Arts and Culture

Art Around Town (Metz, France)

After taking four days off to recover from the Trail des Passerelles, the Ninja Turtle ventured outside for her first run as the weather was just too darn nice to stay indoors. Her quads are still incredibly sore from the downhills so it was slow going; she kept to a route close to home (just in case she needed to cut the run short from too much pain) which meant sticking to within the city.

Now that Europe is thrown into the height of summer, there are endless activities and free entertainment lined up. Metz Plage started two days ago; that’s the “urban beach” where a whole pile of sand is dumped somewhere to re-create a beach atmosphere for those who live only about 8 hours from the closest real beach.

There’s currently a series of open air art exhibitions displayed in various venues too – gardens seem to be a favourite exhibition spot. So as the Ninja Turtle shuffled towards the end of her easy 5-miler, she chanced upon this pretty cool series:

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Travel

Photo of the Day

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The Ninja Turtle’s moment of pleasure during her 5-mile tempo run in the sweltering summer heat today. Please feel free to enjoy the photo, but do ask for permission and credit properly if re-using it for personal/professional purposes, thanks!

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Running

Race #5: Boucles de l’Acier

Spring has finally sprung! After two miserable races in miserable weather conditions (both being marathons no less), the Ninja Turtle finally lucked out and got some sunshine for her 5th race of the season, a 10K run in Florange, not far from the Luxembourg border.

This time round, GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle invited their neighbour Mickey Mouse to come along for a fun day out and extra moral support. Secretly, it was the Ninja Turtle’s strategy to make sure that GodzillaPin would be there at the finish line this time, instead of missing her YET AGAIN.

The race started at a local stadium, which was very convenient for warm-ups. Mickey Mouse helped pace the Ninja Turtle to make sure she was going fast enough to get the blood pumping, but not toe the line wasted.

The race started at a local stadium, which was very convenient for warm-ups. Mickey Mouse helped pace the Ninja Turtle to make sure she was going fast enough to get the blood pumping, but not toe the line wasted.

It was a small-town race, and only into its 3rd edition. The name Boucles de l’Acier literally translates to Loops of Steel, as it was 2 laps of 5km, and a reference to the local steel industry. There was a really dreadful smell as they drove into town, which was a cross between dead fish and chlorine. It was little consolation when they got accustomed to the smell though, because there were visual reminders of heavy industry.

How to die of black lung: run a race in a town which pumps out this much smog. Breathe. Enjoy. Keel over.

How to die of black lung: run a race in a town which pumps out this much smog. Breathe. Enjoy. Keel over.

It was a pancake flat course, and with the sun and light wind, conditions were perfect. The Ninja Turtle employed her usual “strategy” of going slow for the first 70% before picking up the pace at the end.

She even had time to stop for a mid-race kiss from GodzillaPin.

She even had time to stop for a mid-race kiss from GodzillaPin.

She finished the race in 54m 13s, which is a PR for a 10K distance. Save for the 7th to 9th kilometres, which were held at a constant of 11.05kph, this was also a perfect negative split run, meaning each kilometre was run progressively faster than the last. She started at 10.49kph and worked her way up to 12.93kph for the last and final 1000m.

Crossing the finish line strong and happy.

Crossing the finish line strong and happy.

There’s an observation that the Ninja Turtle wishes to make. Progress takes time. For some people, it takes a very long time. When the Turtle first started running in September 2012, she’d lost all fitness, and couldn’t imagine running 10km without dying of an asthma attack.

She remembers when she first ran a 10km under an hour, some time after the New Year of 2013. She cried happy tears.

It took her one year and a bit to bring it down to 57m 54s (summer 2014)

This race time of 54m 13s in spring 2015 is a new 10K time for the Turtle.

Undoubtedly, there are lots of people who improve much faster than she does, but there are also others who’ll need more time. The Turtle has no running coach, and isn’t part of a running club. These are not excuses, these are just facts, being stated simply and plainly. It’s to say that whatever your personal circumstances are, whatever your financial or temporal limitations, just work with what you’ve got. It takes determination, discipline, patience and trust to happen.

Also, progress isn’t linear. Sometimes we stagnate, or we regress, but as long as we keep at things and give it all we’ve got, magic will eventually happen.

You’ll just have to check back in a year or so to see improvements with this Turtle (who knows, she may have even upgraded to a Sloth by then).

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Running

Race #1 of the season: Course des 3 côtes, Nouilly

Before they proceed to the main part of this post, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin would like to wish their readers Happy Chinese New Year! May the year of the Goat/Sheep bring you all happiness, prosperity, success, abundance, wealth, joy, good grades at school, great progress at work, etc etc etc. ~fin preamble~ (The Ninja Turtle really missed home this year for CNY – it was freezing cold, foggy and there are so little Chinese people in Metz, the only celebrations were discounts for exotic food in her supermarket, and after a particularly cold morning run, she came home to no water in the mains so she couldn’t shower for hours; the year can only get better from there, right? Right?)

