Running

How To Participate In Your Hometown Marathon As A Non-Running Runner

As most runners know, it’s incredibly frustrating to be “out of action”, be it self-imposed, or circumstantially determined (i.e. injury). It becomes doubly frustrating when one sees everyone else having all the fun, and leaving one out of it. This was the case for the Ninja Turtle, who had flirted for a moment with the idea of finishing her year with the Marathon Metz Mirabelle, a fall race in the town where the duo live. However, she very sensibly decided to call it a day after the Alesia Trail, as she was beginning to fatigue from her string of summer races, and it’s always smart to finish on a high, before the injuries and burn out set in.

So what’s a runner to do if she wants to participate in a marathon, without actually running in it? Why, volunteer, of course.

It was the first time the Ninja Turtle played the part of a volunteer at a race, and she highly recommends it. It’s a great way to give back to a sport you love, while still playing an active role in the event. Race organisers are always looking for people to lend a hand, as a LOT of work is involved in putting a race together, things that runners may take for granted while they grumble about the cost of registration.

The Ninja Turtle also roped GodzillaPin and Mickey Mouse into lending a hand, of course.

Starting early, before the sun even rises.

Starting early, before the sun even rises.

On race day, around the time when runners were having their pre-race breakfast, getting dressed and ready, the volunteers were already out in the freezing cold and dark, setting up barricades and closing off the streets. They even had the pleasure of turning a police car around (vive la France, eh?).

Setting up the signs at the corrals. Carrying heavy loads make for great cross-training workout.

Setting up the signs at the corrals. Carrying heavy loads make for great cross-training workout.

As dawn broke and the departure area was all good to go, the runners started arriving, first in trickles, and then en masse. Along with them came family members, including many excited children. When one thinks about all the sacrifice involved in preparing to run a marathon – the hours spent in solitary self-flagellation in pursuit of a bizarre goal, runners have a lot to be grateful for, especially loving spouses and family who despite months of living with a cranky stats-obsessed, carb-guzzling, occasionally-irrational I-can’t-walk-to-the-grocery-store-I-have-a-long-run-planned-for-tomorrow nutter, show up anyway to cheer, encourage and support said nutter.

And of course, the volunteers who're always ready on standby to tie your shoelaces, throw your rubbish, hand you a drink, point you to the toilets and tell you how awesome you're doing at Mile 18.

And of course, the volunteers who’re always ready on standby to tie your shoelaces, throw your rubbish, hand you a drink, point you to the toilets, argue with angry drivers to keep the roads safe while you run, and tell you how awesome you’re doing at Mile 18.

GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle were in charge of ensuring the separation of the marathon relay runners from the full marathon runners, so they only got to see the departure of the race from the back.

Break a leg, guys!

Break a leg, guys!

But as soon as the marathoners were off, it was time to flag-off the relay runners, and finally the participants of the 7km dash. By that stage, the duo have been running around for 3 hours, but the job’s far from done. They grabbed a black coffee and pastry (given free to the volunteers by the city council) and it was off to the next job: the finishing line.

The first to arrive were the runners of the 7km dash.

All the volunteers were armed with medals, ready to fling over their necks and herd them off as quickly as possible before the marathon runners arrived.

All the volunteers were armed with medals, ready to fling over their necks and herd them off as quickly as possible before the marathon runners arrived.

Some of the volunteers were enjoying the job less than others...

GodzillaPin’s job was standing around, looking beautiful.

But before they did…

There was the "fun" job of unpacking and unfolding the space blankets, because autumn in Metz = winter anywhere else in the world.

There was the “fun” job of unpacking and unfolding the space blankets, because autumn in Metz = winter anywhere else in the world.

One of the most awesome benefits of being a volunteer of course, is the chance to be up close to the action when the elites arrived. The duo had to wear special access passes because of the tight security. The duo got a view even better than some of the media guys.

The first four across the line were Kenyans, and the first French to arrive placed fifth overall.

The first four across the line were Kenyans, and the first French to arrive placed fifth overall.

One of the Kenyans collapsing upon arrival. Not to fear, he received first aid straightaway.

One of the Kenyans collapsing upon arrival. Not to fear, he received first aid straightaway.

The Ninja Turtle's fangirl face. Enjoy it, you'll never see another photo like it. She almost passed out from excitement when she got to wrap one of the Kenyans in a space blanket.

The Ninja Turtle’s fangirl face upon standing face to face with the winner of the Marathon Metz Mirabelle 2015, Mark Tanui. Enjoy it, you’ll never see another photo like it. She almost passed out from excitement when she got to wrap one of the Kenyans in a space blanket.

Of course, between the first arrivals and the next wave, there was a period of calm. The real work started from about 3 hours after the marathon flagged off, which was midday. The runners streamed in at an impossible rate, and the Ninja Turtle found herself running back and forth grabbing more space blankets to throw around these brave souls.

Quick quick, the runners are coming!

Quick quick, the runners are coming!

The finish line of a marathon is full of emotions. As the Ninja Turtle dutifully wrapped runners for a few hours (she finally ran out of steam around 2.20pm), she received several weepy embraces from overwhelmed men and women who’ve completed their first marathons, and no less than salty slobbering kisses from two cheeky, opportunistic middle-aged men.

The last runner to cross the finish line at 5h 51m 54s, a Mdm. Helene Schaff, was as commendable as the winner M. Mark Tanui, who finished in 2h 13m 35s.

Bravo, Madame!

Bravo, Madame!

After almost 8 hours of hard work, the duo went home and passed out.

Although it was the Ninja Turtle's first experience in volunteering at a marathon, it certainly will not be her last.

Although it was the Ninja Turtle’s first experience in volunteering at a marathon, it certainly will not be her last.

