Getting out of Belfast was another lucky break. I’ve dodged so many bullets in the past few weeks, I’m beginning to feel like Neo in the Matrix. Maybe the Compeed blister bandaids do more than absorb blisters. Maybe they have made me unstoppable in general travel too!
I got to Boston a day or so before volcanic ash shut British airspace. I got back again the day after it re-opened. Then when I was in Belfast, Irish and Scottish airspace was closed on the morning of my flight, only to be re-opened later that same day, allowing me to get to London when so many others were stranded. Next morning, when Opray was due to fly from Dublin, more ash, less flights, he gets stuck and I’m on my own to Prague.
I’ve been to Prague a couple of times before. It’s definitely one of my favourite cities in Europe, both because of its rich mixture of Eastern and Western European architecture and culture, plus it’s affordability by Euro standards. You can do a lot of cool stuff there without blowing your entire budget in one night. I even got engaged to my lovely ex-wife there many years ago, on the banks of the river Vltava… such a long time ago.. such a romantic place to confess your unyielding love for someone.
I got there on Wednesday to my surprise it was raining. It’s nearly the end of Spring here now, but the weather has struggled to exceed 15˚C in most places I have been. I kind of appreciated it though, because I was terribly tired and had plenty of work to catch up on. Far from being a concrete plan, my calendar is a best laid one. I looked at all the major marathons I wanted to complete first – Boston, London, New York, etc. Then I put in all the major cities I wanted to run in, no less spectacular than the Big 5 – Tokyo, Paris, Rome, Athens and more! Next I chose all the special interest places, such as Cape Town, Israel, Mongolia, South America. Then I looked at the gaps and chose the most interesting places I could visit from the races available. It turned out to be a pretty erratic, but super exciting schedule!
Like any best laid plan, which I tend to think our entire life is, you need to remain somewhat flexible, as inevitably it won’t turn out how you imagined. You’ll need to make compromises for better or worse. Well, my plan has been developing some gaping holes for some time now. One instance is that many races I planned for have changed their scheduled date in 2010 due to the Soccer World Cup and what not, so I have been waiting to find suitable replacements without thoroughly redoing my movements around the world. Another problem, the most inevitable, is my lack of finance. Paying for Daz for the first few months has been pretty tough. I think it was a good investment in many ways, but I know it was a risky shot in the dark to believe that I could get good financial sponsors by the first quarter. It hasn’t happened and now I’m running low on dough. I do not see this as the death blow for my adventure and I’ve taken some steps to boost my position.. I had even considered reducing my schedule considerably, sticking to Europe for most of the year, but really, you wouldn’t love the book so much if I gave up now.
So last week, I sat for two days solid in the fantastic Prague hostel, the Czech Inn. I’m gonna dish out the props now, because those guys know how to run a hostel and I had a truly solid stay. They’re excellent hosts with a really chilled atmosphere. I didn’t meet anyone I didn’t like there, especially the awesome staff. More on that later. As it rained outside, I emailed and rang, strategised and reorganised. It’s a slow process to change my tour, because every change in destination ultimately impacts every movement in the weeks before and after. Sufficed to say, I got as much as I could done and I’m happy with the results. You’ll see them on the race calendar in the coming days.
When I was in Boston, I met with Jamie and Carolyn from the Carloyn Jenks Agency. They’re literary agents and Jamie has been following my story for some time. They’d like to propose a book to some potential editors at the American Book Fair in New York in May. I was stunned at their interest and happy to have met them, because at one stage in the meeting I asked, “So, what exactly do you need from me right now?”
“Nothing,” was the answer. “You just keep doing what you’re doing and write about it when you can.”
I visibly relaxed, but laughed nervously. “Good,” I said, “because I just can’t do any more… I’m exhausted..”
And I am. Please remember that out here, I’m still a tourist. I try to do things and see things that add to my adventure, rather than just run in pretty places. For better or worse, it’s what makes me… well, me. I always do too much and when I’m done doing too much, I do more.
What that meeting made me realise, is that people really are interested in my story and the reasons I’m here. Everyone watching seems to relate on some level. I want to achieve all that I can for the greatest story I can possibly produce, so I still have to do the crazy stuff! Which means some of the races that were gonna get canned, just got re-instated, though not all got to stay. Some of the events I’d added in to compromise, well, they’re out again. Mongolia is back in, Rio is out. Médoc Marathon in, Moscow out. Phuket is just impossible to get to from South America, without spending insane amounts of money and time ($3000 and 2 days flying each way). Easter Island was on the chopping board, but the organisers did me a deal, so it’s on. Rwanda, expensive to get to, but on like Donkey Kong…and I’ll see the gorillas there too, HA!
