The Big Move – Warsaw, Poland


What has Derek done now?!?! I did release a video on this and wrote a long heartfelt message on Facebook, but I may have convoluted too much information and confused people. The big news is that I’ve moved to Poland, not just for a couple weeks or months, but for possibly up to three years. Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions.

Why Poland?

Poland is a beautiful country with wonderful people and traditions.  The cost of living here is very low for Europe, so my dollar goes farther. It’s not too hot here, so I shouldn’t melt as I would in many other countries. Poland gives me easy access to European countries in the East and the West. As a member of the EU, living here wile starting a business may make other opportunities available in the future. Warsaw, in particular has some additional benefits. A great airport with many low cost carriers to get me all around Europe affordably.  It has lots of green space, parks, forest, trails, and paths for running.  There are a number of communities that I look forward to joining in this city.  There are many helpful expatriates here.  I have a supportive group of friends and acquaintances here as well as one of my best friends who I have known for 27 years. In the uncomfortable position of moving to another country where I don’t know the language, this may be as comfortable as I can get.

What are you going to do in Warsaw?

Two years ago, with a little bit of savings, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to afford traveling around the US.  With some penny pinching and more than a little help from my friends, I saw all fifty states, survived the worst months of a New England winter and traveled to 12 European countries.  Some bills need to be paid.  I will be teaching English to make ends meet and to start saving for future endeavors.  I will finish the book I’ve been writing about my 50/50/50 journey.  I will continue to work on my International Race Series concept but I am now working on another running opportunity as well.

Are you still running Marathons?

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I injured myself in the first European marathon I did in Milan.  I then ran seven more races on that injury.  Even as I was resting and recovering,  it could be argued that I was still running too much. I took some time off from running this summer and have been slowly rebuilding my body. I’m hoping that being in one place will help me get my training regiment back on par. Expect to see an aggressive European Marathon plan in place for 2018.

What’s with settling down in one place?  I thought a rolling stone gathers no moss?!?!

I will still be traveling a lot.  The aforementioned airport here in Warsaw was one of the big draws for me and bus prices are still low around Europe. Considering how much of my heart still lies in the Kennebec Valley, I think of there as home and my Polish move as part of my larger travels.  Expect to see frequent travel updates in the months to come with both personal excursions as well as potential business trips.

 

I hope this answers the majority of questions.  Something I didn’t cover? Feel free to ask in the comments down below!

The Pope John Paul II Birthday Memorial 13K – Krakow, Poland


“That’s an odd distance -13K,” one of the common comments. “That’s not your normal distance,” people usually say this with a bit of hesitation. I’m not sure if they are referrencing my usual penchant for marathons and half marathons or if they imagine a volunteer running behind the crowd with a machette and hockey mask. The biggest question I get asked is “Why?”. Why this race? Why this distance? Why in Krakow? Trust me, as I walked into registration to the sideway glances and initial hesiation on the part of volunteers to help, I was asking myself the same question.


One of my best friends, my adopted little sister from University, Jen Nagy has been living in Poland for almost 10 years.  As I was planning to spend a significant amount of time in Europe, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to visit her in a country that has completely engulfed her for a decade. Lets face it – Poland is rarely a place that people put on their Grand European Tour.  What has pulled her focus here? I know she came over to spread her ministry in music, but she has the opportunity to do that in so many parts of the world.  What has been able to hold her attention and fascination for so long? Her first answer is usually the people. That is difficult to understand when we arrive. 

Another oddity to the day was the lateness of the race. We showed up at 2pm for a 3pm race start. I was wearing my usual frippery, colorful sugarskull spandex shorts, bright red and Kennebec Valley Coaching tank, Cerulean Blue knee high compression socks. That along with my weight and larger than life personality set me apart. It’s clear I am an outsider and we seem to be treated as such. Even though Jen speaks a good amount of Polish, answers are short and clipped and lacking in helpfulness as we tried to find registration. Eventually we get to the room and get passed around volunteers even though Jen speaks Polish. When I went to their website it would let me register, however I wasn’t able to pay for my entry online. Fortunately they’re willing to take cash.

The fact of the matter is this is a community event and we are not part of that community. Families are here. There’s a bake sale. There’s a kid area with a bouncy house. Lots of hugs as friends and family connect around the field. Different small clicks of teenagers mesh and separate in an intricate dance. In the hour that we wait there is a kids race and the 5K. There’s lots of cheering and celebration as people cross the finish line.