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Arts and Culture, Food, Running, Stories, Travel

The ALESIA Trail

A long time ago, when the Roman civilization was flourishing and France was still known as Celtic Gallia (Gaul), there lived a chap who dared defy Julius Caesar. He was known as Vercingetorix, and you may have come across his name, which is strewn liberally all through pop culture, most notably in the Asterix comic book series or film. Wikipedia says his name meant Great Warrior King, and  as a chieftain of the Arverni tribe, he attempted to unite the Gauls to rebel against the Roman legions. When Caesar built not one, but two fortifications to cut off both the city, as well as the Gallic allies who came as relief, the Gauls lost the Battle of Alesia and the Roman Empire was created. Vercingetorix was held captive, brought back to Rome, marched the streets and finally executed.

A statue of Vercingetorix in Alise-Sainte-Reine, commissioned by Napoleon III.

A statue of Vercingetorix in Alise-Sainte-Reine, commissioned by Napoleon III.

It’s a sorry end, but the man went down as a hero. So widely celebrated is this part of Gallo-Roman/French history, that the running community has decided to celebrate it with the Alesia Trail, a trail race that takes runners through the forests and villages of Burgundy, in the ancient battle site of the Battle of Alesia (52BC). It offered four distances – 16km, 25km, 34km and 51km. The Ninja Turtle won her bib on RunningHeroes, which included the post-race meal, and she was absolutely stoked.

After fourteen races since the end of February 2015, this was to be the Ninja Turtle’s fifteenth and last race of the year, and as luck would have it, a final hurrah to summer.

The duo rolled into town a day in advance and took a moment to enjoy the landscape of the Burgundy countryside during the bib collection. Alise-Sainte-Reine sits atop a huge hill, and the view was magnificent, but it did mean that the race will finish with a climb back uphill, and what a mother of a hill it was.

The race commences and finishes at the statue of Vercingetorix, which sits atop a huge hill.

The race commences and finishes at the statue of Vercingetorix, which sits atop a huge hill.

GodzillaPin decided to calm the Turtle’s anxiety by taking her sightseeing, so they drove to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where their B&B accommodation was, and popped by the lolly factory and the medieval crypt. By the time they checked into their B&B, the Ninja Turtle was tired enough to sleep. They were greeted by their host, who was very friendly, but when she inquired who was running the race and what distance, the Ninja Turtle was met with a rather impressed and skeptical look.

But first, a pre-race meal at the Cheval Blanc.

The next morning, the duo woke up bright and early, and their host served up a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit salad, yogurt, breads and spreads. The Ninja Turtle also got a whole flask of coffee to herself, which came to 4 cups! They were joined by the other two guests in the B&B, a couple from Paris who were also in town for the race. The husband was running the 16km, and the same look of disbelief crossed their faces when GodzillaPin announced proudly that the Turtle was doing the 34km.

Some fun facts from the organisers:

1600 runners across the four distances. 26% of all runners were women, and 74% men. 15% (240 runners) were doing the 34km distance, and the average age of all runners was 41. There were to be 160 volunteers, which meant 1 volunteer to 10 runners. The runners will run a combined distance of 41138km in 8 hours!

A map of the 34.2km route.

A map of the 34.2km route, with a climb of 1200m (3937ft) and a total elevation profile of 2393m (7851ft).

While driving to the starting line, the Ninja Turtle decided to err on the side of over-dressing, with the option to remove layers, than to risk freezing through the race. Although the forecast was a nice sunny day, it was 9°C (48°F) at the starting line with cold winds. She made it to the starting line with barely a few minutes to spare. The duo hadn’t counted on a traffic jam to happen, but with the road closures on narrow streets, it was inevitable. GodzillaPin dropped the Turtle off, and she hiked uphill to the starting line. The queue for the toilets were too long, so she found a bush close by. GodzillaPin joined her a few short minutes later for a good luck kiss, and off the runners went.

Ready... steady... GO! (The Ninja Turtle in white cap, lagging close to the back of the pack once more.)

9am flag-off for the 34km race. Ready… steady… GO! (The Ninja Turtle in white cap, lagging close to the back of the pack once more.)

After a long and hard season that culmulated in a half marathon PR just two weeks ago, the Ninja Turtle had just one simple objective: to simply finish the race and enjoy herself while at it. There are some runners out there who snub this absolute lack of competitive spirit; perhaps you believe that if one ain’t pushing hard, there’s no difference from doing just a training run, so why pay the money to join a race? Well, that may be the case for road races, but as far as the Turtle is concerned, there is no way her training would take her through the forests and hills of ancient battlefields, and she runs her trail races as experiences to be lived. Besides the faster one runs, the sooner the experience is over, which makes it terrible value for money. That’s not to say the Turtle doesn’t make an effort, she still runs in these events, because everyone else is doing it and it’s a great sensation to be flying through the landscape. Also, this race had 2 time limit checkpoints.

Landscape like this.

Landscapes like this. Lovely Charolais cows soaking in the sun, staring at the nutters running by.

The race had four water stations,three of which offered up food, and one of them with a time-check. The first of which these was in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where GodzillaPin waited to capture some photos of the Turtle.

The villages offered up a picturesque change from the countryside and the forest landscapes.

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It was truly a fantastic experience, as most of the race took the runners along soft forest soil, which was an absolute pleasure compared to some of her previous races. That said, the Ninja Turtle does not wish to downplay the difficulty of the race, as there were moments where runners still had to deal with sharp rocks, and at two points, the course became very technical, and runners were obliged to use cords to descend and to climb up the impossibly steep trail. To get an idea of what the Ninja Turtle lived, one of the participants from the previous edition made a video of the race.

