Monthly Archives: April 2012

The London Marathon: Say My Name

I have never been a spectator at a running event, unless you count our middle school cross-country races where after my run I would then have to wait for my brother in the boys’ version. So, going to this year’s London Marathon was a first to being on the side line at such an event.

First thing’s first: I would always want to be the one running; the person bouncing with excited and nervous energy at the starting line and looking out for familiar and friendly faces along the course. But I decided months ago that I would go to experience the London Marathon as I could – a mere mortal, observer, supporter.

There is something seemingly special about the London Marathon. You don’t have to be a runner, or even a sports fan to realise it. The amount of people running on the streets of the capital last Sunday was over 37,500. Helicopters hover above, showing the instant an elite athlete breaks away from the pack and later, the bobbing masses en route. Journalists jog alongside competitors catching stories; hundreds of photographers line the pavements and bridges to capture moments of joy, agony and achievement in their thousands. There are inspiring stories in abundance.

We headed to mile 24, along Victoria Embankment, just around the corner from the London Eye. It was the perfect weather to be running 26.3 miles: sunny with no wind. I had seen the elite women and men start on television beforehand and we timed it perfectly. At the half way point, leading the women’s race was a pack of about 10. It was incredible to see how they had been spread out in the second half of the race. The winner came past us, striding out and comfortable, minutes ahead of the second place who was minutes ahead of third. It was incredible to see these athletes, so strong and fast after 24 miles. Having experienced a marathon and Cruce this year, I will never stop marvelling at these incredible endurance runners.

After the elite men passed us in much the same vein: very fast from them and sheer awe from us, the next batch of runners arrived. These were runners making good time, who were tired, but oh-so-close to the finish. They needed that last push and we were there to give it to them. We didn’t stop clapping for two and a half hours. I love cheering and did so, whooping at people, urging them on, shaking winning fists at them as they ran, staggered and stumbled past. The ones that got the biggest boosts were those with their names on their shirts. Every name would get a shout-out, and most runners turned towards me with a grateful smile, mouthing the words ‘thank you’ and passing with a newfound spring in their step. It doesn’t matter that you’re a stranger, hearing your name being championed on the streets is such an encouragement. And I meant every word I shouted. I’ve been there. Two miles from the finish it can all become a bit surreal. Having someone say your name brings you back to earth, to the race, to the final push.

When you run the Buenos Aires Marathon, there are some lonely times. At parts of it there are no supporters, no city dwellers would even go there. There are just the water station volunteers doing their best. I ran it with music. But the London Marathon, you don’t need headphones. The beat of the streets, the spectators, drums, inflatable clapping tubes should keep you going even when your legs have had enough. The atmosphere is everyone’s winner.

Earlier I described supporters as mere mortals. I now understand that they are not. There were spectators there who had rushed between points to see loved ones as they passed. There were groups of charity workers and supporters who shouted themselves hoarse like me and were still going when we left. As well as the inspiring stories and successes being played out on the course, so the crowd from south to east to central London played out their own winning formula. Runners en mass had support en mass. And it was great to be a part of that side of it. Did I feel jealous? Of course. But I couldn’t have done my spectator training at a better running event.

There was one sad story to come out of this year’s London Marathon. 30-year-old Claire Squires collapsed a mile from the finish line and later died. She was running in aid of the Samaritans. Prior to starting the race she had raised around £500. The supporting public, on hearing the story, stepped up to the mark and have donated a lot more. Earlier today her fundraising total had reached over £850,000.

The London Marathon is a special race; not just for the running, but also for everything else. Inspirational people and feats; charitable accomplishments and generosity; and those on the side lines who might not run, but are there saying your name and will get you to the line.

If you would like to donate to Claire’s fund for the Samaritans, please click on the link below. JustGiving are waiving their credit and debit card fees in this case.

http://www.justgiving.com/Claire-Squires2

Runner’s high and a rush of joy

Most of us have heard of it and many have experienced it first-hand.  That rush that one gets after finishing a race or even the routine run.  It’s the feeling that keeps some people active.  Knowing that after the work has been put in the emotions will make all the effort worth it.

Research has shown that there is an increased number of endorphins in the brain after running.  These neurotransmitters are responsible for bringing joy to our everyday lives as well as relieving pain.  They occur naturally, but we can encourage their activity by being active ourselves.

