Food, Running, Travel

Trail des Passerelles du Monteynard

Warning: Long post. This is a race review which comes with a background story.

Although this blog may present a charming life of travel, food and fun, several incidents over the last few months have conspired to creating a sense of pressing urgency within the Ninja Turtle to redeem herself. First, there was the accident of falling from a height of 2.5m onto concrete while on holidays back in November last year (and the subsequent few months of recurring nightmares where the Turtle was falling to her death in some way or another), leaving the Ninja Turtle with a perpetual sense of mortality ever after.

Then, there was the crushing defeat of her first DNF at the Trail Yonne back in May; after months of training for the ultramarathon event, increasing her mileage, cleaning up her diet and quitting all the good stuff in life (wine), she found her limits against Mother Nature.

More recently, she’d “lost” her job (word used loosely here – she had in fact, painfully decided to walk away from it) when everyone around her pointed out the fact that it was not normal to be busting her balls for ridiculous hours at a token pay that equated to exploitation. Nor was it normal that none of her writings on the site were ever attributed to her name, and since she’d taken all promises in good faith, she’d only learnt that she was being used when she finally tried to sort out a contract and was essentially told that she was not worth a paycheck.

The breaking point came when she’d gone back to Singapore and was on a couple of occasions, treated with such little respect with regards to her time, that within a week or so, she’d lost a couple of kilos due to missing out on sleep, meals, and even the chance to use the toilet, and fell so ill with a raging fever that for a while, they were worried she’d contracted MERS during her stopover in Dubai. After months of dedication, she pretty much has nothing to show for her work. Worst of all, during this period of insanity, the Ninja Turtle had neglected GodzillaPin on various occasions, choosing to prioritise meeting rushed deadlines over quality time (especially at Easter).

The Ninja Turtle is choosing to reveal all this information now, as she had kept some or all of it from various friends and family out of shame. The thing is, while the Ninja Turtle may not be competitive, she handles failure very poorly (perhaps this is exactly why she’s not competitive). Some people bounce back quickly, but she’s the sort to withdraw into a darkened room, curl into a tight ball and wash her wounds with tears of self-pity. Melodramatic, for sure. Thankfully, she’s had amazingly good friends like Sonic and Krazy Kow who rallied by her side immediately, but also Mother, Papa and Baby Turtle who showed her unjudgemental and unconditional love, and GodzillaPin who readily forgave her for the few awkward months, so she wouldn’t all but give up on writing and running completely (which would have been really stupid).

So these were the Ninja Turtle’s primary motivations for signing up for the race, which fell on the weekend of her birthday. She’d wanted a chance to redeem herself, to celebrate life, and to take on a challenge because life goes on.

Arriving at the Lac du Monteynard on Sunday morning for the race after only 6 hours of sleep. The landscape soon woke the two sleepyheads up.

Arriving at the Lac du Monteynard on Sunday morning at 7am for the race, after only managing 6 hours of sleep. The landscape soon woke the two sleepyheads up. The race organisers provided a very regular shuttle bus service from the parking to the start line because we all know runners are capable of running for hours, but walking 10 minutes is like death.

The Ninja Turtle at the starting line. She'd had her coffee and bread with jam, drank a litre of water by then, and did her business twice (in the bushes because OMG the queues for the toilets) so she was all set to go.

The Ninja Turtle at the starting line. She’d had her coffee and bread with jam, drank a litre of water by then, and did her business twice (in the bushes because OMG the queues for the toilets) so she was all set to go. The bibs displayed the race course with its evelation and refreshment stops upside down for the runners’ benefit. Clever!

The race was stated to start at 8.30am and it was quite timely (her watch read 8.33am). There were 812 people registered for the 35km race, but only 750 showed up at the starting line. The sun was already out by then, and all the runners’ were sporting hydration packs that were full to bursting. The Ninja Turtle looked at the mountains around her, thought about the 1900+ elevation gain and 1900- descent that awaited her; her brain failed so she resorted to humming “She’ll be coming round the mountain” instead.

With a winding path that climbed gently, some runners might have been fooled into a sense of complacency. The worst was yet to come.

With a winding path that climbed gently, some runners might have been fooled into a sense of complacency. The worst was yet to come.