Some of these races are in the next few weeks and months, so I needed to act quickly to organise my entry, flights, etc. Two days of booking and changing. I spent a truck load too…
On Thursday night, I went and met a really lovely American couple for dinner and a drink. Garren and his wife Nuala, were supposed to be living in Marrakech with a hotel job that Nuala had secured. This was an attempt to break the shackles of everyday career boredom, branch out and work somewhere completely different. A kind of career adventure… I like that, I’m gonna use it again. Only problem was that the hotel in Morocco was far from completion, so they’d been moved temporarily to Prague to help out there. That was four months ago! This created a problem for Garren, as he was unable to get a job until they were settled again, wherever that may end up. Garren has been writing a blog about his predicament, aptly named Kept Man Chronicles. It’s really well written and quite funny. In his research of other blogs, he somehow stumbled on mine. He sent me a charming email, letting me know he was in Prague and if I needed anything, then don’t hesitate to reach out. Very generous and I took the opportunity to meet with them. They were easy company and lovely to talk to. We wandered the streets for a bit and ended up at a pub near their hotel, comparing stories. They were in awe of the adventure, calling it a bold effort to drop everything and go. I flipped that around, saying I was so impressed with the both of them for having the courage to go to a foreign place like Morocco to set up home for a while. Everyone has their adventure and theirs is certainly no less exciting, especially when you consider how few people are in a position to even try something like that.
By Friday, I was done and my brain pretty fried. That’s when the sun came out and a hero showed up. Opray, looking relaxed and scruffy, finally got to Prague from Dublin. I had someone to hang with and I was immediately happier. I’d even seen an ad for the Electronic Beats Festival with Booka Shade and Hot Chip for the same night, so I’d booked us some tickets. We went across town to the gig and had a couple of drinks at a bar on the way. Who’da thought that a double vodka on ice would fill a glass?! Haha. Those Czechs know how to drink. We got to the gig and watched a cool local act called NOHA. There was a girl dancing like crazy on stage and a cool black dude in a kilt. Czech kids were dancing like crazy and we got in on the act. Check out some of the footage! Booka Shade were awesome, but by the time Hot Chip came on, we were both pretty drunk and neither of us recall a lot of their show. I do remember reaching for the lasers quite a bit though… Haha. I do love dancing.
Somehow I lost Opray on the way out. I headed down to the metro station and jumped on the first train. That was at 4am and I didn’t get to my station till 6am. What should have taken 15 minutes including one train change, took 2 hours. This is because I kept falling asleep and missing my stop. Having incessant jet lag and crap sleeping patterns, has blessed me with a strange form of narcolepsy. I fall asleep at the drop of a hat, during conversation, on planes and certainly sitting on trains too. Add alcohol and a night of dancing and I couldn’t even keep my eyes open for 3 stations. So I kept missing my stop, waking up, swearing, getting off and switching trains to head back, only to fall asleep and miss my stop again. I must have done this 5 times and probably hit the end of the line at least twice too. At 6:30am on Saturday morning, I finally walked into the hostel and fell fast asleep in my bed. Hahaha, bloody hell, what a ridiculous night!
I didn’t sleep for too long. I wanted to get out to the expo and pick up my bib. I headed out and picked up my gear. It was pretty festive out there. They had all sorts of games for kids and things to try, like spring loaded stilts and stuff. They even had a dog race! The owners basically run with there dogs on a 5km track. The dogs even had their own race bibs! It was pretty rad. I also met Aileen out there. She was a cool girl from Singapore, who was also into taking on a challenge. She was attempting to run 4 world marathons in 4 weeks. She would be running in Luxembourg the following week and a night marathon in Singapore. There was another race in there, but I don’t remember it. It was fun to compare stories. I got worried when she told me she doesn’t really train for marathons, she just shows up and runs! But she’d done plenty, so I guess she’s a natural!
Heading back to hostel I met some newcomers to our room. Greg was from the States, Barjan was from Kazakhstan (I’ve never met anyone from Kazakhstan!) and two Aussie girls, Jen and Danielle. The Aussie girls were awesome, because Matt and I could relate to them straight away and the Aussie humour started flying. We were immediately talking like brothers and sisters. Both girls were travelling alone and I’ve really got to applaud that kind of bravery in a girl. It’s always a sign of strong character. And Danielle had just ditched her events job to become a chopper pilot! Chick chopper pilot?! Damn!