15 minutes before the start, I start stretching. It’s the middle of the afternoon and we are all gearing up for a race. If I haven’t mentioned this before Europeans for the most part take their races very seriously. Even people who run my speed lineup at the start line like today is THE day. This is the day that they will win. As we get closer to the start line you can feel the tension in the air. However before we know it, it is three minutes past the start time. Confusion appears on everybody’s face. Another three minutes go by and the poor volunteer at the start line is gesticulating the international signal for “Don’t ask me, I just do what they tell me!” Someone runs up and lets everybody know that Start will be delayed another ten minutes. One of the guys who was in my Start Line selfie is kind enough to translate for me. 

I start whistling and singing some of of my warm up tunes. The Hey Sing, Jackson 5’s I Want You Back. People seem to be shifting back in forth to the tunes. All of a sudden, a very official guy in a tie comes up, makes a comment or two and boom we’re off!


We’re only about 60 runners or so, and immediately 50 runners make it clear they came to win. I start off a little faster than normal even though we are on a nice gentle incline until we pass the water tower. Looking out from the apex, I get a little nervous. I am looking at a very steep plunge and some rollicking hills on the road ahead – not rolling hills, but short and steep, forested hills that are much more challenging than I anticipated. It turns me a little sour. As we are all running down this kilometer drop, runners around me are laughing and enjoying themselves. To no one in particular I say, “It’s all fun and games now, but who will be laughing in the 11th kilometer?!?” They must have understood more English than they let on earlier, because everybody got silent. Whoops. Not as funny as I thought, so instead I let off a mad laugh and used the gravity of the hill to push me faster. 

A lot of the neighbors came out to watch the race. They were all ages and most of them gathered around the water stations that were kindly placed every 2 km. For the most part everybody there was pretty quiet and helpful until I started singing. I started singing some old Rock and Motown, and people started clapping along and cheering. After climbing a pretty big hill through some tall trees just after the fourth kilometer, the front runners started to return. The course was mostly an out and back so I was going to see every single one of those 50 people who took off at the start line. So I started cheering for them. Anybody who has run with me knows I like to give each person an individual motivational phrase or complement. Even from the front runners I got smiles and in some cases as we got further back, people were trying to return the favor even if we couldn’t understand a word each other was saying. Certainly, the intent was clear.


The turnaround was up this final hill to an old monastery where three Christian Brothers waited for us in their cassocks and did the wave. I started singing Dona Nobis Pachem and some people started doing the round (like Row Row Row You Boat in Latin) to much laughter and cheering. As I started to head back, I was happy to see I wasn’t last, but there were only a handful of people behind me and we still had to run up all the hills we had coasted down. 


Enter Katarzyna Burdek. Actually, by this point we had run most of the race together, just a little out of sync. She is a mother and a wife. She also has her own business where she crochets the cutest animals. She lives right on the road where we are racing. She definitely saved me the second half of this race. On the way back, we start leap purposefully leap frogging and waiting for each other, pushing each other a little further than we wanted to go, and pulling each other up those long tedious hills. Katarzyna was an absolut delight and as we were running she shared as much as she could could with the English she had. Her kids cheered for us as we went through singing water stations on our way back. water station volunteers remembembered me and although I started off singing to them, some people at the stations started singing Polish songs back to me (Probably Disco Polo, but we won’t hold that against them). This was a big turn around from the way the race day had begun!


As we approached the Finish Line, there was a group of faster runners waiting before the final lap, cheering me on just as I was running out of energy. “Go, Go, Go”! Later the guy who came in third found me to thank me. He was in fourth place when I saw him on the course and cheered him on and whatever I said to him spurred him on to overtake the guy in third, so he got some of his friends to wait and return the favor! 


Crossing the finish line didn’t feel so lonely now. Not only was my friend Jen all smiles and hooting and hollering, but I also had my new running wife to take pictures with (courtesy of her nice husband) and other fellow runners offering thanks and congratulations.  I truly love my running community and the more that I run and interact with runners all over the world, the more I think maybe we should have our world leaders attempt diplomacy over the occasional 5 or 10k. Of course I got my 13k PR of 1:29:51, but I was much more excited by all my new Polish running friends. 

Bucharest Half Marathon – Bucharest, Romania. 


I may have found my people. From the very beginning of the Bucharest Half Marathon 2017 there was an incredible amount of hooting, hollering, laughter, rebel yelling, shenanigans, and cat calling, it was difficult not to be in a good mood. Same as in Skopje, I had a two mile walk to the start line from my host family.  It was a glorious morning though it promised to be a hot day. 


