After a summer of travelling around the various mountainous regions of France for trail racing, the Ninja Turtle found herself last Sunday in the town of Longwy, which borders Luxembourg, toeing the starting line of a road race. The event offered up the 10K and a half-marathon distances, and since the Ninja Turtle’s original intention was not to race, as she has another trail coming up in two weeks that she’d like to stay injury-free for, she went with the latter option. She was simply there to get some mileage in for the week, while showing some moral support to a friend.
The Ninja Turtle was going through a weird phase where in spite of, or because of, all the gorgeous landscapes she’s been racing through, running around her little town just didn’t seem to cut it anymore. Quite simply, she was starting to find her running routine boring and was losing motivation at an alarming rate.
Coincidentally, her neighbour Mickey Mouse expressed the intention around the same time to start working on his fitness. A few months ago, GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle invited Mickey Mouse along to one of the Turtle’s races. Inspired by the experience and the race day vibes, he was determined to start fighting back against the first signs of middle-age spread and bought himself a pair of runners.
So the Ninja Turtle did what any good neighbour would do – she offered to take Mickey Mouse running. Mickey Mouse would get the guidance that he needed, while the Ninja Turtle got to re-kindle her passion for running by sharing her knowledge with someone. How’s that for a win-win?
Mickey Mouse played a lot of sports, especially soccer, in his younger days. He’s blessed with a pretty good baseline fitness, doesn’t smoke nor drink to excess, so it was merely a question of getting him back into a regular routine. Just to ensure Mickey Mouse would truly commit, the Ninja Turtle gave him six weeks to train up for his first-ever 10K road race.
The first time they ran together, the Turtle brought him to their local park and after a 5K warm-up followed by 5 sets of hill sprints, Mickey Mouse was pooped. He started expressing mild concerns for the 10K distance, but the Turtle was unfazed. Mickey Mouse has a motor mouth, and if he wasn’t talking during 95% of their run, he’d probably have a lot more wind to do some actual running.
Not long after, the Ninja Turtle told Mickey Mouse that they’d aim for the 10K, but not worry about the speed. Sure enough, by the 8th kilometre, Mickey Mouse was talking a lot less, while the Ninja Turtle took over the talking, alternating between distracting him with nonsense and cheerleading him with encouraging phrases. They made it to 10km in just under 1h 3min, and the Ninja Turtle was satisfied.
For the final session before race day, the Ninja Turtle once again got Mickey Mouse to aim for 10K, but said they’d be aiming for a negative split out-and-back. The Canal de Jouy was the perfect training ground for this – on one side of the river meant for cyclists, it’s trail-like with sand, soft dirt, roots, holes in the ground and stones, while the other side designed for joggers, the ground is smooth, even and flat. Unused to the challenges of a varied terrain, Mickey Mouse was the quietest he’d ever been (at any rate, the quietest that the Ninja Turtle has ever known him to be) as he focused 100% on running without tripping and falling. Several times throughout the run, the Ninja Turtle checked in to see how he was feeling, and when they got to 6 miles, the Turtle yelled “sprint time!” and they did a lung-busting 400m fast-finish.
Mickey Mouse was as ready as he was ever going to be.
Race day approached, and the trio valiantly woke at 7.00am. After only 4 hours of sleep (because her neighbours upstairs were doing unspeakable things at 3am in the morning and the noise prohibited sleep until they stopped) the Ninja Turtle wasn’t feeling very flash. Two cups of coffee later, GodzillaPin was driving the 70km to the starting line. Early start aside, it was overcast, windy, and en route, it started pouring. The Ninja Turtle could only hope that Mickey Mouse wasn’t completely discouraged. Thankfully, the rain had stopped when they reached the starting line.
Despite it being the 37th edition, the Semi-Marathon de Longwy was terribly organised, and the Ninja Turtle will never run it again, nor does she recommend the race to anyone. The organiser’s website offered no information on starting time and place, which she found on another website. Driving into town, there were no signage of the event, let alone mile markers and signage to the starting line and bib collection. Showing up at Place Darche, she had to approach another runner to ask where bib collection was, only to be told it was at the Uni building about 2km away. GodzillaPin drove the gang for bib collection, where the volunteers didn’t even bother looking at, or collecting their medical certificates, before driving back to Place Darche for warm-ups and the start.
