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 […]
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 […]
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 first-hand account. For the Lucerne half marathon, my first race in Switzerland, I have a draft, but I never completed it. I also never wrote about an amazing running retreat in the Austrian Alps.
This doesn’t happen because I don’t make time or don’t feel like writing, but because I fear my words won’t live up to reality.
I also worry that people who shared the experience with me might think my writing does not really do it justice.
The Carsington water half marathon
This race was in major danger of not being put to paper since it was simply fantastic.
For fear of never, ever writing about it, here is a simple report that cannot, and does not try, to do the day justice.
The race was held at Carsington water reservoir in Derbyshire in the UK. It was a lovely hilly loop around a lake.
I listen to a podcast called Marathon Talk and attended their annual run camp weekend in February. The half marathon race was part of the camp’s many running activities and for me, it meant running on tired legs.
Since I’m training for an ultra marathon, this race fitted well as a long-run between a marathon and a 30 km training run. Ever cautious, I decided to not go out too fast an instead focus on chatting to known and newly acquainted Marathon Talker listeners.
The 10 km was an out and back, while the half marathon was out, lap around the lake, out and back.
If that sound confusing, just bear with me for a paragraph: From the start 1), you run clockwise around the lake 2). When you pass the start at 12 km, you continue for a second lap 3) around the lake, but do a U-turn at 16 km 4) and run back 5) to the start/finish 6).
While this might sound overly complicated, it was extraordinary. When I passed 12 km and started my second lap, the first man passed me on his way to the finish. This meant from there I faced every single person in the race in front of me. Then I got to the turnaround point and ran past everyone behind me.
In a normal race that would be quite interesting, but in this race, it was especially special. I knew dozens of people from the camp, and the ones I didn’t know personally were recognizable by their Marathon Talk shirts, so even if I couldn’t cheer them on by name, I could by association.
My race strategy of chatting to likeminded podcast listeners worked out much better than expected. I ran the first 6 km with an Austria Alps run camper and my only regret is not getting to know her better, sooner.
I then caught up with another runner who came over from Europe. She felt sick and had to pull out at the end of the first loop so I continued on my own. As soon she pulled out and I passed the start, I saw the race leader finish and then could watch every other runner race while I was still running. I could see the female race unfold, cheer and be cheered on and get feedback on my position.
One runner shouted that I was just behind the show’s comedian, so I made an effort to catch up with him and one of the host’s wives. It was surreal to run behind them and listening to the show’s normal banter, without headphones. By then I was feeling hot in my weather inappropriate leggings, but luckily he was an actual British celebrity and stopped by the volunteers for selfies. This helped me catch my breath now and then, and allowed me to hang on to this little group untill the finish.
This fuss-free, barefoot report cannot express the sentiments of hanging out with similarly obsessed people for the last 21 kilometers of a wonderful running themed weekend, but hopefully, it gave you a glimpse of what it is like to be part of this wonderful Marathon talk community!
I recommend you give this podcast a listen.
Photos all courtesy of Tanya Raab.
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 am still left with morning stiffness and pain during daily activities. While I am nowhere near where I expected to be, I am also determined to look on the bright side. I am truly happy that I can still run at all.
I was scheduled to arrive on the outskirts of Bucharest at 18:00 on Saturday night and had to get my racing bib in the city center before 20:00. This challenging feat became near impossible when my flight came in 20 minutes late. While Ubers in Bucharest are convenient, reliable and fast, there seems to be an invisible force field around the airport that turn them into the opposite: inconvenient, unreliable and slow. I am used to multiple canceled rides and long waits next to the terminal. At least once you finally secured a driver, and met up at the correct section, you can sit back and relax in the car while the driver queues endlessly to pay the airport parking ticket.
It would be a stroke of pure luck if I could reach the city center before 20:00. The organizers threatened to deny bibs to people on race day that could not prove that they arrived in the city the same day. I also considered changing my entry to the 10 km but was not entirely sure if they had a 10 km and what time it would start.
Unexpectedly there was no one in front of me at the passport queue and I found my uber driver within minutes. Like all Bucharest drivers, he wasted no time on the road and got me to the expo at 19:40, including a stop at my hotel to drop my bags. (It later turned out I dropped my bags at the wrong hotel, but they were still friendly enough to keep it while I rushed to the city center.)