Bucharest was a great town for me. I started off the week staying at the Podstel Hostel and giving a talk about my travels around the US last year running marathons. The three owners of Podstel are young entrepreneurs who have decided to build a hostel empire after discovering all the best practices from places they’ve stayed while traveling all over the world for 4 years. They had culled together a great group who were incredibly attentive, asking terrific questions and being wonderfully supportive. At the hostel, I met the world’s most interesting man David Stokes (suck it Dos Equis) who was traveling from Britain to wherever via motor bike. We hit it off and I may have committed to a cross country tour of India on motorbike. 


This was all a great appetizer to the main course of the half marathon. The expo was small but easily navigatable, with free Radler to cool you off on an oppressively hot day. At packet pick up and during the beginning of the race, I was joined by a lovely young lady who I had met for coffee early in the week. When I had told her I was running the half, she immediatly said she was going to sign up with me the next day, even though she hadn’t been training. Impressive. We ended up running much of the race together. 


The route was a pretty good course. I heard many participants talk about how glad they were that they took the hill out by the university. Unfortunately, this made the course a little more boring with a second loop around the intial 6K towards the end. I am against the over homogenization of race courses. I may complain about hills, but it was really only one hill and I’m disappointed at a scenic net loss and a boring repetition. It was also a little dangerous when we were running on the unpaved black top of unfinshish road repair around miles 6 and 7. This was counter balanced by starting at the Parliment building, running up the Grand boulevards, along the beautiful river, and around the great big stadium.  There were many pretty buildings and scenic landmarks along the route. 


What really made the race amazing were the people. Romanians in general were more boisterous in the race corrals than any previous race in Europe. In many of the cities I’ve run, there was a focus and determination to run the best race, even if they were lining up towards the back or with a slower corral. In the starting gate in front of the Romanian Parliment, friends made fun of other friends, yelled full conversations across the breadth of the crowd, sang songs of joy and vigor. They were singing in Romanian, so the words might have been a dirge, but the intent was clearly a battle cry.  Throughout the first few miles after the gun went off, people continued to jovially harangue neighbors, greet friends on the route as they were passed or ran by, and generally made a racket of joyous proportions. The city also has many English speakers, so although I was surrounded by conversations in Romanian, when I would start speaking in English (in general, random comments to no one in particular, as I often do) I was answered in my own language and it seemed the group would then continue in English as a way of inviting me to participate! My favorite moment came when the 2:15 pacers caught up aroun Mile 8 singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road”, all three verses, in Romanian! Of course I joined in singing in English but I can tell you this was one of my favorite moments of any Half Marathon I ever ran. I will also say that volunteers and the crowds who gathered to support the race were very energetic and vocal when cheering us on. 

I loved my experience at the Bucharest Half Marathon and I am looking forward to returning so I can run a full marathon around this beautiful and supportive city. 

Marathon Missteps – Recalculating…

“Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” – Vince Lombardi 

“All I do is win, win, win, no matter what” – D-J Khalid

“What do you do when things go sideways?” I remember being asked this question last year, around this time, by a lovely young lady running her first marathon and gritting her teeth from the pain of a twisted ankle. I was shuffling along beside her with somewhat muted pain from the beginning pangs of a kidney stone. My answer at the time, was suck it up, readjust, do what you need to do to move forward without doing damage.  I had hoped for a PR that day. Instead, I struggled just to make a mediocre performance.  I found myself asking this same question last week during the Skopje Marathon when things were not going my way.   I realized, the answer was not so simple and some days it takes a roundabout route to get where we need to go. This year, I have not been having as much success with the marathon and I need to do some real reassessment. 

Quite frankly, I hate talking about failure. Part of me believes we don’t truly fail until we’re dead, but the fact of the matter is that I have a ton of failures on my resume and talking about one seems to dredge up whiffs of former crapfests. Most of the time I am able to muddle through and keep moving forward and friends always seem amazed at how I do that. I thought I would try to break this down as best I could. To synopsize, I will utilize my recent experience in Macedonia with the 5 Stages of Dealing with Death as laid out by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I have found that those 5 stages seem to cover the gambit of emotions and recovery. 