Each person feels this rush differently and some might not even realize what it is happening.  Luckily, I can say that I have felt this amazing sensation before.  When I crossed the finish line of my first marathon it was a feeling that is hard to put into words.  I knew I had managed to leave 26.2 miles behind me.  So what else couldn’t I handle?  Granted at that exact moment I wasn’t ready to take over the world (probably because my legs were questioning what I’d just done to them), but my mind was jumping with excitement.

The same emotions rushed over me at other times when I’ve crossed the finish line.  As I look at my watch and realize I’ve reached my goal or set a PR, there was this sense of accomplishment.  Each day when Laura and I crossed the finish line and knew we’d just completed a stage of the greatest adventure of our lives, it was present.  I was overwhelmed with this same reaction when I read through Laura’s post about our final finish of Cruce de los Andes.

It was as if I was there again.  The crowd cheering, our flags waving in the wind, smiles from ear to ear and a sense of triumph.  Could it be possible that the endorphins were rushing to my brain or is it just the memory is so fresh?  I’m sure it was the latter, but either way it was a great feeling.  And there are many more finish lines to cross and runner’s highs to experience.

Have you felt the runner’s high?  Tell us about your experience!

M&MRC Cruce Story #11: Nothing’s going to stop us now

It’s quite a feeling running from one country to the other. In the middle of nowhere. With some weird energy that, after being so tired just hours previously, you have no idea where it comes from.

The sun was shining and Maria and I were on a roll. We were passing familiar flags and faces and there was definitely a lot more banter going on between everyone. The end was near and people could feel it in their hearts, in their minds, in their legs. The route had been cut by a few kilometres after the previous day’s never-ending 41km which had turned out to be a teeny tiny lie. 41 kilometres? joked those with GPS, powered by their superior knowledge. I heard someone say they had clocked over 46km. Whatever. It was far.

So here we were with our bodies being strangely satisfied by our running. We took a turn and ran over a bridge into a national park with some twisting paths through the forest. We waved at those lazing on the shore fishing, drinking mate, sunbathing. The sun beat down on us and through the trees the lake shimmered. We knew that when our path came to that body of water we were nearly home and dry.

It was interesting on the way to see a tactic that quite a lot of the mixed teams employed that day. Imagine: man in front with all the weight on his back and holding a pole behind him which, at the end of it, was the woman basically being pulled along to keep pace. You got the sense that not all the couples were doing it for pace and timing. Some people seriously needed to be pulled to the end.

I remember that as the path worked its way down towards the water and the small cabins dotted on the lake Maria and I were talking all the time. I remember some chat about a film, but can’t for the life of me remember any details because the overriding memory is one of joy and adrenalin. We hit the flats and started going for it, bouncing along the grass and the stones on the shore. The lake curved round to a point where it almost enclosed, but there was a short waterway which we would have to cross in canoe or boat.

We strode out, passing more familiar teams, feeling a surge of power and pride.

“You there?” “I’m here.” We bounded towards the line.

The finishing line for the timer chip wasn’t the true, glorious end. It clocked us in, and we jumped over it together. Home. People seemed a bit bewildered. What? Is that it? Have I done it? You have. Smile.

We then had to queue on that windy shore to get over to the other side of the lake and make our last steps to the finish. Unfortunately, the race organisers stopped the use of the canoes as it was really windy and they were inflatable. If we’d had to row, we would probably have ended up back in San Martín. So, we jumped into other boats and skimmed across the water to the woods on the other side.

And then it was time. Hearts were pounding. We had ignored all the negative talk we’d heard in the boat queue and were ready for our grand finale. M&MRC was coming home. We got our flags out, put our fleeces away and put our packs back on. There was a big, inflatable finish line to cross with cameras and claps and we were ready for it. I briefly though back to the first finish line on Day 1 and how it had taken forever. But now our legs needed no persuading.

We dipped through the trees and came to a clearing, where someone pointed us to the left and then we saw it. The field opened out and our triumph was metres away. We opened out our flags and took each other’s hands. Smiles spread on our faces and as the crowd saw us coming so the cheering and clapping started.

We will never forget those last 100 metres. It’s hard to forget the thousands before that; but the culmination of such physical and mental effort, the end of such an incredible experience and the success of our adventure were all written in the grins of our faces as we crossed the line. In the euphoria there were huge hugs, photos with the official photographers, photos with friends who had seen us cross, another interview with ESPN. There was the handing in of the timer chip, the receiving of our medals. There was meat and chorizo, there was sun and sitting on the grass. There was cheering and clapping for those that followed us over the line.