When I signed up for Bucharest half marathon, I had the chance to select custom text to my bib. I registered after the deadline for customized bibs and was pleasantly surprised to find The Heelstriker’s number waiting for me.
Unfortunately, I had to immediately return it in exchange for a nameless 10 km bib. At this moment I was beyond disappointed that I would only run half of what I had set out to do. I tried to look on the bright side: I would still get a shirt and goody bag.
I expected quite a bit from the goody bag. “Personal care products in the registration kit bag” was one of the reasons the website named for signing up for this race. Another reason was a “safe street running track for 33 km” (I can only assume the other 9.12 km was shared with ever hazardous Bucharest Ubers?)
With high hopes, I opened my bag to find 1 liter of unsweetened almond milk, a magazine, and a roughly cut sponge. While I am not an expert in ‘personal care products’ in Romania, it would be an understatement to say I found this slightly unexpected.
I was still trying to look for silver linings but there was nothing sparkling about getting up at 6:40. While I was prepared to toe the line of the half at 9:30, I was now expected to race at 8.
Had to leave so early, that the hotel’s breakfast was only open for 5 min before I had to head out. Fortunately, I could grab and sneak a coffee in my uber to sip while I woke up.
I reached the race village at 7:30, which should have given me 3 min to drop my bag, 25 min to queue at the porta potties and 2 min to walk to the start.
To my great surprise, there was not a single runner standing uncomfortably in line and I had instant access to dozens of unused loo’s. The result was that I now had 24 minutes in the freezing cold until the start.
To pass the time, I decided to have my picture taken by a reluctant stranger at a poster of the Palace of Parliament. I was still gesturing which parts of the scene to include when she snapped the photo and hurried away.
Then I headed to the expo to see what unnecessary sports gear the three stands had on offer.
Inspired by Sir Farah’s recent achievement at the Chicago marathon, and in a greater extent the freezing weather, I settled on a pair of white Swiss arm warmers.
The race itself was loads of fun. While the streets were still deserted, there was a sense of calm and unity among the runners. Dozens of wheelchairs participated, who seemed to have simply started among the other runners instead of as a separate starting group. It struck me that most wheelchairs were simply normal everyday use chairs and not the sporty type you see racing at big city marathons. I jogged past them on the inclines, and they squeaked past me on the downs.
I had hoped to finish under an hour and managed 56:13 while smiling and running steady and controlled.
After the race, I took advantage of the very short massage queue before heading back to the start to watch the half and marathoners go off. I strolled around town with the course map in hand, somethings crossing paths as the elites flew by and other times stopping to cheer Santa or a Flintstone. There should be a word for the kind of joy and relief that you experience when you get to watch a marathon and not run it. There’s nothing like witnessing great feats of endurance without having to suffer it firsthand. I took pictures of the runners and had a celebratory cappuccino and banana bread.
I feared that I would aggravate my Achilles and put a stop my running for a few weeks. After all, I did sign up for not one, but three back to back half marathons. The Achilles is not much better, but on the bright side, it’s also not much worse.
All in all, this was not a wasted day out. I enjoyed running the 10 km and had a great relaxed Sunday soaking up the marathon atmosphere in Bucharest.
Not only am I a warm memory richer, but also a nice medal, fantastic arm warmers, and a roughly cut sponge.
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 […]
Do you have a favourite race?
I bet you do. Even if it does not immediately come to mind, you must have a race that is (metaphorically) written on the calendar in permanent marker. That race that trumps all others.
While you think about it, let me tell you about my latest half marathon, the Heuvelrugloop.
The Heuvelrugloop has something for everyone; from its flat 4.2 km run on paved roads, to its hilly half marathon over sandy trails.
It is beautiful, challenging and well organized. It is at the top of my racing list, but not because of the reasons I just mentioned.
I love it because it is the only race where I can entirely avoid the race porta potties. I can prepare at home (read: go to the loo obsessively) before I casually stroll out of my own front door to the start.
My house (pictured below) might even be slightly closer to the start than the official changing rooms and bib pickup (the blue tent). All other races pale compared to this convenience.
As you can imagine, I have a history with this race. The first time I did it was in 2015, long after I started running races in the Netherlands and even longer after moving into this town.
My experience of running it three times is that when it goes your way, it feels fantastic. You end triumphantly on the village square while everyone from the running group to the neighbours cheers you over the line.
