Everything good and beautiful takes time.
The calendar says 16 June 2014 today. This means the Ninja Turtle has survived all 4 races this season, and is still alive. Happiness all around. Unfortunately, she hasn’t completely recovered her sanity and coherence quite yet, hence shall be unable to write meaningfully. This post will be some photos, and recollections of the bizarre thoughts that went through her mind while racing.
First off… choose a favourite cliché you identify with:
a) Save the best for last!
b) What you don’t know cannot hurt you
c) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
d) Death is but a part of life
e) It ain’t over till it’s over.
In that very order, those were the thoughts the Ninja Turtle had about yesterday’s race. At first she was very excited, then she went into slight denial when she was informed just what lay before her. On Saturday afternoon, however, fear had began to sink in as they left the cute cottages of Alsace and drove up the winding roads that took them through the mountainous forests villages. GodzillaPin got carsick and stopped by the road side to throw up. The Ninja Turtle’s brave facade quickly melted into resignation that this race may be one of two “first-time experience”s: crossing the finish line last, or worse, a DNF.
Just as a little side note, when the Ninja Turtle registered for the race, it was advertised as 25km, but later changed to 27km. At some point in one’s running life, a person is able to say, I’ve been running for donkey hours, what’s another xkm? The Ninja Turtle is NOT at that point yet. She chooses races according to a distance she believes treads the fine line between personal achievement and being permanently incapacitated.
There is very little, and yet so much, to say about attempting an experience bigger than oneself. The Ninja Turtle has now fallen solidly into the habit of starting a race right at the very back of the pack. It didn’t matter anyway, as soon as the gun went off, the fastest runners shot off, while everyone else fell into their own comfortable paces, for all of about 3 minutes. The runners came to the first of numerous hills, and trail running wisdom calls for runners to walk uphill when it becomes more energy-efficient-relative-to-running to do so. The traffic jam took about a minute to clear, and the Ninja Turtle proceeded to slowly hike up with everyone else.
This became a regular feature for the rest of the race. There are several big lessons about trail racing that the Ninja Turtle learnt immediately:
1. Worth reiterating: ignore your splits, there is no way you’ll hit the same splits running on mountainous trail as compared to road-running.
2. The trail path is only wide enough for you or your ego. Choose one.
3. You can only go as fast as the person in front of you. Don’t be a jerk by trying to overtake, you could compromise the safety of yourself and others.
4. May be a good idea to get trail shoes, and to dress for the terrain. Never know what plants you may be allergic to. Also, expect to finish with a layer of dust or mud on your feet and legs, at the very least.
5. The forest is like a beautifully-distracting woman. As soon as you take your eyes off the goal (focusing on running safely) to admire the view, that’s when you’re most likely to trip up.
Although the Ninja Turtle started the race with a niggle in her right calf and knee (thanks to the race in Champagne), she’s all but forgotten about it 3km into the race. In fact, all her fears evaporated as the magic of the mountain air filled her being. She found a reliable target to pace her – a woman with killer calves and a regular pace that matched the Ninja Turtle’s very comfortably.
The miles flowed by, punctured only by the smattering of sunlight that pierced through the foliage.
Time froze and shattered into splinters that crunched underfoot like the gravel.
The Ninja Turtle wanted to burst into a Walt Disney song. (If you must know, it’s A Whole New World from Aladdin.)
Water and food stations were regular, and provided another valid “resting point” for runners to take a break, catch their breaths and look around. It’s very interesting to note that the fuel provided in this trail race included the more natural sources of energy – dried apricots and raisins, oranges and bananas, and water. In comparison, the Ninja Turtle has seen at the fuel stations in road races, chocolates and salted pretzels, muesli bars and energy gels, energy drinks and even Coca Cola. All things considered, it feels almost virtuous to run in a trail race.
So, the race started in a valley at the lake of Schaeferhof, and wound its way around and up towards the Rocher du Dabo. All up, the organisers counted a total ascent of 629m and a descent of 646m. Most racers were wearing GPS, and although none of them could agree on the actual total elevation gains and losses, there was one thing they agreed on: the organisers seemed to have somewhat understated the challenge.
Along the way, a few other amusing thoughts crept into the Ninja Turtle’s mind. One of them was trying to identify who her heroes and role models are. Of course, it being Fathers’ Day, she had Papa Turtle on her mind a fair bit. Her best friend Sonic the Hedgehog was also celebrating his birthday (see previous post), hence the photo in yesterday’s birthday dedication was taken for him when the Ninja Turtle finally reached that bloody rock (the photo session added 2 minutes to her final race time, but fool to those who couldn’t afford a moment to simply stare at the effort they’ve just made to reach such breathtaking heights).
