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.

Food, Running

The Importance of Proper Nutrition

This is not a post on pre-party dieting. Sorry. It won’t help you drop 5lbs, fit into that LBD, or score you that kiss on 25th Dec. It will, however, hopefully shift the way you think just a little bit, so you don’t find yourself frantically scribbling a list of New Year’s Resolution on 31st Dec at the stroke of midnight, with LOSE WEIGHT as the #1 priority of 2015.

In the week leading up to Christmas, there is a chance that now, more than ever, you are ever surrounded by a surfeit of food. Some of it, like I’ll-only-eat-log-cake-at-Christmas-so-get-out-of-my-way, or when-else-will-I-drink-mulled-wine?, you’ll actually want to indulge in. In that case, go ahead, live a little!

However, it’s probably highly likely that for the rest of the time, you don’t want to (really, glazed ham and the works for the 8th time in two months?). In these situations, it helps to pause and reflect on why you are eating something you’re not actually interested in.

Is it because someone offered it to you? Politely say no to food-pushers.

Is it because you’re tired? Understand that a sugar hit may help you through a little slump, but it doesn’t change the fact that you need to get some rest.

Is it because it’s time for a meal? You ought to be hungry at mealtimes – if you’re not, have you been snacking between meals? Learn to live with a little bit of hunger, it’s a sensation that will not kill you, no matter how mildly unpleasant.

Is it because the food is just there? Move it out of sight; if you have to stand up, walk into another room, climb onto a chair and reach into the back of the shelf to get at it, you’ll probably lose interest.

Is it because the food is free? Don’t feel obliged to taste every sample, or bring home leftovers from every single party. Keeping all this extra food around is only going to encourage overeating.

Also a word on sports and nutrition. Some people seem to believe that runners have a license to eat whatever they want. You know how the saying goes: garbage in, garbage out. “You only get out what you put in” applies to all aspects of training – the running, the nutrition, and the recovery. Like a three-legged stool, if one of them is shorter than it ought to be, you’re going to be looking at wobbly performances.

The Ninja Turtle is saying this because she’s had the pleasure of meeting up frequently with old friends and family recently. Unsurprisingly, most of the socialising revolves around food. A lot of well-meaning comments have been made about food and sports. Some of it is sound, some others, slightly misguided. Back when she was younger, more sensitive and a people-pleaser, she’d freak out and just eat to keep others happy, while feeling miserable on the inside.

Today, she’s older, wiser, and knows her body well enough to say “those nachos, salsa, sour cream and guacamole look delicious but when I run tomorrow, it’s going to make me wheeze”. People use food as an expression of love. They will understand if you simply and politely explain that it is in your best interest to avoid certain things.

That said, proper nutrition is of utmost importance. This post isn’t about going on a last-ditch pre-party diet. This post is about feeding yourself well, especially if you have commenced your training cycle for the spring racing season. Undereating can hurt as much as overeating – injuries, fatigue, compromised performances…

No one is talking about deprivation and self-loathing, we’re talking about nourishing and self-loving.

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Healthy eating is not only completely do-able, it is also enjoyable. So this festive season, change the mindset and switch off the guilt. Put down those retarded magazines touting detoxes, diets and deprivation. By simply choosing to look at each meal as a chance to treat your body with TLC, you have nothing to be afraid of. Eat, drink, and above all, enjoy the company!


To the women in our lives…

Who have taught us to dare to hope, dream and fight

Who have inspired us to be the best version of ourselves

Who have led by example, what it means to be a woman.

The Ninja Turtle has also been blessed with many mother figures in her life; each bringing a different lesson but they all share one great thing in common – love. Women who have held her when she cried, women who have taught her to dry her eyes, and above all, women who have taught her that crying is an art, and if it’s going to be an inevitable part of life, at least learn to have hankies on stand-by and pizza on speed-dial.

However, this is Mothers’ Day and after all is said and done, the Ninja Turtle has only got one person to thank for hatching her into this world. So this is going to be a reflection in tribute of Mother Turtle.

Mother Turtle brought the Ninja Turtle into this world. Mother Turtle also single-handedly dealt with the Ninja Turtle through her Teenage Mutant years (and by God were they difficult for all). Mother Turtle never criticised the Ninja Turtle’s choice of partners, despite how questionable some of them have been.

However, Mother Turtle’s biggest influence in the Ninja Turtle’s life wasn’t quite so apparent until recently, when all those years of watching Mother Turtle do her exercise routine every night without fail for almost all of the Ninja Turtle’s life culmulated into this idea that when a woman loves her sport, physical activity is something one does for the rest of one’s life. Happily. It’s turned exercise from a self-loathing punishment into a joyful act of empowerment.

