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Winterswijkse berg FKT and Easter challenge

Winterswijkse berg FKT and Easter challenge

The challenge was simple: Carry 80 dark chocolate Easter eggs up 13m of elevation. One by one. Wearing bunny ears.    Why would anyone want to do the same hill 80 time, you may ask? I assumed it was for the same reason people do […]

South African plant-based bran rusks

South African plant-based bran rusks

As a baker, there is a point when you realise people are not only being polite to accept your delicacy but are genuinely, absolutely crazy about your creation. When you reach this point, don’t take it personally. Instead, take pride in knowing that you have […]

My body now has Bluetooth

My body now has Bluetooth

My body now has Bluetooth. 

Or more precisely, my blood has Bluetooth. 

I am hooked up to my iPhone with a sensor stuck to my abdominals. This sensor is linked to a small wire in my bloodstream and gives me a continuous stream of information about my blood glucose levels. 

I wasn’t sure how I would feel wearing a sensor that has access to my bloodstream, but it feels..  awesome. Wearable tech that connects into me really makes me feel like I have taken the first step to become a cyborg.

How does a CGM (Continues glucose monitor) work?

  • I am wearing a patch on my stomach which fits a sensor.
  • The sensor connects after a lot of effort, time and warming up to an app on my phone.
  • I calibrate the sensor by pricking my finger and testing with a normal blood glucose monitor.
  • I can see my current blood sugar level and a chart that shows me when my insulin level spikes.

Why am I interested in my blood sugar?

I guess it was inevitable: I love data and I’ve always been obsessed with sugar.

I blame Garmin for flaming the first fixation: Data. Ever since I’ve had my heart rate on my wrist while running, I love tracking and comparing the numbers. I got very excited when Garmin put a heart rate monitor in a wearable, office-appropriate device that I could have on every day – and every night. While heart rate data has not significantly changed my life, I do love looking at my low wake-up heartrate. It makes me feel like a fit person. 

Then there is my obsession with sugar. I can’t resist eating it, but at the same time, consuming sugar frightens the living daylights out of me. The fear drove me to low carb eating for years. In fact, one of my first posts were written on the topic of eating too many sweets while cycling.

But lately, I have grown more and more confused about sugar. When I was in Camp Keto, I knew sugar was the root of all evil and the worst type of food for your health.  Now that I am trying to eat more plant-based, I hear that sugar is not that bad and that the problem with society is the processed meat and fat. Baffling…

I don’t know if I should cut all sugar, or even as many carbs as possible. The transition to mostly plants has been challenging enough – I am not sure I want to turn to the uber restrictive world of low-carb-vegans just yet.

The idea behind wearing a CGM 

A study with continuous glucose monitors found that glucose responses are highly individual. 

Some people have insulin spikes for ice cream while others have for sushi. Since these responses are individual, the only way to know which carbs keep you full is to eat them and look at your insulin response. 

A simple way to do this is to prick your finger after a meal, but unless you are diabetic, you are unlikely to get the timing right to find spikes. Based on experience, I would also say it would also be challenging to summon the motivation to routinely prick your finger in the name of scientific exploration.

Lessons learn from my responses

I was already pretty sure chocolate bars are bad for me, but some other findings have been surprising. 

White rice is not great but seems at least leagues better than a bowl of oats, which makes my blood sugar level plummet. 

 

 

 My trip to Italy was interesting since my body seemed perfectly happy with a plate of pasta but panicked by the sight of a pizza.

 

 

One of the most interesting findings was that my body seemingly prefers rich, dark chocolate cake to nutritious, vegan ramen with mung bean noodles. 

I would have never guessed the chart below, but I had a much smaller insulin response from cake than from the noodles. 

 

 

I will be wearing the device for 30 days and hope to learn even more interesting surprises about my blood and insulin.

During this time I’ll mostly try to make my body happy and feed it as much cake as it wants. 😉 

 

Route 47: FKT attempt from Zurich to Zug

Route 47: FKT attempt from Zurich to Zug

FKT stands for “Fastest Known Time” and refers to a speed record on a popular and predetermined route. These times and routes are curated and posted on fastestknowntime.com   We wanted to be the first women to record an FKT from Zurich to Zug, two […]

The Carsington water half marathon

The Carsington water half marathon

I run a lot more than I blog. It makes sense that I do many more training runs than posts, but what I mean is that I run epic, stunning races and then never pen the experience. My first marathon? I have pictures but no […]

The Two Rivers Marathon: A rainbow nation themed race in the heart of Europe’s lowlands

The Two Rivers Marathon: A rainbow nation themed race in the heart of Europe’s lowlands

What do you picture when you read the words: Ultra marathon?