The Ninja Turtle passed the mid-point time check and clocked in at 2h 13m 29s, ranking 164 overall. By the time she’d crossed the finish line, she’d finished the race in 4h 11m 3s, and moved up to 134 of 211 finishers. It was a pleasant surprise too, to discover that she ranked 10th among the women (29 finished), and 4th in her age group category (11 finished). Perhaps they’re not terribly impressive results to some, given the size of the competition, and frankly, the Turtle didn’t care. She was simply glad to receive some post-race TLC from a couple of amazing volunteer physiotherapists. She also enjoyed the chance to socialise with some of the other runners (they saw Asterix, a Roman soldier, and here the Turtle poses with Getafix), and quite possibly the reincarnation of Vercingetorix himself! Guilhem had run the race twice before, and this hardcore young man is the face of Alesia Trail. That’s him on the poster! He also did spectacularly well, coming in 10th overall in the 51km. And he’s only 22…

Overall, it’s been a great race season, filled with extreme experiences, new PRs, personal growth and above all, the chance to celebrate the love of running.

The Turtle has no doubt that 2016 will bring more racing fun and adventure, but for the moment, she is ready to hang up her running shoes for a few weeks, for she has earned a much deserved rest.

The happy end to a chapter.

The happy end to a chapter.

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Running

Semi Marathon de Longwy Recap plus SOS Call for Advice from Other Runners

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.

About 300 runners at the 10K and Semi-marathon de Longwy on 13 Sep 2015.

About 300 runners at the 10K and Semi-marathon de Longwy on 13 Sep 2015.

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.

Mickey Mouse's first race experience. Had they trained enough for the event?

Mickey Mouse’s first race experience. Had they trained enough for the event?

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 making sure GodzillaPin knew he had to meet them at the Uni building for the finish, because he has a tendency to daydream or get hopelessly lost, missing a lot of the Ninja Turtle's finish line moments.

Found him! The Ninja Turtle making sure GodzillaPin knew he had to meet them at the Uni building for the finish, because he has a tendency to daydream or get hopelessly lost, missing a lot of the Ninja Turtle’s finish line moments. Also, a quick kiss for luck!

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!

True love is hiding in the bushes and jumping out to scare your partner when they're about to vomit from running so darn hard.

True love is hiding in the bushes and jumping out to scare your partner when they’re about to vomit from running so darn hard, then running alongside them saying “allez allez, you are almost at the end!”

“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.

Smiling for the camera but inside, she was screaming "are we there yet?! how can 100m be so goddamn far?"

Smiling for the camera but inside, she was screaming “are we there yet?! how can 100m be so goddamn far?”

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.”

And so he did.

And so he did.

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?

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Running, Travel

40th Edition of Les Crêtes Vosgiennes

Hi all, apologies for the spell of silence since the last update, the Ninja Turtle hasn’t fall off the side of a cliff (yet) so she’s really got no excuse for not updating, but the weather here has been swinging between extremes – hot and sunny days punctuated with periods of overcast and cold, so the Ninja Turtle has been trying to make the most of the warm weather while it lasts. Unlike most people, she prefers the heat to the cold, and while she may look foolish in shorts, at least she’s not battling to open her mid-run fuel with frozen fingers despite 2 pairs of gloves.

Last weekend, the duo took another road trip, this time for a race in the Vosges. Thankfully, it was much closer to home than the Alps; there is little worse than being cramped in a car for hours after, or for that matter, even before a trail race. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Les Crêtes Vosgiennes is a well-established trail race in Alsace that offered up 2 distances, 13km and 33km. The longer race commenced at Markstein, taking runners over 13 peaks (or crests), sharing the last 13km with the shorter race, and finishing at Lac Blanc. There were water stops every 5km, and except the first one, all the others also offered up fresh and dried fruits, cheese and sausages, biscuits and gingerbread. Just like at the Trail des Passerelles, the weather promised to be fine – only if you finished by a certain time.

cretesvosgienneselevationprofile

The duo stayed in a cute little bed and breakfast, where the owner kindly prepared the Turtle a super-early breakfast of coffee, pastries, cheese and jam, which the Turtle demolished because #1. nothing like coffee to get pre-race bowels moving, and #2.from previous experience, racing above 1000m above sea level makes the Turtle quite ill so there is no guarantee she’d be able to stomach any mid-race fuel. GodzillaPin drove the Turtle to Lac Blanc, where shuttle buses waited to take runners to the starting lines at Markstein or Schlucht.

Now, it could have been the three cups of coffee, or it could have been the winding mountain roads, but the ride felt interminable, and the Ninja Turtle was feeling rather anxious. In the back of her mind, she couldn’t help asking herself “Are we there yet? How much farther till we arrive? I have to run this whole way back? It’s very far… can I really run this far? It feels very far. Oh my God please don’t let me DNF again…”

To calm herself down, she turned to the runner next to her and started blabbing.

NT: Do you know how many runners are doing the 33km?
Fellow runner: No idea, but quite a lot. It’s the 40th edition so it’s pretty big.
NT: Have you done this race before?
Fellow runner: Yes, in 2010, and it was rainy but we’ve got good weather today. It’s going to be lovely, you’ll enjoy it.
NT: But I think they say it’s going to rain at some stage this afternoon?
Fellow runner: Well, if you run fast enough, it won’t be a problem now, will it?
NT: How technical is the trail?
Fellow runner: It’s pretty tough, but doable. You know, back in the day, it started at Lac Blanc and finished in Markstein.
NT: Why did they reverse the direction of the race?
Fellow runner: To make it harder.

Not exactly reassuring, but at least it killed time and soon enough, they arrived in Markstein.

The competition was, for want of a better word, competitive, at this race. Laugh all you want but the Ninja Turtle found herself swept along in the enormous crowd and after the first kilometre, found herself panting despite a descent. She had to swallow her pride and let dozens of other runners overtake her as she found her rightful place in the line.

First thing the Ninja Turtle noticed was the difference in landscape. A few short months ago, she was in the area skiing at La Bresse; gone was the snow and in its place, tall grass and rocky, pebble-strewn paths. And mountain ranges are all magnificent in their own special way – the views while running on the Alps were truly spectacular, but the pine forests of the Vosges are no less impressive.

