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, 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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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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Food, Travel

Eating and Drinking Grenoble

This last weekend, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin headed to the south of France, under the pretext of the Ninja Turtle’s trail race, but really, it was to enjoy the warm weather and the best of Grenoble’s gastronomy. The Ninja Turtle, being an ardent user of TripAdvisor, turned to the trusty old application on her mobile phone and did some last-minute research during their 6-hour road trip from Metz.

Of course, top priority went to the pre-race meal. With carb-loading in mind, the Ninja Turtle scrolled through the listings, keeping an eye out especially for restaurants with pictures of BIG servings (because this Turtle can really eat). Soon enough, she found exactly what she was looking for, an Italian place called Ciao a Te. The reviews really talked up the place, especially with some people claiming to have waited years to get a table, but the duo lucked out – five minutes before they’d rung in wild hopes of making a reservation, someone had cancelled their table, liberating the place for GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle. It was fate.

In this family-run enterprise, the atmosphere was exactly what one would imagine eating at an Italian friend’s to be like. The service was friendly – even intimate, and as a sign of their immense pride in their standards, diners have to actually walk through a part of the kitchen to get to the dining room. They have absolutely nothing to hide!

The duo were absolutely starving when they arrived, but the food came out quickly enough, and the portions were enormous. The antipasti plate was to share, and the restaurant makes the most amazing bread rolls fresh daily. After begging the waiter twice for the recipe, the young man got one of the chefs, his equally young sister, to give the Ninja Turtle the recipe. She even insisted on giving the duo a bag of extra bread rolls to take home!

They kept humbly repeating that it was a really simple recipe and there was no real secret to it, but they must be lying or these Italians must have fairies in the kitchen because those bread rolls were really out of this world.

Antipasti platter to share, with the best bread rolls in the world.

Antipasti platter to share, with the best bread rolls in the world.

GodzillaPin holding up the half-bottle of rosé that went with their meal.

GodzillaPin holding up the half-bottle of 2013 Italian rosé that went with their meal.

Giant prawns and fresh tagliatelle in a cream and cognac sauce.

Giant prawns and fresh tagliatelle in a cream and cognac sauce.

Beef and spinach meatballs wrapped in aubergine, smothered in bolognese and cheese. Best savoured with those amazing bread rolls.

Beef and spinach meatballs wrapped in aubergine, smothered in bolognese and cheese. Best savoured with those amazing bread rolls.

The bill was very reasonable, especially considering the quality and quantity of the food, and the overall experience. The Ninja Turtle personally thinks that this was by far the best meal of the trip, possibly even this year. At any rate, it was hands down the best Italian restaurant she’s even dined in, here in France.

The next meal they enjoyed was a post-race and birthday celebration meal at the restaurant Zakhang, a place that describes its food as French-Indian fusion, and rated #2 in Grenoble by travellers on TripAdvisor. This was a very posh type of dining place, and also required a reservation. Indeed, just as the duo were walking in (half an hour late), two other sets of diners were being turned away for showing up without a booking.

Amuse-bouche of spiced focaccia and hummus.

Amuse-bouche of spiced focaccia and hummus.

GodzillaPin savouring the rosé proposed by the waitress to match their meal.

GodzillaPin savouring the rosé proposed by the waitress to match their meal.

Another restaurant that baked their own bread in-house. They made 3 types: sourdough, maize with sunflower seeds, and wholemeal multigrain.

Another restaurant that baked their own bread in-house. They made 3 types: sourdough, maize with sunflower seeds, and wholemeal multigrain.

Mille feuille of crab and wasabi pea purée for the Ninja Turtle.

An entrée of mille feuille of crab and wasabi pea purée for the Ninja Turtle.

While GodzillaPin chose a cucumber raita with pomegrenate and carrot sorbet.

While GodzillaPin chose a cucumber raita with pomegrenate and carrot sorbet.

Duck breast with herbed rice for the Turtle's main course.

Duck breast with herbed rice for the Turtle’s main course.

While GodzillaPin went with the lighter fish and mashed root vegetables.