Do you think of winding trail paths or long days in the alps?

I think of wide asphalt roads with unforgiving climbs. I see unending tarmac with runners of all shapes and colours in singlets, straining under the blazing sun.

My first memories of ultra-running were formed in a place where running a 42.2 km on the road is an intermediary goal – simply a means to an end.  This is a nation of runners who race road marathons simply to qualify for road ultras. I hail from the homeland of the road ultra marathon: South Africa.

On Saturday the 10th of February I did my own means-to-an-end, ‘training marathon’.

I ran the Two Rivers marathon to qualify for South Africa’s Two Ocean’s 56 km Ultra Marathon, which will take place in April.

I used quotes around ‘training marathon’ to make it clear that the whole idea of this sounds ludicrous to me as I write it. In 2013 I saw half marathons as the ultimate endurance challenge. I am baffled to think that I ran a full to train for something longer. I must also point out that by no means did I go into this marathon matter-of-factly; I trained hard but cautiously, tapered, carbo-loaded, ate beet-root in the lead-up and mentally dreaded the last 10 km. The marathon didn’t seem like a stepping stone for something greater.

If you think running the Two Rivers to qualify for the Two Oceans seems like too much of a coincidence, you would be correct.

The Two Rivers marathon was conceived as a race to qualify for the similarly named ultra. After discovering the unique atmosphere associated with ultra marathons in South Africa, two Dutchmen decided to hold their own South African marathon event but to base in in their home town of Zaltbommel.  In the spirit of preparing runners physically (but also emotionally) for the run in Cape Town, the organizers created a South African themed race in the heart of the Netherlands.

The start; this was the entire field of runners.

The event had obvious South African touches like playing Shosholoza, an iconic African start-of-the-race song and a braai at the finish.

Shosholoza: South Africa’s running national anthem (Original lyrics with the translation)

Shosholoza
Kulezo ntaba
Stimela siphume South Africa
Shosholoza
Kulezo ntaba
Stimela siphume South Africa
Wen’ uyabaleka
Kulezo ntaba
Stimela siphume South Africa
Go forward, Go forward
from those mountains
on this train from South Africa
Go forward,
Go forward
You are running away
You are running away
from those mountains
on this train from South Africa

 

Other subtle touches included race numbers on the front and back and Afrikaans text engraved on the medal. They served cola at some of the aid stations and the end of the race was just short of a gun-to-gun finish. A real Capetonian fired the starting pistol!

‘Opgee is nie ‘n opsie nie’, Afrikaans for ‘Giving up is not an option’.

 

I didn’t like the idea of a marathon that would only have a few hundred runners (simply because fewer runners improves your statistical chance of finishing last), but I had to run a qualifier and this race did have its pro’s:

  • It was 35 minutes from home.
  • It was advertised as pancake flat; which cannot be dismissed if your main aim is to finish and qualify for a specific seeding group (as opposed to having fun, doing something challenging or seeing a new city).
  • I had to submit my qualifying time before the end of March, so a race on the 10th of February would allow me 5 weeks for a re-exam (or re-run), should this one end in disaster.

After my last 42.2km, I wasn’t tempted to go anywhere it could turn out nice and sunny or slightly warm; the Netherlands in February would be perfect.

I thought I would find the South African-ness of the race either tacky or endearing, but decided to go with it either way. In fact, after picking up my race numbers on Saturday, we DIYed South African flags on both my bibs.

 

While the race had a Saffer vibe, the weather was typically Dutch, with grey skies, wind and pouring rain. We were lucky that it did not rain the whole day as predicted and only got wet for about 35% of the race. The wind was a much bigger problem, and we had it full in the face in the first 15 and last 10 km.

I ambitiously started with the 4:15 bus, but realized after 12 min that they would go too fast and I would struggle to keep up. Unfortunately, by then the 4:30 bus was too far behind, and I didn’t dare slack off and battle the wind on my own. Instead, I clung on to 4:15 to escape the wind while worrying constantly about the pace. (To be clear, the 4:15 bus is the group aiming to finish after 4 hours and 15 minutes, not the pace I was running at 😀 )

A few minutes into the race and already just hanging on to the 4:15 bus.

