Stockholm Marathon 2018 Recap

img_0675 Yesterday was my 10th marathon and my first time ever repeating one. Stockholm seemed like a good choice for a PR attempt, since it’s flat, has low humidity, and is generally cool.

But we’ve been blessed/cursed with record-breaking warmth during this trip, weather that is ideal for pretty much anything…except this.

Although I carbed up like a champ (cardamom buns!!!), I otherwise couldn’t muster too much excitement for this race. After all, I’d run it once before, I was distracted (in the best way) by study abroad, and I knew the heat wasn’t going to lead to any personal records. To make matters worse, the race started at noon, only the hottest part of the day.

It’s hard to do a marathon when you’re not feeling it.

So, why was I doing it? Because I’d paid the entry fee? (Sunk-cost fallacy, but kind of.) Because I told people I was doing it? (Sheepish yes.) Because I didn’t want my training to be for nothing? (Naw. Extra snacks ain’t nothing!) Because I wanted the finisher shirt and medal? (Absolutely.)

For whatever reason, there I was at the start, with 18,000 or so other fools/hardy souls.

img_0725We started outside the 1912 Olympic Stadium in the open sun. I was stuck in a tight pack for awhile, which I hate. Each mile or so, there’d be an aggressive rush to the sprinklers and the water stations as we all attempted to cool down. Shade was a commodity everyone was fighting for. And this course was not the pancake I remember. Two new hills had been added, I swear.

I quickly saw my average pace fall way below goal time and my motivation fell along with it. Everything was annoying me: the people getting between me and the sponge-wetting stations, the restaurants that smelled like fried food, the spectators smoking, the booming speakers that were keeping me from hearing my own music…you name it.

Even when I could hear it, my faithful marathon playlist did nothing for me. The Schuyler sisters tried to remind me of how lucky I was to be alive right now. Michael Jackson called me a pretty young thing. The bearded lady from The Greatest Showman told me that I was glorious. Sara Bareilles really wanted to see me be brave. Nope.

But I did get through this slogfest, in a respectable-for-the-weather 3:48. How come? Because at the one-hour and two-hour marks I saw Joe (wearing the landmark: a SF Giants Dr. Seuss hat) and a big group of students cheering like their lives depended on it, in very non-Swedish fashion. Jantelagen be damned, they were loud. And they had signs. It was THE BEST.

img_0829

img_0724

img_0825Then, when I thought they were done (because who wants to spend all afternoon watching a marathon?) they surprised me at the finish line, which ends with a half-lap around the stadium track.

img_0759

img_0722Did I mention that this was the best? Marathons often deliver the full range of intense emotions, but I don’t remember going from angry and alone to joyful and supported in such a short time. It makes the fact that this was not my personal best day seem very incidental.

And, whether I have them to blame or to thank, I know that this will be me. Just maybe not for a little while.

 

img_0760

img_0728img_0605

Advertisements

Study Abroad in Scandinavia: Week 1

We are a week into JMU’s Exploring the Good Life in Scandinavia and have been centered in wonderful, summery Copenhagen all week.

Day 1

For the first time, we’re working with the Danish Institute for Study Abroad for housing, activities, classroom space, etc. The day started with a huge group meeting for all DIS participants at the building that used to house Copenhagen’s circus (?!) and is now a too-fancy-for-us concert venue.

img_0116

We toured our classroom and facilities, which are perfectly located right on the main shopping street (the Stroget).

We had a great guest lecture from a DIS professor and learned many things. The most striking may have been to toughen the kids up young. Here they have forest kindergartens (“learn to be cold and uncomfortable, learn to climb trees and use knives”), and fairy tales with non-Disneyfied endings.

Afterwards, we wandered over to Kongens Have (the King’s Garden at Rosenborg Palace), and to Nyhavn for the requisite group photo. Today had a lot of classroom time but was also a good orientation to the city.

 

img_0169

Day 2

Our 10 a.m. class started with a hop over to Sct. Peders Bageri for what some say are the best cinnamon buns (a.k.a., cinnamon snails) in the city, available only on Wednesdays.

