Ben Vorlich

Late on New Year’s Eve as Jen and I were pondering the day and year to come, we checked the weather forecast for New Year’s Day and decided to plan ourselves another hike. As I was determined to go to parkrun at 9.30, we knew we’d be a little short of time but we figured that if we found something easy (relatively speaking) and local (ditto) we’d have the chance of a good hike even if we couldn’t make it to the summit. After browsing the WalkHighlands website we decided on Ben Vorlich, a Munro in Perthshire which was just shy of an hour and a half’s drive from home.

New Year’s Day dawned earlier than I would have liked, having tossed and turned until 3am despite our restful evening. To add to the excitement, the drain from the sink had blocked the night before, so before heading up to the park I spent half an hour fiddling with the plumbing in the hope of relieving the blockage, sadly to no avail.

Having been absent for well over a year and a half I finished my 30th parkrun on the 4th anniversary of my 1st, in a rather slower time but in good company of friends. Jen arrived a few minutes later, armed with hot tea and we set off to the hills. Within a few minutes of driving the weather deteriorated and heavy rain quickly turned into sleet. Not very promising at all, but we kept hoping that it would improve. An hour later things were still grim and rather than wait until parking the car and getting into our waterproofs in the rain, we decided to make a short stop in Comrie for a cup of coffee and gear up whilst we were there. Jen had the excellent idea of ordering some toast and jam, just what I needed having only eaten some grapefruit and already having run 5K.

When we left Comrie the weather started to dry out a bit, further justifying our decision for a short stop even if it left us with less time until nightfall. At 1pm we parked the car by Loch Earn and set off along the track up to Ben Vorlich. Although the cloud cover was heavy we had some good views of snow covered mountains on the north side of the loch and it looked to be clearing a little. At any rate, it was now dry, which was a huge bonus.

The track took us past some farm cottages and a small wooded area before starting to climb into the hills. There was noticeably more snow on the track than we’d seen on Schiehallion last week, and the stiles proved challenging in their slipperiness.  After crossing a couple of fords the track petered out and we followed a smaller path up to Ben Vorlich who was beginning to show himself through the cloud.

Despite the snow, the path was clear in the snow thanks to the hikers that had preceded us. Although there were a few occasions where footing was difficult, it was a lot easier under foot than the ice we encountered on the path up Schiehallion last week.

The path initially took us along the side of the ridge that leads to Ben Vorlich, but as the first false summit approached it was time to climb up onto the ridge itself. At this point the snow got a lot deeper and we were sinking in up to our knees. We made it up onto the ridge where we met another hiker coming down. As we suspected, we still had quite a way to go until the summit and the going wasn’t easy as the snow was only getting deeper. With sunset approaching fast and the wind blowing snow in our faces we decided that this was as far as we were going to get, and after enjoying the views began the return to the car.

We retreated off the ridge and nestled out of the wind to set up the stove and enjoy the hot chocolate we had prepared.

The sun finally began to clear the clouds giving some beautiful light over the snowy hills behind us.

Having enjoyed our drink it was time to get ourselves back to the car. I, for one, had pretty damp feet and ankles by this time as the snow had crept in under my waterproof breeks and I was looking forward to getting into the car and getting my boots off.

We had one final treat on the way back to the car, watching the super moon rising up from behind a distant ridge and finally breaking free of the clouds. Unfortunately with only a wide angle lens on my camera there was no hope of capturing it in all its glory.

Route: Walk Highlands

Schiehallion’s Redemption

There was just time to get one more hike out of 2017 and as luck would have it, one day of good weather forecast during Jen’s stay with me between Christmas and New Year. Now we just needed to decide where to go, a decision complicated by the recent snow and our lack of both crampons and ice axes and the know how for using them. Fortunately there’d been a bit of a thaw and as we stared at the mountains on the horizon from Kinpurney Hill on Wednesday afternoon it became clear that whilst the Cairngorms were still heavily blanketed in snow, Schiehallion was looking fairly dark in the distance and therefore hopefully more accessible. We decided to go for it, in the knowledge that in the worst case we would just have to turn back if it became impassible.

We’ve actually made a previous visit to Schiehallion back in September, in which we only made it about 2/3rds of the way up, having started mid afternoon on a very dreich day. I have to admit that my heart wasn’t in it that day and every step felt like a huge effort. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to turn around and head back downhill and if I hadn’t been with Jen I doubt I’d have managed to coax myself out of the car at all. I was therefore looking forward to having another shot at Schiehallion, but also feeling quite some trepidation as my previous memories of it were so dire.

With the days being so short and with the overwhelming desire to schedule in a visit to the Watermill Bookshop and Cafe in Aberfeldy on our way home we did some careful planning and hoped that our timing wouldn’t be too far off. We arrived at the car park just before 10am, a little later than planned, which is pretty much typical for most of our jaunts! According to the mountain forecast it would be -5C at the summit with a windchill of -15C. Even at the car park it was clear that we were going to need all our layers, not to mention our new winter gloves. Without any consultation we’d each gifted the other a pair for Christmas.

Heading on to the path we could see quite a few walkers ahead of us and Schiehallion’s bulk looming in the distance.

The sun was only just beginning to peek over the neighbouring hills as we set off and the light was fantastic. Already this was shaping up to be a far better day than our previous visit.

It didn’t take long before we were seeing the first signs of snow on the side of the path and once we started to climb we had to be very careful of icy patches along the way. There were a few Bambi like moments with legs skidding in all directions but no falls! This was where it began to feel like a real slog and I was having a hard time ignoring the little voice that was reminding me how miserable my previous visit was. Fortunately the bright skies and the views were sufficient distraction and even if I had to stop frequently to rest my legs I was beginning to remember how much I love being in the mountains.

About a third of the way up the snow was becoming more evident, although the path was nice and clear. Now that we were getting higher the views were really opening out and I had to make plenty of stops for photographs.

The wind was getting stronger and we were really beginning to feel the cold, so when we saw a big rock to huddle behind we decided it was the perfect moment to get the camping stove out and heat up the hot chocolate that we’d brought with us. I dug out the stove, the gas canister, dropped half the matches on the ground, found the cocoa and then stopped in bewilderment. I was missing something, what was it? Oh. The pan. Rats. Fingers getting numb we packed everything back up again and mourned not only the lack of hot cocoa but the fact that we wouldn’t be able to heat up the thai curry we’d brought either. Having forgotten the CF card for my camera, this wasn’t shaping up to be the most organised of hikes!

Finally we reached the end of the main path and the point at which we’d turned around on our previous visit. The rest of the route was across a boulder field, with the challenge of picking our way along increased by the snow.  Although this part of the walk was technically more difficult, the gradient was slightly less and I found it more comfortable. By this point all memories of our previous visit were receding and I was just grateful that we hadn’t slogged on up to the top on that occasion as it was so much more beautiful in the snow.