In a day and age where media saturation skewers healthy perceptions of body image, so many people talk about teaching young girls to love themselves. That’s all well and good, as long as we remember that the most enduring lessons come not from talking, but from setting a concrete example.

It’s very unlikely that Mother Turtle was above self-critique or dissatisfaction about her appearances; she is after all, a woman who once owned about 30 pairs of heels in various colours. However, the most important thing she’s ever done (or not done), lies in the fact that the Ninja Turtle CANNOT recall a single instance of her disparaging herself. Not once did she ever hear “I’m fat”, or “I’m ugly”, or “I’m on a diet”, or “I really shouldn’t eat that”, or “I look gross in this”, etc.

The same cannot be said for other women; far too often the Ninja Turtle felt a great sense of despair as she hears a grown woman submit herself to statements like “I’m such a cow”, or “no one looks at a fat, old lady like me”. How is a child to respond, when someone he/she perceives as role model, speaks of herself this way?

It’s taken a heck of a long time for this to sink in, but it has dawned on the Ninja Turtle that women need not equate their self-worth to their appearance, nor apply character judgement upon themselves based on food or lifestyle choices. This is the lesson from Mother Turtle, who does her daily exercise with a smile while watching the news, and happily tucks into a beautiful slice of cake over coffee with zero guilt.

There are too many women in this world, good women, good mothers, who undoubtedly want the best for their children. They’re incredibly vigilant over all aspects of their children’s lives, and take great care to ensure the kids are healthy and happy. In doing so, however, a good deal of these women tend to neglect themselves.

Don’t be so harsh on yourselves, mothers. Don’t be so judgemental of your “failures”, so critical of your performance. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s plenty. Your kids learn by watching you, and from one ultimately-non-psychopathic-reasonably-well-adjusted adult’s experience, it all begins with a mother being kind to herself. A child can only love her mother as much as a mother loves herself.

With that…

I love you, Mother Turtle!

I love you, Mother Turtle!

Arts and Culture, Running

The Essence of Running

What is the essence of running?

To run is to be fearless
Listen to the multitude of voices on the web
From all types of runners in this world
One community
One common trait – fearlessness.

Runners are not afraid to try –
And fail
Runners are not afraid to cry –
They will.

Runners are not afraid of the elements
The sun, the wind and the rain
The snow, the sleet and the hail
Are inconveniences, not barriers.

Runners are not afraid of pain
DOMS, blisters, chafing
MTSS, ITBS, plantar fasciitis,
Are just some risks we are willing to take.

To run is to say: I am not afraid
Of setting out in search for more
Of finding myself along the way
Of challenging my pre-conceived limits
Of humbly respecting myself
Because I wasn’t afraid to give 100%.


Finding A Role Model

In the running and fitness community, it is said to death that the only person you’re trying to beat is yourself. That works to keep morale high, because we can’t all be Mo Farah or (insert the current most awesome person in your preferred discipline). Some people freak out at the mere idea that despite years and years of slog, there will always be someone else faster/stronger/richer/more attractive than themselves, and the idea is enough to curdle all dreams and they just give up. So, you see phrases floating around on the internet saying things like “strive for progress, not perfection”, or  some other rah-rah along those lines.

Today, the Ninja Turtle openly disagrees with that. All that comparing-oneself-to-no-one-else sounds a lot like encouraging self-obsession, and god knows most of us are already pretty self-absorbed. Just ask GodzillaPin how the Ninja Turtle can talk about nothing else but her run splits over the entire dinner.

Sometimes, the best way to stay motivated is to simply find someone whom you admire, and aspire towards their abilities. As Papa Turtle observed many years ago of the Ninja Turtle, “monkey see, monkey do”. We very naturally want to emulate people we look up to. They set the benchmarks with actual achievements. They too, have invested a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears into getting where they are. They are role models.

Alongside the OatmealBaby Turtle and the Snowy Owl (a really good friend), the Ninja Turtle found a new role model this last weekend in the incredible form of Grandmother Rabbit (GodzillaPin’s paternal grandmother). At eighty-eight years old, she managed to effortlessly keep a straight back and do a complete squat as she was inspecting some glass jars the duo brought over for her to use when she starts making eyewateringly delicious homemade jams. Down she went in one graceful motion, and up she came just as swiftly, with no creaks, no groans, no complains.