Also Barjan was interesting. He told me that Kazakstan had enjoyed a huge influx in tourism since the Borat movie. Originally the government had wanted to sue Sacha Baron Cohen, but I’m pretty sure they’ll have bronze statues of him in a mankini soon enough. He said that I should take a short trip down there when I go to Omsk, Siberia. It’s not far and would be worth a look. I think I might do that!
We all hung out and went for some food later that evening. I had to bail and get sleep though. The marathon was in the morning and I was feeling significantly under prepared.
Preparing for a marathon in a hostel room with 7 other people asleep is a bit awkward. I woke Opray and he came with me to the race. I was pretty surprised he even came actually, considering how little sleep he’d had. Thanks buddy!
The race start was in the Old Town Square. Walking the narrow streets leading to the start was strange, because they were so vacant! It didn’t feel like there was a race on. The lanes twisted a couple of times and we emerged into the square. It was packed!! Runners and supporters were jammed into the old plaza. I wove around to the entry point, said my goodbyes to Matt and jumped the fence to enter the throng. I didn’t want to start too far back!
The atmosphere was pretty good, though I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said. Flags from all the neighbouring countries were represented, Slovenians and Slovakians, Latvians and Germans. There is a big expat community in Prague too, so there were quite a few Americans and Brits about. Didn’t see any other Aussies though..
We got started with a cheer and filled the streets with runners, heading to the river for our first crossing. The track is in a bit of a star shape. Actually it’s kind of a jumble of out and backs, up river and down river, onto the east bank of the river then back onto the west bank and through the city a few times. Only the last 8 kms is basically a repeat of the first 8 km, so the rest of the time is covering different parts of the city.
I started off at a decent pace, but it was a bright, sunny day, so I was warming up very quickly. I ran on, largely on my own, but managed to chat to a few runners along the way. I met Per from Norway. He was a strong runner, returning for a second crack at Prague as his first encounter hadn’t gone so well. Really nice fella and like all Scandinavians, seemed super intelligent and just happened to manage the English language a whole lot better than me. He was aiming for a faster time though, so I lost him after a while.
I stopped for a minute when a photographer grabbed me and asked if I was “Mr. Miller”? Viktor was from the paper, Lidové Noviny, and they were going to run a story on me the following day. I ran on again and just tried to take in the scenery. I think everyone knows how much I rate an old building and gee, they got em in spades in Prague! Another guy came up by me and said, “Hey, my friend met you in Rome!” Leon and his Slovenian mates had run in Rome as well and he was happy to chat to me. He knew I was coming to Ljubljana in October and they wanted to meet up with me. How cool is that?! I asked Leon what time he was looking for. He said he wasn’t too bothered as it was just a training run. “Oh yeah? What for?”, I asked.
“Just a 220km race down in Hungary next month,” he obliged.
“….”, I said with a stunned look on my face. Turns out it’s a big race they have around a lake. He was going to try to knock it off in 36 hours. Haha, these Slovenians are crazy. I love it!
I met a young English fella, Josh on the way too. He was running his first marathon! What a place to run in?! I actually didn’t see him for long, but I bumped into him at the airport the following day. Turns out he ran 3:09 in his first marathon! Kid’s got talent..
The heat was getting to me. I tried not to slow down too much, but a messy night on Friday hadn’t helped keep my energy levels up. Thankfully there were plenty of drinks stations and lots of running next to the Vltava. I enjoyed the scenery and the support. There weren’t loads of people on the sidelines and Czech’s tend to be a little stoic looking, with that post Communist chip on their shoulder. But there was a genuine feeling that they were happy to support the race and give a little cheer for all the runners, not just their mates.
As the course came back into the city and then over the river to go back out again on the other side, I started looking for friendly faces. I was tired and that stuff always picks me up. I was running next to a Spanish guy named Jezus. He was from Zaragoza, near the border of France, and was apparently the only runner in his village. His community must think he’s the crazy one, travelling about just to run marathons, wife and kids in tow. He was a good man and an easy companion. We traded positions for quite a while, before his better disposition got the best of me and he was off.