 

Drafting behind the group turned out to be the perfect race strategy. The tallness of the Dutch, the direction of the pacer’s balloons and my experience in the back of the peloton made it relatively easy to find shelter from the gusts.

This first half was extremely boring. The course is pretty but monotonous. I was surrounded by runners but hardly anyone spoke. There was not even the occasional lame, obvious joke you normally get from Dutch runners and spectators alike.

First half: Hiding from the wind and photographers

 

When we reached the 21 km aid station, I planned to do what I did at all the other stations: Grab a drink as fast as possible and regroup with the pacers before the wind make it too hard to catch them. But at halfway, something strange happened: I grabbed fluid, two bananas and ran off again only to find myself in front of the 4:15 pacers. I looked back and saw one had stopped to answer nature’s call and the other I assume took more time to admire the catering than me. I decided to stay calm and wait for them to catch up with me eventually, but since the wind was now pushing from behind, I didn’t really mind going solo.

Loneliness didn’t last long, and I soon joined two men. They were exactly what I needed after more than 2 hours of running in silence. One talked endlessly and distracted me from the fact that I was now in front of my overly ambitious A goal (4:15 finish time), never a good sign with 10 miles to go. The other fellow was an experienced marathoner who constantly urged us to resist going faster than 5:50 min/km (6.40 mph). Together they paced and distracted me.

The race’s ‘elevation’. The slightly higher peaks are when we ran on the Dijk.

 

At 32km I had my first and only proper stop. My husband was kind enough to be my support crew and wait 10 km from the finish with all my back-up paraphernalia. I especially wanted to grab my phone and listen to my running playlist. Since I really struggled with the last 10km of the Rotterdam marathon, I thought music would be an infinitely more fun distraction than counting.

I hung around for about 30 seconds to exchange used gel wrappers and snotty buffs for fresh gels and tunes. Since I had stopped, I had lost my experienced pacer and set out quickly to catch him.

But reaching him soon turned out to be impossible. As soon as I exited the 32 km aid station and ran up the Dijk, I was exposed to the wind again, and I just didn’t dare to push hard so far from the finish. A few minutes later, a half marathon runner crept past me and threatened to disappear down the path. It was still too early to start a finish sprint, but I decided I would rather risk a faster pace than battle the gusts on my own. I latched on to her and she seemed happy to shield the rain and set the pace for 8km.

The half marathoner was friendly and chatted with me, but I had my power tunes blasting in my ears and hardly any energy to speak. When she told me that she was running too slow to make her goal for the half, I panted in an accusing tone: “but you are running faster and faster!”, as if it was her fault I was digging deep to keep up.

Finishing with the gentleman who kept my pace cautious from 25 km and then sprinted the last 2 km with me.

 

I could not have run this race without the 4:15 bus and it’s 15 runners who shielded me from the wind for 21 km. I would have detonated without the gentleman cautioning me between 25 and 32 km to not exceed 5:50 min/km (6.40 mph). I would have been demotivated and defeated had I not had the friendly lady ignoring my grumpiness and blocking the rain and wind in the final kilometres. I could not have done it without my husband taking me to pick up my bib, driving the course with me, and spending a whole day hanging around in the rainy countryside.

I finished triumphantly with a bit of a sprint at the end. I could not be more pleased with qualifying for the Two Oceans and getting a group D start. I am also elated with this unexpected 16-minute improvement. But mostly I am just extremely grateful for the support and encouragement I received along the way.

I can’t wait to head out to South Africa and experience the same running camaraderie that Cape Town is known for each Easter weekend.

Amsterdam: A blast at the half

Amsterdam: A blast at the half

The water stations felt like running on the sticky side of Duct Tape. I can only assume that prior runners ran at full speed while trying to gulp down sports drink from a cup. Clearly, they got more on their shirts and on the road […]

The bright side: Bucharest 10 km

The bright side: Bucharest 10 km

Was it Shakespeare who said, ‘expectation is the root of all heartache’?   When I registered for three half marathons over three weekends in October, I had fully expected to be 100% Achilles pain-free. Seven weeks of heel raises, supplements and reduced running and I […]

Balance in Bucharest

Balance in Bucharest

It’s challenging to describe how dilapidated Dinamo stadium is. Like many buildings in Bucharest, its days of glory is clearly behind it. Every metal surface is rusted. The concrete is covered in peeling paint. Faded plastic chairs surround the oval that is scattered with cinderblocks and covered in prolific weeds. 