The other thing was the crowds – volunteers at the water stations and supporters en route. While us runners may be grimacing in pain, don’t for a minute believe that you are invisible to us. We may not respond to your words of encouragement, but every one of them is very much appreciated. Being one of the few (or sometimes only) Asian runner in a mostly homogenous competing field, she finds herself in the rather awkward position of drawing more attention than she’s comfortable with.

There are mutually embarrassing moments when she runs with a group and supporters would be shouting encouragements to each individual but as soon as they see her and they just clam up – the Ninja Turtle is just going to assume that they assume she doesn’t understand French, because the alternative explanation is unthinkably racist and if it truly is the case, she’d rather not know. But then there are also some lovely moments when supporters see her, and cheer her on as they would any other runner. At this race, the Ninja Turtle got a lot more encouragement than usual, which only leads to the conclusion that Alsaciens/Alsaciennes are incredibly friendly. Also, they have the cutest accent (c’est bien comes out sounding like “say bee-an” rather than “say bee-uhn”).

A few quick lessons the Ninja Turtle’s learnt from this race:

  1. A mile is a mile is a mile, but racing from point-to-point feels psychologically harder for the Ninja Turtle rather than doing a round-trip.
  2. She doesn’t like mounting several small peaks, preferring do a couple of big climbs and a couple of big descends. This race had an elevation gain and loss of about 2000m (compared to 3500m at her previous race) and yet the constant uphills and downhills felt tougher.
  3. An uphill climb on soft forest soil is ten times easier than flat ground studded with irregularly-shaped rocks where runners have to leap over said rocks or try to balance precariously on them while maintaining a “running” pace.
  4. An uphill climb on any terrain is a million times more preferable to a cliff descent that involves rolling pebbles over sandy and unstable ground.
  5. Don’t put Ventolin or mobile phone in left chest pocket of hydration bag, it’s got a giant hole in it.
  6. If said hydration bag weighs 1.6kg after crossing the finish line, it’s got too much crap in it. (Most of the weight is water, and some just-in-case-I-get-lost-or-fall-down-a-cliff-and-need-to-wait-for-help food which NEVER gets around to being eaten.)
  7. Don’t get cocky. Three 30+km trail races in 5 weekends is naturally going to take a physical toll, and just because the last trail race yielded a better-than-expected result doesn’t mean we’re now in pro territory. Since when did timing mean anything in a trail race for this stop-to-take-some-photos runner?

Results:

Time: 4 hours 12 mins 08 secs
Ranking: 653/940 (Overall), 59/129 (Women) 33/63 (Senior Femmes)

She also beat the rain clouds to Lac Blanc by about an hour, although by the time GodzillaPin arrived (he got lost biking in the mountains, which was bound to happen sooner or later since he never has a map) the thermometer dropped to 14 degrees Celsius and fat droplets of cold rain pelted upon a shivering Ninja Turtle. GodzillaPin bought her a giant sausage sandwich and French fries with mayo and ketchup, so all was forgiven.

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Arts and Culture, Food, Running, Travel

Running Lessons Learnt + Race Recap EDF Cenis Tour (32km trail)

Note: this post was written with runners in mind. If you’re here for the photos, feel free to skip all the blah-blah-running-jargon-blah and jump right to the end. =)

When a runner ambitiously signs up for 2 races of distances 20 miles spaced 2 weeks apart, it’s an indication of confidence or insanity. In the Ninja Turtle’s case, it was a little bit of both. Before her scabs from the Trail des Passerelles had even come off, she and GodzillaPin found themselves doing the long drive back down towards Grenoble once more.

This time, the Ninja Turtle was signed up for the 32km distance of the EDF Cenis Tour. Here’s an awesome promotional video capturing the essence of the race:

Of course, the Ninja Turtle didn’t watch that video before she’d signed up. Had she seen it, she would certainly have thought twice about putting her name down on the list. There comes a point when one quickly discovers that in France, trail race organisers can be very casual about certain things, but more on that later.

Driving for hours in the rain on Saturday, hoping and praying that the rain clouds would finish dumping their load by the next morning.

Driving for hours in the rain on Saturday, hoping and praying that the rain clouds would finish dumping their load by the next morning.

Lesson #1: If you live on low altitudes, be prepared for some level of discomfort when running a mountain trail race.

The race kicked off from a little Savoyard village called Lanslevillard, up in the mountains of the Vanoise National Park. This is about an hour’s drive east of Grenoble and Chambery, and pretty close to the Italian border (on one side of the mountain ranges, the French call it Mont Cenis while on the Italians call it Moncenisio).

Look at the altitude from the starting point!

Look at the altitude from the starting point!

The race took the runners up to 2200m above sea level, which is an altitude pretty darn high for the Ninja Turtle. In fact, she was already uncomfortable at the starting line, because the air really is rather much thinner up there when one’s not used to it. She came with Ventolin, and took 2 puffs at the starting line, but that didn’t do much. All through the race, she struggled with nausea, breathlessness and towards the end, a lightheadedness that made her head swim.

In fact, these symptoms were so unpleasant that it completely threw her fuelling plan out of whack (plan being simply to eat as much as possible at every fuel stop). Due to the nausea, she could only manage a total of 6 dry biscuits and half a cup of apple juice through the entire course. Thankfully, she’d eaten a larger-than-usual pre-race breakfast (not because she was hungry but who says no to coffee, freshly baked baguettes, homemade jams, regionally sourced honey and cheeses, organic yogurt and locally churned butter?) For once, her greed did not end in bloated self-loathing and regret.