I saw Opray up ahead! Bang! I was pretty happy to see a buddy. I stopped running and had a quick chat. He asked me how I was doing and I laughed, saying I’d just let the 3:20 goal go. I was struggling a bit and didn’t think I’d be able to keep moving too quick in this heat. I hung about for about a minute, which was pretty damn long for me. When I kicked off again with a nod and a chuckle, I tried to put my head down and get fired up. I came up to a bridge, started to run across and there was Garren and Nuala! Another great reason to stop.. Ha! They told me they’d been watching the MYLAPS Spectator display and had seen when I was heading there way, so came down for a look. How good is that?! My first race with the GPS on my shoulder and it was already working a treat. Thanks to MYLAPS for setting it up. And thanks to Garren and Nuala for coming down to say hi! I think they were a little shocked when I just stopped running for a chat. That 3:20 was long gone by then.. or was it…?
I was now crossing back into the city. I had one more out and back to go, crossing the river a couple more times. If I picked up the pace, I might be able to retrieve a decent result from this outing. I was tired, but not out. As I was thinking this through and doing some quick calculations with my watch, clouds began to roll in above me. Fat, juicy rain clouds. I don’t mind a little rain and if it means less sun, then I’m all for it during a race. “Right, guzzle another carb gel, put your foot down and let’s getting this show back on the road”, I told myself.
And that’s what I did. I met another Marathon Maniac on the road, a guy from the Bay Area named Bob. He was a good guy and true to that group, he was a marathon machine, averaging 20 marathons a year. He told me to join up, I’d get their highest rating. “Yep”, I said, “I will sooner or later.” He kept running with me for a bit, but peeled off saying I was moving too fast.
And I was cruising at a solid speed again now, punching out 4:30 kms. If I saved 5 minutes over the next 10kms, then I’d have a sub 3:20. I was cooler, re-motivated and passing runners galore. “Yeah,” I said to myself, “Bring this sh*t on!”
I kept moving, looking at the other runners, understanding that grimace. I focused on the beautiful scenery again. What an amazing city! It’s funny, but I’d sort of been emotionally attached to this place for a long time, having got engaged here, but far from feeling sad at the way things had turned out, I found this thoroughly therapeutic. Who’d have thought, while I sat there asking a girl to marry me, that the next time I’d be back was to smash out a marathon, 5 years after the divorce. Haha, I really have become a different person to that dude. Every hurdle changes you, doesn’t it. What was it that Nick texted to me before I left? Life is 20% what happens to you and 80% how you react to it. Something like that. Well… I like my reaction. It might not be healthy, but I’m digging it so far.
I passed a fella named James. I had said hi to him a little earlier, because he had a Wimbledon Windmilers shirt on. I’d asked after my Two Oceans pals – Abby, Mike, Paula and Judes. He was surprised that I knew them I think. “Stop having a break for a chit chat mate,” he jibed me. He told me I’d see another friend of theirs, Claire, up ahead. I soon found her as well. She was doing very well, but seemed to be cramping with just a few more kms to go. I came up by her and urged her on. “I’ve heard all about you!” she said, “You’re doing great, keep it up!” This really is happening more often too. I am beginning to meet people from each race, then their friends in another race. It’s a lot of fun and I feel very lucky.
I kept up the pace. I didn’t want to anymore, but I knew I was dragging the minutes back and looking to get a fair time. I hit the cobblestones and my legs felt like they were jackhammers being pounded into granite. I couldn’t find a flat footfall, so I was stepping uncomfortably on the solid stones. It’s not the nicest feeling and I wouldn’t recommend training on it. But if you live in a city as beautiful as Prague, then I guess you’d cop the cobblestones without complaint. I made the final turn back in toward the Old Town Square. Only 500m left. I was heading home, another run done, 20 down, 32 to come. I gave my two Mums a big shout out on the video. It was Mother’s Day and this one was for them. As I came down the final chute, I saw Jen and Danielle screaming their heads off right next to the finish line. Thanks ladies!!!! Great to have that kind of support from new friends in each country.
3:19.08! Wow.. I couldn’t help but wonder what I could do with some real rest. I wasn’t going to be able to run a fast one for another few weeks. It feels like it’s coming time to go fast again though. I’ve got something to prove to me now. Finishing in the old Gothic Square, under the enormous clock tower was pretty cool too. I caught up with Opray and the girls and we did our best to get out of the bustle of the finish area.