This provided an easy segue into the day’s topic: savoring. When are we most present and grateful in a given moment? When is this easy and natural and when is it difficult? How can we be better at this, both in everyday life and in our travels? (Naturally, this leads into a discussion of technology, photography, and social media and whether this stuff helps or hurts our savoring ability.)

To bring mindfulness to life, Joe led us through the raisin meditation. For the first time ever, we had an entire room of raisin lovers, with no one grumbling and wondering why we couldn’t be doing this with chocolate instead.

img_0171

img_0187

The afternoon took us to Christiania, Copenhagen’s second most popular tourist destination. Reactions to Christiania are pretty extreme. Some see it as dodgy and dirty, others find it idyllic and don’t want to leave. Whatever the reaction, it’s undoubtedly fascinating as an alternate way of living and as a social experiment with an uncertain future.

This was the first time I’d done a guided tour (given by a 40-year Christiania resident) and it was much better than simply wandering around aimlessly. In addition to being informative, she was as quirky and surprising as the place itself.

img_0203

The students wanted to stick around for dinner so we parted ways. My love of a great view won out over my fear of heights, so I climbed the exposed spiral tower of the Church of Our Savior. The 360 view was breathtaking and I had the place all to myself, but note the death grip…

 

Day 3

We put our mindful eating and savoring lessons to good work today on the Copenhagen Food Tour, which takes place in and around the wonderful Torvehallerne food hall. This is one of my absolute favorite outings. It hits so many marks: savoring, yes, but also New Nordic cuisine, local food, and sustainability. We also get a touch of history and subtle lessons in the culture. Our guide, Maria, is an expert and a hoot.

img_0245

We took class outside afterwards, to the nearby botanical gardens.

img_0250

Did I mention that the weather here is absolutely perfect? We’ve been extremely lucky so far! Part of me feels like we’re missing something key about Scandinavian psychology by skipping out on the cold and grey. A much bigger part of me is thrilled to be spared.

Day 4

Today’s class topic was cycling. Copenhagen is the most advanced, forward-thinking bike-friendly city in the world. Could this contribute to a high degree of happiness? And, if so, why? Is this something we can bring back with us, or does it require a certain infrastructure, climate, and topography that we just don’t have? Is driving in the U.S. just too convenient and cheap to make bikes appealing? This one is hard to place on the “can we bring it back or not?” continuum.

We didn’t have anything scheduled for the afternoon, but it was another perfect weather day. Half of us headed on the train north to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, while others rented a boat and cruised around Copenhagen’s harbors.

img_0298

We all met up for a night at Tivoli Gardens (btw, if Christiania is the second-most visited place in CPH, Tivoli is the first). It features gardens, yes, but also rides, food, fireworks, performances, etc. etc. etc.

img_0319

Day 5

The weather was iffy for the first time, so we postponed our trip to Lund and made it a free day. Joe and I explored our local neighborhood, Norrebro, while the students had more far-flung adventures. Some took a long (!!) walk to the Carlsberg Brewery, and a few others biked out to the outskirts of the city to look for the six hidden giants. So much for the strong advice that a car is needed for these expeditions!

img_0394

That brings me to this fact: I am so thrilled, impressed, and inspired by this group’s level of adventurousness. They set out on daunting journeys like these enthusiastically but with common sense. They’re brave; they’re not afraid to get lost in a foreign city, to drive a motorboat, to follow a Danish train schedule, or to learn to ride a bike in the busiest biking city in the world (which is kinda like learning to drive on the D.C. Beltway at rush hour). AND they also manage to be prompt, prepared for class, and respectful of one another. I couldn’t ask for more.

Day 6

img_0344

Today was our bike trip to the seaside town of Dragor, 11 miles south of Copenhagen. The weather had been looking dicey but fortunately cleared up enough for us to head out.