Passerelle is what the French call a bridge. The race took the runners across two simple suspension bridges that crossed the Drac and the Ebron. Built in 2007 using helicopters, these cable bridges span 180m and 220m. Depending on the water level in the artificial lake, the bridges sit 45 to 85m above the water.

The first picture is a sign pointing to the Drac suspension bridge. The race route took the runners across the bridges 4 times in all. The middle photo was taken while queueing to cross the bridge for the first time. The Ninja Turtle was happy but she’d yet to learn what was to come. Almost all the runners enjoyed a magnificent view from the bridges. Sadly, the Ninja Turtle was not one of them.

A few steps onto the bridge, which was swinging wildly from the combined weight of all the runners and the wind, she was seized by overwhelming panic, and paralysis set in. The dizzying height brought back her fear of falling, and her heart rate shot up to 175 despite standing stock still. Each time she had to cross, a fellow runner would hold her by the hand and gently coax her forward with encouraging words, while her tears flowed, her knees buckled and she rambled nonsense about death. She got the names of two runners – Isabelle (mother of 3 who lives in the area) and Judit (a young Hungarian doctor), but not the gentleman whose poor hand she probably fractured, squeezing so hard. Whoever he is, bless his runner’s soul, she hopes he scored a PR.

These photos do little justice to the race experience. The climb was insanely tough, and runners who came with walking poles had an advantage, while those without had to resort to hands on knees. Many runners stopped to catch their breaths (both literally and metaphorically), as the air got thinner as they ascended, but the view was truly spectacular.

Several things the Ninja Turtle did right this time:

1. Pacing herself by effort. As soon as she’d hit Start on her GPS HRM watch, she’d all but ignored the details on it except to occasionally glance at her heart rate. Speed was irrelevant since there was no cut off time for any check points or the entire race.

2. Constant hydration. As the mercury pushed towards 37°C (98°F) on the unsheltered summits, it was imperative to keep drinking.

3. Eating early and eating often. After burning through too many calories to maintain her core body temperature, costing her a DNF at the last race, the Ninja Turtle has learnt her lesson. Eat as much as you can, as often as you can. Also, she skipped the dried and fresh fruits this time, opting for crackers and cheese sandwiches because when you’re drinking about 5L (1.3 gallons) of water, you’d better be replacing the NaCl.

Several things she could have done better:

1. The Ninja Turtle lost 15 minutes at the first water stop. First of all, there was a queue of thirsty runners battling to refill their hydration packs. When everyone else towers over you, you quickly become invisible to the volunteers. After politely hanging around the back for a few minutes, the Ninja Turtle decided to just crawl under the crowd of smelly runners and get her share. However the battle was not over. She struggled for another 10 minutes trying to figure out how to close that stupid device. Lesson: don’t use new gear on race day.

2. The Ninja Turtle may have been doing a few runs on Mont St Quentin and Les Sartelles (military grounds in Moselle and Meuse, featuring hills) sporting a new pair of New Balance trail shoes, so she’s been perfecting her uphill climbs and rolling back downhill in those flashy things. She’s learnt to rotate her hips more and let gravity do some work for her, so she can actually enjoy the sensation of going fast. However, she didn’t take into account that her training ground insufficiently reflected the incline and decline of race conditions. After the first descent, she could feel all her toenails threatening to fall off. After her second descent, her quads were screaming for mercy. Lesson: you can never be over-prepared.

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Useful advice from the running community that’s helped her:

1. Ultra runner Paviter Singh once shared with the Ninja Turtle the technique of thinking of the race not by its total distance, but the number of summits to surmount. The Ninja Turtle found this, combined with thinking of the number of food+hydration pit stops, helped greatly in keeping up morale.

2. Trail runner Jon had recently shared his experience at the TransLantau 50 and how he hadn’t carried enough gels on him for the race, as he didn’t expect to take that much longer to complete a trail (as compared to road). This helped the Ninja Turtle keep her expectations of finishing time in check (i.e. she had none, she just wanted to complete it), and also to carry spare food in her sack in case.

The race was mostly a series of uphills or downhills – very occasionally the runners came across a stretch of flat ground, but most were too tired to run or even jog these brief moments of respite.