While GodzillaPin went with the lighter fish and mashed root vegetables.

GodzillaPin's dessert of the day (we forget the name but it was a flavoured creme with grilled apricot served with meringue.

GodzillaPin’s dessert of the day (we forget the name but it was a flavoured creme with grilled apricot served with meringue.

And the Turtle wrapped her meal up with a pistachio panna cotta served with lychee honey, rose petals and sorbet.

And the Turtle wrapped her meal up with a pistachio panna cotta served with lychee honey, rose petals and sorbet.

Unfortunately, the air-conditioning had broken down on that particularly hot day, and poor GodzillaPin was perspiring through the whole meal. The experience was somewhat compromised as a result. The service was efficient though, and the food was good – definitely somewhere for a special occasion (as reflected in the price tag), and as always, book in advance. This restaurant also has a little window outside, where one can look through into the kitchen. After the meal, the duo walked by and chanced upon the two chefs, so they stopped to say thank you for a wonderful meal. Naturally, the chefs appreciated the feedback.

GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle really enjoyed the trip, not least because of the food, which is just as well since the duo will be heading back down south in two weeks’ time!

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Arts and Culture, Travel

It’s Summer in Europe – Festivals!!!

OK, so for about ten months a year, life in this corner of Europe is cold and bleak, characterised by grey skies, gusty gales and the type of rain that conspires to keep people indoors. Nobody goes outside unless they absolutely have urgent business to attend to, and even then, they stomp around with a miserable look of despair and reluctance, burdened by too many layers of clothes, determined to go back indoors as soon as possible.

But for two glorious months or so, everything changes. The sun comes out in full force, and the streets fill with folks with shortened hemlines, smiles and a swing in their step. The longer days also mean that one still has plenty of time to stroll the parks or hang out for cocktails after a full day at work. Best of all, summertime means one thing for the duo – festivals.

Stalking the streets in search for art.

Stalking the streets in search for art.

GodzillaPin is a festival freak. Back in their Adelaide days, the poor chap literally lost his mind in Mad March; between WOMADelaide, the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the Clipsal 500 (not to mention all the other events in the regions) all happening during peak surfing season, GodzillaPin desperately wanted to believe he could split himself up to be in 10 different places at the same time. It was GodzillaPin who’d cultivated the Ninja Turtle’s enthusiasm for festivals – it’s not to say that she doesn’t enjoy spending a lazy summer day reclined on the grass with a glass of cooler wine listening to amazing groovy beats, it’s just that she was never really raised to appreciate life this way.

So, the weekend started on Friday evening with the 6th edition of Hop Hop Hop!, the international open air street theatre in Metz. Over three days, various theatre troupes performed in public spaces, absolutely free of charge. More than just theatre, there was also music concerts, marching bands, little scenes, and surprise performances where people rendez-vous at a particular time and place with no idea what they’re going to watch. It’s all good fun, and free!

Qualité Street putting up a musical/acrobatics performance at Place St Louis - according to the duo, it was the best performance of the evening.

Qualité Street putting up a musical/acrobatics performance at Place St Louis – according to the duo, it was the best performance of the evening.

Here’s a short clip from the beginning of the performance by Qualité Street. For those who find themselves in Europe this summer and wish to catch their performances, here is their touring schedule.

The same weekend, there were the Festival World MeYouZik and the Rock Um Knuedler Festival, both free and open air performances in Luxembourg. They were highly billed events, with the likes of Winston McAnuff and Anastacia being the drawcards to the respective events. GodzillaPin had initially assumed that both the world and rock festivals were happening concurrently, but it turned out to be world music on the Saturday they showed up. This is just as well, as between the two genres, the Ninja Turtle prefers world music by a very large margin.

Debademba on the Lion Stage - their style of music is described as: Afrobeat, blues, with a nod at rock.

Debademba on the Lion Stage – their style of music is described as: Afrobeat, blues, with a nod at rock.

Next up was Playing for Change, not so much a band as a collective of musicians with the goal of Connecting The World Through Music.

Next up was Playing for Change, not so much a band as a collective of musicians with the goal of Connecting The World Through Music.

