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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Running, Travel

40th Edition of Les Crêtes Vosgiennes

Hi all, apologies for the spell of silence since the last update, the Ninja Turtle hasn’t fall off the side of a cliff (yet) so she’s really got no excuse for not updating, but the weather here has been swinging between extremes – hot and sunny days punctuated with periods of overcast and cold, so the Ninja Turtle has been trying to make the most of the warm weather while it lasts. Unlike most people, she prefers the heat to the cold, and while she may look foolish in shorts, at least she’s not battling to open her mid-run fuel with frozen fingers despite 2 pairs of gloves.

Last weekend, the duo took another road trip, this time for a race in the Vosges. Thankfully, it was much closer to home than the Alps; there is little worse than being cramped in a car for hours after, or for that matter, even before a trail race. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Les Crêtes Vosgiennes is a well-established trail race in Alsace that offered up 2 distances, 13km and 33km. The longer race commenced at Markstein, taking runners over 13 peaks (or crests), sharing the last 13km with the shorter race, and finishing at Lac Blanc. There were water stops every 5km, and except the first one, all the others also offered up fresh and dried fruits, cheese and sausages, biscuits and gingerbread. Just like at the Trail des Passerelles, the weather promised to be fine – only if you finished by a certain time.

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The duo stayed in a cute little bed and breakfast, where the owner kindly prepared the Turtle a super-early breakfast of coffee, pastries, cheese and jam, which the Turtle demolished because #1. nothing like coffee to get pre-race bowels moving, and #2.from previous experience, racing above 1000m above sea level makes the Turtle quite ill so there is no guarantee she’d be able to stomach any mid-race fuel. GodzillaPin drove the Turtle to Lac Blanc, where shuttle buses waited to take runners to the starting lines at Markstein or Schlucht.

Now, it could have been the three cups of coffee, or it could have been the winding mountain roads, but the ride felt interminable, and the Ninja Turtle was feeling rather anxious. In the back of her mind, she couldn’t help asking herself “Are we there yet? How much farther till we arrive? I have to run this whole way back? It’s very far… can I really run this far? It feels very far. Oh my God please don’t let me DNF again…”

To calm herself down, she turned to the runner next to her and started blabbing.

NT: Do you know how many runners are doing the 33km?
Fellow runner: No idea, but quite a lot. It’s the 40th edition so it’s pretty big.
NT: Have you done this race before?
Fellow runner: Yes, in 2010, and it was rainy but we’ve got good weather today. It’s going to be lovely, you’ll enjoy it.
NT: But I think they say it’s going to rain at some stage this afternoon?
Fellow runner: Well, if you run fast enough, it won’t be a problem now, will it?
NT: How technical is the trail?
Fellow runner: It’s pretty tough, but doable. You know, back in the day, it started at Lac Blanc and finished in Markstein.
NT: Why did they reverse the direction of the race?
Fellow runner: To make it harder.

Not exactly reassuring, but at least it killed time and soon enough, they arrived in Markstein.

The competition was, for want of a better word, competitive, at this race. Laugh all you want but the Ninja Turtle found herself swept along in the enormous crowd and after the first kilometre, found herself panting despite a descent. She had to swallow her pride and let dozens of other runners overtake her as she found her rightful place in the line.

First thing the Ninja Turtle noticed was the difference in landscape. A few short months ago, she was in the area skiing at La Bresse; gone was the snow and in its place, tall grass and rocky, pebble-strewn paths. And mountain ranges are all magnificent in their own special way – the views while running on the Alps were truly spectacular, but the pine forests of the Vosges are no less impressive.

The other thing was the crowds – volunteers at the water stations and supporters en route. While us runners may be grimacing in pain, don’t for a minute believe that you are invisible to us. We may not respond to your words of encouragement, but every one of them is very much appreciated. Being one of the few (or sometimes only) Asian runner in a mostly homogenous competing field, she finds herself in the rather awkward position of drawing more attention than she’s comfortable with.

There are mutually embarrassing moments when she runs with a group and supporters would be shouting encouragements to each individual but as soon as they see her and they just clam up – the Ninja Turtle is just going to assume that they assume she doesn’t understand French, because the alternative explanation is unthinkably racist and if it truly is the case, she’d rather not know. But then there are also some lovely moments when supporters see her, and cheer her on as they would any other runner. At this race, the Ninja Turtle got a lot more encouragement than usual, which only leads to the conclusion that Alsaciens/Alsaciennes are incredibly friendly. Also, they have the cutest accent (c’est bien comes out sounding like “say bee-an” rather than “say bee-uhn”).