After the Ninja Turtle crossed the bridge for the fourth and final time, she’d thought the worst was behind her. It was about 4.5 hours into the race, and she took stock of her situation – the sun was unrelenting but she didn’t feel overheated. She was a bit tired like everyone else, but she’d been eating and drinking enough to feel OK to go on. Her toenails were the only things that truly bothered her, and she was wary of how her gait has changed as a result of it. Now all that was left to do was to face that final monster climb, get something to eat and drink on the summit, and roll back downhill to the finish line. How hard could that be?

Turns out, pretty darn hard. The pain of her toenails hitting the front of her shoe was becoming increasingly unbearable, and the Ninja Turtle started to trip over the roots and the rocks. She didn’t give much thought to the first few stumbles, but then she had a fall. A few concerned runners (Judit included) checked to see if she was OK, and luckily it was nothing serious. Off they all went again.

About a-third to halfway up the Mother Ascent, the Ninja Turtle slowed down. The trail had become treacherously technical, and she was stumbling more frequently. She knew it wasn’t light-headedness, it was a combination of muscular fatigue and those damned toenails. On a small brief stretch of downhill that was rocky and dusty and hell, the Ninja Turtle fell a second time, this time, much harder.

She laid sprawled on the ground for a moment, engulfed by searing pain all over. A few runners came up from behind, and one stood beside her with his arm stretched out, without hurrying her at all, just waiting for her to be ready to be hauled onto her feet. She gritted her teeth, and grunted in pain while she was yanked up, and took stock of the situation. Covered in dust all over, she had blood streaming down her left forearm, her knee and her right hand, which bore the brunt of the shock, was stabbed by 3 stones. Her right hip was grazed through her clothing and began to bloom with a giant bruise.

The Ninja Turtle has a weak stomach for blood. She has a terrible history of fainting at the sight of blood, her own or someone else’s. When she saw all that blood gushing out of her hand, she almost vomitted in pain, fear and disgust. Other runners coming by all asked if she was OK, and a few of them helpfully squirted her wounds with water from their bottles. After a few painful minutes, a parade had overtaken her, and the Ninja Turtle was left all alone.

She looked at her GPS: 28.7 km. The final water stop was on the summit at 30km (a bit farther, since she’d run more than the official distance measured) and the finish at 35.1km. The sun was shining, the butterflies were flitting amidst the mountain flowers, and the Ninja Turtle decided to take however long she needed to finish the race, but there was no way in hell she was going to DNF again.

Sniffling like a baby, she switched gears back down to Tortoise Mode and plodded along, daintily avoiding those stupid stones, singing to herself some silly nonsense to reassure herself that all was fine. When she got to the final water stop she went straight to the first aid van. The man laconically glanced at her, asking “had a little accident, did we?” before looking at her wounds and proceeding to declare they were superficial grazing. He sauntered to the food table, took a bottle of water and poured it over the Turtle’s wounds. The Turtle howled in pain, and he looked bemused. “Surely it’s not that bad?” he said.

The Turtle was very unhappy. In her great huffiness, she departed after washing out her contact lenses, forgetting to eat and drink something. Turns out, there was still another kilometre of climbing before the descent began. BAH.

The Ninja Turtle took a good hour or so to finish the last few kilometres of the race. The descent was steep, the terrain incredibly technical, and she knew that psychologically, she could not afford another fall. Her toenails occasionally reminded her of their misery, but by that stage, the Turtle was in pain all over, that it became a game of rotating her focus on different injuries. Her right hand was bleeding afresh and she could not look at it. On the way back down, she was overtaken by another several dozen runners; on a cliff edge, yielding the path to runners who cannot afford to lose momentum means taking the outside edge of the cliff so they don’t risk slipping and falling off. The Ninja Turtle would stand breathless, letting the others pass, hoping she wouldn’t fall off herself.

A kilometre from the finish line, the Ninja Turtle took out her phone to ring GodzillaPin. The plan was for her to call, so they could arrange to meet somewhere easy to locate each other. After 3 attempts however, the Ninja Turtle gave up. GodzillaPin was not answering. She burst into tears but quickly stopped – it was hard to see the road.