The Ninja Turtle is also immensely grateful to GodzillaPin, who is completely indispensable for all his support. He drives her to races, carries her necessities in his backpack, ready for when she crosses the finish line, and more incredibly, finds ways to take photos of her during the race.
During La Champenoise, he managed a couple at the beginning and the end, and at La Feminine, there were a couple of moments where he ran alongside the Turtle to try and capture a shot. This time however, his efforts really took the cake. What’s a man with a knee problem to do, when he’s trying to photograph his partner during a trail race?
The first 20km flew by like a dream, and the next five required a little focus, but was still immensely good fun. The Ninja Turtle had, by that stage, overtaken a few runners, while maintaining to keep up with that pro-racer-with-killer-calves. She fell into conversation with Ms Super Calves, whose initial reticence dissolved once she realised that the Ninja Turtle simply wanted a guide. Ms Super Calves has been racing on trails for a little over a year, and has a marathon in the Alps coming up soon (thus confirming the Ninja Turtle’s instinct that she’s indeed a pro). She was quite taken aback when the Ninja Turtle said the only trail race she’s ever done (La Feminine), was 2 weeks ago, and had an elevation of a molehill in retrospect.
The few instances the Ninja Turtle found herself overtaking Ms Super Calves, she simply stopped and let Super Calves catch up and run ahead of her. This saved her from doing the navigation work, gave her a good idea of where to plant her feet, and provided a sense of security in case an accident happens. Plus, Ms Super Calves had a much more constant pace, whereas the Ninja Turtle can get ahead of herself when she’s excited, and unreliably burst into sprints while screaming “wheeeee!” when she feels the urge to.
The last three kilometres, Ms Super Calves made all the difference. The Ninja Turtle, having eaten about a handful of raisins and half an orange for the last 25km, felt a wall approaching. Maintaining the same pace suddenly felt tiring, and she felt her breath beginning to labour while her heart rate skyrocketed. She quickly dug around in her fuel belt for the honey and guarana shots given to her by Mother Rabbit (GodzillaPin’s mother, who’s a very organised woman, also furnished her with a torch, just in case). Whether those two elixirs actually worked is hard to say – the Ninja Turtle had only one thought in mind: the finish line isn’t far!
Which was why she felt really, ridiculously confused and somewhat furious when her RunKeeper said 27km, and the finish line was nowhere in sight. What the? She suddenly remembered that trail races are notorious for being “a little vague” when it comes to defining distances. The last two races she’d run in turned out to be shorter than advertised, but this time… this time it was a whole 900m longer.
Ms Super Calves picked up her pace for the final stretch, and all the Ninja Turtle could do was grit her teeth and hang on. She was hell-bent on finishing right behind this incredible woman. As they approached the lake, the Ninja Turtle dug deep and wrung herself for the final, whereas Ms Super Calves didn’t seem concerned about sprinting the last few steps. Then, she quickly realised that the race was not over yet! They had to run the lap around the bloody lake before it was considered done. At this moment, Ms Super Calves changed gears, and kicked up dust like she was late for a flight. The Ninja Turtle hung on as tight as she could, overtaking two more runners in the final 300m.
There is not much else to say. The Ninja Turtle has covered almost 28km running through the mountainous pine forests and lived to tell the tale. Her official time was 3h 24m 01s, which is meaningless since it’s not a DNF, and nor was she the last across the finish line (she actually placed 4th in her category, but that’s meaningless too since there were only 6 in the SEF group, while a good majority appeared to be V1M).
Four races completed. Enough with the running for now, it’s time to rest, stretch, foam roll, eat, sleep and dream up the next adventure.
Although this post is somewhat belated (given the time difference between Sydney and Metz) the Ninja Turtle simply MUST put this out before she allows herself to go to bed.
Sometimes we spend our lives looking for The One. Sometimes, we have already met them, but have yet to realise it (or perhaps, we realise it only when it’s too late). Sometimes, we never find them at all.
A best friend. A person who has always been there for you, in all your darkest moments, as well as your brightest ones. They’re there to lend a hand each time you move houses, helping you decide which items to keep and what junk to leave behind. They’re there to hold your hair out the way as you bend over, throwing up into a bush, having drank a little bit too much on a Saturday night, not judging you. They’re there “to talk”, even if it’s 2am in the morning, and will even come over if you ask them to pick you up for a night drive along the coast, snacking on chocolate biscuits while complaining about life. They’re there to pick up the pieces of your broken heart each time a relationship fails, with all the right words to say, a spare bed if you need to spend the night, and to stop you from sending messages/emails you will later regret.
