Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Swiss Alpine 2011- 21K

The following thoughts are brought to you by the Apple iPod Touch: Handy, practical and there when you need it.

Trailer for the SwissAlpine- to fully appreciate the epicness:


It's 21:17, and we are in a train headed to Landquart to make a connection to Zurich. Already I'm looking off into the indescribably beautiful and soothing sunset and thinking of how wonderful this race was.

Voila: The view I was romanticizing about (taken from a train, forgive the lack of clarity/focus):

Meaning, I've already, only a few hours after the finish, romanticized it and the pain and emotional ups and downs that went with running the downs and ups are already vague memories. Actually the refreshment of the downhill parts are still fairly fresh, but the tragic pouting and lack of willpower for the uphill parts have become a bit hazy. (Note: Today in Nürnberg, while wandering in the Altstadt, I found myself always attracted to the path that went uphill and even ran partially up the craaazy incline on the way up to the castle)

This year the route was definitely different. The terrible uphill part where I got chocolate from a sweet little volunteer gramma was cut and the first water station was different. Then again, maybe I should double check this. (I have not double checked this, but I'm still pretty sure it was a bit different)

Of course, the start was still Klosters Bridge. Something cool happened, I met the same English woman that I walked a good ways with last year! This year she brought more family members and a good friend. Very Nifty.

This time though the 10k started an hour earlier than the 21k, so Corinne and her dad and friend had to part ways with us as soon as we got there and they picked up their numbers. Tiffany was a great companion/picture taker. We piled all of our jackets on her for quick access at the finish line and it turned out it was pretty chilly for her waiting for us and towards the end she actually had them all on! 

Peter, Tiffany and I after dropping off the bags, about to head to the train:

But for the start, the weather was perfect! The sun was basically shining, though the race official at the start was warning us about the weather getting colder the further up we run. Silly really, because at that point we had no way to go back to the bag drop and grab a jacket. And really, how unprepared could you be to come to the Swiss Alps and not check the weather? There were considerable discussions before we took the train, about the weather and if we should bring jackets or not. General consensus: no, not necessary.

The start! Kloster's Bridge:

Thankfully, it turned out to be true! Actually, I only got a little chilly towards the very end, and then it wasn't actually cold. Plus, I had so much stuff with me that I probably looked like I should have been runing the 78k, not the 21k. I had my water belt, 1.5 bags of Sports Beans (courtesy of two lovely, sweet and very much appreciated ladies), my camera (which fit perfectly into the water belt pocket, and was guarded from any random rain droplets), my ipod (which fit very nicely into the pocket that should have held nutrition) and my Regio-ticket for getting around on Race Day. 

Me and my full get-up:

All set to take the train to the start

Tangent: their isotonic drink is delicious! It's some kind of Iso-tea? And after the Stadtlauf in Ludwigshafen they also had a nifty sports drink, that was carbonated and super refreshing.

So the race started out pretty much how I expected: we walked as soon as we got to the first incline. Of course the fast runners (which included my friend Peter who came with this time, because he wasn't able to take the earlier train for the Fast People Start and was stuck with us Turtles in the 2nd Wave), ran up for a ways before they settled into walking up the insane inclines. (Maybe insane incline should be capitalized.... Insane Incline. Yes, it should.)

Epic Beginning Incline:

Epic Beginning Incline

But then, we went downhill quicker than I remembered. Of course I didn't complain! No, I enjoyed this to the uttermost, and used it to catch up to some of the other runners. Unfortunately, this wasn't for long, and then the really Insane Inclines started. At this point I honed in on Power Gramma, who literally just powered up the inclines in such a purposeful, unyielding manner. What an inspiration to me! My goal then became not to lose Power Oma. 

On the way I:

  • met a nice, older Brazilian man, whom I encouraged in German, and then found out he's from Brazil (Same thing I tried to do with the English woman last year, I ended up having my own little conversation with her in German before it finally came out that she's from England)
  • went out of my way to high-five a series of 5 Adorable young kids who were screaming "encouragement"- Hop! Hop! HOP!!!!! I especially had to do this because none of the other runners in front of me high fived them! Terrible, you have to encourage the spectators! They are there for you! So I gave them a little extra gas, and a little "Woooooo!" despite the uphill. 
  • came to realize how much I dislike everyone saying "Hop Hop!", especially as the spectators always seemed to be on the steep inclines. How about you come along to the downhill and see me hop there?
  • came up with different excuses for my lack of "hopping" when encouraged to do so.  
    1. I'll hop to the aid station, as soooon as I finish climbing this vertical wal--I mean incline.  
    2. To a group in an almost microscopic village: Instead of hopping, maybe I'll stay here until next week's Dorffest! (there was a sign advertising this right behind them) That drew a laugh.
    3. After a while I think I just said, "on the next downhill"-Original, right?
  • decided that my idea to have a device that records my stream of consciousness ramblings while I'm running, for later sharing, is not a good idea, since I could hear my ramblings getting more and more ridiculous and perhaps incoherent. 