After months of terribly unsexy training (i.e. too many miles, not enough fast), the Ninja Turtle found herself at the starting line of her first race. Granted, 22 February is a bit early for spring race, since spring for the French is still another month away, but she figured it wouldn’t hurt to start tuning up for the big one. It’s her cut-back week so her LSD for today was only 10 miles, which was exactly the distance of the race, hooray!

As the name says, the Course des 3 côtes is a race featuring three hills in a little village called Nouilly. Total elevation: 360m (1188 feet).

Warming up (under the sun and on the treadmill!)

Warming up (under the sun and on the treadmill!)

As is evident in the photo, the runners were blessed with fabulous weather for the race. At 3 degrees Celsius, it was coldish, but the wind speed was a reasonable 15kph, and under the sun, with 3 layers of clothes, it was almost tropical!

Toeing the starting line with a single digit bib number! This is the closest the Ninja Turtle will ever get to pretending she is a pro.

Toeing the starting line with a single digit bib number! This is the closest the Ninja Turtle will ever get to pretending she is an elite runner. (In small village races, the numbers are assigned at point of registration, so it simply meant she was fast to put her name on the list.)

There were 2 categories: 9.5km and 16km. With 400+ runners, the organisers didn't bother with corrals; the runners in the two categories were all mixed up too. The Ninja Turtle was still daydreaming when the MC said "GO!", and was swept off in a sea of eager runners.

There were 2 categories: 9.5km and 16km. With 400+ runners, the organisers didn’t bother with corrals; the runners in the two categories were all mixed up too. The Ninja Turtle was still daydreaming when the MC said “GO!”, and was swept off in a sea of eager runners.

It’s been months since the Ninja Turtle last raced, and she’s forgotten what it felt like to run with a pack. Despite the many solitary months and miles of shuffling to her own pace, the urge to keep up is still strong, and she made the cardinal mistake of going off faster than planned. Yet, she’s also become very in tune with her own rhythm, so after the first 2km, she fell back to a comfortable pace. If there was one single observation she’s made throughout the whole race, it is this: not only is she no longer afraid of hills, she’s actually quite good at tackling them!

Recall, this was a race of 3 hills, and it was at each and every one of these buggers where she overtook at least 10 runners each time. While others were wheezing hard, she cruised by, upwards and onwards, very comfortably. After all, her goal was not to win, nor even to place a position in this race – she’s still recovering from last Sunday’s 38.5km, and she’s got 8 miles lined up for tomorrow. So, it was a cruise-y, breezy run.

And yet, look at her splits!

And yet, look at her splits! (Speed is in kph.)

After months of training at a maximum speed of ~6mph (9.6kph), she’s pretty darn pleased with this outcome! She’s really getting the hang of saving up for the final kick. Nothing like the look of shock on the faces of the men who’d passed her before, being “chicked” in the final couple of kilometres. Her official time was 1h 28m 02s for the 10 miles (16K), which is definitely a new PB for her.

Racing to the finish line. The Turtle came across this gentleman, who was walking 800m from the finish line! She slowed down to chat and to give him some encouragement. When he got his second wind, he picked up his pace, and gave her a good run for her money.

Racing to the finish line. The Turtle came across this gentleman, who was walking 800m from the finish line! She slowed down to chat and to give him some encouragement. When he got his second wind, he picked up his pace, and gave her a good run for her money.

All in all, it was a happy start to the season. The Ninja Turtle keeps saying to herself that this is but a small race, and step number one leading up to her big race later in spring. But she’d be lying if she didn’t admit she really enjoyed the run, and she’s enjoying the results even more!

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Running

Specificity – Or Something Close to It

Training by specificity is a very fancy and technical way of saying “you get better at something by practising, and the more you do it, the better you get”. It’s the reason why marathon runners need to include some training runs at marathon pace. It’s also the reason why sometimes, you get really well, duh sounding advice like “if you want to run faster, you need to learn to run faster”. Mimicking your race day conditions (to the best of your ability – there is nothing one can do about the weather) and rehearsing as often as possible will make it that much easier, which is why some coaches believe this to be one of the most important principles in performing on race day.

Except.

It’s hard to mimic the conditions of an unfamiliar trail race, in an unfamiliar part of the country/world. So, the next best thing to do is to find the hardest landscape within vicinity, and train on it, keeping your fingers tightly crossed that it’d be enough preparation for the big day. In the best case scenario, it’d be an ass-kicking terrain and you’re well-prepared for the race. In the worst case scenario, you’re simply less ill-prepared. It’s highly unlikely that anyone can be over-prepared for anything.

So this weekend, the Ninja Turtle took to the hills – literally – on her LSD.

Her first goal was Mont Saint Quentin, and this was the view from above. There was a group of runners sadistically punishing themselves with this hill on a sunny Sunday morning, so the Turtle slowed down to have a chat with a few of them. Who said long distance running was lonely?

Her first goal was Mont Saint Quentin, and this was the view from above. There was a group of runners sadistically punishing themselves with this hill on a sunny Sunday morning, so the Turtle slowed down to have a chat with a few of them. Who said long distance running was lonely?