It’s always sad when something amazing comes to an end. But not when it’s an adventure that ticks all the boxes: friendship, beauty, nature, adversity, triumph. These adventures stay with you a lifetime; in the memories made and the things you learn about yourself and others.

On the way back to San Martín de los Andes all I could think about was the past four days and how they had fired up even more love in me: for this part of the world, for running and adventure and for my friend dozing next to me on the minibus. For there is no one else I could have crossed that finish line with. She is the Maria, the Mondonga, the Mad, the Marvellous of M&MRC. And if there is another finishing line like that one, no doubt she’ll be there again for More.

“I feel quite proud of myself”

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that at the start of July my mum and I are running a Race for Life 5km run for Cancer Research UK.

As all my normal running routes are longer than 5km, and nothing can ever be as tough as Day 2 of Cruce, I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine. However, even though my mum is a qualified PE teacher and is well aware of the benefits of regular exercise, she probably hasn’t run 5km, or even 1km, in the last 20 years. But she’s going for it this year.

Last night she started her training with a 5km programme that came in the latest issue of Zest magazine. She did minutes on and off alternating between running and power walking and was even in the flow so much she did some minutes more than she was supposed to.

She called me afterwards full of the buzz of physical accomplishment and the power of endorphins. “I feel really quite proud of myself,” she told me. And so she should.

Running is too often associated with injuries, exhaustion, pain, boredom, loneliness and super athletes. I’ve written it before and I’ll do so again: just getting out there and doing what you can will have the same positive effects whether you run a mile in four minutes or fourteen minutes. And for people like my mum who are delving into the world of running after a rather long hiatus, there is every reason to feel proud of their efforts.

Running doesn’t have to be exhausting, painful, boring, lonely and just for running freaks. Run comfortably and walk if you have to. Listen to your body. Go on new routes and try beaches, country lanes, parks and new neighbourhoods to keep things fresh. And talk to others about it; share your new running experiences and set yourself goals. Because each step will take you there.

Trust me, you’ll start to feel more than just proud of yourself.

M&MRC Cruce Story #10: Welcome back to Argentina

I peeped one eye open to see what was going on in the kitchen.  Before the sun had peaked over the horizon, the woman that had so kindly let us sleep on her floor was up and working the dough.  She hadn’t slept more than 3 hours, but she and her children we’re making dozens and dozens of bread for the runners.  We slept a couple hours more until the alarm sounded at 7 am.

We stretched our legs and were pleased to not feel every inch of muscle as we had the previous day.  We gathered the few things we had and made our way back to camp.  People were already bustling about.  There were bags everywhere; ones that still needed to be claimed and others that had been returned to pass customs and enter Argentina again.

We hunted ours down and made our way to the tent.  We changed, reunited with Equipo 86 and made our signature peanut butter on toast for breakfast.  The best part of not having our bags the night before was there was no need to repack.  Our sleeping bags were still tightly wrapped and we just needed to pull a few things out to prepare ourselves, including our passports.

We turned back in our bags and headed to the port-a-pots one last time.  This was the last day and we were getting a real starting line with a staggered start on the beach.  As we neared the sand, we saw Reyes and Ortega (the winners that floated across the rocks) on their way.  We cheered as Equipo 86 passed us and watched the 100s of men pass before we made it to the beach.  The mixed groups were up next and then it was us, the female groups.

We waited patiently for our turn and danced as the DJ on the shore played music to pump us up.  We counted down as the clock neared 0:00.  We were off!  Day 3 was 13 miles and after what we’d been through the first couple days, this was a piece of cake.  The day before Laura had said, “I wonder how long it will be until we run normal again.”  Granted we weren’t running completely normal, but we were much better off than the previous day.

We worked our way along the dirt road.  Up and down the hills, but these were nothing compared to where we’d been before.  We used the trail to our advantage and quickly came upon the Chilean border crossing.  As we approached we saw a line and thought it was going to take a while.  We checked the watch to see how long it would take…in and out in 5 minutes.  That has to be a record!

We went a couple more miles before reaching the Argentine border patrol.  They had desks on the street to welcome us back and make our entrance that much easier.  I slapped down my document and the official pulled out the last form left.  No need to verify anything.  They opened Laura’s passport to give her a stamp, but we were still moving again in less than a minute.

Everything we had put in over the past 2.5 days as coming to its culmination.  We were that much closer to the finish.