Emerging from the forest trail, the final stretch of the race took the runners along a pebbly stretch of the beach, where holiday-makers were barbecuing and frolicking in the cool water of the lake. Covered in dust, sweat and blood, hobbling over the ridiculously uneven ground strewn with pebbles, the Ninja Turtle must have been quite a sight, hobbling with a grimace. The crowds gathered to cheer her on, and the Ninja Turtle’s heart leapt as little kids came running up to her, demanding high-fives.

Finishing the ordeal in 6h 5m 3s.

Struggling across the finish line.

As the Ninja Turtle crossed the finish line, her GPS read 36.75km in 6 hours 5 minutes 3 seconds.

The results came out later that evening and the Ninja Turtle’s ranking was as follows:

Gun time: 6 hours 5 minutes 29 seconds

33/67 (SEF) Senior women

52/148 Women

371/635 Overall

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To reward herself for finishing the race, GodzillaPin had prepared for the Ninja Turtle a cream, ham and cheese pizza that was bigger than the size of her head.

To reward herself for finishing the race, GodzillaPin had prepared for the Ninja Turtle a cream, ham and cheese pizza that was bigger than the size of her head. She’s earned it, don’t you think?

With this race complete, the Ninja Turtle felt ready to leave behind all the pain and sorrow of the last several months. She’s redeemed herself, and she’s ready to begin on a new page with another year added to her age. Life keeps going, and we’ll just keep on rolling.

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Food, Travel

Eating and Drinking Grenoble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amuse-bouche of spiced focaccia and hummus.

Amuse-bouche of spiced focaccia and hummus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Food, Travel

Two Turtles Go A-Dining (Warning: Food Porn Ahead)

This week has been an absolute food-fest for the Ninja Turtle. Beginning with Sonic’s birthday lunch at Marina Bay Sands’ Chinese restaurant Jin Shan Lou through to this afternoon’s buffet lunch at Park Royal Hotel’s Lime, the Ninja Turtle has dined out every single day, and she hasn’t had a single disappointment yet.

On the budget-friendly end of the scale, she’s had an amazing phở at Little Hanoi, a Food Republic stall situated in the basement of Westgate at Jurong East, to the tune of $6.90. Mother Turtle went with the traditional beef brisket, while the Ninja Turtle chose chicken. The broth had all the complexity one would expect from the Vietnamese noodle soup, and when they both went back to ask for more beansprouts, the waitress happily gave them a bowl with no extra charge. The beef salad was also cheap and delicious.

20150619_193634Friday night, the Ninja Turtle went out for dinner with Krazy Kow and her Plus One at one of her favourite haunts in Singapore – Holland Village. As the Ninja Turtle was hankering after some Indian, Krazy Kow suggested Bar Bar Black Sheep. The Holland Village outlet may be new, but on a Friday night, the place was completely packed, and the Turtle managed to secure the last three seats in the house – at the bar, no less – after begging pitifully with the waiter.

The best way to describe Bar Bar Black Sheep is a bar that serves a decent array of drinks, but boasts a super extensive food menu of which the term “pub grub” does no justice. Between the three of them, they ordered four curries, two bowls of rice, and three garlic naans because gluttony is best indulged in, in the company of people who love you too much to judge. The service was slow but the food was worth waiting for – after an hour of salivating and nursing their overpriced drinks, they wolfed down the lot in a matter of minutes (sorry, no photos).

Another pub meal the Ninja Turtle had this week was at the Blu Jaz Cafe with Mother Turtle. Mother Turtle learnt of this place during Baby Turtle’s last visit back in Singapore; apparently Baby Turtle thought it was a great idea to hang out with dear Ma for dinner, drinks and a shisha pipe (to her credit, Mother Turtle eventually participated, despite her initial disapproval.) The Ninja Turtle isn’t half as wild as Baby Turtle, so this time round, it was just drinks and food.

And of course, best for last, the show-stopping meal of the week – Mother Turtle surprised the Ninja Turtle with lunch at Lime, a restaurant in the hotel ParkRoyal on Pickering. It was an Asian-international buffet, and the Ninja Turtle used the excuse of having covered 8 hard miles on two consecutive days to go nuts.

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This was what the Ninja Turtle ate:

Thank you, Mother Turtle, for spoiling the Ninja Turtle rotten!

