It’s all or nothing (or how to be an inconsistent runner)

Set lofty goals. Like, really lofty goals and then don’t work towards towards them. That’s the secret sauce to being an inconsistent runner. Like the time I ran a marathon having never run more than 26km, or the time I did a 25km night time trail run in the snow having a: never run in snow, b: never run trails at night, c: not trained. You see where this is going.

But it’s also immensely exciting, because you’re pushing the unknown. My tactic is to put myself in a position where there are only two options. Finish. Or die. Like leaving your keys and mobile at the finish line. There’s simply no way back other than to keep on going. If it doesn’t exactly do your legs and muscles any favours, at least it makes you pretty self-reliant.

With that preamble out of the way, my latest hare-brained scheme this year was a 38km trail run in the Belgian Ardennes. the Trappist trail (trappist, as in.. beer). Well suffice it to say, that my previous experiences seem to have worked, this time I showed up on race morning with a twinge in my knee, so I changed down to the 28km race. And with the magnificence of hind-sight that was a very, very good idea. I held fast until 25km in, and that’s where I really started to struggle. the two river crossings were surprisingly pleasant on the leg muscles.

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Nevertheless, the Ardennes are absolutely beautiful, as is the Orval monastery where, of course, I stocked up on beer (post-race of course).img_3613

But most importantly, being a Trappist race, there was free beer at the finish line! And non of that alcohol-free rubbish. Real, Belgian beer!

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In other good fun news, The Color Run (Colour spelt wrong) came to amsterdam a few weeks back. Whilst most people treated it as a fashion show for various hippie outfits (which made it quite fun), we actually ran the whole thing, in the company of Matt and Helen. No sports commentary here though… A colour run is a colour run.



Keep running!

B

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No Running, No Posting

I could hardly write anything in a blog about running if I hadn’t run could I? (No, I could not).

Well, now I’m running. And cycling. And swimming. And if that combination of things sounds familiar, that’s because they are the building blocks of a triathlon. Just not in that order.

So why has it been so quiet around here? Well, like I said, no running = no posting. And I fell out of love with running a bit. Just a bit, but enough to not be motivated to go out and do much of it.

Anyway, as New Year came and went (it’s always New Year isn’t it?), it was time to get the running shoes out again. So I signed up for a night time, 25km trail run near Rotterdam which was categorically the most horrendous thing I have ever undertaken. It was snowing heavily that night, which you’d think would have added to the charm of the run. Unfortunately it did no such thing other than making the mountain bike trails we were running on slippier than expected. That and lack of practice meant I had an absolutely awful time. (The same can be said for Matthijs, who ran the 15km race, and Catherine who also ran the 15km race, but ended up doing a loop twice and running 18km+. Whether this is just out of sheer bad-assery, or due to a failing sense of direction we will not comment).

Full details here: https://www.strava.com/activities/863054533/embed/c9770617012d07b7f454084ee2503a502487c849

In the meantime, other fun things that have been happening:

Went to Winterberg with my work team for a day of skiing, and trying my hand at snowboarding (pretty good at it, if I may so myself).

https://www.strava.com/activities/854921850/embed/e9725defa7e740aeab3556d47ec954fef1574c38

https://www.strava.com/activities/856601961/embed/40d112a3f926fcd210927734e9b224c4740226f6


Returned to Winterberg in April, without the snow for Downhill mountainbiking (including crashing out of a corner and twisting my thumb). Was absolutely epic.

https://www.strava.com/activities/962922880/embed/db68517d26c476dfc0f7b70db32e15eeeded073d


I also did a week-long sailing course, went to the Alps with Matt and Tashi for a few days of skiing in Méribel (and the associated sunburn), churned out a lot of kilometres on the bike with Arjen (inc. Winterberg).

https://www.strava.com/activities/894869162/embed/6dd00ce6ac304e5eae5ae1c418e6f304

https://www.strava.com/activities/896009431/embed/ef711c532dd20630ae95a7a3e73f0eb48b86b0586b604cf6


One thing I need to improve is getting a few more decent pictures. Work in process.