Also, signing up for trail racing has a different meaning in the mountainous regions. Not only do runners have to contend with the usual roots, rocks, sand and unstable terrain, very often, they find themselves along cliff edges too. For someone who’s still trying to grapple with a fear of heights and falling, this handicapped the Ninja Turtle greatly during the race. At various points, the runners had to climb up vertical cliff walls with the aid of cables driven into the face of the mountains. The Ninja Turtle was scared out of her mind and on two occasions, came close to quitting, but since she’d made a promise to run the race for Vaco, quitting was not an option. She just simply stood aside and let the faster, more confident racers overtake her (although a few very polite gentlemen insisted on letting her stay ahead and take her time).

The Ninja Turtle will either have to come to grips with great heights, or stop signing up for mountain trail races because she’s just going to be a pain in the arse to the other runners with her paranoid and tearful dithering. Bad attitude is a handicap on the trails.

Lesson #2: Distance isn’t all that matters, total elevation has to be taken into account too.

So, as the Ninja Turtle was saying, 2 races of 20+ miles in set 14 days apart. For a runner of about 3 years, she is no longer intimidated by covering distances like that, but there was one little thing she overlooked while signing up – the elevation of the race.

The last race had an elevation gain of 1900m, and this one of 1600m. Remember, what goes up must come down, and as any runner knows, it’s the downhill that kills (thrashed quads, bruised toenails, increased chances of taking a tumble or rolling an ankle). She measured a total elevation of 3834m (12,578ft) for the Trail des Passerelles, and 3523m (11,558ft) for the EDF Cenis Tour. Take her word for it, each of those races were harder than a road marathon.

Trail race organisers also have a peculiar habit of being rather vague about distances – her last race advertised 35km but she completed 36.75km, while this one said 32km but she measured 33.34km. It may be easy to say “oh come on, you’re already covering 30-odd kilometres, what’s an extra one or two?”. Well, when you’ve been on your feet for hours and all you want to do is sit down to a cold beer, one extra kilometre is a huge difference.

Lesson #3: Racing or training – pick ONE.

So after failing to complete The Trail Yonne, the Ninja Turtle spent hours crafting a training plan for her promised comeback (with a focus on higher mileage and more hills, basically). With swollen quads and a few new purple toenails to deal with post-Passerelles however, she was quickly forced to admit that she was going to need a few days off.

Some ultra running websites advise 1 day for every 10 miles raced, or 1 day for every 10km if the elevation was hard. The Ninja Turtle found this to be a pretty reasonable guide; on Thursday, she had ambitiously ventured out into the sunshine, but after 1km around the Parc de la Seille, her quads were squeaking “are you out of your soddin’ mind?” So she walked for an hour to enjoy some sunshine, and the next day, she was ready for a very slow 5 miles at recovery pace.

In fact, for the week leading up to the second race, ALL her runs had to be done at an easy effort, and she even cut one of her runs short. This was imperative to her ability to complete the EDF Cenis Tour.

For any runners out there contemplating on doing multiple races back to back, understand that by the time race season rolls around, your body should be in tip-top racing shape and training runs by this stage are secondary to your ability to recover as quickly as possible. This isn’t the moment to be obsessing over your weekly mileages anymore. And no, rest assured that you will NOT lose fitness in that one week or ten days off. If you can race multiple times in a season, you’re probably pretty fit, and your butt will not magically blimp out in the meantime.

Treat any injuries straightaway, and assess your ability to run in the upcoming races. Drink lots of water and stay hydrated. Eat lots of high quality food. This is not the moment to be on a diet – unfortunately, just like weight loss and eating for racing don’t mesh, weight loss and eating for recovery simply don’t go together either (wait until you’re back to base stage of your training to drop the kilos).

Get in plenty of fruits and vegetables for the antioxidants, protein for muscle recovery, and play with natural sources of anti-inflammatory like tart cherry juice, beetroot, ginger, turmeric, fatty fish and walnuts.

Sleep. Get lots and lots of sleep. Take cat naps. Take dog naps. Take elephant naps if you need to.

Professionals use electro-stimulation therapy, but that can get expensive. For mere mortals, consider a massage. Take an ice-bath post-race, and a warm bath with magnesium salts a couple of days later. Use Tiger Balm liberally. Foam-roll like you mean it.

The Ninja Turtle enjoying a post-race massage from volunteering physiotherapists.

The Ninja Turtle enjoying a post-race massage from volunteering physiotherapists.

Lesson #4: If you’re serious about racing, proper nutrition is important.

Here is what the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin ate for dinner the night before the race:

A meat platter on a DIY hot plate with an unfinishable side of French fries and a variety of cream sauces, because it was raining all day and 13°C (53°F) outside.

A meat platter on a DIY hot plate with an unfinishable side of French fries and a variety of cream sauces, because it was raining all day and 13°C (53°F) outside.

They also had a half-bottle of red wine to share, and later, the owner/chef came out to see if everything was all right, and gave them each a shot of home-made caramel schnapps, which they had to drink because firstly it’s rude to say no and secondly, come on, caramel schnapps!

This was what the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin ate for a late lunch after the race:

A giant hamburger with salad and even more French fries (not shown). The Turtle also had 2 beers because the tap said Best Beer In The World and she wanted to believe it was true.

A giant hamburger with salad and even more French fries (not shown). The Turtle also had 2 beers because the tap said Best Beer In The World and she wanted to believe it was true.

The photo does little justice to what must be the biggest hamburger this side of the Atlantic. Even with two hands, that thing is so loaded with mayonnaise, bacon, steak and salad just threatening to fall apart. Yes, it was as delicious as it sounds.

And then later, they went back to the same restaurant as the previous night “for cocktails, since we’re not hungry” – GodzillaPin. The owner was so surprised and thrilled to see them back, and asked the Ninja Turtle how she did. Well, drinks inevitably turned into dinner, and the Ninja Turtle’s kir de châtaigne became:

A half-bottle of rosé, all by herself because GodzillaPin was still nursing a cocktail.

A half-bottle of rosé, all by herself because GodzillaPin was still nursing a cocktail.

