Running, Travel

Trail des Tranchées 2015

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

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

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

The Story

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

Lost an hour to daylight savings

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

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

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

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

Some runners decide to become the course entertainment.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Running Along the Thread of Time

My shadow and I went for a run today
I said “Christopher, come out, let’s play!
It’s been too long since you last ran
You look quite tubby in fact, my man!”
Christopher nodded, so off we went
To tackle the first of many ascents
He broke no sweat, and kept up with ease
While my breath was visible as I wheezed

A silent world on a Saturday dawn
The sun kissed us as a new day is born
While the earth lay dormant, gefroren und weiß^
Encrusted in a shell of sparkling ice
Lone witnesses to such glorious beauty
Our hearts sang in silent harmony
Our feet shuffling to a joyful dance
Through a lost village in a corner of France

The winding road rose up to meet us
We tackled each hill with minimal fuss
Passing the ghosts of Quatorze-Dix-Huit*
Des cimetières, monuments et villages détruits **
How much of our lives we owe to the fallen
In this hour of peace, may they not be forgotten
We bowed our heads in respect as we passed
These little reminders – dead hands of the past

Four hours and forty minutes later
26 miles, we’d also run out of water
I was cramping badly in both my thighs
While the sun had vanished in the skies
The headwinds reached 50kph
A windstorm was slowly starting to rage
Christopher’d vanished, I was now alone
To make the final stretch back home

So I did the sane and responsible thing
I gave my better half a ring
“Come pick me up!” I shouted into the phone
While all around, the angry wind moaned
That night in bed, all stiff and sore
I thought of my shadow, I thought of war
I thought how I’m so undeservingly lucky
To have been born in the 21st century.

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Montfaucon d’Argonne, in the footsteps of the fallen of 1914.

^ frozen and white
* WWI (also known as The Great War, or 1914-1918)
** the cemeteries, monuments, and destroyed villages

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Travel

The Incredible Finds At A Yard Sale

May heralds the warm weather, and with spring-cleaning comes yard sales. When Father Rabbit announced after lunch that there was a brocante in the next village, the Ninja Turtle, GodzillaPin and his cousin decided to take a look. Of course, there was the standard fare – children’s toys, leather-bound books, copper pots and too many sets of dining ware.

The title of the book reads: "The jobs of our grandmothers". Not so long ago, women not only had access to the workplace, they were expected to join the workforce. No biggie.

The title of the book reads: “The jobs of our grandmothers”. Not so long ago, women not only had access to the workplace, they were expected to join the workforce. No biggie.

Cassette tapes. Remember those? Now if only we can find a Walkman to go with it.

Cassette tapes. Remember those? Now if only we can find a Walkman to go with it.

Coin collectors can make a tidy profit, if they find buyers. 3 euros for a 2 euro coin purchased in 2009 = 50% profit in 5 years.

Coin collectors can make a tidy profit, if they find buyers. 3 euros for a 2 euro coin purchased in 2009 = 50% profit in 5 years.

Then again, there are certain items that took them quite by surprise. Like this:

A DIY tricycle made of metal and wood. Definitely NOT from Toys R Us.

A DIY tricycle made of metal and wood. Definitely NOT from Toys R Us.

Seeing how Verdun was the frontline in the Great War, it's actually not so surprising to see military garb, probably from great-grandpa's closet.

Seeing how Verdun was the frontline in the Great War, it’s actually not so surprising to see military garb, probably from great-grandpa’s closet.

What's surprising is this collection of slightly dated arms.

What’s surprising is this collection of slightly dated arms.

And gas masks, because, you know... just in case, right?

And gas masks, because, you know… just in case, right?

After an hour of strolling and browsing, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin came away with two mugs. While walking past a stall where an impressive box of phone cards were for sale, the Ninja Turtle lingered. The collection of phone cards was impressive – the owner must have been making long-distance calls from a phone box daily to accumulate about 300 of them – but it was the box itself that the Ninja Turtle was impressed by.

The label below says: best before 06/85. This thing pre-dates the Ninja Turtle

The label below says: best before 06/85. This thing pre-dates the Ninja Turtle

The lady made an offer to sell it for 50c, and perhaps it was the combination of sunstroke, fatigue and looking at too much junk, but the Ninja Turtle thought it was a great bargain. The woman emptied out the impressive stack of cards, and handed over the box in return for the best 50c the Turtle has spent. She then found herself trying to justify the purchase to everyone, feeling only slightly ridiculous in retrospect.

Thing is, items are only just items until you find some meaning and value in it. To others, it was a rusting metal box, without the sweets. To the Ninja Turtle, it is the memory of many a childhood Christmas spent with relatives, wherein there always would be a box of Quality Streets involved.

The shiny colourful wrappers, the delightful treat within, and back in the days when we were limited to “only one, maybe two if you’re good” (as opposed to being an irresponsible adult and eating 20 at once only to feel quite sick after).

The memory of taking the time to choose carefully which colour or flavour meant the most to you at that moment, with the knowledge that you may regret your choice five minutes later and hoping your cousins/siblings loved you enough to swap sweeties with you if you decide to change your mind. Ah, the joys of Christmas.

The memories are priceless, but apparently, they can be re-lived for 50c. This is reason enough for the Ninja Turtle to skip away happily, rusting box in hand.

And if that’s not reason enough, well… the box will become an antique in another 25 years.

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Food

Bière Flambée at l’Estaminet

When in Germany, they serve your beer in 1 litre mugs, with a generous head. When in Belgium, they serve you three beers at a time, with a side of the best fries you’ll ever eat in your life. When in France, they pour your beer into a fishbowl, and set the darn thing on fire.

GodzillaPin and George of the Jungle drinking the equivalent of their weight in beer.

GodzillaPin and George of the Jungle drinking the equivalent of their weight in beer.

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