There were 2 sets of stairs over busy roads that were more like scaffolding than stairs. These were perhaps my least favorite part of the whole race (including Heartbreak Mountain). Firstly, stairs feel like they are more of a strain than steep inclines. Secondly, these were really rickety and the steps themselves were uneaven! I felt much more sure-footed on the gravelliest and steepest descents than on these. But, they were really nice, cool and refreshing to hold onto the railings. 

Least favorite part of the race from a distance: The Scaffolding (dun dun duuunnnnn):

On the hardest uphills, Power Oma encouraged me from about 20 meters ahead, saying "Only 200 more vertical meters!" Of course, at that time I felt encouraged, because 200 meters certainly doesn't seem that far! I can run that super quick when its flat... This logic breakdown became quite evident as we kept going up, and up, and up, and up.

But, the cool thing about a point to point course, is that you can't give up, because other wise you never finish and never get there. I can hardly survive in the Swiss Alps with a half a packet of Sports beans and about 10 ounces of water left. 

So I kept going, and eventually, the incline was over. (And the crowd goes WIIIIIILLLLLD. WWWOOOOO!!!! <- That's how I felt)

A few really awesome parts of the inclines:

  • I had plenty of time to take pictures of the scenery on the way
  • There were amazing, breathtaking views of the countryside and the little summer houses and the valley's etc...
  • I had no worries about running out of water, because every once in a while there would be ridiculously nifty, quaint water fountains into a hollowed out log. The water was delicious. The air was delicious. My conclusion: Switzerland is delicious.
  • Two words: Giant Cowbells.

The flater part of the course is also beautiful and shows the summery side of this region. There are a number of little lakes we ran by. Though this time, because the weather was so uncertain and partly clowdy, spectators and people out playing were few and far between. Still very pretty.

At this point, I'm feeling ok, thinking the hardest part is behind me (which it was) and there's only about 8km, then 7 then just 5km left. I start looking at my time, thinking that I just might be able to push it a little more and finish strong. 

Right around the flat part is where every small incline started to look tough. I jokingly took a picture of what we'd call a hill in Louisiana and nicknamed it Heartbreak Hill. Turns out the joke was on me. 

"Dearest 21K Runner,

Oh, you're feeling pretty ok at 15k? Want to give that goal time a real try? Legs aren't failing completely yet? Well here's another vertical wall!!!
Have fun!!!

Hugs and kisses,  
Swissalpine "

Basically I feel like maybe the K78 and K42 runners got together and said, "Hey, this is supposed to be a tough mountain race. We can't just let the 21Kers sprint to the finish like they were just out on a Sunday stroll through Central Park! Let's give them a challenge, make them feel like they really earned their finisher's medal"

And actually, I quite agree with this sentiment. Though Heartbreak Mountain was pretty heartbreaking for about 5-10 seconds as I considered the girl I'd been trailing for a while from the bottom as she struggled up, hands on her hips. Then I grudgingly buckeled down and started trudging up too. 

This picture does not adequately (or at all) show the magnificance of Heartbreak Mountain
Actually, I was looking through my pictures and thought, "Why did I take a bunch of pictures of flat course?" Only when I looked closer did I realize that I was trying to capture the essence of the inclines, and failed:

Heartbreak Mountain 

From this point I was pretty slow (though steady) and mildly brain dead. That is, until I got to the point where the marathon and K78 runners joined up with us for the last downhill and the entrance into Davos and the finish. One can hardly trudge along when you are jogging beside your running role models. I felt a little bad as I passed one who started walking. (Just as I felt bad when I passed Power Oma up a few km earlier before Heartbreak Mountain.)

From Davos on the road was lined with spectators and I felt (after one last short incline) that I could finally "hop" to the finish. Tiffany right at the finish line put a nice smile on my face and livened up my finisher's clip :) Thanks Tiffany!!!

Wonderful Friend:

After the Race:

What I remembered about last summer's race, was that they had the most delicious Bullion I'd ever tasted (probably only because I'd just run 21k up and down a mountain) But unfortunately, I was too eager to get my finisher's jacket and I left the finish corral too early. I made of up for it this year though! 

Evidence of my Bullion guzzling:
For the record, not all of those cups were mine. I picked up some trash.... But most of them were mine. 

I'm pretty sure I drank at least 6 cups of Bullion, without exaggeration. Seriously.
And of course I ate a banana. Then the bullion started getting rebellious in my not so settled stomache and I made my way quickly to get my gear and get cleaned up (hoping that would help distract me).