As with any self-respecting mountain there were a few false summits to tackle but the top was nearly in sight. We were beginning to see people coming back down off the top, all looking rather frozen and windswept.

Finally we were on the last climb, battered by the wind, but the views were incredible. We were treated to some small cloud inversions and the most exciting of spectacles – a Brocken spectre!

A bit of scrambling and were we up on the summit. We didn’t manage to last there too long as it was just too cold.

We made pretty good time heading back down again, I don’t think we’ve ever done a walk where we’ve stopped so little.

The icy patches seemed to have doubled whilst we were on the summit and it was quite a relief to finally make it back on to the lower path where it was both warmer and less skiddy underfoot. We eventually arrived back at the car at 3 o’clock, right on our prediction, which has to be a first! We even had time to take a small detour along the road (with a bonus red squirrel sighting) before heading back towards Aberfeldy and enjoying a very well earned hot chocolate and a piece of cake.

Route: WalkHighlands
Distance: 10.4km
Ascent: 715m
Hills climbed: Schiehallion (Munro)

Ben Lomond

On checking the mountain weather forecast for the weekend, there was a pretty similar pattern across Scotland – gale force winds on Saturday, calm and sunny on Sunday. That made my decision about which day to go hiking pretty straightforward, and given that I had to be in Glasgow on Sunday evening, meant that instead of heading up my closest stomping ground, the Cairngorms, the most logical choice was to head down to Loch Lomond so that I could get the most out of the day.

The clock change worked in my favour and made it easy to get a good start on Sunday and by 9.45am I was at the car park at Rowardennan and grumbling slightly to myself about the number of cars already parked there. After looking at a number of hikes in the area on WalkHighlands I’d decided to climb Ben Lomond, the most southerly of all the Munros, which is renowned for being busy due to its proximity to Glasgow. As I watched a bus disgorge a large number of passengers I worried that my choice meant that I’d be tripping over people all day and wondered if I’d made a mistake in my choice.  The presence of two families parked next to me with a collection of children and dogs, all chattering/barking incessantly made me glad that I’d spent quite some time reading the reviews of the hike on WalkHighlands and that I’d already decided to hike their route in reverse – climbing up by the lesser known Ptarmigan Ridge and returning back via the more populated tourist route. This turned out to be an excellent decision as I exited the car park in the opposite direction to everyone else and very quickly left the clamour behind.

I headed out along the shore of Loch Lomond, soon passing a memorial which I stopped to photograph, particularly enjoying the reflection of the trees on the sculpture.

The weather was showing every sign of living up to the forecast’s promise, and although it was cold enough that I started out with my fleece and hat, I was soon overheating and packing them back into my bag.

Reaching the Rowardennen Lodge Youth Hostel, I was a little unclear where the path went and felt a bit embarrassed wandering around looking for it whilst people were sat outside chatting. Fortunately this must happen often as I soon found a sign pointing me back towards the car park where I found another sign, complete with a very relaxed robin on top, which let me get close enough to get a few photos with my wide angle lens.

Following the sign I quickly found myself on a track heading into the woods. I knew that there should be one more turn off, which I found just after passing by a little stand selling bottles of water. The sign blended into the trees, so you had to be on the lookout for it.

Now that I was officially on the Ptarmigan ridge route it was very quickly time to leave the woods and start climbing. There was a clear path through the grass and bracken which took me past what looks like the ruins of an old dwelling.

As I climbed I stopped numerous times to photograph the view behind me down to Loch Lomond, breaking one of the cardinal rules of photography that you should never take a photograph into the light. Tough luck, that’s generally where the views were! With each little bit higher the perspective changed and yet another photo was warranted.

As I climbed higher, Loch Lomond receded further into the distance and the view ahead began to open up to the mountains on west side of the loch, including good views of The Cobbler, which is particularly distinctive. Another hill yet to be climbed!

Earlier I had a spotted a group of four along with a dog slowly catching up to me each time I stopped for a photograph. As we approached the climb up to the ridge I stopped to let them pass, worrying that I find it stressful having them on my heels when we got to the toughest part of the hike. One of my biggest uncertainties when setting out on the hike was how I was going to cope with the actual ridge, not having anything like a good head for heights. As it happens the ridge was still a little further ahead than I originally realised, but the worrying was beginning to niggle at me. The path started zig-zagging in earnest now and the loch looked ever more remote as I turned around for yet another photograph.

Finally, the view of what was to come opened out in front of me. I stopped and gulped a little when I realised that where I needed to be was a summit over to the right of me, and yet at the moment I was still climbing the summit in front of me. Clearly what lay between was the ridge, but I didn’t yet have a good view of what it was going to involve so I did my best to just focus on the climb ahead and worrying about the ridge when I got a bit further.

The views to the mountains to the north west were really opening up now.

By this point I was beginning to meet quite a few people coming down from Ptarmigan, including a few kids. I did think to myself ‘well, if they can do it, surely I can’, but then logic never does have much place when it comes to phobias! Having been sheltered most of the way up, it was now getting quite windy and with a temperature near freezing at the top, time to get the woollies out again.

I could now get a view of the ridge but couldn’t see where the path was. I was getting quite nervous at this point, but kept plodding upwards and reassuring myself that I could handle whatever it had to throw at me.

A little lochan provided a bit more photographic distraction along the way as I turned my back to Loch Lomond and headed inexorably towards the ridge.

Over the first wee summit and the ridge opened up to me finally. Hmm, well it’s not too bad, I thought. Not so much of a ridge with steep drops to either side as something rather steep to get myself up. ‘I can do this’, muttering to myself reassuringly.

One last photograph behind me and it was time to put my camera away so that I had free hands for the scramble and nothing flapping around to get in my way. It was beginning to look like a long way down.

No photos, therefore, of the actual scramble. Some of it was fairly decent, albeit steeply zig-zagging path. My heart was beating pretty fast by this point, a combination of fear and exertion. When I saw people coming down towards me I waited to let them get out of the way. I was terrified of finding myself in a position I was uncomfortable with and having to wait for them to pass. Then, I could see the top, one last scramble and I should be there.

No, a false summit. I had to stop a little and let my breathing settle before tackling what I really hoped was the final climb. Some of the gaps between the rocks were quite large and hard to manage with my short, wobbly legs and I had to fight back the panic, when I couldn’t quite figure out where the path was leading, but I carried on. One thing was for certain, going back wasn’t an option!

One last haul and I found myself on the summit, trig point in front of me, and a surprising number of people hauled out eating their lunch. I’d done it, and I was pretty pleased with myself for facing up to my fear.