B

 

 

Giethoorn

We got up to a few things whilst I kept the radio silence. One of those things was vising Giethoorn, the “Venice of the North”. Which is a small town in the northern Netherlands with no roads, instead it is criss-crossed with little canals.


Mum was visiting and so we drove up north one Saturday morning, arriving in time for lunch. Then, we ambled over to the boat we had reserved for the afternoon and quietly zoomed away from the pontoon (it was electric). We had a whole four hours, so we really could take our time and have a good look around.

We went through the village itself, which was pretty crowded, but there were fewer and fewer boats the further we got away from the village, and out onto the lakes, as most people booked for 1-2 hours, rather than a whole afternoon. There were all sorts up there, from sporty people in kayaks, to those using Canadian-style open canoes, to those who, like us, were a bit lazy and just fancied motor-ing about, and a few people on a loud party boat, complete with bbq.

The village itself was a plethora of typical dutch-style houses, all complete with thatched roof, which Catherine really likes and has on her list of requirements for our “someday house”.

There were of course a lot of bridges for pedestrians and cyclists to get around. Some where lower (a lot lower!) than others. Of course I wasn’t the only captain on board, and we all took a turn at steering. We mostly steered clear of the banks and reed beds. 🙂

Leaving the village behind there were fields with various livestock in them, mostly cows. I was experimenting with the new camera we got, and managed to snap this picture of a cow. Have a close look, because once you see it, you cannot un-see it!

We took turns in putting our feet in the water, and Catherine may or may not have had a nap….

There was a lot of wildlife, most of it of the flying variety (think birds, ducks, geese, swans). We chanced across this bank of swans, with mummy-swan giving me dirty looks for doubling back to have another look.

This duck took a liking to us and followed us for a good 15 minutes, and decided to bring his mates.



I also tried my hand at some photography, and we cozied up to a bank of water lillies for me to have a go with the macro settings.


We would all recommend adding Giethoorn to your list of places to visit, best plan the whole day though! We drove home in the evening and topped the whole lot off with a tasty meal, wine and a dash of spirits. Needless to say we all slept pretty well.

 

Overnighting at Kaapweg, the video edit

It has finally occured to me (after 5 months, admittedly) that I still have this blog. And that I actually made a video of Matt and I’s stay in the forest back in April. It’s a bit long, and not my most exciting work. But for anyone who needs to kill off a few (ok, many) minutes on a Tuesday, here is one way to do it.

Hopefully, it inspires you to go out too. If not, I hope it at least makes you laugh (at us rather than with us works too). If it doesn’t move you at all you’re probably miserable and I wouldn’t want to meet you anyway.

I’m working on some stuff that’s months behind. E.g. Viking run, which happened in May. And then I went quiet all through summer, though other than a week in France, I was work for most of it.

But things are going well, we have a car now, so we’re travelling around a little more, and the launch of the new GoPro drone has gotten me excited. (I very much doubt I’ll get one, but it reminded me I have a camera in the cupboard that needs using!). I promise to get better at editing video into something someone might actually want to watch. Hopefully if/when you see the results, you’ll agree!

Cheers,

B

Overnighting at the Kaapweg, Utrecht

Matthijs and I pulled the trigger Friday night and decided the forecast was good enough to attempt another night in the forest. The initial plan was to do it monthly, but as will all well laid-out plans in life, this did not happen, and we hadn’t been out since January.

Whilst our January trip was all about proving to ourselves that a night in the woods in winter could be done, we really wanted to improve the experience this time. So we went out with the aim to actually cook our meal this time from ingredients, not from a tin, improve the bedding situation, and a steely determination that we light a fire, because what’s the point in camping without a campfire?

Having agreed a meeting place (no car this time unfortunately) we then started texting and changed plans as we were both ready and rearing to go. So we each made our way to our respective train station. That’s when things started to go awry. My first train was delayed by 15 minutes, meaning I didn’t get on the train Matthijs was on at my connection station. Never mind, I’d catch up with him at the next connection. Meanwhile, waiting for the train, it began to rain. Tough Matt, who was a few kilometers away did not report any precipitation. Eventually, we met up at Weesp, in time to actually catch the train we were planning to be on. 