Stage 1 – Denial 

The day started much nicer than expected. The forecast had said rain but the sun was bright and powerful as I headed out the door for the start line. I decided to walk the 3 kilometers to the start line to limber up and stretch the legs. I could have taken a taxi, they were dirt cheap in Skopj (I would have gotten change back from a Euro on that fare). Even then things weren’t quite right. Although it was mostly downhill to the start line, there were some occasional hills and stairs when my knees took turns aching. It was also then I noticed that despite the lack of clouds, it was extremely humid even though it was still early in the morning. I’d dismissed these early warning signs. The whole reason I’d walked was to iron out such little kinks. The race would be better.  
At the start line, I couldn’t find running friends from Serbia or Macedonia I had made while running the previous week in Dubrovnik, but I made some new acquaintances at the start line, a Norwegian and a young man teaching English in Macedonia from Beloit, Wisconsin. He couldn’t believe I had been to his home town. I lined up at the start and expected to take off. Except I didn’t. 

I’m never a huge fan of the first three miles of a marathon, but I do usually have a lot of energy. Most days I need to hold myself back. Not this day. From the start line by the Alexander the Great statue, over the first beautiful bridge, buy all the fancy new government buildings, over the budge of lions, I was straining to move my legs. There was a part of me that began questioning if I was above a certain altitude (I wasn’t). I just convinced myself it was a little boredom at the beginning of the race and that my legs would continue to warm to the task. I was definitely in denial. 


Stage 2 – Anger

In the stages of death, anger usually manifests outwardly. For me and failure, it seems to attack internally. I get angry at myself. Why did I sign up for the marathon? I only ran twice this week. I should have trained a little more, done a little more speed work. Why must I push myself to do these races one after another? To a certain extent, I hope that the anger might carry me a little further along. I’ve run on anger before and it feels powerful and strong and vicious and comes with its own spikes in adrenaline and pheromones. Unfortunately anger is like a white sugar spike, good for a quick hit but poor for sustaining a continued power source. By its nature, anger at oneself is self defeating. At a certain point you are going to hear what you are saying to yourself and feel resentful (like anger but not nearly as powerful) or depressed, another stage that really isn’t helpful at this point. Unfortunately, I am still only around mile 5 or 6. For me, the anger quite naturally leads to…


Stage 3 – Bargaining

Quite frankly, sometimes this works. A good bargain, a little slight of hand, some smoke and mirrors, all of a sudden, you’re distracted long enough they somehow sneak an elephant on the stage. It worked for me in Milan. Unfortunately, this starts way too early in Skopje. I feel a little bit better on the first out and back in the city. I always get a little inspiration from the people in front of me and it picks up my spirits to cheer for those who are behind me. So with this infusion of energy, I start investing in some heavy duty bargaining. Another mile and I get my runners high and I’ll feel alright, I just need to find and angel and run with them for a little while, get back in stride, if I fall back on my training, start nailing my intervals, my body will just fall in line with old habits. It could have worked. But unfortunately, each little ploy had it’s tell. I couldn’t seem to consistently run with anybody. The runner’s high really never came (it did, but too little, too late).  Even intervals failed me, as even my shortest interval seemed to last forever. As each of these games came to an end, I would get little hits of frustration and anger, but when I felt the tip of my injured toe rip again and start feeling the sticky slick feel of blood in my shoe, I moved it the next category. 

Stage 4 – Fear
What if I’m doing real damage to my foot? What if it keeps me from running? What kind of example am I setting to my friends?  There are guys out here who are running without a foot and I can’t handle a cut on my toe?!? I’m such a loser! Ok, fear seems to lead to a little depression and I’m usually well protected from wallowing in this too much mentally, but my body has a mind of its own. I start to slow down. My feet lose their bounce. It seems like forever to make that slightest forward movement. Between, miles 7-9, I start running for a little while with a young American who is over in Macedonia with the Peace Corp. it’s his first long distance race. He is carrying his broken race bag on his back, because there was no bag drop off at this marathon. He looks a little ragged around the edges but he’s got that awesome look of someone who just now is realizing he is even stronger than he thought. He perked me up a little bit and I dodged a little bit back into bargaining territory (I can keep up with this kid. I can finish the race) but of course his major was psychology and so my defeatist attitude was leaking out of my cautiously constructed Trojan Horse, and he called me on my shit. Yeah, well, back into the depression, because of course, he’s twenty two so he gets his second wind, and I start bouncing through these three middle stages like a pinball at the top of the machine. 