I didn’t hang around for long, just enough to take a few photos and eat my lunch. The busload of people I’d seen in the car park turned out to be fundraising for Alzheimer’s Scotland and were filling the summit. I wanted to start heading down before I got stuck in the crowds, and the gorgeous views weren’t enough to compensate for the large number of people.

The path down leads worrying towards another ridge and I did think to myself ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’. Fortunately it wasn’t too intimidating and we quickly left the ridge to start dropping back down to the loch.


Although there were quite a few photo stops on my downhill journey the views weren’t as good as on the way up and I’d certainly recommend taking the Ptarmigan route rather than using the tourist path both ways. The late afternoon light, though, was fantastic.


The way back down was rockier than the Ptarmigan route and I didn’t find it very comfortable for my knees or my right ankle, which has been misbehaving the last few weeks. Not only was there a fairly constant stream of people coming past me downhill, but also a fair number of people still heading uphill and a few cows on the path for added entertainment. It certainly wasn’t as peaceful as my morning had been.


I returned to the car park almost exactly 6 hours after setting off – a bit longer than the WalkHighlands suggested time of 4.5-5.5 hours, which was not surprising given all the photos stops and my slower pace coming back down again.

Throwing my gingerbread biscuits on to the front seat, it was time to head into Glasgow to finish the day off by singing choral evensong. A perfect way to spend a Sunday and something I hope to do more often.

Route: WalkHighlands (in reverse)
Distance: 12.2km
Ascent: 953m
Hills climbed: Ben Lomond (Munro)

Loch Brandy

Sometimes things just align up perfectly. In this case, getting home from the hospital at lunchtime, the sun shining and Jen visiting. We both had the same idea – to get up into the hills. Loch Brandy, at Glen Clova, is a perfect destination for a short afternoon walk being just an hour’s drive from Dundee. Jen and I had visited here before almost exactly two years ago, so it was certainly about time we paid it a return visit.

By the time we reached Glen Glova the clouds were coming in and our destination wasn’t looking quite as sunny as we’d hoped. Never mind, at least it was drier and less windy than on our previous visit. The initial climb is a bit of a steep slog, but photographing the atmospheric clouds over the neighbouring hills gave us plenty of excuses to stop for breathers.

Eventually the path levels off and things get a bit easier.

Just a little way further and a few steps to climb and the loch is in sight, every bit as attractive as I remember (although the best way to see it is surely from the air, which is how I first found out about it).

Within minutes, we were surrounded by mist and could only see a few metres ahead of us. Not a problem, though, the path is very clear so there was no danger of losing our way on the walk down!

Route: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/angus/loch-brandy.shtml
Distance: 5.5km
Ascent: 410m

Anchorage

I had a few hours this morning before I needed to head off to the airport, so I decided to rent a bike and take in the Anchorage Coastal Trail. I was hoping to have time to ride the whole thing, but by the time we’d had breakfast and dropped my bags off at the airport, time was running out. Since I was expecting to be riding on a fairly rough surface I rented a hybrid. If I’d realised that despite the title of ‘trail’ the surface would be tarmac all the way, I’d have taken a road bike. Nevermind. Being used to riding in the lowlands of Holland, the uphills on the route posed a bit of a challenge, but there were a couple really great downhill sections on the way back!

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The first part of the trail was quite open, with a view out onto the water, the second part through a forest. Despite all the warnings of bear and moose, the biggest mammal I set eyes on (aside from the odd human) was a dachsund. A relief and a letdown all in one!

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Exercise for the day completed, it was time to call a taxi and get myself to the airport. Fortunately all the formalities were completed fairly quickly, and I had time to get a bite to eat before boarding the plane. A shame that I ended up with a seat over the wing, it was quite clear coming down the B.C. coast, and the views were spectacular, with islands and snowcapped mountains. The final approach into Vancouver Airport took us right past downtown, with views onto Stanley Park and the ever present pile of sulphur, then down to Coquitlam before turning back and flying over New Westminster and the Alex Fraser bridge. Or at least, I think that’s what we did. I love looking out for familiar landmarks, put together they tell the story of my visits to Vancouver starting in childhood.

By the time I left the airport it was around 8:30pm and I was amazed at how dark it was. I’ve got used to the longer Alaskan days. Coming from 10C or so in Anchorage, the temperature was rather surprising too, still in the twenties.

EK Cross Triathlon

Today was the European Cross Triathlon Championship in Kijkduin – an event which I’d noted in my perusings of the triathlon calendar, and immediately ruled out as out of my league! A good opportunity, therefore, to grab my camera and take some photographs. I’d originally planned to be there in the morning to watch the paratriathlon, but late nights and travelling had caught up with me and I didn’t manage to drag myself out of bed until the event had already finished. So, the afternoon race it was then. Lacking a small camera bag, I wrapped up the camera and lens in bubble wrap, and got on my own bike for the ride down to the beach – a good 18km each way, although if I hadn’t gone slightly off track in both directions it would have been a bit shorter. A good workout for me also, thus.

I arrived in Kijkduin just in time to see the Elite wave emerging from the water. The event was only just getting started and already I was impressed. Swimming the best part of a kilometre in the North Sea looks pretty daunting. I shall surely draw on this the next time I stand nervously waiting for the start of a 500m lake swim. Child’s play in comparison!

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As soon as they were upright and on more or less solid ground, the athletes started to pull off their wetsuits as they ran up the beach to T1 to transition onto the bike.

The bike course consisted of 3 loops around the beach and dunes, a total of 23km. If that doesn’t sound challenging enough, a couple flights of stairs are thrown in for good measure.

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By the end of the bike course, all the athletes were speckled in mud, and a fair few were sporting muddy and bloody sides after falls. Unlike a road triathlon where the bikes come whizzing by, every ounce of strength was needed to move the bikes forward through the sand, and in many spots the most efficient way to move forward was to dismount and run with the bike.

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Without fail, the effort required was showing on the athletes’ faces as they came by, and by the time they finished their third laps, the glimmer of relief could be seen as they dismounted in front of us, and powered up the sand with their bikes to transition to the run.

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It was hard keeping track of everything going on – the race was started in 3 waves, Elites, Under 23 Elites and rather later on, the age groupers. With both run and bike courses consisting of 3 laps, it was hard to follow which athletes were on which lap, and who was heading up each race. Being a European championship, the athletes were all competing in their countries’ colours, and it was pretty exciting to be able to cheer on the British competitors as they flew by.

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I watched the finish of the Elite females, which brought me to the end of my CF card, and then fuelled up with pancakes for the ride home.

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First – Helena Erbenova

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Second – Carina Wasle

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and Third – Maud Golsteyn

Vrouwentriathlon 2012

This time last year I was psyching myself up to take part in my first triathlon, the slowest runner in the world complete with my great hulk of a bike. A year later and I was ready to line up again, this time with a streamlined road bike and more regular running training under my belt. Whilst I’m still far from athletic, I was keen to see how I’d shape up on the same course from last year, and was hoping that I might manage to scrape a time under one and half hours.