They’re there to while away an afternoon with, trawling the internet for pointless garbage to giggle at. They’re there to share a lemon curd pie with so you only have to deal with half the guilt (until they decide to throw in a milkshake when all you really want is to curl up and moan in self-pity for eating so much). They’re there to build fabulous memories with, travelling around various countries.
If there is a God, the Ninja Turtle would thank it/her/him for having put Sonic the Hedgehog in her life. Sonic the Hedgehog has been nothing short of a miracle in biped form. He is witty, charming, considerate, intelligent, conscientious, and above all, he’s been a remarkably good friend to the Ninja Turtle. Even moving half a world away has not stopped him from being a source of support and encouragement to the Ninja Turtle.
Five years ago, the Ninja Turtle and Sonic the Hedgehog celebrated their 21st birthday together. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Thanks to the generosity of Father and Mother Hedgehog, there was an open bar and 10kg of chocolate cake. Sonic the Hedgehog said to the Ninja Turtle that very night “you know, it’s all downhill from here”.
Today, the Ninja Turtle has found her reply: perhaps, but true friendship is greater than the force of gravity, and when you have a real friend in your life who’s always got your back, you can reach heights you never believed was possible. And the view from up here, my friend, is almost as priceless as your friendship.
About twenty-four hours ago, the Ninja Turtle received, for the first time, some public recognition for her running. Before you all think she’s some super pro, she is not. From our schooling years we all know it’s easier to be the best student in a class of twenty than it is to be the top of the year with 2000 students. Likewise, a small race stacks the odds in your favour for coming up ahead.
In all honesty, she wasn’t even sure if there was going to be a race at all, as the publicly available list of enrolled runners showed ONE team (hers) and ONE solo runner. Since she had to switch from the team to the solo component, she believed it was only going to be a race of two runners. You know what racing against one other person means? It means if you don’t win, you lose. The Ninja Turtle has never felt any pressure whatsoever to cross the line first, but then she’s never really had to consider what it meant to cross the line last either.
It became a torturous week of debating strategy. She had not completely recovered from those killer hills at La Champenoise de la Marne, and she had completed a 14-mile long run on the Monday of race week. Should the Ninja Turtle:
a) Run comfortably, treating it like a novel experience – first time in the forest!
b) Run slowly, deliberately saving herself for her fourth race (15th June, 27km of trail) and graciously acknowledging she is a noncontender as she approaches the starting line
c) Run as fast as she can, since she’s paid money to “run a race”; after all, with no knowledge of the other runner’s skills/background, she technically has a 50-50 chance
She spent a few agonising days psyching herself into a funk. On one hand she didn’t care to win, on the other hand she didn’t want to lose either. On yet another hand (GodzillaPin’s) if she was going to win, she’d like to win against an opponent that gave her a good run for her money, and on the same token, if she were to lose, she wanted to lose knowing that she drove a hard challenge and her opponent beat her satisfactorily with killer skillz. After about half an hour of struggling to verbalise these conflicting thoughts to GodzillaPin in broken French, GodzillaPin very simply replied “what about running for the pleasure of it?”
That silenced the Turtle.
Of course, her fears were moot when she saw the number of runners on Sunday morning. It wasn’t going to be a black-or-white, win-or-lose race. She could find herself, quite happily and comfortably, in the middle of the pack once again. Still, the psychological scars of spending a week believing she could come in last lingered. This was why she elected to stand right at the very back of the small pack of runners when they were called to approach the starting line. Maybe in a twisted way, she was trying to turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Once the runners entered the woods, the Ninja Turtle focused on settling into her own pace. It took a couple of minutes, by which time she realised that not only was she gaining on the runners ahead of her, she was starting to overtake them. Without much effort.
The biggest concern in the forest shifted from finishing last, to not getting lost. For the first lap of the race, she elected to run close to one or two other runners, permitting them to go ahead of her at times, so they can do the work of leading the way while she focused on not tripping on roots and hurdling over fallen tree trunks. The Ninja Turtle was quite easily the shortest runner, so while everyone else was gracefully clearing these obstacles, she was handicapped by short legs that made her feel like a hobbit.
After the first lap, the Ninja Turtle had overtaken a good 2/3 of the contenders. Mentally, she had shifted gears from “let’s run for fun” to “let’s run for a PR”. She skipped a water station despite immense thirst, as it was the checkpoint for relay teams to switch runners. She found herself saying things like “this is a tempo pace, surely you can keep this up for another 6km”.
Towards the end of the second lap, she was delirious from thirst, and her usual strategy of starting out empty and fuelling mid-race was beginning to backfire as she realised she was not running for endurance, she was running for speed, and her vision getting fuzzy was a sure sign of plummeting sugar levels. Right before approaching the fuel station she had just overtaken another solo runner, and although greatly reluctant to lose time, she was forced to drink 2 cups and grab a bite before stealing the giant 1.5L bottle of water from behind the counter and running off with it.
