Home stretch

In approximately 56 hours, I’ll be flying home. Home sweet home. I can’t wait.

It’s feeling a little like the last few kilometres of a race: I am so ready to be done, and I can’t really remember too much about the start.

At home, one of my favourite things to do with the kids is to play “apples and oranges” over dinner. Or highlights and lowlights. We try to do this daily, when we remember. It’s applicable to my time here, I think.

So, herewith, are my apples and oranges from my time in Baku. In no particular order, some small, some big. I won’t assign a high or low, I’ll let you infer.

**

The weather. One day it’s humid, hot and sundress weather. The next I’m in 3 layers + a down jacket.

And the wind. Oh lord, the wind.

**

Our soviet-era dwelling, complete with faint smell of sewage and a stairwell that can only be compared so something from the set of “Lost”.

**

The constant, never ending, for no apparent reason, fucking honking.

**

Runs through narrow backstreets, dodging cars and stares, laundry, stray cats, random holes in the sidewalks, aiming to get lost, zigzagging my way through the old architecture mixed with new construction.

**

Re-connecting with some wonderful people. Meeting new ones who will remain friends. This month would have been vastly different without them.

**

Working through a language barrier that, at times, felt insurmountable. Never in my life have I used more hand gestures, scribbles and Google translate to muddle through both my day to day and my job.

My unique brand of Canadian humour didn’t always fly here.

**

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m kind of sick of walking. I rarely get in vehicles here, walking just seems less complicated.

**

I want: fresh vegetables. Fruit that isn’t mealy. A giant salad. A grocery store I can make sense of. My regular, happy little comfy staples. I’m kind of done with rice cakes.

**

Why does construction have to go on all night here?

**

I’m quite surprised I haven’t taken up smoking. Or spitting on streets, for that matter.

**

Oh, to be in my bed, my glorious bed. In which I do not feel springs.

**

I miss nature. And green space that isn’t man-made. That I’m allowed to walk on.

**

Pantyhose. Nylons. Tights. Whatever you want to call them, it’s a wardrobe staple here, no matter the footwear. For that reason alone, I could never live here.

**

Constant noise. The quietest place I’ve found has been underwater.

**

I’m amazed that I’ve only witnessed 1 car accident. The drivers here are terrifying, and those are the good ones. I look back and can’t believe I considered bringing a bike #nochance

**

It’s been an experience here, no question. But it’s time for this homesick Canadian return to her people, and plan the next adventure. Maybe somewhere I speak the language.

A manicure in Baku: 20 simple steps.

  1. Decide you want a manicure, because your nails bear witness to your anxiety in this place.
  2. On your way home from the gym, walk into a place that, while there is no signage whatsoever, you know to be a nail bar because your friend figured this out.
  3. Realize after much gesturing, a few words, that you can’t just walk in and need to phone in for an appointment. Niet way that will happen.
  4. Google “nail salon near BulBul”; a search which proves fruitless due to your lack of Russian and poor sense of direction.
  5. Ask your local coordinator to find you a place to go. Feel badly for having her do such a menial task.
  6. She books an appointment, you conquer side streets to find your way there (10 minutes late).
  7. Upon arrival, heavily made up women glare at you, shoo you in the direction of “manikur”.
  8. Meet manicurist. She doesn’t speak a word of English; my Russian is lacking.
  9. Try to explain that I want “short nails”. Blank stares, gestures, an English speaking person brought in to help.
  10. “Ah, you are the Canadian, yes?”
  11. Short nails, I am told, are ugly.
  12. I win the battle for short nails.
  13. My delightful Russian manicurists aggressively files down my nails, “tsskking”, all the while.
  14. I pick a colour.
  15. There is more “tsskking”. A very firm, “Niet.”
  16. Manicurist gets up, rummages around in a drawers, produces 3 colours to choose from, paints them on my nail. None of them resemble what I chose IN THE SLIGHTEST.
  17. I go with the least offensive. “Da,” is the response.
  18. Manicure ends, manicurist gets on the phone, hands me a scrap of paper with “17” on it,  gives me the hand gesture to shoo.
  19. Turn in paper, pay 17 manats (roughly $15).
  20. Leave, with nails that are short and bright pink.

Close enough, da?

Baku Half Marathon “race” report

Alternative titles:

“The race where my inner Race Director died a little”

“Baku Julie Miller Invitational”

“#AzerbaiZFG”

I should explain, first.

I’m in Baku, Azerbaijan (a former Soviet republic north of Iran) as a part of Baku 2017, a small multi-sport games for this region.

I’m here for a month.

It’s going to be a long month.

Anyway.

Before coming, I found out online that there was a half marathon happening while I was here and quickly figured out that some colleagues were also planning to run. Excellent, I thought.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find previous results online, or much information in general. No matter, it will work out. Right?