Stage 5 – Acceptance

At a certain point, time passing make the acceptance a little easier. The race has a 5:30 time limit and no matter how you slice the minutes, there comes a time to recognize that if you are not hitting specific time marks, you are not finishing in that time frame. A constant training phase that I have heard from the best of the best is that of you are not winning, you are learning. In its own way, that’s is a win, right? It still sucks, but mentally you are a little stronger and a little more wise. I could have finished the marathon, but I had nothing to prove that day to myself or anyone else. I have races to run in the next couple weeks and beating myself up mentally or physically will not help me meet my goals in those races. The goal is lifetime beautiful running and there were a few beautiful moments on the course that day. I did get a couple weak runner highs late in the game.  I spent the last three miles singing through the pain and not only did I get cheers from the local spectators,  I had a young gentleman slow down just to tell me how much he appreciated my positive energy and my singing, that it had helped him get over his hump and finish strong (he then took off). This is really how I love to run, so of course that’s a win. I had the pleasure of talking to another member of the Peace Corp who was dealing with a bad knee and watching her give her all in that last mile was pretty inspiring. As I came down the final stretch of the race towards the finish line through the little Macedonian L’Arch De Triumph, I saw some of my Serbian friends from the race in Dubrovnik cheering me on. As the sky opened up and started to rain, I had no problem making the choice to finish the race at the half marathon point. I got to see the city of Skopje on my feet, I had made some new friends, and I had kept moving forward towards that goal of lifetime running. Onward and upward. 

What are your thoughts? Is this just training plan for failure or healthy acceptance of the cards as dealt that day? I want to know your real thoughts. 

Du Motion Runners’ Days – Dubrovnik, Croatia

What do you look for in a running vacation? Great weather to run an optimal race? A beatiful course full of inspiring scenery and potentially epic photos? Great tour opportunities when you aren’t running or training? Helpful staff and volunteers trying to make this your best race of the year? The Dubrovnik Half Marathon, one of the races of the Du Motion Runners’ Days has all this and more.  


The hospitality began at the expo, where tons of volunteers made themselves available to answer questions, pour you a welcome espresso or beer, take your photograph for social media or show you some of the cool race swag you could buy, like specially designed local running flats with an outline of the old city. The Expo was small but thospitality was large, with each of the 3 or 4 vendors eager to not only sell you their wares, but also share their city with you with local tips and favorite places.


The best race swag I have ever received at any race is the Du Motion Runner’s Badge. This gives you 

  • Free entrance to the City Walls ($20 Value)
  • Free Access to Public Transportation
  • Free Entrance to Dubrovnik Museums
  • Partner Discounts

Essentially, if you are coming to run their race, Dubrovnik rolls out the red carpet and gives you the essentials to explore and enjoy their city. All for the same price you would pay to run the race. Other race directors take note – this is the new gold standard in Race/Tourism. Throw the Gauntlet down to your local tourist board. 


Of course, as soon as I got the badge I went and walked the walls. The walls are just shy of 2 kilometers of stairs, uneven stones, steep stair cases and epically medevial views of one of the most romantic cities in the world. One of the Highlights of the weekend is the Race The Wall event. The race is capped at 100 runners and the wall and main street become a 2.5 kilometer crazy race track. I volunteered at the race and it was pouring rain. I struggled on the wall just walking it, I can’t imagine running it, in the rain, trying to place a competitive time, but it certainly was thrilling. 

If you arrive early, there are plenty of things to do. The museums are amazing with phenomenal history pieces and artwork through the centuries. You can do some hill training on any street in the city, but challenge yourself to run to the top of the mountain Srđ. There is a great zig zag trail to get the top and it’s one of the best views of the city. Lokrum Island is also another must. There is a monastery and a small salt lake where you are as buoyant as the Dead Sea. With terrific trails for hiking or running and beautiful views of the Adriatic. 


Race morning felt cool for such a sunshiny day. Tons of participants and specatators flooded the Stradun, the main street old town Dubrovnik. It was a little confusing which direction the race was starting, with 5Kers and Half Marathoners muddling the start, but there was a contingent of international Race Directors volunteering at the event, so everybody was corralled pretty quickly after some initial confusion. Something I realized at this race was that I had not heard any marathon start the race with their national anthem since I had been in Europe. After the starting gun, we were off to a slightly slower start than normal for a couple reasons. 1. Tight quarters and the start of the race leads us into a narrower alley and arch, 2. Slight uphill canter 3. Slippery marble cobblestones underfoot. However, it is magical running that street and over the eastern gate and drawbridge to start the race. 


