Monday, June 30, 2014

Midnight Sun Marathon, Tromsø, Norway

Picture from Wiki, scroll right to see it all!

Hamming it up for Race4ACure

                 The Midnight Sun marathon in Tromsø, Norway caught my eye as soon as I knew we were moving to Europe. A full marathon, inside the Arctic Circle, during the Summer Solstice, how cool is that!
Cadets that had fun the 10K earlier in the day
   It was every bit as spectacular as I had hoped! Tromsø is a darling town with a rich history and thriving present. Fishing, fur trading, ship building, down collecting, and Arctic Exploration got this town off to a booming start. Now tourism, university, and other industries keep it going strong. Thanks to The Gulf Stream, Tromsø is much warmer than you expect with average summer highs in the 50’s (F) and average winter lows in the 20’s (F), quite temperate for being almost 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle!

There were lots of cute traditional houses lining the course

Love the sod roofs!

His parents were so tickled I stopped for a picture :-) 

Sadly, blurry, but it gives a good idea of what most of the course looked like with the green grass and snowy mountains.

In the second half I spotted the lad on the right, his companion had dropped out, but Jakob finished with a few minutes to spare :-) 

I can't imagine those slate steps covered in ice!

Even the manhole covers are cute

The water was crystal clear everywhere!


             To experience the Midnight Sun, the full marathon starts at 8:30 pm and immediately heads over a huge bridge to the Arctic Cathedral for an out-and-back before going back over the bridge and passing through Main Street. The second half is around the edge of the island for a second out-and-back, with the half marathoners that were started off 2 hours after the full start. The course was beautiful and there were a surprising number of spectators for so late at night, but then time seems to be irrelevant when the sun is up around the clock. Thankfully, I had managed to take an afternoon nap so between it staying bright out and being rested, running until just after 1 am did not bother me like it has during past night runs.

The view from the southern edge of the island

       After the race I hung out, chatting with other runners and sipping at a beer before heading back to my room for a quick 3 hour nap before my shuttle pick up for the airport. (I’ll leave out the debacle of being bumped from my flight and adding an 8 hour bus ride that made a 7 hour journey into a 16 hour journey.)
     It was a wonderfully operated race with a beautiful course, in an unforgettable place. This should be a bucket list race for everyone!

The Arctic Cathedral, inspired by ice flows

So many charming boats in the harbor

Aboard a (now retired) seal hunting ship

Edinburgh Marathon 2014

Edinburgh Marathon
 A fine Scottish Morning

Awesome photobomb by Elizabeth's sister in the start corral
       I had heard a lot about the Edinburgh Marathon and none of it was good, but when a long time running friend of mine asked me to train and pace her for her first marathon I could not resist her request. The training would be via email as she lives in Greece and I am in England, but we would meet for race day in Edinburgh while she was home visiting family in Glasgow.
       Her training went great! I was so proud of how she stuck to her schedule, got past minor aches and pains, and only missed a couple of short runs. Her heart was absolutely in it from day one and never flagged.

Happy, excited runners at the start
Off to a good start
       By the time we met, the Edinburgh Marathon Festival was in full swing. All over town were people wearing their 5K and 10K medals and shirts from the Saturday races and the happy parade of runners with their expo purchases were streaming away from the Hub. My trainee, Elizabeth, was very excited to see her first expo. Unfortunately, it was comprised of one tent with a weak assortment of items pulled from a local running store. She was able to pick up a couple of items though and we were having fun taking pictures and chatting about our plans for race day.

                Race morning went fine. We met to walk to the start with what seemed like the usual butterflies in our tummies. Despite dozens of races, I still get butterflies at the start line, especially with a big crowd and this one had about 8,000 runners in 4 corrals. It was a bit grey, but the low hung sky and mist was beginning to break up with the promise of a nice day.