  
 From here things went smoothly again. The rain stopped, and we made it to Hilversum as planned. From Hilversum we started walking east, towards the forest Catherine and I had gone walking in at Easter. 

 
  
Following a slightly different route, we went into another part of the forest, and walked to the official wild camping spot which is marked by a water pump. Having verified that it worked, we walked around the clearing and off into the undergrowth to find a spot where we could build our shelter. A viable spot has two requirements: first, it should have trees that are far enough apart to string our hammocks between, and secondly, they should be close enough together that we can still string the hammocks between them and stretch the tarpaulin out above our heads. Having selected a potential spot we put down our bags and took out a hammock to confirm we had selected the correct spot. We then set about collecting long pieces of wood to build our “roof”. These were effectively fallen trees, and Matt brought out the first surprise of the day in the shape of an axe, which we used to clear small branch stubs off so they wouldn’t punch a hole through  the tarp. With this done we set up the hammock and moved our things around so they would be in the right spot. 

 
With camp pitched we set about gathering wood and selecting a spot to make a fire. This was not a particularly hard choice as some previous  campers had built what was effectively a make-shift kitchen complete with table, chairs and cooking area.  The whole lot protected from the wind by a small wall of logs. Very nifty! Within a few minutes we had a substantial little fire going. 

  
And with that it was time to start cooking. Or at least discussing the logistics for cooking a stew in a frying pan. Without oil we figured we had better cook some chorizo off first, and use the fat from that to fry off the vegetables. Which is exactly what we did, and is the precise moment when I noticed I forgot to pack an onion. No matter, I had 6 pita breads to make up for it. We cooked on, with the frying pan in the fire, and I added the spice mix that I had pre-prepared at home. Eventually, after adding chopped tomatoes and garlic, and dropping the chorizo back in, we had a shakshuka ready to eat, with freshly toasted pita bread. Needless to say, we topped it off with some eggs, and it tasted much yummier than it does at home, even without the onion.  

   

 After dinner, it was time to have a hot drink, so we voted for coffee. Which brought along our next dilemma, how to boil water without a pot… With resourcefulness naturally! We actually used the tomato tin, and dropped it full of water into the fire where it would quickly boil about two cups of water. So we bust out the Guatemalan coffee and the filters, (no instant rubbish this time!) and made our coffee with the strange tasting egg water from the well. 

  
We then continued by finding more wood to stoke our fire, which seemed to be combusting a surprising amount of wood, before stoking it and settling down with a beer. At this point we were actually too warm from the fire, and had to back away a bit from the flames. Finally here we relaxed and discussed a huge variety of topics, as men around a campfire should do.

  
Just after ten o’clock we got a very slight bit of rain, but nothing too serious. At ten thirty we got a real surprise though, some fellow campers arrived, just as the rain got a bit heavier. They didn’t seem to be carrying much, but within a few minutes had a tent up as well as a raging fire going. Very impressive.

At this point the rain got a little too heavy to sit in, so we retired to the comfort of  hammocks, after making minor modifications to the shelter to ensure water wouldn’t pool on the roof. We settled in for the first sleep. From about 11:30 till 1:30. 

  
Now last time we had a problem with heat escaping from the bottom of the sleeping bag and hammock. It would appear our diagnosis of the layer beneath us being crushed and thus providing no warmth was correct. To remedy it this time I lay on top of a thick woolen blanket, which solved the problem to a certain degree, however in the cold of the night, I could still feel some heat loss, more than I would have liked. I took the spare fleece jacket I had bright along and zipped it up around myself on the outside of the hammock, and used the arms to tie an extra tight knot. Whilst this did mean it felt I was sleeping in a straight jacket, it also meant I was substantially warmer than last time, especially considering I was wearing a hoodie and thermal t-shirt in my sleeping bag,  rather than my coat, as I had done in January. Final piece of luxury, I had folded my down body warmer into the bag of my sleeping bag, and used it as a fluffy pillow, that had the added benefit of keeping my neck and head nice and warm. Towards the end of the night, I still felt some cold round my feet, which is an area I still need to improve, nevertheless they were nowhere near as uncomfortable as last time, and I didn’t resort to boiling a kettle of hot water to put there (though Matt did, once).

