Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Long Way from Cape Town

Later this month I will have been Stateside for 12 months. It hardly seems possible that 2013 is nearly over and I'll start 2014 in the US. It still sometimes catches me unaware; I'll suddenly remember I'm not in South Africa or England, but in this massive, diverse country, and take a deep breathe. I remember being offered this opportunity as I was walking to a doctor's appointment in Cape Town and swearing out loud. Knowing that I couldn't effectively say no to a chance to discover America, learn a ton about marketing to a continent, and of course get to visit and run in the most amazing places. It was exciting but scary. Portland is pretty much the furthest it's possible to get from Portland geographically. At best it's two long haul flights, at worst (I tried this), it's Portland-Seattle-London-Cairo-Joburg and Cape Town two days later.

Arches National Park, Moab
I've been to New York, Las Vegas, LA, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Salt Lake City, Kentucky, Tennessee, Colorado, Seattle, Denver, Boulder, and still only scratched the surface here from both a travelling and a running perspective. Just in Oregon and neighbouring Washington State, there are scores of places I haven't visited yet. Why not? It's taken time to settle both physically and emotionally and making the journey alone (completely of my own making) has been way harder than I naively anticipated.

Las Vegas in all it's 'glory' for the Magnum SHOT Show
So I guess the three 'buckets' are work, play and general well-being. Work has been challenging, a different type of marketing to a more diverse customer base, but with less 'wiggle' room to experiment. This comes from a lot of pre-allocated budget into the trade shows we attend, and trying to do ground level marketing in a country this vast. Also devoting time to both our brands (Hi-Tec and Magnum) has necessitated a change of mindset. Luckily we have a great team of young, enthusiastic, motivated colleagues in Portland.

Part of the Ryan Sandes support crew at Leadville
My playing has been mostly running. My bikes have been gathering cobwebs, the swimming pool untouched, and winter sports still untouched by this uncoordinated runner. Having said that, I've loved the running environment here. I've been to both Western States and Leadville to support and pace, have now won 3 races and placed in many others and reduced my personal bests at 10k, 15k and half marathon, and run two sub 3 marathons. BUT, the biggest joy has been running the mile to Forest Park and playing on the trails there, including the 30 mile long Wildwood trail. As well as trails in the Gorge and around Portland. They are the best, most accessible trails in a city I've ever experienced. My road shoes last twice as long here, as the trails in summer are basically soft roads :)
That elusive 'W' came at Autumn Leaves 50k
It's also been great fun being in the front pack, albeit in weaker races than I was used to in South Africa. I'm still way behind the rabbits I was used to seeing the back of in Cape Town, and I'm pretty near my improvement ceiling, but it's still feels a big deal to push your limits each week, and see if you are stronger than the person in front or behind you. Once I knew the racing was weaker, there was a real desire to win a race (I last won a solo race in 2001 in Wellingborough, England, a 5 miler) and I achieved that in a 50k three weeks ago. Then I won a half marathon the following week AND a 10km trail race the week after! Bizarre to go 11 months with lots of top ten finishes and then three wins in a row. The following day I took a wrong turn in a trail race when in second and ended up at the finish 6 miles too early. That's trail running for you I guess.

And a third 'W' in a row at West Linn trail race. Bizarre!
Mentally the move has been really tough. Moving to SA from England was much easier as I was going into a family structure with a partner waiting for me. I thought I would be strong enough to do this on my own. I was wrong. For the last two years I've felt like the opposite of Midas who turned everything he touched to gold. Just like my string of race wins, I feel I've made a string of REALLY bad decisions, causing others endless pain, and moving from one crisis to another. I'm looking for the end of the tunnel and actively trying to find a less rocky, selfish path. It's a work in progress.

My impressions of America after a year? Easily the most friendly people, who you can strike up a conversation over any interaction. Too much choice! Buying something basic like milk involves too much brain power. A 'have now' mentality definitely. An amazing abundence of parks and outdoor, accessible spaces. A lack of national identity like a smaller country such as South Africa. States seem to mean more than the country. An amazing freedom and lack of fear that exists in SA. It's been a revelation walking the 20 minutes to work and feeling safe and secure.

I'll take away a lot of positive memories from the first year in the US, especially the people. Countries are always about the people and in that South Africa trumps them all, and that's what I miss the most. But I couldn't have asked for a better '2nd place'.


  1. You are right about the US of A being a long way away from anywhere... and for that reason I don't know when next I will cross the big Ocean, maybe only when I retire and have real time to explore!

    One thing, with the internet the world is a smaller place and it's easy to keep in touch and share stories.

    1. Yeah, you need a year here to race the classics. Youd live it Coach