The first time I ran the 10 km in 57:56. I was overjoyed. It was one of my first 10 kilometers under an hour and my whole running club was there to celebrate my achievement.
On the other hand, when it is not your day, it’s can be quite brutal. Let say you run the 21 km and come in second-to-last: You are still met by dozens of acquaintances, except now everyone has had a couple of beers and make a point of telling how weary they have grown waiting for you.
Not only do I have a bit of history with this race, I also feel that I somehow have a score to settle with it.
I feel like I need to show the hills that I’m not easily intimidated.
Allow me to elaborate on the “hills” a bit. The race’s name, Heuvelrugloop, translates roughly to “Hill Ridge Run”.
The course doesn’t have hillS, but one big hill that the race organizers found 4 different angles to summit. It’s hard to tell from the course map, but some of the sections are repeated, so you end up doing the same pesky peak 6 times.
Getting back to the previously mentioned (hypothetical) “second-to-last in the race” incident: I was determined to show this race I am not one to back down from a bit of elevation.
As the day drew nearer, I began to realize that I would be running the race alone. While I knew some people who were running the 10 km, no one I knew was going to do the half marathon. In previous years I had a similar predicament but managed to run the first 8km with a friend and my husband until they had to turn left for the 10km finish and I continued to finish the half.
For this race that particular friend was overseas and my husband in line for ACL reconstruction surgery. I was forced to run solo. While I had spent 8 weeks training with only the company of podcasts and upbeat power tunes, a part of me assumed the race itself would be a bit more social.
Imagine my utter surprise when another friend texted me two hours before the race. She decided to run at the last minute and had seen my name on the starting list. As luck would have it, I managed to find her just before the gun went off.
The race starts in town but almost immediately heads into the forest along a bike path. Since the 10 and 21 km races start together, this causes hundreds of runners to be funnelled together. I could tell my friend found the slower masses frustrating, but I was happy to warm my legs up a bit.
At the 3 km mark you start the first attack of The Hill. This road is a two-lane motorway with more than enough space to overtake others. My accomplice made use of this chance to pass as many runners as possible, while I hung on for dear life and tried not to breathe heavily while passing friends and acquaintances.
At 6 km we reached the highest point of the race. It was here that I realized I was making a mistake by trying to stick with her. I gobbled down a caffeine gel and stubbornly hoped the downhill would restore some of my energy.
Soon we reached the bottom of the hill and turned right to stay on the half marathon course. I would like to think that my caffeine gel kicked in, but more likely my comrade saw the terror in my eyes and backed off the pace a bit. Since we were not even halfway, I really appreciated going slower.
11 to 12 km takes you up the hill again and just as you think you are over the top, the race lets you do a U-turn so you can shuffle up the short decline you briefly cruised down. From here the course basically keeps going up until you reach the highest point for the second time. Then the final 3 km descends into town.
When I saw the 18 km sign, I was transformed into a horse who could smell its stable. I felt my feet become lighter and every step felt effortless. I was rearing to race down the hill as fast as I can. I looked to my side and saw the same dread I felt 10 km ago. While I had started feeling better and better, my friend had started having GI issues. She was feeling awful and we still had 3 km to go.
She had given me some slack before halfway, now it was my turn to back off the pace and hold back. Despite not speeding up, we still manage to pass runners in the last kilometer and even achieved a little sprint at the end.
I ran a 28-minute course PB finishing in 1:5o:58.
The race that threatened to be a sad solo affair unexpectedly turned into a social run filled with camaraderie and shared suffering. This was without a doubt one of my most epic and enjoyable half marathons to date.
As I was saying
The Heuvelrugloop is my favourite race.
The atmosphere is warm, welcoming and friendly. It is probably one of those races where people randomly befriend you in the porta potty queue (I say probably; I cannot confirm this first hand).
You know what I mean; it’s a race where strangers offer to take photos of you at the finish.
I recommend that you grab the permanent marker and make a giant cross in June 2019. Not only is this race breathtakingly beautiful and unexpectedly challenging, it manages to capture something of what it is like living in this stunning area of the Netherlands.
“I hate running”, a t-shirt boldly stated at kilometer 40.6. Hysterically I shouted: “Me too!” and almost bumped into a runner who had started walking. I veered to the left to avoid the weakling walker and realized that I had lost count. Frustrated, […]