Come six o’clock it was clear I wasn’t going to sleep again. I love birdsong, but the cacophony we were dealing with was on another level. So I crawled out of my hammock, put on my jeans and set about gathering some fresh wood for the fire. Naturally, this involved much manly axe-wielding, which made it all the more fun. 

  
Fire lit, we set about making breakfast, which included the usual 6 rashers of bacon, and this time, as an added luxury one and a half eggs each, as well as Guatemalan filter coffee. Like I said, we really wanted to up the game this time round. Our fire seemed to smoke out most of the forest, we could literally see the smoke just hanging low among the trees, owing to the fact that there was no wind at all.  To top it all off, we were sitting where we could see down a cut in the trees, and the sun rose, exactly in line with that cut, right onto our faces, meaning that for a few glorious minutes, we were bathed in the light of the rising sun. Pure magic. Though of course, in the way we had the fire, which was spewin out smoke, (we later noticed this was due to the conifer wood we were burning) and the smoke, in varying degrees of thickness, was changing the color of the sunlight. Literally as the smoke went past our faces, we could see the light coming down the path changing color and intensity, it was very odd. Breakfast finished, we made another coffee, chatted, and eventually tried to make a cup of them with pure well water. Despite leaving the teabag in for a poisonously long time, it did taste a bit queer. So, throwing the tea away, we decided it wood be better if we started tidying, doing the dishes and breaking camp. 

  
A short while later, things were put away, bags were packed, and shelter was dismantled. 

We poured water over the fire, ensuring it was out and began our walk back to the station, by way of a petrol station for a can of coke each, which we drank whilst waiting for the train, which was of course, delayed.

With that, back to reality.

PS, videos were made, they’ll follow later in the week. 

Motorbike in pieces, the forest and more Two Twits.

It’s been another week. Week 15.

Since last week’s quick catch-up, things have been happening.

Tuesday involved some bouldering after work. Enough bouldering to pull skin clean off my fingers (as nasty as it sounds), especially as I was working on a tricky problem on the 5+/6a section. It involves a little run-up and grabbing on by finger tips. Good fun and on the list of climbs to conquer next time I go. The other nemeses being the ones with overhangs.

Wednesday afternoon involved a short 7km run from work at a brisk 5:20/km. Again, work really needs to start on this running malarkey once more.

Thursday evening I tried to get my motorbike into the storage unit downstairs. Thankfully I succeeded, but not without difficulty as the hallway is pretty tight. It involved a fair bit of shifting the bike over (by lifting it up). The reason for this is to give the bike a complete strip-down, clean, and service of essential (but neglected) work. Having been a student for the past two works with no garage, there are a few things which I may have skipped which it is high time I caught up on. So far I’m going to put a new set of brake lines on, as well as brake pads to really improve the braking system, as it’s overdue replacement. A few other things involve giving the exhausts a good polish, as they’re completely tarnished from all the road crud, and generally giving the whole thing a good, in-depth clean and check to se if anything else needs replacing or fixing. (I’ve found quite a few bolts and nuts that have rusted which could do withe replacing, and several bolts have seized and could do with some copper-slip).

Finally Saturday Matt and I decided that camping was on! So off to get some spare bits and pieces I went. But honestly, that deserves an entire post to itself.

B

Sunset

I completely forgot about this. Last time I was home (the time I went skiing), I set my camera up on a tripod and did a time-lapse of the sunset. I left the camera on automatic, so it adjusts itself (yes, I need a better camera for stills).