Thank you, Mother Turtle, for spoiling the Ninja Turtle rotten!

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Running, Travel

Lessons from a DNF Race

On 2 May 2015, the Ninja Turtle attempted her first ultramarathon trail. The following video tells the story.

After a week of grieving and moping, the Ninja Turtle exhausted her emotional response to the disappointing outcome, pulled herself together, and made that video.

Six months of preparation, discipline and sacrifice; hundreds of euros spent on the trip, and her race was truncated by bad weather. She has cried, she has sulked, she has mulled over it. She has cursed the gods, her fate, and the ill-aligned stars. She has rehashed the event in her mind over and over, trying to draw some lesson from it – something, anything, to pinpoint her errors, her faults, her weaknesses. Something to blame, and to avoid repeating the next time.

The thing is, there’s probably none. She has followed her training plan to the T (save for a week after her accident of falling onto concrete from a loft 2.5m high), fighting against incredible pain on several occasions. She’d run in the heat of the Australian summer, the humidity of Singapore and the frigid winter in Europe.

She’d cut back on alcohol, modified her diet to become fat-adapted, sorely missing out on beef hor fun, curry puffs, Hokkien mee, sushi rolls… (it’s a list too heartbreakingly long to continue so she’ll stop there).

She’d trained in the prescribed heart rate zones. She’d done the mileage she had to do, and for a while, she celebrated PRs for her 10K, 10 miles and marathon distances all in the same racing season. It seemed as if all the fatigue, sleeplessness and ravenous hunger were worth it, promising a celebratory finish to an amazing race season.

The DNF was thus an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. The Ninja Turtle’s boss, an ultramarathoner himself, told her there are many reasons for DNFs, and indeed, the weather is one that’s truly beyond the scope of runners’ control. She’d trained well, toed the line in peak condition (no injuries, having tapered brilliantly), and stuck to all racing conventions: nothing new on race day, stay hydrated, poop before running, smile for the cameras, enjoy the experience and make friends with fellow trail runners.

She did all that and still she DNFed.

After 7 hours in the relentless rain, having covered 49.4km and about 1000m+ elevation according to her GPS, her clothes and shoes were soaked through, and she’d lost her gloves. Despite all the noodle soup, sandwiches, coffee, cake, tea, chocolate and bananas she’d eaten, her temperature dropped. With the winds picking up in the darkness of the night, the rain still pouring and the temperatures dropping even further, she suffered her worst defeat ever when a gust of wind blew just as she turned around a corner, making her feel so ill, like she’d been violently punched in the guts, and her knees buckled.

Thankfully, GodzillaPin was there to witness it all. He’d come to St Julien du Sault to meet the Turtle for a moral boost, and was in fact, holding her hand and walk/jogging alongside her the very moment she’d caved, remarking only 2 seconds before that how icy cold her hand was.

The volunteers arrived, and shortly after, the medics whisked her into a heated ambulance where her pulse and breathing were measured. She hadn’t stopped shivering, and was begin to feel slightly drowsy and a little confused. Her bib was removed and she was declared out of the race, and brought back to Sens in the vehicle, with GodzillaPin following behind in his car.

The heartbreak came slowly, in waves. That night itself, the Ninja Turtle was simply numb with cold and the only thought she had in mind was: DNF. Sitting in the hot bath back at the hotel, having washed away the mud, she could only console herself with the thought that at least she was not passed out in the forest between St Julien du Sault and Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, in the rain, in the middle of the night.

Over the following two days, the physical ache of running almost 50km of muddy trails was frequently matched by the emotional devastation of failing to finish. The Ninja Turtle felt betrayed by both the inclement weather, and a constitution too weak to handle the rough elements. Mentally, she was certain she would have made the 85km, but physically, despite the 1000 miles she’d logged on the hills of Moselle, in the valleys of Meuse, along the coasts of Sydney and on the sandy beaches, in gorges and ravines of South Australia, along the highways of Frankfurt and Marseille, through the villages on the outskirts of Paris and on the country roads of Lorraine, the canal networks of Singapore and Metz, morning, noon and night, she was still unable to support the cold rain in wet clothes and shoes. She had found her limit.

