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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Food, Running, Travel

A Victory Dance from Singapore!

Surprise, world! Apologies for the longish spell of silence, but the Ninja Turtle has been caught up with various obligations that have brought her back to Singapore once again. The last week has been a nightmare of delayed flights, baggages lost in transit, trying to acclimatise to the tropical heat and humidity, meeting insane deadlines and running in not one, but two weekend races.

Last weekend, a mere day and half after arriving back in Singapore (still exhausted from jetlag and sleep deprivation from the sweltering heat) she made up for her humiliating defeat at The Trail Yonne but scoring a new PB in a 5K race at East Coast Park. It was her first time ever racing in Singapore, too, so she nervously took her place in the middle of the pack. Although she started off in a day-dreamy state (to be fair, she had to get up at 5am in the morning) by the 4th kilometre, she’d done enough sightseeing; the groups of tai chi practitioners on one side of the track and the boats out at sea on the other ceased to fascinate her, and she noticed she was overtaking runners by the dozens. She looked at her GPS watch and figured that at 4.2km and 178bpm, she could risk pushing that little bit harder to reach the finish line. Her new 5K PB is sitting at 26m 10s, and a few days later, when the organisers released the results, she learnt that she’d placed 7th out of 301 in her category. (Victory dance #1)

This morning, it was off to another race bright and early, and this time, it was pretty special. To celebrate Singapore’s role as a host of the 28th SEA (South-East Asian) Games, there was a 10K fun run called the Nila Run. The run shared part of the route for the SEA Games Marathon, which was happening concurrently this morning (although good planning ensured that none of us slowpokes were holding up the professional athletes).

What an experience it was. To start at 6am at Kallang, the Turtle had to leave home at an ungodly hour in the morning. Mother Turtle had very kindly offered to drop her off at the venue, despite the Turtle’s insistence that she could take a cab. But when Mother Turtle has her mind made up, she’s a very determined woman, so the two Turtles went for a drive yesterday evening for MT to do a “recon” of getting there. Singapore’s fabulous network of highways and constant development meant wrong turns and missed exits; it took them four attempts to reach the stadium but they did it. (Victory dance #2)

So. At 4.30am, both Turtles were awake and it was pouring with rain on the west side of the country. Mother Turtle voiced some doubts, but the Ninja Turtle had her mind made up to go. After all, she’s resigned herself to the fact that 2015 is the year she’s fated to race in the rain. En route, the skies cleared and the showers stopped. They made zero wrong turns and the NT got to the venue on time. All was good. (Victory dance #3)

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There is something to be said about racing in Singapore. Holy shit the crowds! Unlike in France too, where runners are designated to corrals prior to flag-off, it was a right mess. As soon as they flagged off, the Ninja Turtle found herself frustratingly weaving around “runners” who were simply – and this is no hyperbole – out for a morning stroll. Hundreds of them were simply walking, and had no qualms about standing right up the front! Although she’d decided in advance that given #1 this was a fun run and #2 she’d done a 10-miler yesterday morning so she was going to do an EZ at the event, she nonetheless felt the buzz of being in a hive situation.

The race website stated that water would be provided every 2.5km to 3km, but the first water stop came just after the 4km mark. That was also the first distance marker she saw along the route, although she most likely missed the first three due to her concentration of not running over the walking “runners”. The air was pregnant, alternating between a stifling humidity which threatened to suffocate the runners, and the briefest of cool breezes that brought occasional reprieve. As daylight slowly emerged, the dark clouds loomed overhead and in the horizon, charged with the decree of spurring the runners to pick up their speed.

As the Ninja Turtle reached the 7th kilometre, she felt the first fat drop of water, and within seconds, the skies opened. Once again, she’d found herself running in the rain, and this time, a tropical downpour no less. Within minutes, the runners were completely soaked by the torrential unleashing, and the Ninja Turtle wondered how her mobile phone and earphones would survive. She could also hardly see, with all that water splashing in her face and eyes. At least there was one thing to be thankful for – the equatorial temperature meant no risk of hypothermia this time. The last couple of kilometres were completed, albeit with less pleasure than hoped for. The Ninja Turtle was just glad to have completed the run, although to her disappointment, the GPS said 9.56km, not 10! She later learnt that many other runners who started behind her had their runs cut short by the event organisers who felt it was unsafe/impractical/pointless to continue. (Victory dance #4)

Best of all, later that day, she learnt that it was Singaporean runner Guillaume Soh who’d taken the SEA Games gold medal for the Marathon! (Victory dance #5) An acquaintance of the Ninja Turtle, Guillaume has promised to catch up with her before they both fly back to France and the USA respectively.