Elizabeth blending in with all the runners

Along the coast

Lots of cool waterfront houses

Running strong!
                Then the trouble started. As we approached the half way mark, Elizabeth was beginning to flag. I thought this was odd since her training should have carried her much farther at her planned pace. It turned out that the fluttering stomach that morning was not only nerves, but also either a virus or food poisoning taking hold. She kept plugging away though, not wanting to stop. I stopped at a porta potty at one point and was horrified to find 2 out of the 4 over flowing to the point where waste was piled higher than the seat! This became a consistent theme on the course, much to our dismay.
Threatening skies

Gosford House
    The course itself was better than I expected. Pretty ocean views and the loop past Gosford House were lovely, but the wind off the North Sea was stiff and this was a good day. I would not want to run this course on a bad day! The volunteers were wonderful, as was the crowd support.
                I won’t go into detail about the events on the course, but suffice it to say Elizabeth was amazing. She became more ill and distressed (but not in danger of dehydration, I would have made her stop if that had been the case,) but refused to give up. She told me to go ahead and leave her, but there was no way I was going to abandon a sick runner on the course. We passed many aid stations, but she pressed forward. Thankfully, I was in contact with her sister, via cell phone, who was waiting at the finish line. She was worried sick, but ready and waiting with everything her sister could need.
Elizabeth perked up for a picture with the 20 mile sign
                We were down to a walk as we approached the 20 mile marker. So close, and yet so far to go. My heart was breaking for my friend. She had worked so hard and was ready to meet her finish time goals, but it just was not going to happen. She had worried and fretted about so many things, but this had never even occurred to her!

I love sections of out and back where you get to see the lead runners! 

The course definitely had its moments
               We counted down the final miles with Elizabeth breaking into a running stride as often as she dared. Despite her awful circumstances, she remained more cheerful than I would ever have been. Sadly, though, the race finish was terribly anticlimactic. We managed to finish well under 6 hours and with more than 40 minutes left before the course closed, yet they were already out of all but XS shirts and goody bags, and did not so much as hand us a bottle of water. I was shocked, but more worried about Elizabeth. When we went to get our bags, we discovered they had been unloaded from the transport trucks and left in a field, in the pouring rain. My bag was totally soaked through. Thankfully, Elizabeth’s sister had brought her clothes and she was able to shower and get cleaned up.
Elizabeth really didn't want to post for this picture, but I pulled her
 into it anyway, knowing she would want it someday :-)
              The race is a point to point with shuttle buses that bring you back to Edinburgh. I had prepaid for the shuttle tickets, but it was a waste of money since there were not charging anyone for the shuttles or even looking at tickets. The walk from the finish to the shuttles took about 30 minutes, which was ridiculous! Then, when the rain started, water was pouring in from holes in the roof. The drive back to the city was something like 45 minutes, and we were dropped off way at the edge of town and had to walk a considerable way to get back to the center.
                The race is clearly being managed by non-runners that do not even bother to look at other races to see how they are run. The most shocking announcement being that they had decided not to publish race results. The uproar this caused was unbelievable and there were calls by top runners to boycott the race in the future. A few days later, they give runners the choice of signing in and opting to have their results made public. So many people did so that they ended up publishing all the results. They also say they are sending out appropriately sized race shirts to those that did not get one, (not holding my breath on that as it has been a month and no shirt has shown up.)
       All in all, I do not recommend this race. There are so many wonderful places to run in the UK and so many races that are properly managed that I would skip this one and just enjoy visiting Edinburgh on a non-race day. 