Last year I made a big mistake and forgot my towel for showering afterwards. This year I was determined not to do the same! I purposefully set out my towel that morning....... And forgot it. Of course I didn't realize this until I was unpacking my stuff to go take a shower. It's a good thing I kind of tried to plan ahead in other aspects and packed a second running shirt, which wicks away shower water just as well as sweat!
The water was hot, and stayed that way for the whole shower. Most Excellent.

As I'm reviewing what I wrote, it seems that I was a bit negative... Actually, it was really tough, tougher than I remembered, and it was a real mental challenge to keep going. But, it was an amazing race in a truly delightful region. Every chance I have to come do it again, I would. Ideally, I would love to train in a serious way and be able to take part in the K42 or even the K78 (though thats a more unrealistic dream for me).



Really I always have a bit of an inferiority complex when I finish stubs marathoners and the ultras,  what's 21k compared to 78 or to a serious hard core 42? I changed and just wore my medal so no one knows what it's for. Also I'm kind of seriously proud o it an it makes a great mirror. Anyway, first I'll have to see about the la trails marathon in november, and work on my motivation, then I'll consider doing the easy marathon next year, the c42 

Misc. Pictures:

Pre-race warm beverage (coffee of course!)

Pre-race Coffee

Tiffany and I on the swings at a rest-stop on the drive to Davos (with the Hässig crew!):

Tiffany SwingMe Swing

Toughing it out on the inclines:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Running in Germany!

Last Thursday I arrived back in Germany for a summer internship.

It took me a few days to get my sleeping schedule back on track. And because I had little else to do during the week while everyone else is at work, I had time to get out there and run!

I am absolutely determined to get back into good shape this summer and cut down on my times by at least 30 seconds a mile. This fall I will run my second trail run- the LA Trail run in Shreveport- a half marathon. Hopefully it will become my new PR!

Plus, outside of work, I don't have too much else to do but get out and enjoy being in Europe. That means taking the time to go running in unusual places in my little region of the Rheinland Pfalz.
Some hoped for runs include:
1.Heidelberg: to explore the city a bit
2. Mannheim: the park on the Rhein
3. Mannheim: along the Neckar
4. Ludwigshafen: Parkinsel!!
5. There's a castle whose name I've forgotten that's on a hill and is surrounded by a park.. I'd like to ask around, figure out where that is and make it a long run one Saturday morning

Additionally, I'd like to keep this blog up! There's a few interesting aspects of running and interacting with others that I'd like to mention. Example: Apparently-as I observed from the poor guy's astonished reaction- one does not wave at bus drivers... Even if one is alone jogger as it's raining and nearing sundown on a curvy road.

There have been one or two joggers and a few more walkers/strollers who were quite cheerful in returning my wave/nod/smile as I jogged by. But there have been many many more confused, scoffing or indifferent looks.

This is just a start!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mardi Gras Half Marathon 2/13/2011

So the Mardi Gras Marathon and 1/2 made my weekend just a bit more eventful. I planned to drive out to New Orleans Saturday afternoon to pick up my packet and then get up early Sunday and drive down again to race.
All in all, I drove more hours than I actually ran!

Driving down to the expo Saturday became in itself a little race. I left a tea party (yes- a tea party, so much fun!) a little early-3pm- to make try to make it before the expo closed at 5pm. On the way down I made good time, I wonder if there were any other runners on the road with me... but I ran into traffic just inside of New Orleans, making me very nervous. Then traffic right at downtown and around the Convention Center made me incredibly nervous, also the 32oz Gatorade I'd been sipping on the whole ride was catching up to me. I finally found a spot that I hoped actually was a legitimate spot and left my car (with its sadly broken window, covered in frayed masking tape and a cut-up Columbia Sports bag)- hoping that it would still be there and be intact, when I returned.

From my experience last year, I remembered that the expo was more to the left side of the Convention Center, because I was late and in need of a restroom (of course) this year it was on the far right side. I joined a few other runners who obviously were hurrying to pick up their packets in time and speed-walked against the flow of runners who already had theirs and were casually walking back to cars and hotels. Finally, I get there, pick up my shirt (an almost annoying neon green color, maybe it'll grow on me) and wander around the expo. Unfortunately, just as I was getting interested in enjoying the expo, it closed. At least traffic wasn't bad on the way back home.