By the beginning of the third lap, the Ninja Turtle knew that the rest of the race all depended on mental strength, for she had reached her physical limits. She was plagued by nausea and the dried apricots and chocolate cereal bars were making her all mucusy. Breathing was a chore. She realised belatedly that she didn’t have her Ventolin.
Every half a minute, some part of her body begged her to slow down, and her mind fought back to silence the pleas and the excuses. She had one thought, and only one thought in her mind: whatever the outcome, she wanted to reach the finish line knowing that she had given nothing short of 100%, emptied her tank, and found she had another 10% more to give. As tears of strain started streaking her sweaty face, making her nose even snottier, she felt fear, pain, desperation, grief, rebellion, defiance, hope, and finally, elation. She was going to finish with absolutely no regrets.
Upon crossing the finish line, the Ninja Turtle collapsed and for three sweet and holy seconds, laid immobile on her back until some volunteers came rushing over, asking if she needed first aid. She hurriedly pulled herself up, insisting she was fine, just overwhelmed by the emotional experience. The sweat, snot and tears had washed her mind of all negativity, and she was reborn into the promise of all possibilities.
When we make “I can’t” statements, we are the creators of our own roadblocks. What does “I can’t” even mean? Does it mean that I am not capable? How will I know this until I have tried? The other meaning of “can’t” means “not allowed to”, and that’s exactly it. People sometimes fear success as much as they fear failure, and “I can’t” simply means they refuse to permit themselves to discover what they actually are capable of doing.
It was sweet to receive second place in a race, but it was even sweeter for the Ninja Turtle that day, outrunning the demons that lurked in her mind.
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.
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 common trait – fearlessness.
Runners are not afraid to try –
Runners are not afraid to cry –
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%.
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 Oatmeal, Baby 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.
Hello, and happy St Patrick’s Day! Since the Ninja Turtle is neither Irish, nor Catholic, it seems a little strange to be hat-tipping this festivity, but she never says no to one more reason for a cold beer, which seems to be the real point of today. Like all runners, she is also somewhat superstitious and ritualistic – no hunting for four-leaf clovers or wearing horseshoes, but she certainly wore green while out running today, and the thought crossed her mind to go around pinching those who didn’t, so she would be chased into picking up her pace.
We’re halfway through March, and now seems as good a time as any to re-evaluate how this year is coming along. This time last year, the Turtle was training hard for the Marathon de Paris, her first, and having a bucket list goal to work towards is one hell of a motivation in itself. Having achieved the goal however, the Ninja Turtle has decided that there is a lot more to running than just marathons. Sure, they are nothing to sneeze at, but 2014 is the year she’s going to diversify her running experiences. She aims to do more festival and music runs (because she loves dressing silly and scoring high-5s from the children), as well as trail racing. Of course, she’ll go back to the marathons if something really attractive comes up, but for now, there are other priorities.
It must be said that with a less solid goal, it can be challenging to stay focused. When you’re aiming to complete a marathon, you have a mantra on your runs, it sounds something like “42.195… 42.195… if I don’t make it, I’d rather die… 42.195…” (or if you use miles, “26.2… 26.2… I’m going to run faster than you… 26.2…”) When, like the Ninja Turtle, you’re an amateur runner without a coach or a tailor-made training plan, and all you want to do is have fun/run through rugged terrain, mantras become less evident. They sound a little bit more like “kill the hills! kill the hills!” or, while running on the grass in Anywhere, France, “do NOT step on dogshit, do NOT step on dogshit”.
Nonetheless, there is plenty to get her lacing up and out the door; as mentioned before, spring has sprung early this year. The riverside trails that were closed over winter due to floods have reopened, and she did most of the 8 miles alongside two rivers – the Seille and the Moselle.
And along the way, she was treated to views like these:
Of course, scenery aside, this runner has a few other “carrots” to keep her running. In no particular order, they include:
- A new running playlist
- A large post-run meal featuring a LOT of peanut butter
- Enrolling for an upcoming race
- A running magazine that GodzillaPin bought for her
How do YOU motivate yourself to run?
Although one cannot argue with “better late than never”, it is not an excuse to procrastinate unless you’re confident of your longevity.
Seriously, jokes aside, chapeau to this gentleman for an incredible life story and his achievements. It’s humbling to be reminded that we, the lucky ones, have no good excuses to not get out there and chase our dreams. Men like Mr Mohr fought for the liberty we were born into, and we owe it to them to make something of our lives too.