GodzillaPin came to this festival especially to watch Grandpa Elliot perform. That guy can really rock a harmonica.

GodzillaPin came to this festival especially to watch Grandpa Elliot perform. That guy can really rock a harmonica.

At the MeYouVillage, there were stands with information of non-profit organisations and non-government associations focusing on fundraising for various needy communities around the world. At the village, there were also some exotic foods and drinks on offer.

The Gangbé Brass Band performing at the MeYouVillage stage.

The Gangbé Brass Band performing at the MeYouVillage stage.

A short extract of the Gangbé Brass Band’s performance. It’s quite hard to describe the style of music but it’s a fusion of African beats with jazz/big brass band? At any rate, it was cool enough to get all the little kids off their bums and shaking their booties.

Winston McAnuff & Fixi on the Lion Stage. The programmes were running behind schedule and groups were starting a good half an hour after their scheduled performance times.

Winston McAnuff & Fixi on the Lion Stage. The programmes were running behind schedule and groups were starting a good half an hour after their scheduled performance times, but it was worth the wait.

The evening ended with the duo swinging to Alice Francis on the Holy Ghost Stage. The duo had first seen Alice Francis perform in Nancy back in 2013, and fell in love with the genre because of this amazing trio from Germany. They were enjoying the music so much they didn’t take any photos or videos, but here’s a clip from one of their better known songs.

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Arts and Culture, Food, Running, Travel

Exploring Bruges, “Venice of the North”

What a month it’s been! Every single weekend, the duo have found themselves somewhere new, and this last weekend, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin went to catch up with an old friend in Bruges. The last time they saw Matt Damon was in Mulhouse last October, and a lot has happened since then, so it’s been one long gab-fest to catch up on news, and to make more plans for later this summer.

The Ninja Turtle had very little expectations of Bruges, to be honest. Aside from hearing the phrase “Venice of the north” again and again, there was little else to really look forward to, and frankly, if a city has a reputation of being a geographic equivalent of another more famous city… well, what prospects does it have of establishing itself as a legit destination in its own rights?

Turns out, Bruges has a LOT going for it.

Turns out, Bruges has a LOT going for it.

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There are also plenty of tea houses and snack bars serving waffles, ice cream parlours and every imaginable sweet treat.

Between the waffles, chocolate and ice cream, Belgium cities are the shortcut to diabetes.

And of course, the Belgian beers

There is a beer for everyone in Bruges. GodzillaPin found his beer.

There is a beer for everyone in Bruges. GodzillaPin found his beer.

There’s beer, and there is beer. Belgium’s beer brewing tradition goes back centuries, and is a craft refined by the monks in abbeys, which is why trappist beers are THE BEST. If you ever get a chance, try a blind taste test between a bottle-fermented beer, and any old industrially-produced beer. One of them will have  “living” taste.

Bruges is a very beautiful city.

Is this the best photobomb ever?

Is this the best photobomb ever?

And this is how it earned its reputation as Venice of the North.

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Seeing the fine weather forecasted for Sunday morning, the trio popped over to Oostende, a coastal town which was a 20-minute drive from Bruges. The sun was shining gloriously but the North Sea wind was still cold. The Ninja Turtle went off for a quick 5K run along the promenade while the boys headed straight for the sand.

Matt Damon soaking in the rays.

Matt Damon soaking in the rays.

Matt Damon thought it was funny to secretly tail the Ninja Turtle for a few minutes, and to scare the daylights out of her as she approached their meeting point. It was a close race back to GodzillaPin.

Matt Damon thought it was funny to secretly tail the Ninja Turtle for a few minutes, and to scare the daylights out of her as she approached their meeting point. It was a close race back to GodzillaPin.

Visit Bruges. It’s kind of like Venice, but with beer, chocolate, fries and waffles, which makes it a thousand times better.

A French, a Singaporean and a Swiss walked into a bar... and they drank to the awesome city of Bruges.

A French, a Singaporean and a Swiss walked into a bar… and they drank to the awesome city of Bruges.

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