So that’s it. Life isn’t fair; if it had been sunny like last year, no doubt she wouldn’t have cracked, but there is no point speculating. She couldn’t possibly have trained for these conditions, so she’s not sure she can regret anything. That’s the lesson out of this race – she’s given her 100% and she has failed through no real fault of her own. Sometimes, we cannot seek to blame anything or anyone, but rather, we must simply accept how things are, learn to let go, and move on.

Above all, her spirit has not been beaten by this experience, and she shall rise from the ashes to try and try again. One day, the stars will align in her favour and she shall be ready to claim the victory of daring to chase a dream.

In the meantime, all that’s left to do is to turn away from her grief, and properly thank every single person who has supported her on this remarkable journey with their faith, confidence, and words of encouragement when the Ninja Turtle needed them most. Rod Lowe, Baby Turtle, Sonic the Hedgehog, Krazy Cow, Yellow Jersey, and above all, GodzillaPin.

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Food, Travel

Eating and Drinking Marseille

This is a photo collection and summary of the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin’s dining adventures in Marseille. They received no recompense in any form whatsoever for what they are about to write. It’s all in the name of information sharing, to help other travellers make better choices. So, one of the main reasons why Marseille was so exciting, despite the terrible weather, was because as a grande ville, the dining options were far more varied and interesting than the handful of eateries in Metz.

Here, one could find food that was not-French-cuisine. Here, breakfast needn’t necessarily be croissants and orange juice. As the duo had explored Marseille’s markets in a previous trip, their food focus this time round was mainly on restaurants. (That said, they did quickly wander through Noailles to buy nuts, spices, teas, herbs and olives to carry back to Metz.) The first restaurant they dined in was L’Ecailler, one of the several restaurants on Rue Saint-Saëns that offered a 15€ menu of entrée, plat, dessert.

It’s one of those restaurants where there’s a server permanently parked at the door hustling people to come in, but service inside can be painfully slow. The place was packed to the brim though, so the duo will acknowledge that. GodzillaPin was embarrassed at the end of the meal when the waiter told him their card machine was not working and he had to go hunt down an ATM to withdraw some cash. The food was OK but the overall experience wasn’t great, so there will be no repeat visits to this place.

Dinner that night was at a chic establishment called Les Akolytes. Right on the corner of Rue Papety and Rue des Catalans, it has an air of recent refurbishment. This was the meal before the marathon, and when GodzillaPin told the Ninja Turtle that it was a tapas-style dinner, she worried for a while that she wouldn’t have enough to eat.

Menu board at Les Akolytes. Each person chose two or three dishes, but they were all for sharing.

Menu board at Les Akolytes. Each person chose two or three dishes, but they were all for sharing. Everything looked so darn delicious!

The Ninja Turtle’s fears were unfounded. The portions were generous and hey, in France, one could always fill up on bread. Carb-loading, right?

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In retrospect, this was by far hands down the winning meal of the whole trip. The ambiance in the restaurant made it perfect for romantic dinners, gatherings or special occasions, and the food was superb. The waiting time was a bit long, but it was a one-man-show in the kitchen and totally worth the wait. Definitely going back the next time they return to Marseille.

Post-marathon, the Ninja Turtle filled up on plenty of raisins, bananas, and oranges, so it wasn’t until 3pm that the duo went out hunting for lunch. On a Sunday, that doesn’t bide well. At all. Most restaurants stop service at 2.30pm. In the end, it was back to Rue Saint-Saëns, but this time, they really couldn’t stomach another tourist-trap meal, so it was back to the trusty old standby:

Hey, after running 26.2 miles, one is entitled to eat anything one desires. There is nothing wrong with a humble lamb kebab.

Hey, after running 26.2 miles, one is entitled to eat anything one desires. There is nothing wrong with a humble lamb kebab.

Later that evening, it was a long and windy uphill hike from their hotel to dinner. The restaurant was called Adonis du Liban, and while the service was slightly awkward, the food kept on coming. They started with a Lebanese soup of lentils and freekeh (not pictured because it looked horrendous but tasted not too bad), and proceeded to the following:

Also ordered a half-bottle of rosé wine to celebrate.

Also ordered a half-bottle of rosé wine to celebrate.