A few quick lessons the Ninja Turtle’s learnt from this race:

  1. A mile is a mile is a mile, but racing from point-to-point feels psychologically harder for the Ninja Turtle rather than doing a round-trip.
  2. She doesn’t like mounting several small peaks, preferring do a couple of big climbs and a couple of big descends. This race had an elevation gain and loss of about 2000m (compared to 3500m at her previous race) and yet the constant uphills and downhills felt tougher.
  3. An uphill climb on soft forest soil is ten times easier than flat ground studded with irregularly-shaped rocks where runners have to leap over said rocks or try to balance precariously on them while maintaining a “running” pace.
  4. An uphill climb on any terrain is a million times more preferable to a cliff descent that involves rolling pebbles over sandy and unstable ground.
  5. Don’t put Ventolin or mobile phone in left chest pocket of hydration bag, it’s got a giant hole in it.
  6. If said hydration bag weighs 1.6kg after crossing the finish line, it’s got too much crap in it. (Most of the weight is water, and some just-in-case-I-get-lost-or-fall-down-a-cliff-and-need-to-wait-for-help food which NEVER gets around to being eaten.)
  7. Don’t get cocky. Three 30+km trail races in 5 weekends is naturally going to take a physical toll, and just because the last trail race yielded a better-than-expected result doesn’t mean we’re now in pro territory. Since when did timing mean anything in a trail race for this stop-to-take-some-photos runner?

Results:

Time: 4 hours 12 mins 08 secs
Ranking: 653/940 (Overall), 59/129 (Women) 33/63 (Senior Femmes)

She also beat the rain clouds to Lac Blanc by about an hour, although by the time GodzillaPin arrived (he got lost biking in the mountains, which was bound to happen sooner or later since he never has a map) the thermometer dropped to 14 degrees Celsius and fat droplets of cold rain pelted upon a shivering Ninja Turtle. GodzillaPin bought her a giant sausage sandwich and French fries with mayo and ketchup, so all was forgiven.

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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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Running, Travel

Ninja Turtle versus the Weather God

Here are some quick stats for the Ninja Turtle concerning racing this year. Number of races registered in: 8. Number of races completed: 7. Number of races in which there was no rain: 3. Number of races in which weather conditions were ideal for racing: 0.

Come on, it’s mid-July, and without really wanting to sound like a cry-baby, it’s about bloody time the Ninja Turtle got to enjoy a race properly, don’t you think? And by enjoy, she means drinking in the scenery while focusing on pushing herself to new performance outcomes, not struggling with physical limits imposed by meteorological conditions.

Shortly after having licked her wounds over the first DNF, the Ninja Turtle was determined to go back out there and try again. So she signed up for this:

She's capped her ambitions this time at 35km.

She’s capped her ambitions this time at 35km.

As it is, the elevation profile will give her enough to deal with over this mid-distance trail.

As it is, the elevation profile will give her enough to deal with over this mid-distance trail.

The race will take place in the Rhône-Alpes, not far from Grenoble around the Lac de Monteynard.

The race will take place in the Rhône-Alpes, not far from Grenoble around the Lac de Monteynard.

Here is the route for this Sunday.

Here is the route for this Sunday. 5 water stations over 35k, including the one at the finishing line.

With irresistable images like this on their website, flyers, brochures, the Ninja Turtle thought to herself that it'd be the perfect birthday present to give herself.

With irresistable images like this on their website, flyers, brochures, the Ninja Turtle thought to herself that it’d be the perfect birthday present to give herself.

So what could go wrong, right? South of France, height of summer, and just look at those stunning pictures.

Except, this.

meteo19juilletgrenoble

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Since the race and hotel have been paid for, and GodzillaPin’s taken a day off work for Monday and the duo are carrying two carpooling passengers to Grenoble, it’s not like she can back out of it now. Not that she’s chickening out, but really, it’s just so frustrating to be up against such bad luck, weather-wise.

Come on, 2015, get your ass in shape and give the Ninja Turtle some good racing weather!