I’d been under the weather since my last triathlon 3 weeks ago, had no appetite for 3 weeks, and for two weeks hadn’t managed to train at all. With one week to go before the race, I had a lazy weekend, slept a lot, and thought things were returning to an even keel. And then, life threw a spanner in the works – Rasha developed an abscess on his neck and a visit to the vet was required. Catching Rasha is always a challenge, he’s rather timid, but this time was ridiculous. It took 20 minutes to get him into the travel box, and in the process he scratched up one of my arms, and graced it with a vampire bite.

After first aid at the vet, followed by a visit to the doctor, both Rasha and I came away with a course of antibiotics and I had a rather dubious prognosis for the triathlon on Sunday. Rasha was bouncing around like nothing had happened by Wednesday morning, it took me a bit longer!

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After a day or two in a sling, and the rest of the week sporting a rather unpleasant wet bandage, the bite was healing nicely, and on Friday I took the plunge and went for my normal Friday lunchtime swim. The arm held up fine and I deemed it good to go.

As ever I found myself lacking anything to eat on the Sunday morning before the race. After all the excitement of the previous week, I hadn’t had a lot of sleep, and ended up napping on the sofa on Saturday evening rather than visiting the supermarket as originally planned. I thought I could at least pick something up from the snack machine at the train station, but the small station I used was lacking the amenities I’m used to taking advantage of in Delft. Luckily there was a little stall selling food at the race, not a lot of choice – muffins and gevulde koek, but anything will do when you’re desperate.

As I was hanging around before the race, someone came and tapped me on the shoulder – a Scottish girl who I’d met last year. Like me, she’d raced on a standard bike last year, but upgraded to a road bike for this year’s race. It was really nice to have someone to hang around with and chat to during the long wait before the race. Although I wasn’t as early as last year, there was still a long wait since registration closed an hour before the start, and of course I was dependent on train schedules.

The water was a balmy 21C – warmer in fact than the surrounding air, which was lovely. All the other tri’s I’ve done it’s been 18C, which is doable without a wetsuit, but it certainly takes your breath away. Today, especially with the wind, it was nicer waiting in the water than out! I made the mistake of going into the shallow bit and standing up though, and then could’t get warm again, in the five minutes remaining before the start, I couldn’t stop shivering.

The Vrouwentriathlon uses a deep water start, so we we all entered the water and waited patiently for the start. Just as I was getting tired of waiting the starting horn went off and we were on our way. As I took my first strokes I heard my new pal call out ‘was that the start’?

There were about 150 of us signed up for the 1/8th distance today, and the swim was pretty crowded at the start, even though I stuck to the edge. The first 100m I was stuck in the melee and struggling to find clear water to swim in, so I deliberately hung back a little to get away from the person next to me who kept switching to breaststroke and kicking me.

I had to take a short breaststroke break to catch my breath part way through but basically did the whole thing in crawl. Once I was about 200m in I found my groove and managed to keep going pretty nicely. I noticed in the pool last Friday that I’m beginning to be able to swim a little further without having to stop and gasp for breath at the end of each lap, that definitely pays off in the open water! Of course, when all your training is in a pool, you’re used to having the chance to hang off the wall now and again to rest. None of that in the middle of a lake!

There was a lot of wind, but it wasn’t as rough out there as I’d feared from the shore. I had no feeling how fast I was going, but it felt like I was in the water for ever. Finally I reached the turn around point, and knew that there wasn’t far to go. There was a good number of people behind me. While I wasn’t super fast, I did respectably, I’d say. I don’t really have a strong leg in triathlon, I’m pretty weak in all disciplines, but of the three, I’m probably relatively speaking best in the water – or put otherwise, more people are weak swimming than on the bike or running!

I forgot to stop the Garmin until I almost ready to exit transition. At that point it was showing 12 minutes plus something. I managed to derive the time from the logs afterwards though, and it turned out that I swam the 500m course in 10:13min, my fastest swim yet and 8 minutes faster than last year when I was too scared of floundering in the middle of the lake to push myself.

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photo: John de Boer

I managed to get through transition pretty quickly, my hands weren’t as stiff as the last tri, thanks to the warmer water temperature so I didn’t fumble so long with my laces. A quick swig of water and I was off, much faster than a lot of the other girls around me. There were still quite a few swimmers in the water.

I grabbed my bike, ran out to the mount line, jumped on, started pedaling and BOOM! I was hit by a huge wall of wind. The bike was a real struggle today, I never really felt that I manage to get into a groove, and was fighting the wind much of the way (I read later that is was gale force 5/6). It was pretty weird to find myself in the middle of the cyclists, having only ever been right at the back thus far. Whilst I did spot some Ironman trisuits, and there were some fancy bikes there, this triathlon is also aimed at first timers and aims to encourage women to have a go at triathlon whatever their level of experience.

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photo: John de Boer

For some unknown reason I had the oddest mantra running through my head the whole bike ride – ‘Remember you’re a womble‘ 🙂 I’ve no idea where that came from, to be honest, but it stuck. Before I knew it, every time the wind strengthened, I found myself muttering, “come on womble. you can do this. remember you’re a womble”. I think the stress of the past week caught up to me!

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photo: John de Boer

The bike course is a nice, mostly wide, recreational path, but has the disadvantage of being very busy with roller bladers, pedestrians and many small people on tricycles. You really have to watch out, and there were times when I had to slow quite a bit because of little people wavering from one side of the road to the other, or family groups riding 5 abreast.

I managed to pass a couple girls, but was overtaken by many more. If I want to improve on the bike I really have to a) train more (since my normal training involves riding to work and back each day, a round trip of 13km), and b) buy some clipless pedals. For my feeling the bike was tough and I was slow. Actually, my average speed turns out to be slightly higher than the tri 3 weeks ago, so I’m pretty happy about that. My legs were pretty tired when I finished, though, and I felt that far more than 3 weeks ago going into the run. I managed a good dismount, no wobbling, and no falling over and gouging holes in my shin so all good!

I left wobbly as anything coming off the bike, but I didn’t hang around. I racked my bike, took another quick swig of water and ran out again. Straightaway I could feel my stomach beginning to cramp a little, thanks to the antibiotics. Fortunately after one little grumble it settled down and let me finish the race in peace.

It took a good km before my legs felt like they loosened up a bit, but I just kept plodding along. I did the first km in 6:11, which for me is pretty good in the circumstances. At the start of the year I couldn’t have run this pace even without the swim and bike beforehand. As with the bike I was overtaken by more girls than I managed to overtake, but at least I reeled in a couple!

