The irony of Montenegro’s “wild beauty”

Everything appeared lush and green. Every shade of turquoise or blue under the sun seemed even more dramatic along the Montenegrin coast. Is that a snowcapped mountain facing the Bay of Kotor? This bay is huge! The bus driver isn’t exactly taking his time. He’s zooming around the Bay of Kotor. There’s large puddles from the rain. The road is hella slippery. Sharp turns over a mere two hour bus ride is not exactly my forte.

Welcome to Montenegro! Are those advertisements along the cliff wall? On one side is a stunning show of the Adriatic Sea. Endless horizon, wispy clouds, and so much sky. No islands in sight. Not at all like the islands that seemed to converge upon Split. Look, they’re advertising furniture on that cliff face! Interesting choice.

In Budva, the Old Town was an unusual mix of konobas, English pubs, beer gardens, and Chinese restaurants. Everyone has a kid. You could probably trip on a stroller if you’re not paying attention.

Along the water, you’ll find fishermen offering their boats as a taxi to one of the many beaches that you can only reach by water. You can even take a water taxi from Budva to Sveti Stefan!

Back in Przno, there’s maybe five restaurants, a few bars, and a really big casino, which appears to be the highlight of this once quiet fishing village.

The brightly lit building with spotlights is Casino Maestral. Along the Adriatric, the "maestral" is the name given to the pleasant summer breeze.

The building in the center is Casino Maestral. On the Adriatric, “maestral” means a pleasant summer breeze.

Just behind it is the hilly community of Podlicak, our home for the month of May. The rent was unbelievably low for the shoulder season (but nearly triples for the peak season). We had a great setup for work and we were reasonably close to the city.

There were trails leading up to the mountain near where we stayed, but it literally felt like running up a mountain. We also didn’t learn until after three attempts at reaching the ridgeline that horned vipers are quite common around these parts. Chris practically stepped on one in our neighbor’s backyard.

That meant, I couldn’t really wander around the rocky trails by myself. So I was left with running the route to Sveti Stefan and back. There was a coastal path that almost connected Przno to Budva, but it required a 400m walk along the main road. Why are there no sidewalks? Further south is another town, Petrovac, which had a few trails nearby but it was a hike to get there.

The thing is, though, there used to be plenty of trailheads around the area. Looking at satellite views of Przno, we could see where the paths begin but when we’d go there, there would be a condo being built on top of it. Or the trailhead is now behind someone’s private property so you can’t get to it. There is just so much development everywhere. It’s not hard to imagine that, in ten years time, there just won’t be much wild beauty left along the coast.

For now, it’s still pretty incredible once you gain a bit of elevation, and Miločer really does feel like a park early in the morning. Although, if you start anytime after 7:30am, all you’ll hear is construction work in every direction.

Sveti Stefan from Miločer Park.

Sveti Stefan from Miločer Park.

Some of the best views of Sveti Stefan were all from the hillside.

Some of the best views of Sveti Stefan were all from the hillside.

The view from our local bar.

The view from our local bar.

Storms rolling in...

A familiar view of storms rolling in from our top floor apartment.

One of the beaches in Budva, viewed from the citadel.

One of Budva’s beaches, viewed from the citadel.

I can see the appeal. The beaches are beautiful and a swim in the ocean will change your entire perspective of this city.

From Split to Przno

We were chasing clouds on our way to Montenegro. They just sort of sat along the road like spectators to a show of travelers passing through. As if to say you think Croatia’s beautiful when it sunny? Wait til’ you see this.

After Arcos, Split felt more like a home to my running. There’s no shortage of hills, trails, pedestrian paths, and ideal running weather. You can run along the shoreline to one of the smaller seaside towns south of Split or run north towards the tip of the peninsula within Marjan Hill.

Marjan, itself, is mostly a dense pine forest with both marked and unmarked trails. Some areas are rocky and remote, others are better paved and well-trodden. It’s often one breathtaking turn after another, with the wind at your back, and wildflowers, blackbirds, and butterflies to keep you company on the trails. Whereas, the main path towards the city is lined with agave plants, wild fennel, and wild asparagus.

Marjan is also a giant open playground for little dogs, kids, mountain climbers, hikers, and cyclists. Yet, for as many people who visit Marjan each day, it’s not hard to find yourself alone for miles at a time. It’s a place to be alone and to feel like you’re somehow part of this city.