Online registration involved putting in my passport number.

No, thanks. In person sounds good.

This registration process may be why I can’t find results from 2016:

“Supposedly”, there were 12, 000 entries. That’s a lot of handwriting.

I was handed them my $30 (or so), they handed me a sticker, instructions in Azeri and sent me on my way.

Instructions include:

  • No plastic bags
  • No luggage
  • No pets
  • No folding chairs or tables

Also: buses will follow the runners en route should they wish to stop and take transport to the finish line.

Huh.

See those buses?

We meet and walk to the start line, which happens to be barely organized chaos and a sea of people. Almost no one speaks English.

We are dressed as runners (shorts, tees, runners. Pretty standard stuff). Wouldn’t you know, this put us in the minority, surrounded as we were by jeans, leather jackets and completely inappropriate running footwear all ’round.

We head towards the start arch, with a vague sense of which direction we should be facing.

Pretty soon, we’re in a crush of people — personal space, be dammed – and the police are gesturing us to move backwards more. There’s nowhere to go, we can only laugh and try not to touch people inappropriately.

With 5 minutes to go (by my watch), suddenly it appears that we are off and the jeans and leather jacket brigade are off and flying. We’re talking full, zigzag, sprint to… where exactly?

Since there were no course markings, no barricades, and, the best yet, no timing mats or timing chips, it would appear that so long as you made it across the line at the stadium, doesn’t matter how you get there, CONGRATULATIONS!

I saw the first person pull the pin at 1.98km in.

There was a roughly 5km out and back section. I was pretty lonely out there, just trucking along and minding my own business. From what I could see, there were maybe 35 people ahead of me, total. I couldn’t spot any women (I tried).

The men in this group didn’t appreciate me passing. I’d run by, they’d surge. I’d run by again (having maintained pace), they’d surge again and then eventually give up. Over and over. So that was… interesting.

As we rejoined the course at the start of the out and back, suddenly the pack got way larger once again. With men in cargo pants and Keds. Who weren’t sweating.

What?! Where did you guys come from?

Oh. Right.

I suppose that out and back maybe wasn’t mandatory?

And on and on it went. I’d come upon people running in dress shoes, casual outfits, from seemingly nowhere. Or, you know, subways.

I crossed the line and was given a little card that said “12”. I assume this means I was the 12th woman. No matter that I only ever laid eyes on 2 women ahead of me. Cool, cool.

I signed my name on a piece of paper, was handed a water bottle and shooed away. Literally.

I wandered around the finish area looking for food and more water, and got to cheer on Marco and Kara as they crossed the line together. We searched in vain for bathrooms, walked another 2kms or so for Marco’s gear. Listened to yammering in Azeri. Could have purchased a carpet, chose not to.

As you do, in race expos.

In the end, we got medals.

Actually, scratch that. We have to go get our medal between May 5-9, passports in hand.

Naturally.

Mysteries of Baku – Volume 1

It’s windy here.

I’m not talking easy-breezy. I’m talking old-man-hold-on-to-the-building windy. Unpleasant, hurt your ears windy.

Easy breezy

If I’d done my research before coming, I’d have known that Baku is also known as the “City of Wind”.

Anyway.

One of the first things I noticed here was the abundance of little old ladies, sweeping. Sweep, sweep, sweep. With no real sense of purpose. Just sweep, sweep, sweep.

Most peculiar, is that they seem to sweep on the windiest of days. It appears really they are just swirling stuff around. The other day, when it was so windy that I literally had to lean into the gale to walk, they were everywhere.

The last 2 days have been calm. The little old ladies with their brooms? Nowhere to be found.

Mystery.

Bits ‘n pieces from Baku

I’ve been in Azerbaijan for 3 days now and I’m slowly getting my bearings. My type-A side stood down on this trip, so I did very little research before arriving, and therefore I had pretty much no idea what to expect.

Actually, scratch that. I googled whether or not there was Starbucks. It’s kind of like having a security blanket to latch onto. Except that they open at 9am. Yeesh.

Anyway.

So far, Baku has managed to both delight and confound. I suppose that’s to be expected when you take a girl living in a mountain town, population 3000 and send her halfway across the world.

I mean, you can’t cross some of the streets: you have to take an escalator and go under them. Jaywalking? Not a “thing” here. Gold teeth? Totally a “thing”. Short girls with really short blond hair? Not a “thing”. Smoking? Still a “thing”.

Today, jet lag loosened its grip a little bit and I went exploring the best way I know how: by running. I woke up feeling a little bit homesick, and it seems that getting out helps a little.

The waterfront is lovely, and as I passed by walkers, runners and any number of security guards, my head swivelled around I made a mental list of things I wanted to figure out how to get to: that weird tower over there, those shiny buildings up there. It’s fun to plan adventures.