Scy-Chazelle, where the Maison de Robert Schumann (one of the co-founders of post WWII modern Europe) is situated. It's also one of the villages along the Route des Vins (wine route). Moselle produces some lovely white wines.

Scy-Chazelles, where the Maison de Robert Schumann (one of the co-founders of post WWII modern Europe) is situated. It’s also one of the villages along the Route des Vins (wine route). Moselle produces some lovely white wines.

In the forest coming down Mont St Germain. What do you do when faced with obstacles like a giant fallen tree? You hurdle over it of course! (Nah, kidding. The Ninja Turtle's 5 foot 1, so she easily passed under, although other runners may have to do the limbo).

In the forest coming down Mont St Germain. What do you do when faced with obstacles like a giant fallen tree? You hurdle over it of course! (Nah, kidding. The Ninja Turtle’s 5 foot 1, so she easily passed under, although other runners may have to do the limbo).

Running insanely long distances like that have one huge advantage. Once a runner is able to overcome the scary, horrible idea of “I have to do x km today”, the obligation turns into an opportunity. “I have x km to explore!” See, fundamentally, we’re all explorers, and deep inside, there resides the kernel of curiosity as to what lies beyond the hill, or even just around the corner. The Ninja Turtle didn’t have to worry about sticking to familiar routes and having to turn back; GodzillaPin had offered to pick her up from anywhere in case she’d gone too far. This gave the Ninja Turtle license to go out literally as far as her prescribed training distance, without worrying about making it back, if she didn’t want to. Hence, the hills, the forests, the little villages, etc.

Crazily enough, the green parts of the map on Lessy and Chatel Saint Germain were all forest hills, and the one in Lessy is part of the GR5 route (stretching from the Netherlands to Switzerland). It was hauntingly beautiful to be alone in the woods.

Crazily enough, the green parts of the map on Lessy and Chatel Saint Germain were all forest hills, and the one in Lessy is part of the GR5 route (stretching from the Netherlands to Switzerland). It was hauntingly beautiful to be alone in the woods.

P.S (She made it home on her own two feet, by the way! As she staggered through the door after climbing 3 flights of steps to their apartment, she was greeted with the most amazing smell of food – GodzillaPin had very thoughtfully cooked her  potatoes and homemade bolognaise sauce. If that isn’t true love, not sure what it is. To show her appreciation, she demolished all 2kg of it within half an hour.)

How do you train for a trail race?

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Running

Race #3: The Night Trail La Feminine 2014

This shall be a predominantly photo update, as the Ninja Turtle is too exhausted to write coherently. She’s just completed La Feminine for The Night Trail in Amnéville, Lorraine (north-east of France).

When she first enrolled for this race, she was going to do it with two neighbours as a team of three runners, each doing one lap of 5km. Due to unforeseen circumstances however, her two teammates could not participate and therefore the Ninja Turtle switched her enrollment to the solo run (3 laps of the trail circuit).

The organisers stated that the distance was to be 3x5km for teams, or 15km in solo, but it turned out to be shorter – 3x4km for teams, or 12km in solo. The Ninja Turtle does not care, as she crawled through the finish line, her only thought was how unprepared she was for a trail race. Roots and rocks, uphills and downhills, patches of slippery mud, logs to leap over and the eyestrain from intermittent sunlight poking through the foliage made it less fun and more run for poor Turtle.

All photos are copyrights reserved by this man:

Each time the Ninja Turtle races, GodzillaPin works harder than she does.

Each time the Ninja Turtle runs a race, GodzillaPin the cameraman works harder than she does.

Pre-race: Excited, nervous, pumping, and super hungry

Pre-race: Excited, nervous, pumping, and super hungry despite having eaten her bodyweight’s worth of potato chips while watching Il Y A Longtemps Que Je T’Aime the night before.

Because the Ninja Turtle is shy, she often finds herself standing towards the end of the group each time she approaches the starting line.

Because the Ninja Turtle is shy, she often finds herself standing towards the end of the group each time she approaches the starting line.

Mid-race, desperately making sure she didn't get lost. It was her first time running a trail.

Mid-race, desperately making sure she didn’t get lost. It was her first time running a trail.

Post-race disappointment. Was it the lousy fruit cake? The inconsistent weather? Her feet swelling rapidly? She can't remember.

Post-race disappointment. Was it the inedible fruit cake? The inconsistent weather? Her feet swelling rapidly? She can’t remember.

A second post-race photo, much more paparazzi-friendly this time...

A second post-race photo, much more paparazzi-friendly this time…

Because the Ninja Turtle came in second place for the women's solo run! Who would have ever thought it was possible?

Because the Ninja Turtle came in second place for the women’s solo run! Who would have ever thought it was possible?

The prize included a cabin suitcase, a lightweight polar vest, two sessions of water-biking and a big-ass bouquet which GodzillaPin had too much fun arranging at home.

The prize included a cabin suitcase, a lightweight polar vest, two sessions of water-biking and a HUGE bouquet which GodzillaPin had too much fun arranging at home.

Lesson: When running a trail race, don’t expect your splits to be the same as those in a road race. Just be hell grateful you weren’t eaten by a bear or something.

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