After that you turn the corner and the real work begins. The challenge of this out and back race course is the hill you climb and race down at the beginning will be waiting for you when you are good and tired at mile 11.5.  At the beginning, you have an extra half mile as you climb along the side of the city wall heading to the tower that is used as the Red Keep in the HBO “Game of Thrones” series. A small reprieve as you turn the corner and pass the local bus hub, but then you have 3/4 of mile to finish climbing up that hill. There are spectacular views of the ocean when you get to the top! You have about two hundred meters of flattop before you plunge down the other side to the main port of Dubrovnik. It’s very steep and fortunately my training for last year’s downhill races helped me pick up the pace without going crazy or hurting myself picking up and extra minute or two. The next four miles runs you under the modern and striking Franjo Tudjman Bridge along the harbor and to the other side of the ACI Marina Dubrovnik. I was a little concerned about the sun exposure during this part of the run, but the cliffs provided a nice bit of shade for all but the mile and a half approaching and leaving the turn around. One way back the sun hit hard once we entered the port area leading up to the final big hill. I spent some time trading on that hill earlier in the week so I knew it’s angle and where the rest spots were, but it is so much tougher after 11 miles! However once you get to the top, it all downhill to the finish line, with a triumphant return to the city through the eastern gate and right up the Stradun with runners and spectators roaring as you enter the final stretch (echoed and magnified by the great stone buildings). 

This was a great race for me. Beautiful and challenging, this was the first race I had run in Europe where all the volunteers at fueling stations were enthusiastic and energetic, young and old alike. There was also a good amount of cheering from runner towards runners on the out and back. The was a large group of 200 from the Belgrade Urban Running Team from Serbia, who were supportive both of their own team and other runners on the course – I know a bunch of them kept me strong and focused from mile 4 to mile 8, just in time for me to be inspired by some gals from the Southern United States who played a little leap frog with me. We started talking about that final hill and I said “You’re looking strong! Stick to your plan and I’m sure you kick some hill!” They all laughed because I thought they had a plan, and the sped off to conquer the hill and cheer me at the finish. This race also had two of my favorite things – free photos and a Race Director who takes the time to shake hands, high five, or hug every runner who crossed the finish line. I had met Alen Boskovik earlier in the week end as I was volunteering at expo and his enthusiasm and dedication shine through with every interaction between him and the runners and his staff. This is an amazing race that I would recommend to any runner headed to Europe. 

Feeling Like A Fish Out Of Water – Take A Tasting Tour


The drive from Vienna to Dubrovnik was extremely romantic, misty mountains with little villages nestled into crooks and valleys or lovingly laid out in the sun like colorful laundry set out to dry. We reached the coast as the sun was beginning to set, so we were bathed in peach and tangerine skies with emerald hills and islands set in the turquoise Adriatic. We got to Dubrovnik as twinklings of stardust light up the hills surrounding the bay. However, as soon as I stepped off the bus, there is a disorientation. Although a tourist town, not everybody speaks English, and Croatian doesn’t sound like anything I’ve come across. Nobody seems to take credit cards around the port and I don’t have any of the local currency. None of the ATMs want to take my cards and quite frankly, the information desk wasn’t super helpful. It is also frustrating when you need to go to the bathroom and you don’t have the local coin to get into the WC. I didn’t have a traditional host for this town (more later about this in another post).  I needed a cultural crash course, stat. 

What do food tours do for you that regular tours don’t? Well, for one I am talking about local Tours with actual residents committed to the success of businesses owned by local families with pedigrees and commitments to the community, not generic, fly by night, corporate tours which go to the top five internet Yelp or Trip Advisor locations. In Dubrovnik, I was introduced by the DuMotion Dubrovnik Half Marathon to Hamo Ovcina, the owner of Dubrovnik Food Tours. Hamo was born and bred in Dubrovnik. He lived through the siege, he lived through earthquakes, and the local exodus. He is one of the only 750 actual residents living within the old city walls. Local food Tours don’t just give you a quick in and out, they give you living history and experience, they give you cultural connections that go back generations, they give you an insight to the people that live and thrive in this city you are trying to get to know. They give you traditions, secret handshakes and menus, and insider Lengua Franca. 