The blog has been quiet. Not by lack of time to write or content, but because I am sulking.

After I left Vienna, I travelled to Bucharest to man our IT support centre.  My running was going remarkably well after doing 80 km in 7 days in Austria. I hit the ground running in the capital of Romania by doing a track workout as my first run in the city. Locals highly recommended Dinamo, so within 20 hours of arrival, I jogged the 800 m between my hotel and the track.

After finding the entrance between layers of rusted fences and crumbling steps, I did my session on the deteriorating track.

The stadium might be unmaintained, but it is not underutilized. I was joined by runners of all sorts; my favourite was a girl with a Hello Kitty toy firmly grasped in one hand which she shook up and down rhythmically as she dribbled around. A speedy elderly lady and a guy on a petrol-engine-fitted-bicycle repeatedly lapped me.

I tried 12 intervals of 400 m, but distracted by all the commotion, I started out flying and then fading around half way. I also miscounted the laps, giving my all for round 11, before realizing I was still 800m short of the total distance.

This strange workout launched me into a week of epic running. For the first time, I was travelling with two pairs of running shoes to cope with the mileage.

I could not have asked for a better city to be getting out so much. Bucharest is wonderful to go for a jog. While I mostly headed to the well-trodden path around Herăstrău lake for my tempos and long runs, the city is covered in other parks and grand lanes with foliage colonnades. On Saturday I thought I had stumbled upon a race, but it seems there are just a lot of people training for the city’s marathon in October.

My regular route around Herăstrău park

While it might sound like a runner’s paradise, I must point out a few caveats. A green pedestrian light in Bucharest does not mean that oncoming traffic will stop or even slow down. Instead, when the little-man-light turns green, pedestrians glance at each other to figure out who will be the brave one to step off the curb to force the constant flow of crazy light-jumping automobiles to skid to a halt and allow everyone to cross. This can make running a bit stop and go at intersections.

Another restriction in Bucharest is its worn-down appearance. If you don’t like rust, low hanging broken electricity wires and potholes, this city will not far from a utopia. Bucharest has fallen on hard times in last decades with revolutions and political woes, and the maintenance of the city (or lack thereof) shows it.

The current lack of upkeep doesn’t stop the government from shooting for the stars and planning for better times. They are currently funding the largest church in the world, right in the centre of Bucharest. When completed, the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral will be the biggest Orthodox place of worship by area, volume, weight and height. It will also boast the world’s largest free-swinging church bell.

The Romanians are upset (as customary) with the administration’s choice of spending money on something so ludicrous when money is undoubtedly needed for existing infrastructure.

Bucarest is nicknamed ‘Little Paris’. The city not only has a similar style and layout, but it also boasts with its own Arc de Triomf.

Speaking of being upset, let me elaborate the sulking mindset that kept me from writing. I ran 57 km during my first 6 days in Bucharest back in July. I ran every day and did speed sessions and tempo runs.

Then on the 7th day, I felt a niggle in my left Achilles. I ran 2 km before calling it quits and walking to the hotel. The next day I went for a walk instead of a run.

In retrospect it seems almost too predictable: My too epic running week turned into two months of little running, sulking and general unhappiness.

While I will spare you all the details, I would like to share a lesson from my predicament. I aimed at the stars and set my sights on regularly running 80 km per week. I was spending all the time I had on hitting the pavement and almost no time on stretching, foam rolling or cross training. That is not very balanced. My calves were tight and full of knots long before I felt pain in my heels. Like the city of Bucharest, I had my sight set on building a massive cathedral while my roads were crumbling and my electrical wiring dangling in the streets (so to speak).

Forced to stop building up my millage, I am focusing on doing strength work and eccentric heel drops. Involuntarily,  I am revaluating my attachment to running and the way it helps me to feel in control. Experience has taught me to be cautious with optimism, but my hope is that this unfortunate situation will help me take a step back, nurture my love for other adventures and most of all, help me to find balance.

Vienna waits for you

Vienna waits for you

Are you’re a Billy Joel fan? Do you know his song “Vienna”? If you don’t, it is worth a listen. Like his other tunes, it sad and it sweet and you’ll feel like you know it complete. It’s about being young and ambitious and learning […]