But let me keep it brief (which I don’t usually do). Here’s 90 minutes in 20 seconds. Sunset….

Boom.

Week….err 15. 

Catherine pointed out it had been a long time since I posted anything here. She’s right. I should rename this place “benjamindoesntrun”. Since the last post (which conveniently, was actually running related), I have not done much running at all.

So what have I done? Well, I was asking myself that.

Week 10 I went to France. To check in with mum and dad, and seize the opportunity for a bit of skiing. Cross-country this year. Links to those workouts are here and here.


 Went skiing with dad a bit too.

 

The following weekend we went to Leiden for Arjen and Nathalie’s house warming party. Followed by a lazy Sunday if memory serves me right.

Then along came Easter weekend. Starting with a wine tasting at Catherine’s work on the Thursday. Where we bought our first lot of wine in bulk, feeling very grown up in the process. I had the Friday off, Catherine did not, so I spent most of it catching up on administration and even logging on to do a bit of work. 😦 but I met Tashi for a cake and drink. Easter Saturday we went up to Groningen to see Mike and Marina and meet their little girl Norah. Easter Sunday we took as a day off and did almost nothing, we were both pretty tired. And in Easter Monday we caught a train to Hilversum, and walked to Laage Vuursche to eat a pancake. And then, rather than walk back the same way, we walked to Baarn and caught the train home from there. Relaxing walk through the woods and found some great MTB trails for if when I get a mountain bike.

The following weekend we had a visit from Catherine’s parents and her nephew, and we were all too happy to showcase the fun bits of amsterdam. (All within the law, we wouldn’t condone anything forbidden to minors).

I also picked up my motorbike from Matt and Helen’s where it had been hibernating.

On the Sunday I rode to the north. Eenrum, over the afsluitdijk as it was a nice day and Catherine had gone out with her family, to attend Mike and Marina’s farewell party, as sadly they will return to the US this month.


This brings us to last week. Matthijs came over for a spot of brewing on Wednesday. We will see how that turns out.

And on Saturday I went to Groningen one last time with Arjen, Mike and Arjen’s buddy Tjeerd for a beer festival. It was good fun, and the aftermath of that can be found on Untappd. Let’s just say I fell asleep on the train home and ended up rather further down the line that intended.

Sunday Catherine and I rode over to Naarden Vesting, an old fortified town to have a look around and a little walk. Very pleasant.



As a side note, Matt and I are praying for good weather next weekend…..

Have a good week.

B

Race Report: Week 9

After much waiting and little practicing, the running race Catherine signed us up for was upon us.

At three o’clock we convened at our apartment with Helen and Matthijs for pasta (fuel of champions), before hitting the (longer than expected) road to Gasselte, which is practically in Groningen, about 200km from Amsterdam.

Thankfully, the weather was very pleasant, clear and fresh. We wouldn’t be having any problems with rain that evening. And on cue at 18:19, the sun dipped below the horizon just as we were arriving, in time for sign in.

 

Good bye sun, see you tomorrow!

Race numbers allocated, we made our way to the errr, bar to get changed into our race clothes and decide on what configuration of clothing we would wear. That sorted, final adjustments to head straps for the torches and action-cam strapped into place, we waited for 19:20, our official start time.

Though of course, it wouldn’t be right without a picture first.

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And with that, off to the start-line!


We went off into the woods, and quickly the group of 50-60 or so runners formed a single-file line, with a lot of dodging and weaving to avoid patches of deep boggy mud. It was pitch black in the forest and very very quiet. Not unlike the conditions I experienced with Matt here.

As you can see in the picture above, I did take the action cam with me, but apart from very few sections, it looks like a film made from the point of view of a blind person. I’ll cobble something together later on.