And because it’s not advisable to drink on an empty stomach, she and GodzillaPin eventually ended up ordering:

Apple and goat's cheese salad (supposedly to share but guess who ate most of it).

Apple and goat’s cheese salad (supposedly to share but guess who ate most of it).

Close to the Italian border, right? That pizza was like a party in the mouth - thin hot crunchy crust, gooey cheese, and a herby tomato sauce that literally sparkles on the palate.

Close to the Italian border, right? Thse pizzas were like a party in the mouth – thin hot crunchy crust, gooey cheese, and a herby tomato sauce that literally sparkles on the palate.

The owner came over to have a chat, and naturally, out came the caramel schnapps again. This time, he insisted on giving them not one, but two shots each, because après l’effort, le réconfort.

The Ninja Turtle obviously got the macronutrients backwards. A focus on carbs before the race, and protein after, right? But altitude sickness aside, the wheels didn’t fall off, and she managed to complete her race just fine. In fact, she surprised herself with her race results (see end of post). This goes to show that for the average non-competitive runner out there, there is no need to stress out getting the nutrition side 100% spot-on. Our bodies are pretty adept at taking what it needs and making the most of it.

BUT! After such a hedonistic weekend, the Ninja Turtle is paying the price. Two-pound gain aside, she woke up with a throbbing headache, and the worst thirst ever. Binge-drinking alcohol after a hard effort is a terrible idea no matter how you look at it, as the Ninja Turtle’s angry bowels can attest (alcohol can be dehydrating in more ways than one). She’s guessing her liver’s pretty swollen too, and she’s too afraid to ask her kidneys how they’re doing. Lesson learnt.

Now the four lessons are out the way, here are some photos taken mid-race:

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And for those with a fascination for numbers and stats, here’s the low-down:

GPS time and distance measured: 33.34km in 4 hours 30 mins 20 seconds.

Official time: 4 hours 30 mins 27 seconds (small racing field!)

Ranking for 32km finishers (don’t know how many DNFs): 82/151 Overall, 10/32 Women and 6/20 Senior Femmes.

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Arts and Culture, Running

A Tribute to Vaco

When I first arrived, you jumped upon me
Knocked me over, and licked me with glee
Back then, the French tongue, I could not comprehend
But you showed me with no words that we’re to be friends

Your eyes were huge, your heart was bigger
You always wanted to share my dinner
But never mind if I gave you no food
It never destroyed your joyful mood

You taught yourself to open doors
Despite your only having paws
And knew when bedtime rolled around
You’d nuzzle us, then head underground*

When I first started running years ago
Unfit as I was, the going was slow
As I slogged through valleys resembling canyons
You came along as a faithful companion

Until your joints gave out one fine day
No more runs, but you still loved to play
Sure, age was slowing catching up
But deep down inside, you were still a pup

Who roamed the street we lived on, free
Strutting between number 2 and 3
To check on Grandpa and Grandma Rabbit
Your loyalty was a daily habit^

You were doing fine, but all of a sudden,
We got the news: you went to doggie heaven
I didn’t even get to say “Farewell,
I love you, good doggie, you were swell”

Goodbye dear Vaco, you’re one of a kind
You’re loved by those you’ve left behind
Though you most sadly did depart
You’ll forever live on in our hearts.

*For many years the dog’s bed was in the basement, where it was cooler and more comfortable. He’d jump up on his hind legs, open the door and descend the flight of stairs when he decided it was bedtime, but never before wishing us goodnight by licking a hand or nuzzling against us.

^Grandpa and Grandma Rabbit live about 100m down the road from GodzillaPin’s parents’. The dog would once again, open the front door and let himself out, cross the road carefully and trot down the pavement to make sure the old folks are OK. Every single day. That dog had more filial piety than most human beings.

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Food, Running, Travel

Trail des Passerelles du Monteynard

Warning: Long post. This is a race review which comes with a background story.

Although this blog may present a charming life of travel, food and fun, several incidents over the last few months have conspired to creating a sense of pressing urgency within the Ninja Turtle to redeem herself. First, there was the accident of falling from a height of 2.5m onto concrete while on holidays back in November last year (and the subsequent few months of recurring nightmares where the Turtle was falling to her death in some way or another), leaving the Ninja Turtle with a perpetual sense of mortality ever after.

Then, there was the crushing defeat of her first DNF at the Trail Yonne back in May; after months of training for the ultramarathon event, increasing her mileage, cleaning up her diet and quitting all the good stuff in life (wine), she found her limits against Mother Nature.

More recently, she’d “lost” her job (word used loosely here – she had in fact, painfully decided to walk away from it) when everyone around her pointed out the fact that it was not normal to be busting her balls for ridiculous hours at a token pay that equated to exploitation. Nor was it normal that none of her writings on the site were ever attributed to her name, and since she’d taken all promises in good faith, she’d only learnt that she was being used when she finally tried to sort out a contract and was essentially told that she was not worth a paycheck.

The breaking point came when she’d gone back to Singapore and was on a couple of occasions, treated with such little respect with regards to her time, that within a week or so, she’d lost a couple of kilos due to missing out on sleep, meals, and even the chance to use the toilet, and fell so ill with a raging fever that for a while, they were worried she’d contracted MERS during her stopover in Dubai. After months of dedication, she pretty much has nothing to show for her work. Worst of all, during this period of insanity, the Ninja Turtle had neglected GodzillaPin on various occasions, choosing to prioritise meeting rushed deadlines over quality time (especially at Easter).

The Ninja Turtle is choosing to reveal all this information now, as she had kept some or all of it from various friends and family out of shame. The thing is, while the Ninja Turtle may not be competitive, she handles failure very poorly (perhaps this is exactly why she’s not competitive). Some people bounce back quickly, but she’s the sort to withdraw into a darkened room, curl into a tight ball and wash her wounds with tears of self-pity. Melodramatic, for sure. Thankfully, she’s had amazingly good friends like Sonic and Krazy Kow who rallied by her side immediately, but also Mother, Papa and Baby Turtle who showed her unjudgemental and unconditional love, and GodzillaPin who readily forgave her for the few awkward months, so she wouldn’t all but give up on writing and running completely (which would have been really stupid).