Later on, getting back to the hostel, I realised I was not going to have much luck getting an ice bath. Then, to my surprise, the receptionists at the Czech Inn started looking for solutions. When Leigh, an Aussie guy married to a local girl, couldn’t organise a time to take me back to his place to use his bath, Lauren, a lovely American girl also working on the desk volunteered hers. She knocked off work an hour later and we walked the back streets of Prague. It was great to see more than the main roads of the city. It’s very calm around where she lives.
I had my bath, using ice from the hostel. What an amazing thing to do for a stranger…just let him into your home to use the bath. I know my story is a good one, but really, that’s just totally over and above. I was so appreciative of her help and her excellent company as I froze to death in her bath tub!
Later we went to a very cool outdoor bar area. Apparently there are a few of these hidden away around the city and it’s common for the locals to spend many long Summer nights chatting over a few beers in the park side beer gardens. Opray and I had a massive sausage with our beers and I wondered how the Czechs survived on the diet of so much meat, bread and potatoes. Lauren told us that the Czechs have one of the highest colon cancer rates in Europe! I was horrified! Clearly food education wasn’t a high priority around here.
We were out dancing again that night. I’ve gotta stop celebrating every week, but it really is too much fun! Lighting up absinthe in a crazy underground is also pretty fun, until you set your hand on fire…. Meeting another girl, Megan, from the hostel staff was a real treat. She was hilarious! Lauren and she were like sisters.
Next day, Danielle, Opray and I decided to jump a train and go see something touristy. We headed out to a castle name Karlsteyn. It was a nice thing to do on a Spring day. It ended up being shut, but the trip out there and all the laughs were worth the effort anyway. I said goodbye to the team. They’d been so great to me and my time in Prague was so unexpectedly excellent. I’d miss Opray and looked forward to catching him in Hungary later in the month.
Out at the airport, the flight was delayed, of course. I was sick of being in airports, always in transit, but that’s the gig I guess. I did manage to squeeze in a chat to Melbourne Radio’s Grubby and DeeDee though. When we finally boarded the plane, they told us that the engineers had to check the engine for ash in the UK. Everyone stopped complaining immediately. When you hear that engineers have to check the engine on your flight, you’re suddenly less concerned about the time issue. In fact, when we did finally arrive at Gatwick, the EasyJet hostess announced that, although they were sorry we had gotten in late, we were lucky as this was one of the few flights that made it out of Gatwick that evening AND back again. Ha! I was bloody lucky… I still had a flight to Dubai and then to Beijing to come the following day! I got to Michael’s, my brother-in-law, after 2am, due to get up at 6:30am for the next round… Thanks for having me so late mate!
Thanks to everyone in Prague. I love that city. I’d live there for sure. Thanks to Adsy “The Sultan” Peake, for having me in Dubai on my way through. Thanks to his flatmates, Hannah and Leanne for picking me up and whipping up a feast. Respect to my old school buddy Nick Van Santen and his beautiful girl Renata for making the time to come see me.
My worldwide support has just grown stronger every week. I’m sorry the blogs aren’t as regular as you or I would like them, but if you saw how much I was doing you’d understand. I appreciate your patience with me.
Still running, still dancing, still dodging bullets like I’m in a movie. Beijing and the Great Wall has just been and gone. I’m onto that blog post now. Another insane adventure. Another wild week in the life. It’s a world of awesome out here!
Here it is again, the big requests:
If you’re loving my story, then please keep an eye out for the links to the Everyday Hero page where you can donate money to UNICEF. I find that people only really donate when I post these blogs, so I hope this is another trigger to dig deep and add in $10 to help needy children. C’mon now.. just a little bit…
And keep on sharing the Facebook Fan Page with your mates. We just kicked over 5000! If all those people got one more on, then 10,000 is inevitable! And that means sponsor dollars!
Speaking of which, the wonderful people at Compeed, the blister bandaid superstars, have lent further support, by starting a competition on the Facebook Fan Page, giving two people the opportunity to come run with me in New York! DO ITTTTTTT!!!!!! Even better, they’re giving me a few thousand dollars to help me with the New York costs. So they’re officially my first Sponsors! Want more?? In conjunction with their agency, Sputnik, they donated $1000 to our UNICEF fund. These guys know how to keep me motivated!!!! And their blister busters work a treat too!
Keep on loving life people. I hear more stories of bravery out here than I’ll ever have to tell myself. Everyone’s a champion when they pick up a mirror and realise what they’re capable of. Get amongst it!
(Yes, that was for you Smythy! HA!)