So leaving it, was pretty tough. Actually, leaving Split meant saying goodbye to a beach that’s a 5min walk away from us. It was goodbye to wonderful cappuccinos by the riva, great beer selections, and unbelievably fresh seafood.

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Yet, there was also something exciting about being in transit again. We needed a temporary place while we figured out a more permanent stop. So we took a bus south – to Montenegro.

Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life. –Kerouac

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This picture was taken from our bus and that long stark grey wall of mountains make up most of Croatia’s mainland coastline, which is about 1,777 km long. I think we’ve seen 1,500 km of it between Split to Pržno and back to Split then towards Rijeka before turning inland to go to Zagreb.

The trip to Pržno was about 7 hours including an hour and half stopover in Dubrovnik. It’s probably the shortest trip I’ve ever taken for multiple stamps in my passport on the same day. Although, perhaps, one of the few bus rides I’ve ever taken where the prospect of careening off a rocky cliffside didn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.

Dubrovnik was not at all what I expected. We didn’t see much of it, since we were essentially just passing through. Although, the Old Town was somewhat of a surprise. There were just so many tourist knick knacks being sold on the street and maybe twice or three times as many tourists as you might find within Diocletian’s Palace. The sheer size of the Old Town’s walls were unreal and so was the slice of pizza that made my day.

Best photo I got out of our rushed visit was with this guy in the background. I think it's awesome!

Best photo I got out of our rushed visit was with this guy in the background. I think it’s awesome!

So we continued even further south and, about three hours later, we finally made it to Pržno. An odd little tourist town that used to be an old fishing village. Pretty much the best view we’ve ever had for a temporary office space and home.

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Marjanska Skalinada

I’ve never been a big fan of running stairs. I seek hills, but I have very little tolerance for running stairs. The two are fundamentally different. If I had to describe what it felt like to run stairs, I’d say it’s like running a Cooper Test entirely uphill.

You don’t really ease in to it and you can quickly skim the surface of your max HR if you haven’t trained much on it. Actually, if you have very little tolerance for spending any time at all at your red zone, you’d probably really hate running stairs.

There’s no gray area: you’re either running it one-step or two-steps, you walk at some point, or you jog all the way. Today, I watched the winning runner silently sprint past four men, over six flights of stairs, and then proceeded to continue sprinting up two steps at a time with about 300 more steps to go. That guy was a monster. I was not.

Although, I did finish at the top of my age group again.

This is, perhaps, the only time I could call an 11 min 50 sec 1.32 km run as a personal best.

Marjanska Skalinada

Fitness trackers are a lot like playing video games

It’s been a while since I last played a video game. Traveling often and bootstrapping isn’t really conducive to gaming, so I had to give that up. Although, I sometimes wonder if other people notice that fitness trackers are constantly mimicking the coolness factor of newer video games. I’m always oggling new tech, so it’s hard not to notice.

Take a look at this game reel, which demonstrates the Snowdrop engine, fairly new in gaming technology.

The first impression that most people have is that it’s hyper realistic, which makes it pretty awesome. The second impression most of us might have are the awesome UI elements.

Part of the reason why Smashrun looks the way that it does is because all three of us are gamers. Of course, it helps that @chrislukic used to build badass dashboards for investment banks and I used to work on a data analytics platform for S&P. From the moment Smashrun went live, we were all about understanding data.

Video games have always made an effort to provide context through UI elements as a way to link the player with the game’s narrative.

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The only way you’ll finish a game is if you’re invested in it and the only way you’ll feel invested in a game is if you’re part of the story. We felt the same way about running. That’s why Smashrun has dashboards.

The only way you’ll stick with running is if you know where you stand as a runner. What’s the story behind your running? What’s the big picture? The context is important because you’re more likely to stay motivated if you know how each run stacks against each other:

You just ran your fastest 9mi run in 6 months.
This was your lowest average HR in a year.
This was the most negative splits you’ve ever run.

Gratuitous data is so frustrating sometimes because it gives fitness tracking (and fitness trackers) a bad name. I am down with Quantified Us.

We should make like players in a game and utilize what information we have to keep moving forward. Google’s Hummingbird engine got it right with its adaptive algorithm. Moov has the potential to change the wearable tech market with smart hardware. Even Garmin’s Vivofit (which I oppose on principle, because I’m not a fan of glorified pedometers) is making a difference by automatically adjusting your goals based on performance. It’s also the one thing that Nike+ did right with Kinect Training.