All in all, so far, so good.

I only got yelled at by a security guard once.

 

On my team and in my corner.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. I suppose life is alway a little windy, but the last 30 days have vanished in a flash. Mixing training, work, racing away from home, jumping straight into a fairly big event, hiding/denying a cold and trying to find some quality time with my people  has led me to a big giant exhale…

… sitting on an airport floor, waiting to board an oversold flight to Baku, Azerbaijan.

This is totally one of those “it seemed like a great idea at the time” situations. I didn’t give much thought to the quick turnaround this adventure would require, but hey, here we are.

I kissed the kiddos goodbye as they left for school, and reminded them that I’d see them in 4 weeks or so. I was surprised and a little relieved that it was without a sense of dread and trepidation. There were no tears, no drama.

Don’t get me wrong: I miss them already with an ache that is physical. It’s hard to explain. I know from experience that it will fade a little but then come back with a vengeance just before I get home to them.

It was easier this time because, ironically, we feel like a little team and my little teammates totally have my back. When I’m in the thick of it, distracted by deadlines, obligations and work stuff, it makes me realize what a bunch of independent little humans we have raised, and how grateful I am for it. They don’t put up a fuss, it seems they know that they need to cut me some slack just when I need it most.

They get it. This is the life they know, and while it certainly isn’t perfect, it works for all of us.

The next few weeks will be filled with ridiculous text messages from Will, FaceTime homework sessions, rambling calls with Anja, breathless messages from Rory telling of his latest feat followed by I Love Yous and I Miss Yous and I’ll see You Soons.

This my team, they are totally in my corner, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Oceanside 70.3: Perception vs. Perspective

As I crossed the line on Saturday at Oceanside 70.3, I dissolved into a puddle of tears. I immediately saw Jen and blurted “I’m so disappointed”.

Good lord. I felt like such a loser for crying at a finish line of an amateur event I had paid for the privilege of doing. I couldn’t even pinpoint why I was so bummed. I just was.

It took a couple of minutes to pull myself together, thankful for sunglasses to hide the evidence and the chance to meet new people and talk about something else for a bit.

Here’s how I perceived the day, “in real time”.

Swim: By the time I *finally* hit the water in the rolling start, I was shivering uncontrollably and so thankful that the water felt warmer than the air. Until the turnaround, I was a satisfied fish. And then.

*crack*

I caught an ankle squarely in the chin, bit my toungue hard enough that I could taste blood and inhaled a bunch of delicious, murky salt water. Then I barfed. So that was neat! Sorry to those fine folks behind me.

Eventually, staggered out of the water and jogged through what has to be the world’s biggest transition, fumbled around and rode away.

Bike: There was a tank crossing! I mean, Camp Pendleton and all. They take their armoury seriously, I suppose. I was pretty grumpy for a long time. I couldn’t find a rhythm, I couldn’t focus, and I was trying to stay within the zones that Liz assigned to me. I kept waiting for that sleepy, drained feeling I usually get. It wouldn’t come. Was I going too slowly? Bah. I couldn’t tell. I felt strong but I maybe I was tricking myself? Let’s just get this over with already.

Run: This was the dialogue in my brain:

Kilometers 1-15: TICK/TICK/TICK KEEP MY LITTLE FEET GOING TICK/TICK/TICK EAT SOMETHING THAT COKE WASN’T FLAT *BURP*

Kilometers 15.1-19.1: UUUUUUUNNNNNHHHHH NO NO NO NO MORE.

Kilometers 19.1-21.1: Don’tcrydon’tcrydon’tcry if you cry you can’t breathe I think I’m making a really ugly face don’tcrydon’tcry dammit I think this course is long.

And then it was over.

Fast forward an hour or so. I didn’t know how (numbers-wise) the day had gone. I was still feeling pretty ambivalent about it and then I texted Liz… lo and behold, welcome the objective perspective.

She gave me her view on the event, “as seen from her bike”, as she virtually watched my race from the discomfort of her bike trainer. Her view was far more positive than mine and hearing that pulled me out of my funk. Maybe I didn’t need to quit this silly sport after all.

The reality is that I did indeed have a shit swim, but I put together a good bike and a solid run. I actually raced, like we’d talked about me doing. I didn’t give up, stuck to the plan. I have something to build on. Battled my own demons all day. I may not have won against them, but I held my own. It took me a few hours to realize that.

I still haven’t looked at the results, but I know that I ended up 7th, clawing my way back through the field after the swim. And while my goal had been top 5, I ended up with what I wanted: a spot to the World Championships.

By sheer force of waiting around.

Next up? Tightening my race director hat and getting back to it for Coeur d’Alene 70.3.

Oh. And a little month long jaunt to Azerbaijan.

I’ll wait while you look it up.