They almost had to beg for mercy when the shish taouk served with a Lebanese rice pilaf showed up at the table. That said, it was a really delicious meal and worth the effort of getting to the restaurant. Various online reviews also claim that it’s super authentic as far as Lebanese cuisine goes. The duo aren’t experts in Lebanese food, but they’d happily recommend this place.

Of course, there’s always room for dessert, and as the couple walked along Vieux Port, one of the various ice cream parlours caught their eye.

OK fine, Italian gelati. They chose amarena (cherry), tiramisu, marron glacé (glazed chestnut) and nocciola (hazelnut).

Fine it’s not ice cream, it’s Italian gelati. They chose amarena (cherry), tiramisu, marron glacé (glazed chestnut) and nocciola (hazelnut).

Monday lunch was at a little dining place called SO… Marseille on the other side of the port. In fact, the duo have eaten at this place two years ago, on their first visit to Marseille. It wasn’t intentional, they’d just forgotten they’d been here before, which was strange because the Ninja Turtle had happy memories flooding back as soon as she sat down.

Lunch was called a tasting platter of 8 tapas, but it was really more like a giant super-loaded salad drenched in lots of olive oil.

Lunch was called a tasting platter of 8 tapas, but it was really more like a giant super-loaded salad drenched in lots of olive oil.

Can you feel the sunshine on your skin and smell the Mediterranean just by looking at this food? It tasted of holidays.

Can you feel the sunshine on your skin and smell the Mediterranean just by looking at this food? It tasted of holidays.

Some may consider this a bit touristy, but the duo didn’t mind. The food was exactly what they came to south of France for, and the service was simply marvellous. The waitress was super-friendly and helpful, plus dessert was amazing:

Tiramisu and a macaron au chocolat with raspberry coulis.

Tiramisu and a macaron au chocolat with raspberry coulis.

One can probably make a pretty accurate guess at the tourism statistics of Marseille simply by looking at the number of British pubs that line Vieux Port. O’Malleys, The Queen Victoria, The Shamrock Irish Pub… you get the idea. It looks like the local Marseillais(es) have no problems assimilating the drinking culture into their own lifestyle though.

A beer pong tournament every Tuesday. Winners are entitled to an open bar.

A beer pong tournament every Tuesday. Winners are entitled to an open bar.

The final meal in Marseille on Monday night was at Le Grand Baie. Being completely unfamiliar with Mauritius cuisine, the duo didn’t quite know what to expect. Turns out, the little cosmopolitan island is quite the melting pot of cultures, and this blend of Creole, Indian, Chinese and European flavours is reflected in its culinary offerings.

Don't remember the names of these, but they were very much like Chinese shiu mai, Indian samosa, Portugese filetes de peixe and something incredibly crunchy but unidentifiable.

Don’t remember the names of these, but they were very much like Chinese shiu mai, Indian samosa, Portugese filetes de peixe and something incredibly crunchy but unidentifiable.

The owner was a really friendly man who was hell-bent on re-creating Mauritius for his diners. It was lashing with wind and rain outside, but inside, he cranked the heating right up, and served the alcoholic beverages with a very liberal hand. The aperitifs at 4€ were comparable in price to most other restaurants, but here, Daniel served up DOUBLE the quantity.

The Ninja Turtle went with a gambas curry for her main course, and was delighted with the size of the crustaceans in her dish.

The Ninja Turtle went with a gambas curry for her main course, and was delighted with the size of the crustaceans in her dish.

While GodzillaPin went with a fish curry that was salty, spicy and citrusy all at once.

While GodzillaPin went with a fish curry that was salty, spicy and citrusy all at once.

The curries were served with kidney beans, rice and a token dish of vegetables.

For dessert, a flambéed banana split with coconut ice cream, and of course, flambéed with generous slugs of rum.

For dessert, a banana split with coconut ice cream chantilly cream, and of course,  generous slugs of rum.

They could hardly finish their meal, there was just so much food. Although it was not as impressive as the food at Les Akolytes, the duo found this meal to be the best dining experience, between the friendliness and generosity of the owner, and the novelty of trying a completely new cuisine.

And there you have it, the round up on the duo’s eating adventures in Marseille, and a couple of recommendations based on their favourite experiences.

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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

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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