Running across the Atlantic


Running on Marstrand, Sweden Summer '12

This one has been a long time coming. For a while now I've thought about putting down in words another of my passions, beyond just the sailing thing. Since high school I've been more and more into endurance sports. I got really into endurance sports the first year I lived full-time in Annapolis, racing in three triathlons and a couple amateur cycling races over the course of one summer, and doing quite well in them. I lived in an apartment at the time, kept my road bike in the living room and went out often before work (I was crew on the Woodwind then), sometimes riding 40 miles, leaving before the sun came up. On my days off I'd go for my long rides - put the headphones on, pack some food in my shirt and cycle all the way down to North Beach, in South County, some forty+ miles away, where I'd stop for a big iced coffee at one of the cafes overlooking the shoreline before cycling another forty miles home again.


Tuning the bike in PA Summer '07

I swam a lot then too, sometimes in the pool out on Riva road, and other times (unwisely) right off the back of my dad's boat in Spa Creek. Both of those times I got deathly ill a few days later. I haven't done that since. All the work paid off. In my first-ever triathlon, a mini sprint event in Virginia (my mom and dad were along, and we had to leave the boat at 3:00am to make it to the start on time), I took second place, and could have won had I not forgotten how to tie my shoes. I was well in the lead after the cycling leg (indeed won an award for the fastest bike split), but lost almost a minute trying to put my running shoes on. It was a chilly morning, and my fingers had frozen up after gripping the aero bars on my bike for the 12-mile leg. I couldn't manipulate them enough to tie the laces, and I got passed on the run, losing by 30 seconds (since then I use the stretchy 'lock laces' in all of my shoes - no tying necessary!).

In my second race, a half-Ironman in the Poconos, I had my stretchy laces. Mia and I camped out the night before in the woods, using a borrowed tent. I woke up refreshed, ate two Ezekiel brand sprouted-wheat English muffins, and went out and won that race. I remember counting off all the people I passed on the cycling leg, only stopping after it was well over 50. I was good on the bike then, that was my thing. Mia had to drive home that night because I was nearly sick with exhaustion. I could barely keep my head up enough to tell her directions, and we made a wrong turn going home. My grandparents wanted to take us out to dinner, but I couldn't get off the couch, so Mia made me a big steak and a potato instead, and we ate alone together at the kitchen counter at my mom and dad's house in Pennsylvania.


Livestrong 'Half-Full' Half Ironman Fall '09, for mom!

It's been a while since I've had time to dedicate on the bike, which I miss dearly. With all the sailing Mia and I have done lately, it just doesn't work. It has to be one or the other. Cycling is far too gear intensive, and our little boat couldn't even accommodate a tiny fold-up bike, which is hardly the same as my Madone. So we've been focusing on running. And that is what this post is really about, despite the lengthy intro.

Running is perhaps the purest form of endurance sport, and that's what I love about it. It's the least gear-intensive activity out there, save perhaps swimming. And if you're into the barefoot running (the real barefoot running, not the Five-Fingers kind), all you need is a pair of shorts. Which do indeed fit on a boat, even one as small as Arcturus. So it was that over the course of the past two summers that Mia and I ran across the Atlantic. Twice. Well, sort of.

I touched on this in an earlier post, but when we're out sailing, running is both a form of exercise and a means of exploration. In 2011, we headed northeast on Arcturus on the way across the far north Atlantic. Our first stop was Newport, where we dodged the summer holiday crowds and jogged around the harborfront, stopping for a while to gawk at Ranger, the famous J-class yacht that was tied up at the Newport Shipyard. I'd never seen a big J in person, and it was pretty neat being able to get so close to it.

My mom and dad joined the boat there and sailed the next longish leg up to Nova Scotia. We were supposed to have sailed direct to Lunenberg, but the boat wasn't yet setup for upwind sailing in any sort of breeze. So when the wind piped up into the high twenties one night (my dad and I should have seen it coming - we were then only 70 miles out, and had celebrate the calm evening of a few hours earlier with a few glasses of rum), we had to turn tail and beam reach into Shelburne, a vast natural harbor near the SW tip of Nova Scotia. There again, Mia and I explored the quaint back streets in our running shoes, with fresh legs after the five-day passage.