That night I enjoyed some homemade chicken soup, rested up, accidentally took two doses of Nyquil (I guess it didn't hurt me any) and headed to bed early-ish. At 3:45 am, my alarm goes off and my first thoughts are "I don't wanna" in a pouty tone. Thankfully, that sentiment wore off pretty quickly as I drank my cup of coffee and slowly woke up. By 4:30 I was full of adrenaline, trying to get my number on and making sure I didn't forget sport beans, breakfast, shoes, clothes for after etc...
At 4:45 I was finally underway, and full of excitement as I drove towards the interstate. This quickly wore off as I settled into the hour long drive to New Orleans. I woke up a bit again when I had to pull over and repair my tape job on the window.

Duct tape=Awesome

There wasn't too much traffic around downtown at 6am, but the Superdome, where we parked last year with a few other runners, was completely deserted, making me doubt I was allowed to park there. Since I seemed to have a few minutes I drove around looking for a spot that was clearly ok for me to park in. Nada! All the while swarms of runners are cheerfully walking towards the start and warming up, making me feel more and more late. So I just went back to the Superdome, parked with one other runner and we commiserated about our doubts regarding that parking choice and talked about the upcoming race. All in all, it turned out fine: We got a brisk walk in as warm-up and I made it just in time to the UPS vans to drop off my bag.
Also I had plenty of time to head to a portapotty in an earlier corral and get out with plenty of time to start with my own corral. That was a slight manipulation in the system, but I don't think anyone would blame me.
Later on I needed to make another pitstop, and Community Coffee's presented itself so nicely! What a show of Southern Hospitality. Love you CC's!
Last year I stopped at a little bar and grill, which I saw again this year, and they were also very nice, offering me a pick-me-up beer (which I declined).

Race-side Offerings/Signs/Cheerleaders/Bands:
I don't understand how people can drink alcoholic beer during a race, but it's a funny offer, one that was made a number of times along the course. This goes right along with those people along the race that were handing out donuts. The thought of something so heavy, uuhhhh, I can barely stomach the Cytomax they gave out!
A few funny things along the way:
- A shirt that said "Will run for breakfast", a nice take on the "will run for __(insert food)___"
- Sign near the beginning: "Chuck Norris never ran a marathon", which made me more determined to one day finally run my marathon.
- Sign in the middle: "Go ______! If it were easy, I would do it!"

Also, I really hope someone got a picture of all the hundreds of runners visible on the street beside and under the "Evacuation Route" sign, which points in the direction we were running. There were a few of these signs up along one street we ran on (perhaps St. Charles?). I wished I were running with someone so I could share my amusement... Actually, I have to admit, I looked around to see if there was anyone that looked open to me just randomly sharing it, but they were all wearing headphones. *sigh*

There was a cute couple that I kept seeing towards the end, they were newlyweds. he was wearing a Tux Technical T and she had a flouncy short skirt thing over her shorts and they both wore cut out cardboard hearts with "Just Married" on their lower backs. Super cute. I finished right behind them, and he stopped her right before the finish and carried her over :-)

Around mile 8 I felt my left hip start twinging a bit with some soreness from my long run last weekend. Since it started hurting earlier then, around mile 6 or 7, I was hoping that the weeks rest would baby it along until at least mile 10, which it did! In fact, during my walking through the water stops (which I did each water-stop actually), it hurt worse to walk than to run, which was great motivation to get going again after the stop was behind me. In the end, I did walk a little bit at mile 11, walked through the remaining water stop and then finished fairly strongly!
Though that last stretch on Esplanade after it crosses the canal and you are running up that straight road towards the museum building in City Park, wow, that was long.

All in all, I liked the route changes they made from last year to this year and I generally had a much better race than last year. It's amazing how proper sleep and hydration feel on race day!
This year I left right after the race, my shower was calling to me, so I don't know how the after-race festivities were. The weather was beautiful though, sunny but cool.

An improvement they could make is to have the Shuttles just a little bit closer to the finish! It was a very long, hobbling walk for me (and I'm sure for a few others) to get to the shuttles. It actually makes for a funny comparison between our previous jauntiness as we made our way to the start and our lumbering, sometimes limping walk after the race.
Also, it would be nice if there were a few shuttle drop-off points along Poydras, not just the one at St. Charles. I had a long walk back to my car and a few others were in the same boat. Yet, at least we weren't in the bus that got lost near Tulane!

I got home, ate soup, watched a movie and slept until about 8pm. Woke up, ate again, watched another movie, and headed back to bed at 10:30. A great relaxing recovery. This morning I feel pretty awesome, much better than the day after my last long run when I had to hobble around campus.

As after every race, I'm more determined and committed to staying with my training, and especially to getting faster. I don't want my first marathon (whenever that ends up being) to be over 5 hours. Also, It'd be nice if I could run with my friends without feeling like I'm holding them back!

But, today I'm going to take it easy, speedwork/ladders/fartleks/etc can wait till next week!