After the long trek home, a shower and a quick breakfast, the Ninja Turtle went out to a buffet lunch with her relatives at the Miramar Hotel. The spread at the restaurant thrilled the NT, but everyone else seemed less than impressed.

It was the first time since she’d come home that she’d properly got a chance to pay attention and spend some valuable time with family, and she’s quickly learning what her top priorities in life are. You can throw your life and being into your work, but at the end of the day, it’s never as important as the people who love you. Cousin Turtle used to spend school holidays with the Ninja Turtle and Baby Turtle, so it was lovely to see her again.

IMG-20150607-WA0001Best of all, Mother Turtle and the Ninja Turtle finally got their chance to “dress up and go out for a meal”, something they’ve been waiting for but wasn’t sure they’d have the time to do so on this trip back. Lesson learnt: you don’t find time for things, you make time for it.

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Running, Travel

Trail des Tranchées 2015

This is a recap of Race #4 of the season, the Trail des Tranchées 2015, also known as Hell and Highwater, or What Was I Thinking? or Never Again. First of all, a little trailer from the organisers…

Since the Ninja Turtle has spent all week trying to recover from the ordeal and catching up with work, she cannot afford to re-write this story and so she’s taking the lazy way out by sharing an excerpt of a private communique with a fellow-blogger-running-expert-turned-good-friend, to whom she owes a huge debt for being a listening ear and a personal cheerleader when she was completely flipping out before the race. Thank you, Rod. You’re the man.

The story will be punctuated with some images, which is the second reason for the delay. Given the weather conditions, GodzillaPin was unable to follow the Ninja Turtle during the race to take photos. The official photos were only just released a few hours ago, as the organisers were taking their sweet-a** time uploading them. Anyway…

The Story

“Sunday’s run was… interesting. We lost an hour due to daylight savings, so I woke up after 5h of average sleep. Due to the weather, some participants didn’t even both showing up, apparently. Not enough to be noticeable, but it was the word on the grapevine.
Lost an hour to daylight savings

Lost an hour to daylight savings

Anyway, the Yellow Alert weather forecast warning for rains didn’t deter the organisers from giving us the green light, so off we went in the wind and rain.
The 43km race route took us along the trenches of WWI, and it was a resounding success when it debuted last year.

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But instead of marvelling the forts, hide-outs and bomb craters, this year’s rain meant we were sometimes almost knee-deep in mud, and sightseeing was the last thing we felt like doing. The winds from the previous night of up to 80kph had succeeded to rip some trees apart, and the primary issue was safety. Even at the first fuel stop (12km), so many were already moaning about how sick and tired they were of it, and how they wanted to go home. It felt like we were re-living the war!
As you can imagine, the 1000m elevation, with 95% muddy trails, over 43km in a highly technical terrain… it was pure survival mode. So many people were slipping, sliding and falling, but I took care to slow down rather than risking a fall.
I made friends with a few guys, who were all buddies in a trail running club. I’d helped one of them twice, once by picking up his lost water bottle and another time when I offered to wash his wound with some water, and after that he happily introduced me to his mates as his copine Singapourienne, cheeky bugger.
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I was grateful for the company though, and we all ran/walked together as long as we could, telling jokes and stories to keep morale up, until I had to break ahead for a bit. Past the 25th km I so badly wanted walk but my temperature was dropping perilously fast, so I had to maintain at least a jog to avoid hypothermia. My small body size was no match against the 60kph winds and 3+ hours of rain, despite eating copious amounts at each fuel stop to generate heat.

The organisers were sick bastards who threw in a few hill climbs of over 40% incline, in the last 10km. These were super muddy, and at one point, I slowed down by just 1.5 seconds, and found my foot sinking into the mud to knee level. I almost lost my shoe, and was stuck so fast, I couldn’t move. I looked around for help but I was all alone (in the rain, in the mud, with another 6km to go, I wanted to cry), so I used both hands, grabbed my thigh, and yanked my leg out.

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Are you beginning to see how this isn’t even running, let alone a race, anymore? There were ZERO spectators through the whole course, and of course, no entertainment.
Some runners decide to become the course entertainment.

Some runners decide to become the course entertainment.