It remained like this the rest of the way across the Pond. In Lunenberg we ran down to the marine railway where the had the Bluenose II hauled out for a rebuild. I had been on the boat when she was tied up in Annapolis at the Naval Academy a few years prior, but she was in a different state then (still put together!). In Baddeck, on the Bra d'Or Lakes we did the same, exploring town before taking off in a friends Boston Whaler to explore the water. I can't remember if we ran in St. Pierre. The anxiety of getting the boat ready for a 2,000 mile passage likely overwhelmed any desire I had to hit the streets (plus I have a terrible memory).


Blackberries in Glandore Summer '11

After twenty-three days at sea, spent mostly in a seated position, the legs were understandably tired, but we ran anyway, exploring the south coast of Ireland and stopping along the way to eat the blackberries (I think we did more eating than running on a few occasions, particularly in Glandore one morning. We'd met Donald Street at his house for coffee, before he hit the water in an old Dragon for some Sunday morning racing, then went up into the hills looking for back roads to explore. Mia physically cannot pass a blackberry bush without stopping to eat some, and there were blackberry bushes along every inch of road, so you can imagine how that went. It was a delicious run for sure).

As we headed north into the Irish Sea, we ran around each town or city we stopped in. Kinsale. Arklow. Skerries. Dublin. Ardglass. Bangor. A lot in Bangor. That was our final stop last summer, and we spent four or five days there putting the boat away (two of them uncomfortably living on the hard, during the remnants of a hurricane that blasted over the city). And that's where Arcturus sat for the winter.


Running in the Dunderbo forest Winter '12

We ran a lot in Sweden over the winter, sometimes in the snow (here's a fun aside - I had been wearing my winter Five Fingers, the heavier ones with Kangaroo leather uppers that kept my feet warm even in the snow. We'd been running through the frozen forest behind Mia's family's house in Dunderbo, through the freshly fallen snow. Along the same trails Richard and I later dogsledded over. Turned out that there had been an escapee from the local asylum. The neighbors saw my footprints in the fresh snow around the village - barefoot footprints, because the Five Fingers have individual toes in them - and had assumed that the crazy guy had been wandering around the forest. He wasn't but I think they still thought was crazy). We even signed up for the Stockholm Marathon, but had to reneg because we'd been hired to sail across the Atlantic again, this time on Kinship, a Saga 43.


Why Scots created golf - Mia's new running shoes Summer '12

So we ran across the Atlantic once more. Mia started in the BVI, and I joined in Bermuda, and we ran and ran. We ran at each island we visited in the Azores - Faial, Terciera and Santa Maria - and ran some more in Lagos, Portugla when we finally reached the continent.

We kept going once we got back to Bangor and Arcturus. First in Port Ellen, our first stop in Scotland. Then some more in Oban, up and over the hills where the grass is so green and plush and free from weeds that it would have been a miracle had the Scots not invented golf.


Loch Linnhe, Scotland Summer '12

More again in the small marina just north of Oban on Loch Linnhe, where we met our friend with the wooden replica of Joshua Slocum's Spray. There we ran past cows grazing in the fields, past people on horses in the countryside, past ruined castles (one which was on an island, visible from the train-tracks-cum-running path where they'd erected a bench in honor of some fallen loved one, and which invited passersby to stop for a moment and admire the view, which we did with pleasure on the way back. And here Mia discovered wild raspberries, and ate many, many of them).

When we passed through the Caledonian Canal and into the Highlands (the highest mountain in Scotland looms over the canal's western entrance), we enjoyed the sailing and actually didn't run much. But we continued our journey in Edinburgh, when we took the train south from Inverness, at the eastern terminus of the canal, to the city where my dad would fly home from. We saw him off the airport and hit the cobbled streets again, exploring the old city on foot yet again, visiting the castle, the farmer's market and a gorgeous little private park with a locked gate, where we met a friendly gentlemen who explained it was reserved for the residents, who each had a key. At first this was off-putting, but then I thought if I were a resident, wouldn't that be nice, to escape the tourists for a moment and enjoy that little private park.


Post-run in Inverness, Scotland Summer '12

Back in Inverness we set out along the canal, retracing the route by which we'd just come in the boat (stopping to eat more wild raspberries). The path along the canal was overgrown in places and muddy, but it felt like a little adventure, so we pushed on. We passed the first turnaround point - a drawbridge over the canal - then kept on going, feeling strong and knowing that the next turnaround would make for a ten mile run by the time we got back, but that was okay. And it was towards the end of that run that it dawned on Mia that we were both feeling pretty strong, so why not try and find a fall marathon? A few hours later we were registered for the Baltimore Marathon.