While speaking with another runner at the starting line, the Ninja Turtle learnt that the race was to finish at the Uni building where they’d collected their bibs. So after the starting gun fired, the Ninja Turtle was less focused on running, and more busy trying to locate GodzillaPin to make sure he knew this piece of information.
The Ninja Turtle spent the first few kilometres trying to warm up. Despite those ridiculously pink gloves (hey, it was the only colour available in kids size at the store), her hands were freezing, as the wind had picked up and the rain started again. She marvelled at the runners in tank tops and shorts while she was sporting her winter undergarment and a windbreaker. About 4.7km in, as they approached the halfway mark and where the 10K route diverges from that of the half-marathon, she was finally warm enough to take the gloves and windbreaker off. Mickey Mouse was still in sight, about 150 yards ahead of her, looking pretty strong.
Looking at her TomTom watch, the Ninja Turtle did a double-take. At the rate she was going, she was due to reach 5K in just over 25 minutes, which would mean a PR for the distance. In any other circumstances, this would have been cause to celebrate, but setting a 5K PR in a half-marathon race is not only insane, it’s downright stupid. The Ninja Turtle slowed down and reached 5K in 26 minutes, which actually, was still a PR.
Don’t panic, she thought to herself as she approached the first water station. Slow down, drink some water, catch your breath, regroup.
“What are you doing? Keep running, don’t stop! You can throw the cups along the side of the road!” one of the volunteers at the water station yelled at her. Chastised, the Ninja Turtle continued.
With the 10K runners gone, the adrenaline and pressure to run fast! dropped a couple of notches, and the half-marathon runners exited Longwy, starting down a country road. The Ninja Turtle was a little afraid to look at the GPS HRM watch. She was no longer sure what the strategy of the race was. She had fully intended to take it 100% easy, given the niggles she was experiencing in her right heel (new problem) and her left knee (old problem). She also failed to execute her pre-race BM (big problem), and was paranoid that running too hard was going to result in a mess (literally). The change in pace and scenery helped her relax a little and she tried to sing along to her playlist.
Towards the 9th kilometre, the runners entered a forest and by the 10th kilometre, the Ninja Turtle couldn’t resist taking another peek at her watch. 53 minutes 17 seconds! That’s another PR, and suddenly, the Ninja Turtle decided to stop piss-farting around and take the race a little more seriously. At this rate she was going, she could very possible break the 2-hour mark (her last 21.1km was completed in 2h 01m 12s and she finished the race in the medical tent after her blood pressure plummeted upon crossing the finish line).
The next fuel station was at the 11th kilometre, after a steep descent of about 13%, where the Ninja Turtle finally got to put her trail experience to good use as she gleefully overtook 4 runners. Old habits died hard, however, as she stopped a minute for 2 cups of water and 2 handfuls of raisins, in no real hurry to continue. The volunteer raised an eyebrow and tapped at his watch. The Ninja Turtle left in a huff.
The next part of the race wound through the town of Gorcy, where a handful of spectators had come out to cheer the runners on, but a majority of the townsfolk just went about their usual Sunday business. The exit of Gorcy was where the organisers warned was the beginning of a steep climb for the runners, going uphill for the next 3.5km. The Ninja Turtle kept her head down and focused on her breathing, mentally prepping for the climb and thinking of no one and nothing except the possibility of a sub-2 half-marathon.
After 800m of a gentle uphill slope, the Ninja Turtle noticed she’d overtaken 3 other runners, and looked up ahead. She was still waiting for the steep hill to make its appearance. Sure, they were gaining elevation, but it was no more steep than the roads of GodzillaPin’s home village. By the time she’d reached the next fuel station at 15km for 2 more cups of water, she was halfway through said “massive climb”, and that was when she realised just how much her trail running had skewed her expectations. She’s used to crawling up cliffsides at 3kph, and for once, it was a pleasure to be moving along at 10kph on the toughest climb of a race.