So these were the Ninja Turtle’s primary motivations for signing up for the race, which fell on the weekend of her birthday. She’d wanted a chance to redeem herself, to celebrate life, and to take on a challenge because life goes on.

Arriving at the Lac du Monteynard on Sunday morning for the race after only 6 hours of sleep. The landscape soon woke the two sleepyheads up.

Arriving at the Lac du Monteynard on Sunday morning at 7am for the race, after only managing 6 hours of sleep. The landscape soon woke the two sleepyheads up. The race organisers provided a very regular shuttle bus service from the parking to the start line because we all know runners are capable of running for hours, but walking 10 minutes is like death.

The Ninja Turtle at the starting line. She'd had her coffee and bread with jam, drank a litre of water by then, and did her business twice (in the bushes because OMG the queues for the toilets) so she was all set to go.

The Ninja Turtle at the starting line. She’d had her coffee and bread with jam, drank a litre of water by then, and did her business twice (in the bushes because OMG the queues for the toilets) so she was all set to go. The bibs displayed the race course with its evelation and refreshment stops upside down for the runners’ benefit. Clever!

The race was stated to start at 8.30am and it was quite timely (her watch read 8.33am). There were 812 people registered for the 35km race, but only 750 showed up at the starting line. The sun was already out by then, and all the runners’ were sporting hydration packs that were full to bursting. The Ninja Turtle looked at the mountains around her, thought about the 1900+ elevation gain and 1900- descent that awaited her; her brain failed so she resorted to humming “She’ll be coming round the mountain” instead.

With a winding path that climbed gently, some runners might have been fooled into a sense of complacency. The worst was yet to come.

With a winding path that climbed gently, some runners might have been fooled into a sense of complacency. The worst was yet to come.

Passerelle is what the French call a bridge. The race took the runners across two simple suspension bridges that crossed the Drac and the Ebron. Built in 2007 using helicopters, these cable bridges span 180m and 220m. Depending on the water level in the artificial lake, the bridges sit 45 to 85m above the water.

The first picture is a sign pointing to the Drac suspension bridge. The race route took the runners across the bridges 4 times in all. The middle photo was taken while queueing to cross the bridge for the first time. The Ninja Turtle was happy but she’d yet to learn what was to come. Almost all the runners enjoyed a magnificent view from the bridges. Sadly, the Ninja Turtle was not one of them.

A few steps onto the bridge, which was swinging wildly from the combined weight of all the runners and the wind, she was seized by overwhelming panic, and paralysis set in. The dizzying height brought back her fear of falling, and her heart rate shot up to 175 despite standing stock still. Each time she had to cross, a fellow runner would hold her by the hand and gently coax her forward with encouraging words, while her tears flowed, her knees buckled and she rambled nonsense about death. She got the names of two runners – Isabelle (mother of 3 who lives in the area) and Judit (a young Hungarian doctor), but not the gentleman whose poor hand she probably fractured, squeezing so hard. Whoever he is, bless his runner’s soul, she hopes he scored a PR.

These photos do little justice to the race experience. The climb was insanely tough, and runners who came with walking poles had an advantage, while those without had to resort to hands on knees. Many runners stopped to catch their breaths (both literally and metaphorically), as the air got thinner as they ascended, but the view was truly spectacular.

Several things the Ninja Turtle did right this time:

1. Pacing herself by effort. As soon as she’d hit Start on her GPS HRM watch, she’d all but ignored the details on it except to occasionally glance at her heart rate. Speed was irrelevant since there was no cut off time for any check points or the entire race.

2. Constant hydration. As the mercury pushed towards 37°C (98°F) on the unsheltered summits, it was imperative to keep drinking.

3. Eating early and eating often. After burning through too many calories to maintain her core body temperature, costing her a DNF at the last race, the Ninja Turtle has learnt her lesson. Eat as much as you can, as often as you can. Also, she skipped the dried and fresh fruits this time, opting for crackers and cheese sandwiches because when you’re drinking about 5L (1.3 gallons) of water, you’d better be replacing the NaCl.

Several things she could have done better:

1. The Ninja Turtle lost 15 minutes at the first water stop. First of all, there was a queue of thirsty runners battling to refill their hydration packs. When everyone else towers over you, you quickly become invisible to the volunteers. After politely hanging around the back for a few minutes, the Ninja Turtle decided to just crawl under the crowd of smelly runners and get her share. However the battle was not over. She struggled for another 10 minutes trying to figure out how to close that stupid device. Lesson: don’t use new gear on race day.

2. The Ninja Turtle may have been doing a few runs on Mont St Quentin and Les Sartelles (military grounds in Moselle and Meuse, featuring hills) sporting a new pair of New Balance trail shoes, so she’s been perfecting her uphill climbs and rolling back downhill in those flashy things. She’s learnt to rotate her hips more and let gravity do some work for her, so she can actually enjoy the sensation of going fast. However, she didn’t take into account that her training ground insufficiently reflected the incline and decline of race conditions. After the first descent, she could feel all her toenails threatening to fall off. After her second descent, her quads were screaming for mercy. Lesson: you can never be over-prepared.

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Useful advice from the running community that’s helped her:

1. Ultra runner Paviter Singh once shared with the Ninja Turtle the technique of thinking of the race not by its total distance, but the number of summits to surmount. The Ninja Turtle found this, combined with thinking of the number of food+hydration pit stops, helped greatly in keeping up morale.