I only began to notice how perhaps I’ve underestimated myself, when I started overtaking people in the last 10km despite these conditions.
When it doesn't stop pouring with rain, and the wind wants to blow you to Spain, just keep running with a smile, cos you've still got another 25 miles...

When it doesn’t stop pouring with rain, and the wind wants to blow you to Spain, just keep running with a smile, cos you’ve still got another 25 miles…

I tend to be one of the shy ones who hang around at the back of the starting line, but I overtook about 2 dozen men towards the end. My fastest kilometre splits were also the 42 and 43rd kilometres, which tells me I must have my pacing down pat.


The final torture came at the home stretch – out of the forest and into open space, back to the village, it was over 1km of exposure to the tempest. I’d been going for almost 5h 30m and all I could think of was the finish line beer. A middle-aged gentleman came up from behind and overtook me, but then slowed down to look back at me. I yelled at him “don’t slow down now, mister, we’re almost at the end!” and he said OK and pulled ahead.

But after 200m, something wasn’t right, he was beginning to lope weirdly. I pulled up and asked if he was all right, and he grimaced “I’ve got a cramp and it’s only getting worse”. So I linked my arm around him and said, “come on, we’re almost there”.

He wanted me to go ahead but I refused, and linked my arm around his, and kept talking to distract him and give him a mental boost. After 100m he was struggling even more, so I threw his arm over my shoulder, and supported as much of his weight as I could (thank God he was not much bigger than I am). I half-dragged this poor man the last 300m, and we crossed the line together.

Code of trail runners AND soldiers in combat: leave no man behind.

Code of trail runners AND soldiers in combat: leave no man behind.

I opened my finish-line beer immediately, and it was the sweetest nectar in the world. I forgot to look at the official time we finished, but it seemed completely irrelevant at that stage. I’d done the hardest race in my life, in the shittiest conditions, and I learnt that in the face of adversity, I simply become stronger.”
Epilogue
There are challenges, and then there are challenges. The Ninja Turtle started running in races because each and every one presented a unique opportunity for her to challenge herself to do better. Yet, it’s fair to say that this race was, hands down, the absolute best and worst race in her life, thus making it one-of-a-kind.
For readers with a stats fetish, here are the figures:
Official time: 5h 34m 47s
GPS time: 5h 33m 24s
Category ranking: 12 out of 17 women
Overall ranking: 127 out of 154 finishers
The worst marathon time in the Ninja Turtle’s running life, but her most splendid performance. Of the 205 participants who registered, a few probably DNS, while plenty others obviously DNF’ed. Finishing this race wasn’t only a success, it was a life-changing and epic journey.
When her courage wavered, she thought of her country’s late former Prime Minister, and his steel will, discipline, focus and determination.
When the elements made a difficult route overwhelmingly tough, she thought of the soldiers who braved four years of this hell during the WWI. Most of them were young men, far from home, scared and lonely. They died so we could enjoy the freedom to pursue such insanity today.
When the trucks carrying all the DNFers back to the village rolled past, and it was so easy to just raise an arm and say “I surrender”, she thought of family and friends who loved her and believed in her. OK, so they weren’t necessarily informed in advance about her signing up for this, just in case she got yelled at, but surely they are all retrospectively proud of her.
Like trail running, life is ugly, messy, painful, and full of shit. There are too many ways to hurt yourself, and at the worst of times, it feels like a neverending journey. There are times when we ask the question “what are we doing here?”
But like trail running, life throws us beautiful moments too – the chance to make new friends, plenty of good food to enjoy (even if it’s only raisins, bananas, cake and Coke), and when you dare to face a challenge that seemed far bigger than yourself, it is only then you open up your heart, look into your soul, and learn what you’re truly made of. That, my friends, is priceless.
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Running, Travel

Smile!

A quick recap on last Sunday’s Marathon de Marseille 2015: it was raining, it was windy, there were 499 sleep-deprived marathon runners who woke up ridiculously early for the shuttle-bus to the starting line, of which service terminated a whole hour ahead of the starting time despite the small number of runners.  They sat around in a pub and were fed a winning pre-race breakfast of coffee, biscuits and sardines. Despite the beautiful coastal scenery, the route illogically looped around downtown twice. The signage was inadequate and there was no salt to be found in the first-aid tents. In short, not quite a bag of giggles.

Still, remember how the Ninja Turtle was waffling on about keeping a positive attitude in the face of the absolute worst circumstances? Well, here’s why it’s always important to be wearing a smile: you never know when you’re going to be caught on camera! (See if you can spot the red beanie.)