The last kilometre of the climb saw her overtaking 6 runners, three of them women and all of them sporting running club T-shirts. She won’t deny it, she felt a little bit pleased with herself.
As the runners re-entered the town of Longwy, the Ninja Turtle got one final kick up the backside at the water station. She’d stopped for another 2 cups of water and 2 handfuls of raisins, but this time, she needed a little rest to catch her breath. Her vision was starting to blur a little and she was feeling a little nauseated, so when the volunteer shouted “come on, you have 4km left, don’t loiter around here”, she was tempted to throw a fistful of dried fruit in his face.
Instead, she nodded weakly and continued. Looking at her GPS watch, it read 1h30m. She’d completed 17km in the time it usually takes her to run 15km. Her mind too weak to do complicated sums by this stage, but she noted that even if she dropped to 8kph (5mph), she’d still meet her 2-hour goal. A part of her wanted to slow down until she wasn’t seeing double, another part wanted to see just what she was capable of. Miserably undecided, she decided to stop overthinking and just run, and that she wouldn’t look at her watch again until the race was done.
Back in town, the spectators were still hanging around in clusters. The children in particular, were incredibly enthusiastic, and in this final stretch, the Ninja Turtle received no less than a dozen high-fives from the kids. In fact, she had no qualms slowing down to properly high-five the young ones, because each time she got one, it was like a health-pack in a video game that turbo charges her speed for the next 100m. The good: she overtook another 5 runners in the last 2 miles. The bad: only one out of those five was a woman, and she looked way older than the Turtle, which meant no change to the category ranking. The ugly: the woman was very upset about being overtaken, and even with her earphones on, the Ninja Turtle could hear her bursting into sobs and she started yelling at her husband, who was running alongside her.
The last kilometre brought a surprise and a mental boost the Ninja Turtle badly needed. She was so dizzy and nauseated that she almost missed GodzillaPin!
“You’re doing awesome, babe!”
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
“You just have to reach the Uni, you’re almost there.”
“My mouth feels claggy. I got raisins stuck in my teeth. I want to sit down.”
The runners had to loop around the track before crossing the finish line, and the Ninja Turtle gave the last few hundred yards everything she got.
No medical tent this time round, but the Ninja Turtle did treat herself to a 5-second sit down on the grass once she crossed the finish line. Sweet reprieve after being chased away from every water station, but she was once again hurried away to make room for other runners coming in. GodzillaPin was there waiting with a big grin and the most romantic phrase ever uttered “bravo baby, you were running really fast!”
The Ninja Turtle was in a hurry to look for Mickey Mouse. Unsurprisingly, she found him outside the Uni building, gasbagging at a group of poor innocents who’d done nothing to deserve it. The Ninja Turtle interrupted his soliloquy, and he looked genuinely surprised to see the duo.
“Oh my goodness, you’re looking in great shape for someone who’s just completed a half-marathon! You don’t even look tired at all!”
“Go to hell. How did you do? How are you feeling? What was your finishing time?”
“I was completely dead at the end. GodzillaPin saw me as I crossed the finishing line, I think I had my tongue out.”
Mickey Mouse had finished the 10K in a remarkable time of 52 minutes and 54 seconds. For a first-time racer with only 6 weeks of training, it was a pretty impressive performance. The Ninja Turtle was immensely proud of Mickey Mouse completing the race, but more so by the fact that he’d expressed the desire to race again.
As for the Ninja Turtle, she’s added yet another PR to her 2015 racing calendar – 1h 52m 40s for a half-marathon distance. She knows she ought to be happy, but she’s been feeling strangely indifferent (and physically sore). When one goes into a race treating it like a training run, and then beating an ad-hoc time goal determined mid-race by over 7 minutes, the brain has problems interpreting the situation. With a trail race coming up on 27 Sep, she’s spent the week foam-rolling, massaging and stretching. Perhaps with deeper reflection, the finish time will take on some meaning, and she’ll know what to make of it.
How do you recover from a half-marathon?
What advice would you give the Ninja Turtle with regards to her racing attitude, strategy and performance?