Friday, June 13, 2014

Brathay Windermere Marathon 2014

When my alarm went on at 5:30 am on May the 18th, I was not mentally ready to run a marathon. I still feel like I have not fully recovered from South Africa and the 3 weeks of high activity that went along with it.  My body had a laundry list of physical and mental complaints, but I knew that if I missed this race I would regret it deeply.
Hot air balloon rides! 
The grounds for Brathay house are extensive and they were put to good use for race day. The Brathay Trust is a charity for helping and inspiring at risk youth and this is their big fund raiser for the year. In addition to the nearly 1,000 runner that ran the Marathon on Sunday, there was a small group that had been running the marathon course daily for 10 straight days! To celebrate their big finish, the Trust held a family fun day with food and activities that even included a hot air balloon.
Lake Windermere is in the heart of the English Lake District and its namesake marathon goes all the way around it, including the nearby Esthwaite Water. The numerous old manor houses with mature English gardens are wonderfully charming, set on the backdrop of the lake which was a riot of sailboats zipping past one another in the stiff breeze.
                The marathon itself was a tough course. We were always either going uphill or downhill so, of course, it seemed like it was 80% up and 20% down. Towards the end the volunteers would solemnly tell me the hills were behind me and it was flat for the rest of the way. Clearly we have different definitions of flat. A fun moment on the course came when I was running with a chatty group and after overhearing me a guy yelled, “Hey, I remember you! You were at Malta!” LOL. The British running world is small indeed.
Perfect preparation for Edinburgh
                Since I have Edinburgh next week, I did not want to make myself particularly sore or wear myself out too badly so I tried to keep my heart rate under 80% of max by walking up the hills. It slowed me down a bit, but also made it easier to enjoy my beautiful surroundings and keep from overheating. The temps were in the 70’s, which would normally be just fine, but after a long, cold, English winter, the runners were not acclimated to the warmth and there were an awful lot of ambulances on the course.  

                Next up, Edinburgh!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Two Oceans Ultra Marathon 2014

Two Oceans Marathon

                We arrived in Cape Town almost a week before the race to do some sightseeing and soak up the atmosphere. It was absolutely fantastic! We saw wildlife, toured wineries, and gazed at the end of the continent. I won’t pretend I got much running in, but I did a lot of walking and early mornings.

                Race day was so exciting! The runners at the start sang popular folk songs and they took cell phone pictures in the dark. The vast majority of runners were South African, yet they were just as excited to be there as I was. Finally, they whole group fell silent before belting out their national anthem. I have been brought to tears many times at race starts from singing my own national anthem, (yes, I am a patriotic mush,) but it was no less moving to hear the South Africans raise their voices in song. If anything, it was more powerful knowing their own freedom is so recently won!

                I always hang back at the start of a race because warming up is very important with my rheumatoid arthritis. Knowing I would be finishing close to the end of the time limit, I kept an eye on how many runners were behind me. At first, there were not many and I was spooked into picking up my pace, but within a couple of miles I made myself relax and ran the pace I had planned.
                The first 18 miles were kind of a blur. We ran through cities and farms, waving at spectators, and getting our early miles in at a brisk pace. There was an occasional slight incline or decline, but no hint of the hills that lie ahead.
                One of the really fun things about this race were the bibs. Each runner had one in the front and on the back. Along with the number were the runners first name, how many times they had completed the race before, (half or full), and if they were over 30, their age group. I don’t think I have ever been in the company of so many 40 year olds at once, LOL.
 This was Johns 29th ultra run!
                I did meet a barefoot runner on the course. He was from Amsterdam and this was his first time going over 50k barefoot. I was a little worried about him when we hit a patch of older pavement. He seemed to have a hard time with it, but I saw him again many times on the course and that seemed to be the only time he struggled.
                The water packets were a bit of a surprise. When I heard the description of them, I thought they would be like the ones I have seen in England, but these were much smaller and simpler. Each one had about 2 ounces of water in it and the bag had no designated opening. To get the water out, you had to rip into it with your teeth and hope that, in the process, you did not lose most of the water. I did not mind getting covered in half a baggie of water when I blew it opening the bag. I did not even mind all that much when a runner next to me would squirt half of it on me opening his own bag, or even when someone stepped on a full one and it sprayed 3 or 4 runners since it was hot and the water was generally cool and refreshing. The baggies of Powerade were another story. That stuff made everything it got near sticky!
Water baggies