Nevertheless, running through the forest and at night is entirely magical. Unlike road-running, which you can pretty much do with your eyes shut, the forest floor is completely uneven, slippery and full of surprises. To get through it, a lot of concentration is required. This is easy in a pack, because the multitude of head-torches lights up the majority of the path. But when the pack thins out, you’re forced to look everywhere and really pay attention to what you’re running over. I actually found the experience really engaging. Loath as I am to claim I was “at one with nature”, I was definitely close to it. And when I say close to it, I almost mean that literally. When I let my attention slip, or looked at my watch, or tried to look at the scenery (or lack thereof) or see the night sky, I almost fell flat on my face. This happened more than once, until I learnt my lesson and just concentrated on where my feet were going.

After 7-8km through the woods, we opened up on what was once a sand quarry, and is now a lake surrounded by mountain bike trails. This is where things got really interesting, as the tracks weave about to make the most use of the space, and sometimes double back, meaning you’re actually running towards people until they veer off in another direction and you realise that they were on another track. This is also the section where the “hills” come into it.

At 20 meters high (and that’s me being generous), these hills were more a bump in the road than a major daunting force to be conquered. Still, they provided for some good scrambling, in the traditional trail running way, hands on knees to provide a bit of extra force. My usual cheeriness had me call out to my team-mates “UTMB here we come!!”, which was met by a resounding “F±*% you!”……I may have a bit more work ahead of me to convince them…..

The last three km or so plunged back into the woods, for the really soggy bit, where water seeps into your shoes, socks get really wet and the mud splashes commence. At this point I got separated from Matthijs and Catherine, so I upped the ante a bit to see how quickly I could plow through the terrain (turns out, not much faster than I was already going).

We rejoined the road, saw the marshall who told us we were at the end, but…surprise surprise, another marshall a bit further pointed us in the direction of the soggiest track yet, which had deep pools of cold water and squelchy mud do run through. Oh and a really slippery patch of mud on the final, sharp, corner which I think may have caught a fair few people out…

Here I come!

 

Here comes powerwoman!

 

Matt takes it easy.

 

Finally, there was the finish, complete with drinks, sweets, crisps, and of course, liquorice (we are in the Netherlands after all). Final photo taken, breath caught up, and off to the most important part of any race, the bar for hot soup and beer.

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I also made one crucial mistake. I left my normal shoes in the car, 700 metres away, and there was no way in hell I was putting my wet running shoes back on. So I did the only other thing I could do:


By the way, when it’s 0 degrees, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Thankfully, it was a very clear night and I could distract myself by looking for Big Bear and Little Bear, the only two constellations I know.

So trail running. Something for me?

Yes! 1000 times yes! It’s so much more exciting than road running! It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, you need to focus really hard and pay attention. Things that aren’t always a necessity in our automaton urban lives. A way to reconnect with nature? Definitely. An escape? Possibly. A great, healthy and fun way to spend your Saturday night? Absolutely. Will we be doing it again? Well…..


Thank you to Matt, for joining us in this endeavour. Congratulations to Catherine for completing her first ever foot race (not the first race I’d have chosen). And lastly, thank you Helen, for waiting, and doing all the driving, long after we’d fallen asleep!

B
PS: shame on you, McDonalds Hogeveen for not having a veggie burger, how were we supposed to feed our hardworking driver!?!?

Sunday of week 7

On monday we had our final test for the Padi open water diver (still have the actual open water sessions to do mind you), but we both comfortably passed it…. I had 1 mistake. 😦

Catherine flew home Tuesday so I had the house to myself all week. I essentially did nothing other than eat, watch TV and sleep. Oh and go to the bar several times. But I’ve been pretty tired that last few weeks, so it was nice to recuperate. (Though this shouldn’t be interpreted as Catherine tires me out, no, no, no!)

Matthijs and I had planned to go for our second outdoor weekend this week, but the weather was truly dismal (so dismal that Catherine’s flight back is over an hour late as a result). We’ll get back to you on that one in March, as there’s no possibility before that.

I had a quiet weekend too. Read lots of economist articles (Thanks Tashi, for sending those our way). And then rather than bore you with the spcifics in writing, if you have 159 seconds to spare, you can see for yourself what I did Sunday below.

Of course, the soundtrack is intended to be ironic. Anyone who lives here will have figured that one out. 😉