And here are some photos from the organisers (apologies for the watermark, but the Turtle has already paid more than she cares for to participate in the race, so she’s not paying more for the photos.)

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Running, Travel

Spring 2015 Race #3: Marathon de Marseille

Hello, world! This weekend, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin are checking in from not-so-sunny Marseille! This trip is not over yet, but they are already prepared to file it into the “one of life’s many ironies” folder for old age. A few weeks ago, the Ninja Turtle decided to sign up for the Marathon de Marseille on a whim (OK fine, she and GodzillaPin received a nice angpao for Chinese New Year from the very generous Mother Turtle. Given their fast-advancing years, they no longer have to “save up for college”, so they decided to invest into another lesson in Life’s Classroom a.k.a their euphemistic excuse for travel.) Of course, this means it wasn’t her A race for the season, but she figured, why not do a test run for the real thing? After all, the Marathon de Marseille corresponded well with her training plan, so she might as well seek some sunshine down south, right?

The train ride from Metz to Marseille took almost 7 hours – which is about a flight from Melbourne to Singapore, but nowhere near as fun, despite their discounted First Class tickets. The seats were enormous, but there was no entertainment on board. Sadly, the trains in France don’t offer internet either. They woke at 5am to catch the 6.02am train, and arrived in time for a late lunch and it was off to the exposition.

Another race by ASO Challenges, which manages the big city races like the Marathon de Paris and Marathon de Lyon.

Another race by ASO Challenges, which manages the big city races like the Marathon de Paris and Marathon de Lyon.

A Haribo van! For those who are unfamiliar with the name, it is a candy brand.

A Haribo van! For those who are unfamiliar with the name, it is a candy brand.

The route map for the race. It loops, and loops, and loops...

The route map for the race. It loops, and loops, and loops…

And a name board with all the names of racers.

And a name board with all the names of racers.

Despite waking early, they didn’t get to bed till 11pm, thanks to dinner reservations that commenced at 8pm. The Ninja Turtle may or may not have flirted with disaster when they ordered pulled pork burgers, pork belly with deep fried polenta, a squid and feve salad, and a local dish called a brandade, best described as a mash of sweet potato and cod (yes, the cod mashed in), and dessert of Lebanese pastries. It wasn’t carb-loading, it was sheer gluttony. Photos to come.

The next day, the Ninja Turtle was up at 5am once more.

GodzillaPin refused to get out of bed, but thought it funny to take a candid photo.

GodzillaPin refused to get out of bed, because who wants to be up at 5am two days in a row?

He did however, leave a cute little message of encouragement on the bib to remind the Ninja Turtle what was most important.

He did however, leave a cute little message of encouragement on the bib to remind the Ninja Turtle what was most important.

They agreed to give the Turtle 5 hours from the starting time of the marathon, to meet her at the finish line. Then, throwing back her coffee quickly, the Turtle was out the door. The marathon started out in the Calanques, and racers could only access it by the race shuttle bus, that ran between 6am and 7am. Why so early, when the race was meant to begin at 8am, was beyond everyone. Even more baffling was the number of racers for the marathon category – 499! Seriously?!

The runners spent an hour in this bar, where they were served coffee, tea or hot chocolate, little cakes and I-kid-you-not sardines.

The runners spent an hour in this bar, where they were served coffee, tea or hot chocolate, little cakes and I-kid-you-not sardines. Love the name of the bar, by the way.

So, recall how they chose to come to Marseille because of the sun? Well, this goes down as one of the most miserable races the Ninja Turtle has ever signed up for. Running along the coast with the rain beating down on them, and gusts of wind buffeting from all directions, the runners at least had moral support from the locals who came out to cheer them on. Sure, they were only a handful of spectators, but the number of competitors for a big-city marathon was also shockingly pitiful so it was just a bunch of madmen hanging out on an early Sunday morning in bad weather, no biggie.

Arriving at the starting line at 6.45am for an 8am race. WHY?!?!?!

Arriving at the starting line at 6.45am for an 8am race. WHY?!?!?!

Les Goudes, a little village in Marseille with spectacular views of the Calanques and the sea.

Running through Les Goudes, a little village in Marseille with spectacular views of the Calanques and the sea.