By then the pressure was really on. The marathon was only 6 weeks distant, and thought we'd comfortably run 10 miles, there is an awful big difference between 10 and 26.2 (having each done 2 marathons previously, there is indeed an awful big difference between 20 and 26.2 miles, let alone 10). So we set out to run across the North Sea and into the Baltic, giving new purpose to the remainder of our sailing trip on Arcturus, and a new motivation for exploring the places we visited on foot.


Swimming in Marstrand Summer '12

In Marstrand, after five days at sea, the legs again well rested, we spent a few days running around the granite island, then swimming in the Kattegat afterwards, taking advantage of the last of the summer (and later taking advantage of the big breakfast buffet at the local hotel the first day. There is nothing - nothing - like a good, fresh Swedish breakfast buffet). Then it was on down the coast, with the runs getting longer and longer. On the island of Ven, Mia did two hours while Clint and I talked philosophy and drank coffee. In Malmö I did an hour and a half. 

On Gotland, after another three days at sea, we each did twelve miles, the distances of our weekly long runs slowly creeping up, the countryside slowly expanding in front of us. In Visby, on Gotland, I ran alone, shooting north along the coast and into a parkland where the cows grazed freely alongside the wooden walkway that ran through the forest and along the rocky shoreline. Then I ran back through the forest towards the medieval city and followed the walls around to the south side, past the ramparts of a ruined castle and back through the narrow, wind-ey streets, thinking all along that I was in some sort of elaborate movie set before realizing that places like Visby are where they come up with the idea for movie sets. They're real.


Arcturus in the Stockholm archipelago Summer '12

On Ornö, an island in the archipelago outside Stockholm, we did 15 miles together, getting horribly lost on the twisty back roads that wound through the forest (this time discovering that the blueberries were ripening in the forest. "Hmm, I don't think the blueberries are out yet," Mia said glumly. Then she looked again. "OH YES THEY ARE! OH YES THEY ARE!" she said. I laughed). Arcturus was anchored in a small cove, so we swam back to the boat towing the little Dyer dinghy, getting our cold shower in after a two-hour run. Then we spent the rest of the day eating and drinking coffee (the best part about running for two hours).


Hammarbykanalen, as seen from the deck of Arcturus My favorite place in Stockholm to run. Summer '12

We did 17 miles in Stockholm, leaving from our dock just outside the Wasa museum the day after Magnus Olsson and his wife came by for coffee. We ran all through the city which we had called home, past the Globe Arena, through Djurgården where a year earlier I tried running with the flu and got so sick I had to take the bus home. Then past the US Embassy where earlier in the spring Mia finally received her Green Card. Then on past Hammarbybacken, the tiny ski hill in the middle of the city where they once ran a marathon, 22 laps up and down again, which must be agonizing. Then back through Gamla Stan, where Mia and I had both run before during the Stockholm Marathon, her first and my second, finally stopping at Nautiska Magisinet, where we ran into Magnus again, which made us feel good, because we'd gone into this nice chandlery dressed in running clothes and covered in sweat, buying Royal Swedish Yacht Club gear and wondering if the clerk thought we were nuts. When Magnus greeted us like friends, we felt at least like that clerk must have given us some credit for knowing something. Everyone knows Magnus in Sweden. I felt strong after that run, felt like I could actually manage a marathon in a few weeks.


Mia and Andy in Marstrand Running.

Which brings me right back to the present. I'm writing this from the Slainte Irish pub in Fell's Point. It's a Thursday morning, and the marathon is two days from now (less than that 48 hours I hope to be finished with the race and with a full belly of Whole Foods). We're shortly on the way to the Raven's stadium to pick up our race packets and numbers, then will be back again early Saturday morning to take the starting line. And thinking back on our training over the past 6 weeks has brought back all of these awesome memories, really makes me realize how cool it was to have done what we did, set that goal and gone for it. To have 'run' across the Atlantic, twice, the payoff being this big race in the end.

My goal is 3:45:00. It would be a PR for me. We'll see how it goes.