Hamo didn’t just take us around the city, he wove us intricately into some of the most intimate and outlandish cubbies and nooks and crannies.  He introduced us to artisans, artists, and neighbors.  Where ever we went there were handshakes and nods and winks as we were allowed down passages reserved for only those in the know (something that was confirmed the next day as I attempted to take a friend through the same passage only to be politely and firmly told no). There was an amazing feel of Scorsesee’s single shot of the best friends in Goodfellas’ coming through the service door, walking through the kitchen, greeting the service staff and maitre d’ behind the scenes before bursting into the restaurant and being shown the best table in the house – at multiple locations. Later in the week as I met new friends, I felt I was able to act as a defacto guide and Sherpa to this amazing city. Below is my Trip Advisor review. I urge you to reach out on your next vacation to a local food tour and if you visit Dubrovnik, give Hamo at Dubrovnik Food Tours a call. You will not regret it. 

Dubrovnik Food Tours

DubrovnikFoodTours.com

I love travel and I love food. Food Tours are the perfect combination of these passions when you find the right tour. Dubrovnik Food Tours left me satiated on both counts. 

We started the tour at the clock tower, a main attraction of the old town that is easy to find. Our guide Hamo, the owner of the company was on the watch for us to arrive. He made easy conversation with the guests who were waiting guiding us into introducing ourselves and sharing a little bit about ourselves. This was clearly meant to be a night on the town with new friends. After we were all gathered the fun began, with Hamo taking us on a tour of the inner wall and passing by his and his mothers house, showcasing that they are some of the 715 actual residents of what is becoming a Hollywood medieval town. Twisting passages and masked entries led us on a loop of the exterior cliffs and back to our first course in one of the exclusive hotels nestled into one of the homes previously owned my one of the ruling families of the city. The rich wood paneled bar offered us glasses of local wines paired with ample amounts of thinly sliced ham, bacon, sharp cheeses, olives and a balsamic jam that was out of this world. A small introduction by the house sommelier and then our guide launched into a small history of the grapes grown in Croatia. After eating a substantial amount of cured meats we were off and walking to some of the churches and landmark locations of the city used in the popular “Game of Thrones” series.

Next we were seated in an al fresco cafe dining on local tuna tartare and oyster so fresh, they may have just reached into the ocean before shucking them and bringing them to the table. No hot sauce or distracting accoutrements necessary – the oysters were perfect on their own. A little white wine spritzer to cleanse the palate and we’re off on another trek, this time through the front door of another restaurant, out the back door of the kitchen and into a private docking area that gave us access to a private walk on the OUTSIDE of the wall, the evening tide threatening to douse our feet as we were shown hidden entries into the city used by spies and smugglers.  Heading back into the center of town, Hamo stopped to show us a favorite wine bar with a wonderful sitting room carved into the rock of the city’s cliff side. 

Onto dinner with more wine, we were seated in a very small family restaurant with only 9 or 10 tiny tables and the kitchen with two chef’s handcrafting every dish not 5 feet away. We were given a menu with 10 amazing items on it and told to choose two. Cold and hot plates to choose from with beef and lamb and fish and vegetarian options, there was too much to choose from, a highlight being Black Rissotto made with cuttlefish and its ink which our host ordered as a separate bowl to share with the table to much acclaim.


To finish the night we wandered down some more alleys to 2 dessert places 1st gelato (which Croatians don’t really consider dessert, more of a palette cleanse) huge cones of fanciful flavored gelatos made on premise and then to another restaurant for almond orange cake with huge shots of the Croatian liqueur Rakia. I got the honey flavored Rakia. At the end, I was full, I was tired, and I was filled with a wealth of local knowledge. Bravo to Hamo bringing his lifetime passion for his city to us visitors.  He was the consomate host, keeping food, beverages, conversation, and information flowing. He showed us where to go, what to avoid, where the freshest food were, even how to take memorable “trick” photographs like using the railings as frames for photos of important landmarks. My days in Dubrovnik were much more enjoyable after a tour with this excellent guide. 

Vienna Marathon – Vienna, Austria


This is the starting line area the day after the race, when it was warmer and the skies were clear. The morning of the race was colder than most expected, with fridgid winds blowing across the Danube and occasional quick cloud bursts of drizzle keeping our skin covered in Goose bumps. I had layers but I expected the temperatures to rise 20+ degrees and at a certain point you have to hand over your race bag – thank Vienna Marathon for having the trucks so conveniently close to the start line!!! So then I stood around in my warm plain plastic trash bag for a half hour, jealous of the people who had branded colorful trash bags from Reebok and Gatorade. 