We started out in the heart of CPH and, well, a 17-person group of shaky cyclists in a busy city is quite the project. Eventually, we left the crowded urban bike lanes and hit more relaxed Amager, the Baltic Sea, Kastrup, the airport, and – finally – adorable Dragor. We had some ice cream, some walk-around time, and then it was time to head back.

img_0365

 

This was probably a bit more than we bargained for – some windy spots, a few intense moments of traffic, a couple bike snafus – but we did it. 22 miles!

img_0392

Day 7

Our first semi-gross weather day (a.k.a., the typical study abroad weather). I was glad: morning rain made it a perfect movie day. We had a long class that included a new documentary, Finding Hygge. We discussed this idea of…what, exactly? Coziness, relaxation, comfort, easy conversation, lack of stress…

Hygge is a concept that is so woven into the Danish psyche that it’s difficult for them (and us) to define and discuss. And yet it’s held up as a key component of happiness here, so it’s well worth considering. What we concluded is that hygge is not showy, not materialistic, and not stressful. It requires time, intention, and cannot be forced. It has a potential dark side that we have to be on the watch for. And – with practice – it’s perhaps something we can take home with us (unlike, say, socialized medicine, state-funded college, or five weeks of paid vacation per year). And it would make a great name for my future dog, but that’s another story.

Students also shared their favorite moments via photos and I was – again – so happy to hear about their adventures, but also to hear how much they genuinely like one another, are willing to compromise, and have these hilarious moments together.

It was a very good day, although not a particularly photogenic one. But here’s my 4 a.m. sunrise photo and my ice cream.

For the evening, students broke into small groups and had dinners with Danish families around Copenhagen – which I can’t wait to hear about – while Joe and I had an unforgettable meal at Kiin Kiin.

And another week of adventures awaits!

 

 

“The Good Life” Comes to an End.

As I write this, I’m three hours into a five-hour train trip, heading south from Stockholm to Copenhagen. A few cars up sit twelve drowsy college students who are probably alternating between napping, snacking, working on their final course presentations, and – quite possibly – reflecting on the fact that it’s almost over.

We’ve just spent the past 16 days touring Sweden and Denmark on a study abroad called “Exploring the Good Life in Scandinavia.” We have just one last evening together in Copenhagen, and then they all start to disperse: some are off to Norway, one to Iceland, another to Berlin, and still another to Amsterdam. Others are going back home, back to their parents, siblings, graduate school prep, and summer jobs. And two of them graduated last month, don’t really know what comes next, and – understandably – really don’t seem to want to think about it.

While our main objective was to study the well-documented high rates of Scandinavian happiness, we also did a Color Run, learned to make moose meatballs, biked through Malmo, and cruised through the Stockholm archipelago. We played hilariously bad beach volleyball, danced around a maypole on Midsommar’s Eve, and visited the Christiania commune just one day before it was infiltrated by cops on a drug bust. We found a cure for culinary homesickness at a TGI Fridays, laughed through a border crossing snafu at the Copenhagen airport, celebrated two birthdays, survived the rides at Tivoli Gardens, took a ghost tour of Stockholm, and sang karaoke at a Swedish dive bar. And I’m sure they would add things to this list that I will never know about. As it should be.

img_7361

What I do know is that three weeks ago, these twelve were virtually strangers, but now, I see the potential for life-long friendships. The time has been brief but intense. They’ve shared experiences that no one else will really understand. They have inside jokes and nicknames that would be lost on anybody on the outside. And they are united in the knowledge that their experiences here will never be replicated.

I hope their transition is an easy one. Because as nice as it might be to see their families and friends, to return to comfort and predictability, no one back home will really get it. They’ll try, asking questions and expressing interest at the photos and stories they are bringing home. But it’s just impossible to bridge the psychological gap this trip has created. Reverse culture shock is very real and experiencing it doesn’t make anyone an ingrate. (But the guilt associated with that belief, like “I shouldn’t feel so unhappy when I just had this amazing experience,” can actively heighten the distress.)

As for me, I’m equal parts relieved that a stolen cell phone was our biggest disaster, happy to be free and responsible only for myself, and sad to be saying goodbye to this thoughtful, curious, and hilarious bunch. A few of them, I know I’ll probably never see again. A few will be in my class this fall. The rest may pop into my office once or twice. Maybe we’ll try to put together a reunion dinner. But, the cold reality is that we will never be together again, as a group, in this part of the world. This experience will never be repeated.

Reflections on study abroad, one year later

In exactly 38 days – not that I’m counting – twelve JMU students will meet me in Copenhagen for a class on happiness in Scandinavia. To help prepare them and get them psyched, last week I asked students from last year’s class to come talk to my new crop.