No, she ain’t no weightlifter, nor is she a fitness fanatic with decades of physical conditioning behind her. She just does a whole lot of gardening, and like so many people of her generation, still remember the importance of always maintaining good posture. (Grandma Turtle, God rest her soul, used to refuse sitting on the couch, most probably because she suspected it encouraged terrible form.)

There are many things to aspire to in life, many of them involving stroking the ego with some great achievement or other, but very often we forget that living out a long, healthy and meaningful life, while maintaining independence in old age with complete cognitive and physical functions, is just as much as, if not more worthy than everything else we’ll ever do.

Arts and Culture, Stories

Remembering Who We Really Are

Once in a while, it seems like we lose sight of who and what we really are.

Some things are eternal. We're not one of those things.

Some things are eternal. We’re not one of those things.

Countless of sunrises have preceded our fleeting existence, and millions more will follow our demise.

In the grand scheme of things, we’re so very small, and our time here, so very brief. We all live on borrowed time.

It’s good to like what we are experiencing in this world of ours, but we should never forget:

We are not owners of any of it. We are simply caretakers.

We are not owners of any of it. We are simply caretakers.

This place doesn’t belong to us. It’s not ours to stake our claims on, and certainly not ours to spoil.

It’s not even a matter of safeguarding it for future generations. It’s about right here, right now, doing the right thing.

If we are a part of it, then let us learn to take better care of ourselves. If we are apart of it, then let us learn to tread softly and leave no trace behind.

True beauty is a delicate thing. Let us not be the ones to shatter it.

True beauty is a delicate thing. Let us not be the ones to shatter it.

Running, Stories

Staring Down Evil In The Eye

As the Ninja Turtle has been rather ill, and all those drugs certainly do not help either, finding the motivation to keep up with her running has not been easy. It’s also demoralizing to see such poor performances compared to her pre-holiday runs. Nonetheless, she’s been trying her very best to get on with life and get back into routine. Yesterday morning, she even found a little incentive in the back of her pantry cupboard, to go for a run.

It was a sports bottle, given to her at the exposition prior to the Lyon semi-marathon (don’t you love sports-related freebies?) As the water taps in the Parc de la Seille have mysteriously stopped providing water (why? it hasn’t been that cold in Metz for the water to turn into ice, surely?), she armed herself with two bottles of water for her 4-mile tempo run. The advantage of doing laps around the park is that she normally puts her water on a bench, and after each lap she stops to take a sip and then continues, thus freeing her from carrying the bottle the whole way like on the longer runs.

Well, off she went, feeling pretty chuffed to be out running at 9am, and there was even a single ray of sunlight peeking through the dark clouds, lifting her spirits and encouraging her on. She looked at the frozen landscape, the barren treetops that pointed jagged branches accusingly at the grey winter skies, and watched the ducks splashing quarrelsomely. It was shaping up to be a beautiful morning, and she was settling into a nice rhythm – hard, but not uncomfortably so. From the other side of the river, she saw a train rumbling by, its red, yellow and blue paint appearing artificially gay in the otherwise drab setting. Somehow, the bright colours were more depressing than the dull grey all around. As she approached the bridge to cross the river back to the original side, she eagerly anticipated a sip of water. She watched a group of rowdy high school students leaving the sports complex and thanked the fact that her own schooldays were over. One lap down, two to go. Awesome!

Except. When she arrived at the bench, her brand new sports bottle was gone. Vanished. Not in sight. The other bottle, a plastic Volvic container, stared grimly back at her, all alone. In an instant, she felt both panicked, dismay, angry, and naïve. Of course, what else would one expect, leaving a beautiful brand new water bottle unguarded in a park, right?

Except it’s not the first time she’s set her bottle down on that spot – she’s done it a million times before, and nothing of that sort had ever happened. Also, for crying out loud, it’s a water bottle! Think about all the germs and viruses that the Ninja Turtle had been suffering from these last few weeks! It was too disgusting to contemplate.

For a very brief moment, her spite made her say “well, if they fall ill, that will teach them to steal water bottles”, but even that was a bit too unkind. So she hastily checked herself, and considered the situation. She was left with less than half the original amount of water she had brought out with her, and must now thus ration what is left. Two sips from the 500mL, and on she went on Lap 2.