Standing in line to pee before the race was different. I really didn’t see as many portapotties as I’m used to, though there were some special Ironman branded flatbed facilities (I’m not sure if they were open to all or just people who have participated in IronMan events.) For the guys, there were blue plastic sheet barriers set up in the center of the two main race corrals to screen big pissing tubs, half which had dividers, the other half looking like the worst backyard kids pool you have ever seen. I would have though these free for all troughs would have kept the line moving, but it seems some guys get performance anxiety…I don’t know, it was a much longer wait that I expected for the size of the line. 


It’s been a while since I’ve run a race large enough to have corrals. That was an odd set up and I don’t think it was as effective as others I’ve been in, especially since it took over 40 minutes to get to the start line from the first gun. There were two lanes, each with 3 corrals 2,4,6 in one lane 1,3,5 in the others and the two lanes didn’t really merge until after the bridge and the first Kilometer but instead of just loosing the corrals as the road became free, there gave each set of corrals its own “Start” ceremony which seemed to take longer than it should have. 


Running over the Danube at the beginning of the race was certainly thrilling with some beautiful views to start off the race even with a stiff wind throwing us back. I tried to get runners to huddle together and rotate from the exterior of the group to the interior with limited success. Right after the bridge you are races through the historic streets of Vienna where no two window cornices are the same. 


As with many big city races, the half marathon runners were with us for the majority of the first 12 miles. Vienna was a little more friendly amongst the runners than Milan. I realize as I’m whooping it up in English, that it might be a little intimidating to runners unsure of their English. Certainly, the last thing I want to be doing when I’m running is thinking. I did have a couple Americans and Canadians run up and start talking to me. However one of my favorite things during a race occurred. I’m running a long focusing on my breathing, checking my stride, when all of a sudden behind my left ear I hear somebody say “Were you at the Milan Marathon?”  Thousands of runners and someone recognizes me!!! As I turn around I recognize the guy, his name is Ludo and he is from Milan, he was either a relay runner or supporting relay runner’s in Milan. He’s slightly taller than me, which always stands out, but he was one of the spectators who started to cheer when I was cheering for the relay runners! We ran together for about a kilometer, but he was a little faster so we started to play a little leap frog with my running and walking pace. A little bit later, I think I was singing some Frank Sinatra and somebody joined in on the chorus – another Italian, from Milan but working in Vienna. We talked for a while and when we caught up with Ludo I introduced them and I think they ran the rest of the half marathon together! I passed them right before the half marathon turn off where I was churning along trying to nail my half marathon time. Ciao Amici!!!


Volunteers were still an in interesting mix. They truly just don’t seem engaged here in Europe. Water was set out on the table (except the second water station, that was a mess) not really handed to runners and volunteers were kind of standing back, smoking cigarettes, and looking unimpressed. I tried thanking them in both English and German (which I know, can be questionable), but everybody seems to speak English, and most volunteers seemed confused that I was thanking them. The exception to this was the last 4 miles of the race. Here you saw enthusiasm, here people were cheering or clapping as you progressed. Most of the rest of the course was silent. It reminded me that 20 years ago when I was performing with an international cast in Germany and Holland, audiences were eerily subdued throughout the performance until the finale when they went absolutely berserk during the end and the encores. 


Two problems I had with the support tables – plastic cups and bananas. The cups with the water were a thin plastic that easily broke and then it became sharp. I cut my fingers two or three times. I’m also used to crumpling up the cup so it stays put, instead the winds blew the cups all over the place making clean up difficult. At least three or four of the water stops had bananas, which is great, but people were just throwing the banana peels in the street – a clown’s nightmare. There has to be a better way of doing this; it was seriously dangerous with slick trampled bananas all over the road. 

I really must also thank my host, Sabine. I had put a call out for help hosting on one of the Up With People cast boards and she had noted that I was going to be in a bunch of cities all around Vienna, but that it looked like I was purposefully snubbing her city. When I flippantly asked if she was going to host me, she was surprised but insisted on hosting me and was going to move heaven and hell to make sure I got into the marathon. Not only that, she joined me that last 2 miles of the race, cheering me on, stroking my ego, egging on the spectators and volunteers to cheer for me. I may not be allowed to post a photo but I can openly profess my love for you here on my blog. There is no chance the borg is reading my blog. 

Official chip time 5:58:51. Faster by almost 40 minutes over Milan. I am somewhat disappointed since I hit the half at 2:32:30 so that was a 3 1/2 hour second half. Miles 18-21 felt like molasses, but I picked up the pace and made the cutoff time with people behind me so I wasn’t dead last. I’ll take this as a win and head to a half marathon next week in Dubrovnik.