                   We dipped down and made our pass along the Indian Ocean enjoying a cool breeze off the water and watching the beach goers relaxing in the autumn weather. It was lovely and I was enjoying myself while keeping an eye on my pace. Up to that point I was exactly on track. To finish the race before the course closed, 7 hours after the gun, I needed to maintain a 12 mpm average across the whole race. Giving myself 11 mpm in the first half and 13 for the hilly second half was shaping up to be a good plan.
Slogging up Chapman's Peak
I could live with the bags of water, but there was an understandable issue with the litter they created. Since they did not want baggies all over the national park, they decided to use water trucks and biodegradable cups. This sounds like a great idea, but did not go as smoothly as planned.  They did not count on the number of runners that would take more than one cup to drink or dump over their head. They also could not fill them very far ahead of time without the cups disintegrating. This resulted in a lot of people trying to get water from a hose that was dribbling it out of the truck. People desperate for water are pushy and aggressive, but I only saw one person being outright rude. The official word was that they did not run out of water, but really, if you can’t get the water out to the runners, you might as well be bone dry. That was my only complaint about the race though. Thankfully I was carrying a couple of bottles and was able to snag some ice cubes at one stop and follow a couple of other runners to a spigot a little ways off the course so I was okay. I feel bad for the people behind me though as I am sure the situation got progressively worse rather than better.

Awesome spectator!

The views were so spectacular!

Add caption

The little black dots on the beach are horses

Approaching The Sentinel

The sun was intense

Coming up on our first water stop without water

Same as above from a different vantage point. I was shocked to see runners stretched out so far behind me!

Fun band in the middle of nowhere

The Sentinal, Haut Bay

Despite the water shortage, Chapman’s Peak was absolutely breathtaking! The views of the ocean were amazing. There were even bands and supporters far up the mountain who had to have hiked there on their own. One lady was standing in the brush on the side of the road playing the violin for us! We had lots of time to enjoy the view since everyone around me was reduced to a walk. No matter, we had made good time to the hill, we could take our time going up.
After Chapman’s peak we picked up the pace back down to the Atlantic Ocean. A short bit of flat was a reprieve before the next climb up Constantia neck. The population of spectators was really picking up. People were cheering, kids were running along collecting the foam visors we had been given in our swag bags and they were thrilled when I stopped for a picture. It was turning into a real party atmosphere just when we needed it the most. There was lots of music, live and recorded, and drink stops were coming about one per mile. Constantia neck was much more wooded so we had wonderful shade to go with the great entertainment.  Finally, we crested the top with great fanfare before heading down. Other than one short uphill bit, it was all downhill to the finish.
Down hill time!
The feeling of finally hitting the 50K mark and having an hour left on the clock was fantastic! The runners around me discussed the fact that we could walk the rest of the way if we had to and still finish. I love that moment in a race J I had no intention of just walking, but I admit, I did more than necessary simply because I was going to be happy to finish.
The kids were so thrilled a runner stopped for them :-)

Yay! Shade!

Notice the collection of foam visors. He actually asked for my hat, LOL. I told him I still needed it.

I laughed out loud :-)

Cresting the top of Constantia Nek 

Coming into the final stretch I managed to have enough left in the tank for a good running finish. It was done. My first ultra that was not a “24-hour run what you can”, this was a run to beat the clock or lose. Wandering around the finish area I heard the announce shout, “5 minutes left and there are still 800-1,000 runners left on the course!” I found a place to watch the last few minutes of the race, with anguished runners making their last gasp at the finish line. My heart broke for all the runners still on the course, including a fellow Marathon Maniac that had succumbed to the South African sun, her winter training in Michigan being no match for the warmth we faced.
Beautiful sight! The most welcome view on the course

I couldn't believe I actually caught the clock in an over-the-shoulder shot!

Runners scrambling to get through the finish arch as the crowd counted down the last 10 seconds.

The day after the race we took the cable car up Table Mountain. It was a gorgeous day and the light hiking around the top washed away the soreness from the previous day. I felt so calm and thrilled at the same time. I had a new love for South Africa, its people, its history, and its great strength. I can’t wait to go back!

From the top of Table Mountain with Robben Island in the background

I asked to take her pictures, she said, "Only if you are in it with me," and then hugged me tight :-)