On Lap 2, the outside world was forgotten. The Ninja Turtle stopped observing the sky, the land, the plants, the fauna and the beautiful river. She was lost in an internal dialogue of Good Turtle versus Bad Turtle. It went like this:
Bad Turtle: Those bastards! I can’t believe it, stealing water for fuck’s sake. I get so thirsty on harder runs too.
Good Turtle: It’s your own fault, really. You left it there unguarded.
Bad Turtle: But what kind of world are we living in, when there is no respect for private property? People are evil. The fact that it’s a water bottle makes it even worse. Why would one stoop to that level for a bloody bottle? I bet it was those students. They must think it’s so bloody funny, or something.
Good Turtle: Now STOP. You cannot make false accusations with no proof. You saw nothing but a bunch of kids and immediately pinned it on them. That’s not right.
Bad Turtle: Who else would it be?
Good Turtle: I don’t know, but as you’ve pointed out, it’s a pretty desperate act for such a small reward. Remember, crime is always motivated by desperation. Look at it this way, it’s only a water bottle when all is said and done. Sure, brand new. This is your first time using it – hell, you haven’t really used it properly. But let it go. It was given to you free anyway.
Bad Turtle: Fine. Fine, don’t take my side. You’ll be sorry, and really thirsty after this.
Good Turtle: That’s OK, we were clever enough to bring two bottles, remember?

Thus, Lap 2 drew to a close, as the bridge came in sight once more. The Ninja Turtle was pretty thirsty now, as nothing makes her run harder than anger (nothing, not even the promise of cold beers or $10). She was fuming, and needed a gulp to calm her down before she tackled the final lap.

Well, the bench this time held another surprise for her. It was empty. The Volvic bottle, still 85% full from her previous careful rationing, now laid 4 steps from where she had left it on the bench, in a puddle of what she assumed was the water within it. It was emptied, and strewn right where she could see it when she was in great need of water. The Ninja Turtle howled.

Internally, of course. Outside, she kept her stride. She knew immediately that it was no longer merely theft motivated by envy or a perverted sense of humour, it was pure and simple spite. It was evil. Someone had been watching her, and was trying to prompt some sort of a reaction out of her. Half of her wanted to go home, panting and defeated. The other half, the less rational half screamed out: THIS IS WAR, MOTHERFUCKER.

She went on to Lap 3. She was very thirsty, and the thirst was starting to affect her speed. She was fatiguing and her breathing was becoming labored. Still, she soldiered on, every step forward a mental “fuck you” to the person who had done what he/she did. The Ninja Turtle wasn’t just angry, she was furious. She was boiling mad, and this rage was like rocket fuel. It just pushed her on when everything else wanted to stop and go have pizza. Lap 3 featured no landscapes. Lap 3 featured no internal dialogue. Lap 3 was nothing but a blur of red, hot, fury.

When she finished the 3 laps, she staggered up the steps to the sports complex, and burst in through the heavy doors. A man in uniform immediately approached her, no doubt wondering what danger this lunatic might pose to all those “innocent” school kids inside. The Ninja Turtle briefly explained in gasps that her two bottles of water were stolen and would he kindly give her some water? to which he replied, there are some toilets downstairs. She tripped down the stairs and as the faucet gushed, she lapped up the sweet, sweet relief.

The Ninja Turtle had a lot to reflect on, walking home. The theft of the sports bottle, her original anger, paled in comparison to the spiteful deed of throwing out her water right where she could see it. When all was said though, the loss of the second bottle of the water still didn’t cause as much pain as that of the first. And at the end of it all, surely there must be some moral to be taken out of this? Do not leave your water bottles on a park bench, as they will be stolen or emptied? That seems ridiculous. Do not bring bottles of water on your run? That makes even less sense.

Ultimately, the Ninja Turtle came to the conclusion that shit things happen in this world, and it could happen anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. There is no way to avoid it, no way to foresee it, and no point regretting something that is completely beyond one’s control. While it may have been one step in the right direction (away from the anger and bitterness), it left her with an alarming sense of powerlessness over her life, and she really resented that.

After a hot shower and coffee, the Ninja Turtle felt good enough to think clearly about it. There was one way she could reclaim jurisdiction of her life, or at any rate, her outlook of it. So, something really evil and malicious happened today? Fine. She had to correct that imbalance with something really gracious, and if it wasn’t going to happen on its own, she would simply have to create it. She raided her pantry and found a box of assorted chocolates and sweets, and filled a little ziplock bag with it. Then she took a walk down to the train station, where without fail, a gypsy accordion player sits and plays daily by the entrance. She approached Mr Accordion and said to him “I’m sorry I haven’t got any money for you today, and I know it’s a little late for Christmas, but here are some chocolates I would like you to have.”

Brighter than a million Christmas lights, his smile and “thank you” was enough for her to say “those two water bottles? oh, never mind about that”.