2. Trail runner Jon had recently shared his experience at the TransLantau 50 and how he hadn’t carried enough gels on him for the race, as he didn’t expect to take that much longer to complete a trail (as compared to road). This helped the Ninja Turtle keep her expectations of finishing time in check (i.e. she had none, she just wanted to complete it), and also to carry spare food in her sack in case.

The race was mostly a series of uphills or downhills – very occasionally the runners came across a stretch of flat ground, but most were too tired to run or even jog these brief moments of respite.

After the Ninja Turtle crossed the bridge for the fourth and final time, she’d thought the worst was behind her. It was about 4.5 hours into the race, and she took stock of her situation – the sun was unrelenting but she didn’t feel overheated. She was a bit tired like everyone else, but she’d been eating and drinking enough to feel OK to go on. Her toenails were the only things that truly bothered her, and she was wary of how her gait has changed as a result of it. Now all that was left to do was to face that final monster climb, get something to eat and drink on the summit, and roll back downhill to the finish line. How hard could that be?

Turns out, pretty darn hard. The pain of her toenails hitting the front of her shoe was becoming increasingly unbearable, and the Ninja Turtle started to trip over the roots and the rocks. She didn’t give much thought to the first few stumbles, but then she had a fall. A few concerned runners (Judit included) checked to see if she was OK, and luckily it was nothing serious. Off they all went again.

About a-third to halfway up the Mother Ascent, the Ninja Turtle slowed down. The trail had become treacherously technical, and she was stumbling more frequently. She knew it wasn’t light-headedness, it was a combination of muscular fatigue and those damned toenails. On a small brief stretch of downhill that was rocky and dusty and hell, the Ninja Turtle fell a second time, this time, much harder.

She laid sprawled on the ground for a moment, engulfed by searing pain all over. A few runners came up from behind, and one stood beside her with his arm stretched out, without hurrying her at all, just waiting for her to be ready to be hauled onto her feet. She gritted her teeth, and grunted in pain while she was yanked up, and took stock of the situation. Covered in dust all over, she had blood streaming down her left forearm, her knee and her right hand, which bore the brunt of the shock, was stabbed by 3 stones. Her right hip was grazed through her clothing and began to bloom with a giant bruise.

The Ninja Turtle has a weak stomach for blood. She has a terrible history of fainting at the sight of blood, her own or someone else’s. When she saw all that blood gushing out of her hand, she almost vomitted in pain, fear and disgust. Other runners coming by all asked if she was OK, and a few of them helpfully squirted her wounds with water from their bottles. After a few painful minutes, a parade had overtaken her, and the Ninja Turtle was left all alone.

She looked at her GPS: 28.7 km. The final water stop was on the summit at 30km (a bit farther, since she’d run more than the official distance measured) and the finish at 35.1km. The sun was shining, the butterflies were flitting amidst the mountain flowers, and the Ninja Turtle decided to take however long she needed to finish the race, but there was no way in hell she was going to DNF again.

Sniffling like a baby, she switched gears back down to Tortoise Mode and plodded along, daintily avoiding those stupid stones, singing to herself some silly nonsense to reassure herself that all was fine. When she got to the final water stop she went straight to the first aid van. The man laconically glanced at her, asking “had a little accident, did we?” before looking at her wounds and proceeding to declare they were superficial grazing. He sauntered to the food table, took a bottle of water and poured it over the Turtle’s wounds. The Turtle howled in pain, and he looked bemused. “Surely it’s not that bad?” he said.

The Turtle was very unhappy. In her great huffiness, she departed after washing out her contact lenses, forgetting to eat and drink something. Turns out, there was still another kilometre of climbing before the descent began. BAH.

The Ninja Turtle took a good hour or so to finish the last few kilometres of the race. The descent was steep, the terrain incredibly technical, and she knew that psychologically, she could not afford another fall. Her toenails occasionally reminded her of their misery, but by that stage, the Turtle was in pain all over, that it became a game of rotating her focus on different injuries. Her right hand was bleeding afresh and she could not look at it. On the way back down, she was overtaken by another several dozen runners; on a cliff edge, yielding the path to runners who cannot afford to lose momentum means taking the outside edge of the cliff so they don’t risk slipping and falling off. The Ninja Turtle would stand breathless, letting the others pass, hoping she wouldn’t fall off herself.

A kilometre from the finish line, the Ninja Turtle took out her phone to ring GodzillaPin. The plan was for her to call, so they could arrange to meet somewhere easy to locate each other. After 3 attempts however, the Ninja Turtle gave up. GodzillaPin was not answering. She burst into tears but quickly stopped – it was hard to see the road.

Emerging from the forest trail, the final stretch of the race took the runners along a pebbly stretch of the beach, where holiday-makers were barbecuing and frolicking in the cool water of the lake. Covered in dust, sweat and blood, hobbling over the ridiculously uneven ground strewn with pebbles, the Ninja Turtle must have been quite a sight, hobbling with a grimace. The crowds gathered to cheer her on, and the Ninja Turtle’s heart leapt as little kids came running up to her, demanding high-fives.

Finishing the ordeal in 6h 5m 3s.

Struggling across the finish line.

As the Ninja Turtle crossed the finish line, her GPS read 36.75km in 6 hours 5 minutes 3 seconds.

The results came out later that evening and the Ninja Turtle’s ranking was as follows:

Gun time: 6 hours 5 minutes 29 seconds

33/67 (SEF) Senior women

52/148 Women

371/635 Overall

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To reward herself for finishing the race, GodzillaPin had prepared for the Ninja Turtle a cream, ham and cheese pizza that was bigger than the size of her head.

To reward herself for finishing the race, GodzillaPin had prepared for the Ninja Turtle a cream, ham and cheese pizza that was bigger than the size of her head. She’s earned it, don’t you think?

With this race complete, the Ninja Turtle felt ready to leave behind all the pain and sorrow of the last several months. She’s redeemed herself, and she’s ready to begin on a new page with another year added to her age. Life keeps going, and we’ll just keep on rolling.

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