luckily Joost is freakishly tall, so he was able to inform me when the front of the crowd trampled the tent and security gates and started rioting. People were mobbing the area to steal medals and t-shirts.

When you’re my height, and nearly everyone is taller than you, any sort of mob/mosh pit/crowd is a scary place to be. It’s easy to get elbowed in the face or pushed to the ground. One of our guests, who was about my height, got caught in a group of people pushing and pulling, fell, and was stepped on by multiple people until she crawled out. Thank God she wasn’t injured, but she said it was terrifying. Joost and I were towards the edge of the crowd, so after realizing that this was going nowhere good, we pushed our way to the back, stepped over the trampled fence and walked away.

I was a little teary and sniffly at this point. The police were coming in and waving huge metal poles and batons around in the crowd, I was starting to get dizzy from dehydration, and I was sad that we weren’t going to get a medal. Our gardener, who had finished an hour before us, saw me from afar, and before we knew it, had walked right into the mob. We walked around to the other side to see if there was any chance of getting in from that direction, but it was just too crowded and chaotic. At times, the police had it under control–just barely. Then one person would start pushing, or someone’s hand would sneak into the medal box, and chaos would break out again until the police started smashing around their metal poles again.

We lost sight of our gardener a couple times, but after about 45 minutes, he emerged holding a medal in his hand! Just for us! We are more than happy to share one, in this case. I had spent most of the time praying that he wouldn’t get hit in the face with a baton, but the brave, sweet guy was our hero yesterday!

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It was a scary scene to the end of a wonderful race. More than anything, it was heartbreaking to remember how desperate and impoverished many of these people are. People who hadn’t run were stealing medals to sell. Children were picking up discarded race bibs on the ground in an attempt to get into the mob and steal medals. People were pushing each other and stomping on each other over cheap, poor quality medals and cotton t-shirts.

It was sad to think of all of the runners who actually finished the race and didn’t get a medal. Here in Tanzania, there are so few places where honest hard work is rewarded. It’s not like America, where everyone gets a trophy just for showing up. Here, clever students aren’t praised by teachers. Parents aren’t proud of their children’s accomplishments. Adults are able to best advance their careers with bribery. Finishing a race like this is one of the few places where there is a clear link between an accomplishment and recognition of that accomplishment.

Overall, it was… an experience. We’re ecstatic about our time, it was a gorgeous course and I got to check off a race on my third continent–but, I will never run a race in Tanzania again.