The course was a bit annoying, last year it was an out and back, with the furthest part being along a field. This year it was a shorter out and back, which we had to do twice. Personally I like running on grass, plus all that back and forth is a bit boring and the turn points grind you to a halt.
Still, I managed to run a pretty steady 5K, and whilst I was ready to be done, I wasn’t miserable like the last time around either. By the end I was really getting into my stride, but it took a while! This time is still almost a minute faster than last year’s 5K PR and a good 11 minutes faster than my time at the Vrouwentriathlon last year.

Finally, I was making the approach towards the finish line. I managed to overtake one girl on the final stretch, and finished in 1:34:28. I finished 89 out of 129 (plus 4 DNFs), a definite improvement on last year!

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photo: John de Boer

All things being equal I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t reach my goal of sub 1:30, but given the circumstances leading up to the race and that I nearly didn’t manage to race at all, it’s an ok result. Not to be daunted, I signed up for one final triathlon this year, in the middle of August, and I also have a swim-run event in the beginning of August.

Maasdijk Marathon Triathlon

It’s been 10 months since I did my second and most recent triathlon.  Since then I’ve made leaps and bounds with running, but hadn’t been near the swimming pool in months.  Having discovered a new pool near the office, I’ve finally recovered my swimming mojo, but with only 3 swims in the lead up to the triathlon, things were going to be interesting.

One of the most appealing things about this triathlon was that the cycling course was a point-to-point, unlike the two I did last year, both of which involved cycling 2 loops of a 10K course.  The route for the Maasdijk Marathon follows the course of the Maas river, and is very scenic.  As luck would have it, the weather was beautiful, and although windy, nothing like the storms of the previous day.

My bike and I left the house in good time, and battled for space in the train.  Even this early, we were crammed in with a couple other bikes, and despite my first class railcard, staying with the bike meant sitting on a fold out chair in the door space – not so comfortable.  You have to wonder at my planning.  For a race of about an hour and a half, I spent 2 hours on the train in each direction.

Arriving in Oss, I set out on the bike for the yacht harbour in Lithoijen, where the swim would be taking place.  It was a ride of about 7km, and fairly straightforward although I did get a bit turned around along the way.  I had a reasonable amount of time, but didn’t want to hang around too much in case I’d miscalculated.  I had no choice but to stop, though, when I came across this orange monstrosity half way.

This was, you understand, during the period where Euro 2012 fever what at its highest.  Given another week or two and the Dutch were sadly dispatched from the competition.  Not only this street, but also the one joining it on the left had orange sleeves on every single tree.  What a horrific sight!

Arriving in Lithoijen I picked up my starters pack – commemorative t-shirt, yet another icky pink swimming cap, start number and the all important timing chip, and was tattooed on arm and leg with my start number.  This is one of those things which I’ve read about in other people race reports, but it’s the first time I’ve been body marked.  It’s not uncommon that your age group is also written on, but that didn’t happen here.  Not that it would have mattered – no chance of me being competitive enough to worry whether someone else is in my age group or not!

Formalities dispensed with I took my bike to the transition area, where we each had our own numbered spot, and a box waiting for our gear.  Because the bike course was point-to-point, everything in the boxes would be transported during the race to the second transition point, ready for the run.

Everything ready to go, there was nothing to do but nervously wait for the start.  We’d be swimming in the harbour, a nice sheltered area, in idyllic countryside.  Whilst it’s been a while since I’ve swum in open water, I’d swum 2km in the pool two days previously.  Not that it’s really comparable, but at least I knew that the distance (500m) on its own wouldn’t be a problem.  The water was 18C, the same as at my two previous triathlons, and although it’s a bit chilly, it’s doable without a wetsuit.  Which is good, since I don’t own a wetsuit!

Learning from my previous triathlons, I took the opportunity during the wait, and around the start of the Police Triathlon which started 15 minute before us, to warm up  a little and acclimatize to the water.  This is something that at least for me is really necessary.   When the water’s that cold it takes your breath away and you need some time to adjust before starting to swim.

Finally it was time for the start, and we lined up on the beach waiting for the starting signal.  I made sure to start at the back, I have no desire to get mown down by the speedy people. Despite trying to take it at my own pace, I went out pretty fast, spurred on by everyone around me.  I did have to take a couple short breaststroke breaks to catch my breath, but I was happy with how it went, especially considering how little swimming I’ve done this year.

I certainly came out of the water at the back of the pack, but there were quite a few people further behind. I did have some hassles with a few breaststrokers near the end, couldn’t get past them, but wanted to swim a notch faster than they were, and their legs got in the way!  You never appreciate was a space consuming stroke breaststroke is until you’re stuck trying to pass a breaststroker!

11 minutes after running into the water I was emerging again, pulling off my swimming cap and in transition.  After the cold of the water, my fingers were numb and I had a terrible time tying up my shoelaces.  I definitely need to invest in some  elastic quick tie laces.  Shoes finally on, I fiddled with my race number, which I’d strung on a chain of plastic ties, since I couldn’t find my race belt.  You have to wear the number on your bike on the bike, and your front for the run, so you need a way of moving it without having to unpin and repin it mid race!

I was pretty surprised when I came out of the water into transition to find it quite crowded, a novel experience for me, since I’m used to everyone being long gone by the time I get this far!  By the time I was ready to leave though, many of the other triathletes had already left.  But still…

I ran with my bike to the mounting line, jumped on, and then headed up a short slope on to the dyke running alongside the Maas.  The other great thing about this bike course, was that there was no traffic.  Aside from some walkers (taking part in a walking event also organized under the banner of the Maasdijk Marathon) we had the road to ourselves.

The course was mostly along the dike running along the Maas, meaning that every now and again we left the dike (steep downhill) and then joined it again (steep uphill). Very often, these two things happened more or less straight after each other, with a tightish turn, but for the rest the course was easy and fun to ride.  Although we were hit by the wind at some places, the course was fairly sheltered which made the ride very enjoyable.

I was quite surprised that it took until the 5th km or so before i was passed by anyone. I was expecting the swim stragglers to catch up with me very quickly, but as it was I got quite far into the route. I was overtaken by one girl who I managed to stay close behind (but not too close, since I’m paranoid about accidentally drafting) for most of the race, and then another couple faster people around the 15km mark. Pretty amazing really that I held off the people behind me for that long – most of the slower swimmers make up for their weakness in the water by strength on the bike and run, unlike me who just plods  along in all disciplines!

I managed to hold a pretty good speed for the first 15km or so, but after that it gradually dropped off a bit, particularly on the final km where I was beginning to doubt whether I’d somehow taken a wrong turning as I’d expected to reach the end of the course!

Around 18km I saw ahead of me a girl running with her bike, it turned out she had a flat. I offered my repair gear but she said she’d rather just run with her bike to T2 at this point. With hindsight I wonder if she knew the bike course was 22.5km rather than the standard 20km?