SAMSUNG CSC

Last year’s class in Stockholm

I wanted to let the conversation flow naturally, but just in case no one had any burning questions, I asked them to prepare responses to these:

  • What do you wish you could’ve done more of while in Scandinavia?
  • What were your favorite memories?

I’m not sure what I expected them to say, but I was startled and touched by their responses, which I asked them to email me after. Here are some:

**********************************************************************

“My favorite things to do were to find a restaurant I liked or a building or something like that and just stay there for a while (versus trying to see and do every single thing). It was cool to use this time to really savor and soak it up. In Lund, for example, I laid in the grass and just hung out by that large church for a large part of the afternoon and I think it was more enjoyable than running all over the town. I still felt like I got a good feel of Lund without seeing every single street and building.”

“I really enjoyed riding around Copenhagen aimlessly on those motor bikes, wish I did it more.”

“Two of my favorite memories from the trip included the bike tour and our visit to that bakery in Lund. The bike tour gave me a lot more information about Malmö while I got to explore the city like the Scandinavians do, which was a blast. That bakery in Lund was indescribably good. I dream about their pastries and breads sometimes…”

SAMSUNG CSC

Those unforgettable treats.

“My favorite memories were two conversations I had with two men in Stockholm. One was an artist and I bought one of his paintings, he was from Russia. The other was a street performer from New Zealand. I also very much enjoyed our free day in Denmark when I walked around in Christiania. That entire day was great because I was by myself and able to soak in my surroundings without any distractions.””Sitting at a restaurant by a river in Copenhagen was cool because I got to watch a festival and a mother and son came to my table and chatted with me. And talking to the old guy on a bench!”

“Lund, walking around, eating at the bakery, getting strawberries there! It was so much fun hanging out with the people in our group and eating such delicious food. Lund was so vibrant- I loved all of it. Even going to the botanical garden.”

IMG_4254

Spoiled forever by Danish strawberries.

“One of the big things I regret from the trip is not planning for more spontaneity. Even if you’re a compulsive planner, you’ll have more fun if you make time for random activities that are done on a whim. I wish I had found a way to arrive in Denmark early like some of the others had. It seemed like they really got a better feel for Copenhagen since they had more free time there.”

“Things I regretted not doing more of: Interacting with the people who lived there, even if it was just waiters, etc. And spending so much time at night emailing or connecting with friends at home (I didn’t do this a lot, but I could’ve been doing something else instead!)”

“So my favorite memories from the trip were things that we said “when in _______.” (Copenhagen, Stockholm, etc.) In the sense of, if we’re having any doubts about doing something because it costs money or we’re tired or whatever it may be, we would say that as a way to remind ourselves that this is probably a once in a lifetime experience.”

IMG_2936

When in Stockholm, you celebrate Midsommar…rain or shine.

**********************************************************************

I was happy that the students didn’t voice major regrets, but was even happier to hear about the things that ended up being their most cherished memories. They were, for the most part, pretty small things: a unique and delicious food, talking to locals, walking or cycling around aimlessly. Not one person listed visiting a top tourist attraction as a favorite moment. Like Anthony Bourdain said, “It’s never the Eiffel Tower and Louvre you remember for the rest of your life.”

None of this should have surprised me, of course. Their favorite moments were not unlike my own: Biking around Copenhagen, feeling – almost – like a local. Early morning runs through parks and around palaces. Getting lost, then seeing something familiar and almost feeling my mental map get filled in with a new connection. People-watching by the water. And, yes, eating those pastries and berries.

These really are among the best moments of travel, but we just don’t always realize it. We overestimate the importance of the “must-sees” and neglect to think about how to be truly present in more ordinary moments. I think it’s because we can’t always plan for them. They tend to – or maybe they need to – arise spontaneously.

But we can set the stage for them. As some students said, they wished they had spent less time online, had structured their time less, been more spontaneous, talked to people more, and used their free time differently…lessons I could learn, too.

So, this time around, I’ll remember what I just learned from my former students, encouraging my new ones to wander, to explore, to observe, and to just be. They can write their term papers when they get back to the States.
image

For my money, there’s nothing finer.