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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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Running

Running Toys

A while ago, the Ninja Turtle ran a night trail race in Nancy jangling with a whole lot of running gear, and as promised, here is a review on the bits and bobs she ran with. Please note the word “review” is used very loosely, for she has not been paid by anyone to write about any of it, so there is a high likelihood of her losing focus on each product, and talk about something else completely irrelevant instead.

So, the first thing about running at night – having a light is not only ideal, it is necessary. The organisers of the race did state in the rules that a light and whistle were mandatory, but they seem to have failed to enforce this rule strictly enough. The Ninja Turtle should know. She acted as a moving lighthouse for at least two runners who were stumbling along blindly – literally speaking – and frankly, she got quite miffed about it after a while, especially when one of them failed to say thank you, and just sped off ahead as soon as they reached the main roads.

If you're such a "badass runner" who's serious enough to run 32km of trails at nightl, don't be a cheapskate. It only costs 39,95€ to not have to depend on a slowpoke for light.

If you’re such a “badass runner” who’s serious enough to run 32km of trails at night, don’t be a cheapskate. It only costs 39,95€ to not have to depend on a slowpoke for light.

As the Ninja Turtle had no idea what she was looking for in the shop, she simply had to trust the sales guys on their judgement of the product. It meant nothing to her when they said this light has 6 hours of autonomy at 250 lumens, and she drew a few blank looks when she asked what that was in Watts.

To answer that question, a search on the internet produced the following equation: P( W ) = ΦV(lm) / η(lm/W), OR watts = lumens / (lumens per watt).

In other words, she still has no idea. Can you solve for x or y in an equation that says x = y/(y/x)?

Anyway, the light was not as uncomfortable as she initially feared. It’s noticeably there, in an unobtrusively way, and under those circumstances, its presence is more reassuring than annoying. Kind of like one’s shadow. The light has three settings – bright, brighter, brightest, and the red light at the back goes into blinker mode on higher settings. Does it make one feel like a car? Kind of. The only problem the Ninja Turtle had with this was how it pointed rather uselessly straight ahead, onto the back of the runner in front of her,  rather than down on the ground. She had to use one hand to tilt the light downwards so she could see where to put her feet.

Overall rating: 7/10 It’s light (as in, not heavy), it shines brightly and lasts 6 hours, which is longer than the average runner intends to run for in the dark. It’s not expensive, and charges on a USB cable. However, it doesn’t point downwards, and instead of one button for each setting, there’s one single button to turn on, and you have to pass through bright and brighter to get to brightest before you can switch it off. The second item the Ninja Turtle ran with was a brand new hydration pack. To be perfectly honest, it was sort of an impulse buy at the shop, but she rationalised it like this:

Whistle: 4,95€
Cheapest branded hydration pack: 19,95€
Decathlon’s brand hydration pack with built in whistle! : 14,95€

Sold.

A short distance trail hydration pack that holds up to 5L, and a detachable water bladder that holds 1L.

A short distance trail hydration pack that holds up to 5L, and a detachable water bladder that holds 1L.

It took Turtle a while to figure out the difference in capacity of the bag and the bladder. In the end, she realised that the bag was designed to hold other stuff too (think food, keys, spare socks, maps, compass, toilet paper, etc), not just water. Doh.

Rocking up to the starting line of a 12km trail race with one of these felt a little like overkill, until 2km into the run. The Ninja Turtle realised at that moment that it’s far better to have too much water than not enough, and on this race, there were no water/fuel stops for the 12km runners until the finish line.

Also, her usual hand-held bottle would have been a little too cumbersome on the trail, especially since she was already using one hand to redirect the running light. The biggest concern was bounce, and thankfully, this hydration pack did not bounce around at all. There’s a little clip in the front to hold it in place, and it fitted nicely and comfortably. The weight was unnoticeable… BUT.

Throughout the race, the Ninja Turtle found something rather annoying – the hydration pack makes a squeaky sound. Something, and she suspects it’s where the bladder clips onto the bag, keeps rubbing while she moves, and after an hour of squeakiness, it starts to get annoying. The other runners could also hear her approaching from about a mile away.

Overall rating: 7/10 Not carrying a hand-held bottle is quite revolutionary, suddenly, your hands are free during your run (to push off branches, to wipe sweat/snot off your face, to high-five young children in the neighbourhood, etc). It is light, it looks stylish, and it comes with a whistle! However, be prepared to squeak. The heart rate monitor will be touched upon on another post.

Do you carry water on your runs? What do you use?

Have you ever gone running at night before?

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