There was lots of support along the way, today’s race was part of a bigger event, which not only featured a marathon, but also a skate marathon, a walking event, kayaking and more besides. Clearly all the local villages were involved, and there were plenty of people dotted along the way to cheer us on. I even got handed a sponge at one point – I was quite proud of myself for managing to grab that on the way by, especially since my bike handling is rather dodgy, and I didn’t even considering trying to drink on the ride! What I did do, however, was stuff a few pieces of chocolate into my mouth for some extra energy along the way.  A mucky business since the chocolate was melting in the heat of the day.

Finally, blessedly, just when I was running out of steam I arrived at the end of the bike course and came into T2. I made a very wobbly dismount, and very nearly crashed over like I did at the last tri, but managed to stay on my feet this time. Clearly I need to do more longer rides so that I’m more stable at the dismounting point.  Probably braving clipless pedals would also help since my legs might be less tired too.

I took a quick slug of water in T2, looked around in some confusion trying to figure out the route out again, and I was off for the final part of the event.  I was already happy that I’d managed to run with my bike to its parking spot, rather than walk, and although my legs felt stiff, I wasn’t feeling too bad. I was surprised to see quite a few empty bike spots in T2, though how many were from people who hadn’t turned up, or who perhaps had already finished and left, I’m not sure.

The run turned out to be fairly solitary, and also the least interesting part of the course, much of it being along main roads. I had one main aim in today’s tri, and that was to complete the run course without walking. I’m proud to say that I achieved it, and that although I felt slow and a little tired, I also felt pretty strong and steady.  Taking into account that my Garmin recorded a slightly short course (even taking the distance in T2 into account, it would only be 4.8km), I ran the equivalent of a 31 minute 5K – pretty good for someone who at the beginning of the year had a 32min+ PR, even without the swim and bike tacked on the front!

So the run was basically a case of plod, plod, plod. I didn’t see any other competitors until the final kilometre. I can’t quite tell in hindsight if the run flew by, or seemed to take forever. I was very much ready for the finish, but not really struggling, and certainly far happier about life in general than this point in my previous two tri’s. Finally, I approached the dyke again and a lady with a checklist called out my name and cheered me on.

It turns out we were very close to the end, just a little bit down the dyke, a u-turn and then back again towards the finish. As I was running along away from the finish I heard the same lady call out someone’s name behind me. After all that solitude, finally another runner, and she was steadily gaining on me. I did my best, but I had to let her pass. I sped up a little, knowing the end was in sight, and tried to keep with her, but failed. As this was happening, we passed another lady running in the opposite direction (ahead of us) – she must have slowed a lot in the run, because there was no sign of her on the bike, and I’d not see her at all during the run.

I sped up for the finish, but but those ladies were out of my grasp! I did my best to smile and wave for the camera and then put my head down for the final sprint, as the commentator called out my name and my time: 1:34 and loose change. I couldn’t stop the huge grin spreading over my face – my last tri I did in 1:43:31, and the first one in 1:59:50. Whilst none of the distances were quite the same, I’ve clearly improved!

 

Final time: 1:34:53

  • Swim: 11:09 (500m)
  • T1: 2:50
  • Bike: 50:26 (22.5km)
  • T2: 3:50 (there was quite a long run in and out of T2)
  • Run: 28:38 (4.6km)

Compared to my (normalized – yes I’m a numbers nerd) time from the last tri, that’s 25s slower on the swim, 3:30 faster on the bike and a whopping 7:30 faster in the run.  Considering that I didn’t really train for the event, I was more than happy with that.  Perhaps more to the point, the whole experience felt a lot easier than my last triathlon, particularly the run at the end.

Lions Heuvelloop

I spotted this race a little while ago, when I was looking for something a bit more off road than the standard fare. My original plan was to run the 10K, but when Ger threw down the gauntlet and suggested joining him for the half marathon in Almere, I figured I’d better start adding in some longer runs. Whilst running is going far, far better at the moment than I could have dreamed at the start of the year, I still don’t much fancy my chances at getting out on my own in the weekend for a long run, and to be honest, running 15K on the roads is just not appealing to me. So, organized events it’s going to be, but that comes with one hitch. Running a race, and not giving it your all? Hard for anyone, but when you’re as slow as me, and coming last is almost certain in a small event, running a race at easy pace is a huge mental challenge.

According to the mighty Mr Daniels (who I keep confusing with Paul Daniels, a TV magician, for those who weren’t growing up in the UK in the 1980s), my race pace for 15K should be 6:04 min/km. Take that with a pinch of salt, since my usual training runs are around 6km, and I’ve only done 4 10K runs this year. Clearly, having not trained for longer distance, my best would be slower than this. My long run pace should apparently be between 7:03 min/km and 7:30 min/km. My basic aim for this run was to try and land closer to the 7 min/km end of easy, which would give me a 1:45 time. Last year’s slowest runner did the race in 1:38, and I didn’t want to be totally embarrassed!

I also decided to finally dig out my heart rate meter. Since I haven’t used it in a few years, the numbers would probably not be very informative during the run, but would hopefully give me some kind of idea for the future.

Luck was on my side when I took the train to the race this morning, as I only had a couple minutes to wait in Haarlem for my connection. Given that this is my 4th race in that part of the country this year, and every time I’ve had to wait close on half an hour, I was a little surprised. But it turned out that there was a race on at the circuit in Zandvoort (where I ran a couple weeks ago), and there was an extra train service.

The route to the course was well signposted… except for the fact that the signs pointed to the start of the race which was a bit of a distance from the sports hall where the numbers were being handed out. Having been misdirected by one of the volunteers (should have ignored him and the signs and trusted my own instincts) I first ended up at the start and then had to double back. Luckily I’d allowed plenty of time, and it all worked out, but I was a little stressed until I had my start number safely in hand.

Given the forecast of 10C and rain, I decided to wear a jacket. I regretted it before the start, but during some of the colder parts of the race, I was quite glad of it. In fact we were pretty lucky – a few drizzly moments, but it never got too wet.

The start of the race was unlike anything I’ve encountered before – the 5K, 10K and 15K were all starting together, with the 10K and 15K running the same course. There was a barrier splitting the road running under the start banner, and the 5K lined up on one side of the start, and the 10K and 15K lined up on the other, so that the two races were facing each other.

As ever, when the start shot went off I jumped, and then choked on the smoke. No klaxon for this race then! As we shuffled up to the start, the fastest 5K runners came streaming past us in the opposite direction.

The first kilometre or so was on the roads, taking us out of town and down to the dunes. The overall profile of the race was that the first section was downhill, the middle section in the dunes up and down, and then the final section back into town, uphill. A mean way to finish a race I thought, and was glad I’d checked out the course profile and was prepared for it.