At any rate, the Ninja Turtle is just so thankful this was not her first time running a marathon; had it been the case, she would never run a marathon again. Within 2km, her shoes were soaked, and by the 10th km, she had to stop to squeeze water out her technical socks. The good – there were plenty of water and refreshment points, the bad – the sugar cubes were melting in the rain, the ridiculous – the organisers must have thought it funny to insist on sponge stations. When things are looking bad, just think of how bad others have it. The only people more pitiful at this race than the marathoners were the volunteers manning the sponge stations. They were literally begging the runners to have a sponge.

The race route took the runners into the city centre twice. The first time they approached Vieux Port, GodzillaPin was standing at the window of their hotel room, armed and ready to shoot.

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The Ninja Turtle looked up afterwards, but they were busy waving to each other, so no better photo than that.

It was just before this picture was taken when the first of the marathoners blew right past the Ninja Turtle, closely followed by the second and the third. At least there is one advantage of running a looping course – you get to run alongside the elites, even if it’s for half a split second, and pretend, imagine, fantasize, just for a moment…

The semi-marathon runners who’d joined the marathoners a while back, were fast approaching their relief, and picked up their pace. This may have thrown some marathoners off their intended pace, being swept along by the energy and the spirit of the crowd, for the semi-marathoners easily outnumbered them. Not long after, the marathon route split off and headed towards La Canabière, where the Ninja Turtle caught up with 5 marathoners who were clearly pacing with the semi-marathoners, for she overtook them without really speeding up at all.

The next 10km were slightly lonely and confusing. By now, the few marathoners were scattered throughout the route, and there were stretches where the Ninja Turtle saw no other marathoner. This was bad news, because the route passed the starting point for the 10km race, and for a while, she was beginning to wonder if she’d taken a wrong turn and gone off-course (which was grounds for disqualification, surely?) The signage was non-existent, and when she finally found some volunteers who were managing the traffic for the race, she had to politely wait almost a whole minute for the gentleman to finish his joke before anyone paid her attention, and waved her along in the right direction. Oh well.

Since the Ninja Turtle was not in any particular hurry, the delay hardly mattered. (The course entertainment was amazing, and she danced along to the music or drumbeats with each and every band.) That was her third stop on the race, the second being to pee behind a bush in the park. Hey, if the men can do it, there’s no reason why women should be discriminated against. 26.2 miles is a damn long way to run, especially when the volunteers at the water stops insist you drink up, and drink often. That turned out to be a lesson to the Turtle in and of itself – drink according to thirst. Not only did she have to make a pee stop, there were consequences to come.

In the meantime, she happily slowed down to chat with any marathoner who looked like they were struggling. It was raining, it was windy and cold, and all the good runners were far ahead or long done with the race, so a bit of shared humanity was very much necessary for everyone. There was an old bearded man who looked like Santa Claus after a diet, struggling with his knee; they chatted for a few minutes before he shooed her along, insisting he was fine. There was a young man with the most incredibly springy afro, who was doing so well in the earlier stages, but had slowed right down to a walk due to digestion problems. There was another man who looked most annoyed when the Ninja Turtle asked if he was OK, answering “obviously not!” in the grumpiest possible manner. When she asked if she should seek first aid for him, he looked chastened and replied “no no, don’t worry, I’m not going to die thank you”.

By the 32nd kilometre, the Ninja Turtle was forced to make 2 more stops. She hadn’t been keeping an eye on her pacing at all, just running according to her feel i.e. – knees OK, feet OK, lower back OK, shoulders not hunched, arms relaxed, breathing is fine, chest is not tight, still smiling… all good. However, something didn’t feel quite right, for her vision was starting to blur.

Yes, double vision. Whether it was that alone, or confusion and dizziness setting in as well to compound her misery, the Ninja Turtle looked at her GPS watch for the first time to note her pace. She realised that she was running faster than her usual LSD pace, and it was probably time to take some mid-run fuel. Sure, some people may freak out at the idea of only re-fuelling from the 29th kilometre onwards, but the Ninja Turtle’s been doing such slow shuffles for her last 22- 24- and 26- mile training runs that she never had to eat during any of those. She ran according to the logic that slowing her overall pace saved her the time, in comparison to having to dig around with gloves in her running pack for food in the middle of an open field. Food was always there, but only as a just-in-case-she-had-to-wait-a-few-hours-for-someone-to-find-her.

So, back to the marathon. She took a dried fig, which tasted delicious, and then a morsel of banana. Another couple of kilometres on, she took another piece of banana, and was starting to be thankful of how many refreshment stops there were. She wasn’t hungry, and to be perfectly honest, her energy systems seemed really good, and she had no need or desire to slow down. No wall approaching at all. Still, the double vision persisted, and in fact, worsened after every few sips of water. It slowly dawned on the Turtle that it may not be a sugar level thing at all, but quite possibly, overhydration! After all, she’s been accepting every single bottle of water offered to her, which was far more than what she’s used to drinking on her runs.