I started near the back of the pack, and of course, by the time we reached the dunes I was already losing sight of most people. I could arguably have gone out a little slower, but it would have been hard! I really did my best to hold myself back, because I was pretty worried about not having the energy to make it through the second half comfortably.

The part of the dunes we were running in is normally not open to the public. In fact, apparently it’s opened only once a year, for this race, which made it rather a special experience. On entering the reserve, we were met by a large flock of sheep and the distinct smell of farmyard (for which you may read, animal poo).

The race was well organized, with a good number of volunteers along the way to keep you on the right path. There were virtually no spectators, though, which made it very peaceful. For the first half of the loop I was running behind two other runners, who were a little distance in front. I wasn’t really sure if there was anyone else behind us, though I guessed not.

At about 4km in, the rear guard cyclist came by and asked if I was a 10K runner. I said no, and then asked if I was the last runner. The answer wasn’t clear since he was cycling off into the distance, but he did shout out that he’d be back for me later, which was really all the answer I needed! I didn’t expect anything else, though, and just focused on keeping the other two runners in sight. I hadn’t been sure what distance they were running, but since the cyclist went on past them, I concluded they were both fellow 15K runners.

Not long after the 15K leader came past on his second lap. Wow, that guy was flying! With hindsight, I realize now that the cyclist wasn’t picking up the last 10K runner, but was in fact leading the fastest runner. It was quite some time, easily a kilometre or more before the man in second place came past.

The course was a mix of quite open, barren landscape, and little wooded sections. The latter always seemed to be accompanied with inclines, but it was really nice to run on the soft pine needles. Aside from the first and last 2km or so, the course was on trails. In some places, fairly firm, but in a few places very soft sand, which was quite hard work, even if it did feel good under foot.

Not too far after the cyclist had passed me I saw a small group of highland cattle ahead, and my two fellow runners gingerly making their way through them. The path was quite narrow, through the trees at that point, and the cows didn’t leave much room. As I passed by them, one of them turned and moved towards me. I slowed to a walk as I passed so as not to startle it whilst there was only a foot or so between us, and then continued. A volunteer on the other side, standing next to his bike said ‘I was told that the cows wouldn’t do anything’, but the tone of his voice, and the fact that he had his bike at the ready to rush for help, implied that he was feeling a bit uncertain about them too!

By this point we were coming up to the 5K point, and hit the hardest climb of the route, which was through very deep, soft sand. I took it easy, but kept on running up the hill, passing one of the runners, who I never did see again. I expected him to come past later on, but there was no sign of him.

I was pretty happy with how things were going at this point. Whilst there was still a long way to go, I was running easily and steadily and still felt strong. Past the 6K point, and there was a small table set up with water. I walked briefly whilst I drank, ate a small piece of cereal bar, and then continued.

Before long I was nearing the end of the first loop. Somewhat incongruously I came past the only spectators – a woman with a group of 3 small girls, huddled together under a pink umbrella. They cheered me on, and I waved at the girls. Then I rounded the corner and came back to the main entry road. Two men with flags who were trying to wave me left, as I indicated that I had a lap to go and needed to go to the right. Standard procedure when you’re last! They cheered me on, and off I went for lap number 2, watching one of the volunteers pull up the road markings behind me.

My hips were tightening up, and I had a bit of shoulder pain, so I tried to loosen myself up a bit as I went. By this point I was 8K in, so just over halfway. Knowing what was coming up ahead made the remaining distance much less daunting, and I wasn’t feeling too tired.

My remaining fellow runner was still in sight, although given the how winding the path was I only caught sight of her now and again. Really, this didn’t feel like a race at all, just a solo run out in nature, and I was totally relaxed. I also was still convinced that the man I’d overtaken must be behind me somewhere, so I didn’t even think I was last.

Coming up on the cows again, and I could see that they’d huddled even less conveniently in the middle of the path than the first time around. I saw the woman ahead gingerly pass, going up off the path to give them a bit more room, and when I came to pass, followed her example.

That hurdle over, the next one was the hill around kilometre 10. Definitely harder work than the first time around, but I focused on taking short steps and was soon at the top. I ran the first 10K in about 1:08, which is pretty much the same as the race in Arnhem last month, and faster than we ran Tel Aviv last week. Hands down, today’s race was far more relaxed than either of those, both of which really took a lot more effort, the first because of the hills and the second because of the climate & my lack of sleep, I guess.

The water volunteer was still waiting for me, and I gratefully took some water, like the first time around, leaving my empty cup on the bench for him to collect without having to bend all the way down to the ground.

My legs were tiring by now, but I felt otherwise good. Time seemed to pass by in a dream, and before I knew it I was approaching the end of the loop. Suddenly, out of nowhere came the cyclist, saying ‘promised I’d be back’. Oh, I said in some surprise. Am I last? I thought there was another man behind me.’ I guess he had done the 10K after all, leaving me bringing up the rear. Still, at least this time I was finishing with someone else just in front, as opposed to half an hour behind the next slowest person.

With my cyclist pal, the last few kilometres flew by. With him leading I felt like I picked up pace a little. When we reached the end of the loop there was a small crowd waiting with their bikes. I grinned at them, and waved enthusiastically. If I was going to finish last, then I was determined to make it absolutely clear that I was finishing strong!

We chatted and joked as we went – one cyclist on either side, and then a few more behind us. My new escort told me that we had both a doctor and a forensic scientist in the group, ‘just in case’! Then, onto the final leg – out of the dunes and straight uphill. Mean, very mean, but I didn’t let it defeat me and held steady.

Then we turned on to the final road before the finish. They must have just held the prize giving, because everyone that came towards me was clutching a trophy. I waved at each one and congratulated them as I went by – some things are worth using up a little extra breath for.

And then round the corner I came, expecting, I must admit, to be met with a huge crowd of adoring fans, just as in the Vlietloop last year, and as I saw at Rondje Nederland last month. But no. Everyone aside from the volunteers had already gone home, apparently. Nonetheless, the volunteers gave me a big cheer, and I was very grateful to them!

I came in with a net time of 1:45:23, and I have to be honest and say that I had to work hard not to be disappointed. This was, after all, pretty much spot on what I should have done for a long run (actually, on the fast side of long run pace), and a PR by 4:14. It’s just that compared to the 4:30 I’ve knocked off my 5K time, it seems little paltry!

I had to work hard at reminding myself that not only did I take this at a deliberately slower pace, but that the fact that I finished strong, meant that I paced myself well for those 15km. Plus, when I ran the 1:49:37 at the Bruggenloop in December, I was really pushing myself the whole way, whereas today I was very relaxed. And, of course, December’s 15K was a road race, whereas today’s run was almost all off road.

Heh, a PR is a PR, and one that’s achieved when not going all out, is surely even more of an achievement.