At the next medical tent, the Ninja Turtle approached three very bored-looking medics playing on their mobile phones. When she asked for salt, they looked around in shame and said they had none. Ah balls. Luckily, there was a cluster of restaurants a few hundred yards up, so the Turtle jumped into Quick (a French fast food chain a bit like Burger King), and was given 2 packets of salt. She diluted a packet in some water at the next two hydration stations, and immediately felt much better.

By that stage, the 10km runners were also sharing the route, so once again, the pacing was determined by the majority. There were thousands of 10km runners to the few marathon stragglers! With 7km left for both groups, the Ninja Turtle had to frequently repeat to herself “slow down!” as she overtook them on the uphill by the dozens. As she passed them, she overheard many complain about the wind, and thought to herself “you have no idea, folks, just how bad it is for the marathoners… you’re only doing 10km and besides, it’s not raining at the moment so what are you whinging about?” Frankly speaking, she was in a hurry to finish by that stage, because she’d had enough of exposure to bad weather, and the negativity all around her was just energy-sapping.

As she passed the hotel where the duo were staying in a second time, a thought struck the Turtle. She’d told GodzillaPin to meet her at around 1pm, and when she looked at the watch, it was 12:15pm. Whoops. So she took out her phone and gave him a ring.

Turtle: Hey babe, where are you?

GodzillaPin: I’m still in the hotel room. I’m just having breakfast.

Turtle: I’m about to finish. I’m on my last kilometre actually.

GodzillaPin: What?! Already?!

Turtle: Yeah, I’ll ring you again when I cross the finish line, OK?

Meanwhile, back on the race course…

Woman running in the 10km (in French): Oh my God! Look at that woman! She’s running the marathon, and she’s talking on the phone at the same time, and she’s running faster than we are! She’s incredible!

The crowds raised a cheer. The Ninja Turtle looked around, and realised it was her they were talking about and cheering on! Seriously, it was the closest the Ninja Turtle will EVER come to feeling like a star. As the finish line approached, and she overtook another handful of runners, the path laid bare before her and with a final kick, she “sprinted” across the finish line with a giant smile and thumbs up for the cameras (not GodzillaPin’s, cos he was still drinking his hot chocolate at that moment, but never mind, he promises to make up for it).

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Hooray!

 

Some lessons learnt:

#1: Proper nutrition is important of course, but one can overload on too much information on the internet, and ultimately, do what suits your body best. Conventional wisdom says to carb-load and avoid too much fats and fibre the night before, but the Ninja Turtle had no digestive problems after the super-greasy calorie-bomb of a meal.

#2: Attitude is everything. The grey skies, the wind and the rain in the “sunniest ville in France” on marathon race day can easily depress anyone. That’s why you should toss all competitiveness to the wind, talk to your fellow runners, thank the volunteers at the refreshment stops, dance with the bands, give high fives to as many little children and thumbs up to cameras along the way. If you’re not an elite runner, it may be the only way you’ll ever make it to the finish line.

#3: Listen to your body. Conventional wisdom says to not try anything new on race day, which is well-intentioned advice but runs the risk of being misconstrued. The Ninja Turtle takes no fuel during her training, but had no qualms digging in to dried and fresh fruit and salt during the race. Some people worry about digestive problems etc if they deviate from their habits in the slightest – know what? If your body can handle running a marathon, it can probably deal with tweaks in mid-run fuelling.

#4: The wall… it’s possible to run a marathon without hitting it. Or even coming anywhere close to it.

That’s 3 races in the bag for Spring 2015, and the Ninja Turtle is pretty pleased to say that with stops and all, she finished in 4h 21m 55s, taking off 28 minutes 36 seconds from her previous marathon time.

Marseille... your weather was awful and your marathon race route made little sense, but you brought sweet memories in the end.

Marseille… your weather was awful and your frequently-looping marathon race route made little sense, but you brought sweet memories in the end.

GodzillaPin finally showing up, with a sports drink and a windbreaker.

GodzillaPin finally showing up, with a sports drink and a windbreaker. One day they will look back and laugh, saying “remember that time you stupidly ran under the rain for 4 hours in the sunniest ville in France?”

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