So that’s my fifth run of 15+K ever, and I’m pretty happy with how it went. Now I need to plan the next long run, but first the 10K in Rotterdam next week.

Tel Aviv Marathon – 10K

If there’s one thing I wasn’t for this race, it was well rested.  Between a middle of the night flight that had me arriving in Tel Aviv at 4.30am the day before, and then a night in a youth hostel, in which people were coming and going all hours, I was exhausted.  To add insult to injury, the clock change in Israel took place the morning of the race, so an already short night was truncated further.   The Israeli climate being warmer than ours, all the day’s races were starting in the early morning.  We got off fairly lightly, with a start time of 8:30,  but I was still up at 6am to get ready.

Luckily, the race start was not far from my hostel and indeed, the first kilometre of the race was down my street.  Waiting for Elisheva, I saw the half marathoners coming by and panicked briefly that we’d got the times confused and missed the start.

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Elisheva laughed at me for pinning my race number to my running skirt (with the hope it would be less annoying, as I hate brushing my arms against the number the whole time when I’m running), and pointed out that people would be staring at my crotch when they read it.  A valid point, but since I didn’t expect anyone to be looking at it, I didn’t really care.

The 10K was split into two waves, with the faster runners setting off at 8:10, and the slower runners, namely us, starting twenty minutes later. We wandered down the road with plenty of time, and stood on the side to watch the first runners start.

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Bizarrely, as we were standing waiting, a woman came up to us, pointed at my start number and started talking to her children in rapid Hebrew, gesturing the whole time at the number pinned to my skirt. Who’d have thought? Turned out that the children’s father was running, and she was explaining to them the features of the start number – the coloured band indicating which race we were in, the number indicating our wave, and the letter indicating our corral within that wave.

I was pretty relieved that I was with Elisheva – whilst many of the announcements were also repeated in English, obviously the main language of proceedings was Hebrew, and I’d have felt a little lost on my own.

Unlike many of the races I’ve run, a large percentage of the participants (including ourselves) were wearing the race t-shirt – orange for the men, and red for the women, making for quite an impressive sight as we waited to start.

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Eventually the (Hebrew) countdown began, the klaxon was honked, and after the usual shuffle to the starting line, we were off.

We very quickly found ourselves frustrated by the crowds, and spent a lot of time trying to dodge our way past people. It’s the first time I’ve run a race with someone else, and I really had to pay extra attention to pacing, and trying not to lose track of each other when we passed people, or when other people barged between us. Despite the crowds, we set off at a pretty good lick.

During the first kilometre or so we were passed by a small group of runners, one of whom was pushing someone in a wheelchair. We were torn between being impressed at their effort, and determination not to let this group get ahead of us. After a couple times passing the wheelchair, and being passed we finally surged ahead a little as the crowd thinned out and never saw the group again. Phew, pride intact!

It became clear pretty fast that Elisheva has one big advantage over me – living in Jerusalem, she’s used to running on hills. As far as she was concerned, Tel Aviv was flat as a pancake in comparison. For me it was a different story. Whilst the course in Tel Aviv was certainly flatter than Zandvoort Circuit Run and Rondje Nederland, I’d walked about 20km the day before, and the long, gradual slopes, the likes of which I can’t practice on at home, were really hard on my legs. As a result, I was pretty relieved when Elisheva suggested walking for a little bit at the 3km point. Looking back at my phone, our splits for the first 3km were 6:18, 6:17 and 6:39, which is faster than I’ve started any 10K. Looking at the elevation profile after the fact, that’s pretty impressive given we were steadily climbing the whole time, but not particularly smart!

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From that point on we alternated walking and running. Sometimes walking perhaps longer than we strictly needed to simply because we were too busy chatting! There were quite a few race photographers along the way, so we did our best not to be caught walking. We didn’t entirely succeed though!

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Around the 5km kilometre we reached the water stand. I had it in my head that there was only one water point, so we didn’t want to miss it. Although we were lucky that it wasn’t too hot (considering where we were), I was feeling the effects of the humidity, not helped by the fact that sweat plus sunscreen was making my face feel pretty icky.

When we reached the water though there was no-one manning the stall, and no cups available either. Following the lead of those around us, we each picked up a 1.5l water bottle and gulped away as if we were in the middle of the desert. Definitely a mistake. A pint or more of water later we continued, and straight away I could feel the water sloshing around inside me. What was I thinking? The next kilometre was rather uncomfortable until it all settled down, and I was glad when we hit another up hill section and we walked a little.

As we went, Elisheva was pointing out the landmarks along our way. I really had my own personal tour guide. We ran a small section along the highway, past the skyscraper where we’d eaten the night before. It was fun to spot familiar landmarks in a strange city.

The route was a kinky out and back, with a loop at the far end. By this time we were heading back towards the first familiar section, and began to feel that we were making good progress.

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I had no idea what sort of time we were making, but after our first fast 3km we’d slowed down a lot, both running at a more leisurely pace and taking our walking breaks. I was really tiring by this point, a cumulation of inadequate sleep, too much walking the day before, and the climate. I was worrying the whole time about slowing Elisheva down, but she reassured me afterwards that that wasn’t the case.

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This whole second section we’d found ourselves a new nemesis – a group of baby pink clad girls, all very skinny and perky, who were jogging along, chatting and laughing like the whole thing was effortless. Every time we passed them, they’d end up overtaking us again on a walking section, until finally we sprinted past them and put some good distance between us.

Finally we turned onto the road running alongside the beach. The cool wind was quite a relief, but unfortunately we were running straight into it, making the last stretch a little harder work.

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We managed to pick up the pace a little, but no final sprint for us today. We crossed the finish line, triumphant, and for once I remembered to grab my phone and stop it straight away – 1:15, faster than I’d expected, given the walk breaks we’d taken. For some strange reason, our results have never appeared on the official website (Elisheva had to check for me, I was thwarted by the Hebrew. For an international race, they missed on a few of the finer details!), so I’m glad I had the phone with me.

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Our medals were rather unceremoniously handed to us, so I put Elisheva’s around her neck for her, and she reciprocated with mine.

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We didn’t head back to the hostel straight away, but first wandered over to the post-race party to check out the ‘air bar’ – rather incongruously a Dutch fietscafe (mobile bar, which the drinkers move by cycling), which was a stand provided by the Israeli asthma society.

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We showed up coughing and brandishing our matching Ventolin inhalers, every bit an advert for the asthmatic athlete. After chatting a while, admiring the giant inflatable lungs, and stocking up on leaflets and stickers, we scored ourselves some free yoghurt and departed back to the hostel for a much needed shower.

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One final 5km walk to the bus station, and we left the modern city of Tel Aviv for Jerusalem. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to appreciate much of the scenery between the two, or the dramatic entrance into Jerusalem, because almost as soon as we started moving, I dozed off.