Words running out of our mouths

Words are important to Maria and I. When we both lived in the same city and ran together each week, we would talk the whole way. Talking, laughing, discussing, telling, complaining, marvelling, joking and questioning meant that we didn’t have to think about the running. That just happened and by the time we’d been round Puerto Madero we had caught up on the office and student gossip, family life, plans and boyfriend endeavours. Which, run done, of course left more talking.

I haven’t run and talked in a while as I now run by myself. Martín doesn’t like to run with me as I “go too fast up the hills” (remember, these are no longer hills in a post-Cruce world). So that’s why being with Maria again for our Andes 3-day running/hiking challenge was fabulous: I had a partner in crime that talked!

Now, I’m not going to bore you with the intimate details of our never-ending conversations. That would be honestly foolish. No, what I am going to do here is celebrate the funny and the ridiculous of what came out of our and others’ mouths during Cruce de los Andes.

When all is said and done, the sublime and the preposterous stand out. And, as words, here they are.

“I was going to say… this must be the Columbia store.” Laura using all her observational powers walking round San Martín de los Andes.

“What do they do about people who want to go out at night?” Laura.

“Maybe they just don’t promote going out.” Maria, on why we can’t get into our hostel at some unearthly hour of the morning.

“Is 3km per hour even possible?” Laura, before 3km per hour.

“Y EQUIPO 90?” José, always concerned about us girls.

“LLamando equipo 90!” José and Gonzalo, calling across the very narrow space to our tent at night.

“DURISIMO!” Everyone, revealing how bloody hard Day 1 was.

“That’s when I’ll put on deodorant.” Maria, Night 1 planning her armpit stops.

“OTRA subida?” Everyone, wondering when the climbs would stop.

“Is this where we get choripan?” Maria. Obviously.

“Is this still lunch?” Laura to a kitchen helper on Day 1, 6.38pm.

“I mean, SERIOUSLY?” Laura and Maria every time they talked about Reyes and Ortega (the winners).

“Oh look, there’s your mate.” Laura to Maria every time we saw an American.

“I suck at math.” Maria, not being able to count how far we still had to go.

“Tienen GPS?” Various women who were always wearing pink and confusing us. And no, we didn’t have GPS.

“This is BRILLIANT!” Laura, reminding everyone they had chosen this and to enjoy it.

“You had me fooled for a while, at least 30 seconds. I’m the Argentine-American.” The mostly American Argentine-American. Maria clocked him a mile off with this thumbs-up photo poses.

“Como están las piernas?” Everyone, all of the time, concerned about the legs of others.

“Let me talk to your boss.” Man at the lake to the boy with a walkie-talkie who was telling us the race had been abandoned.

“When we get back we’re going to go to the tent. You’re going to go to your side, I’m going to go to my side and we’re going to have a long, hard word with ourselves.” Laura, Day 2 still on the downhill; still over 2 hours from home; still unaware there would be no tent that night.

“The tissues are migrating.” Maria, with tissue issues.

M&MRC Cruce Story #9: Kitchen shelter for exhausted runners

The feeling of crossing that finish line, after 10 hours on the move, wet and aching, tired but oh-so-happy, was unbelievable. We had done it. In those final metres we were laughing; we had no idea why or at what. We were talking some kind of crazy language only we understood. The photographer was slightly bewildered and afraid of our euphoria. We were destroyed.

I would like to say we walked, but we stumbled off the beach in jubilation. The lake behind us was still bathed in the last rays of the day; the sky was pearl blue and the moon sat squarely above the mountains, gleaming brighter with each passing minute.

The campsite was in a large field right next to the beach. Rows and rows of bright blue bugs greeted us again. Home sweet home.

Maria walked towards the first pile of backpacks she saw. “There’s ours.”

No there’s not. They were for the workers. We wandered further into the mayhem. Well, mayhem in slow motion. People were hobbling, dragging their packs, sitting on the grass wrapped in warm clothes and survival blankets looking, above anything else, totally worn out. We picked up a chorizo and bread on the way to find our bags.

They hadn’t arrived. The large boat that had transported us to the first camp two days before had broken down, and instead there was a tiny boat being used to transport everything down the lake. As that morning we had had to put our packs in piles according to the previous day’s times our bags were not a priority. And, true, we had arrived six hours after the leaders of the pack. But still. We were wet. We were dog-tired. We were hungry. Dry clothes, warm clothes, cutlery and plates, torches and sleeping bags: all these were in our backpacks.

We decided to sit by the fire and get warm. Ah, what pleasure it was to take off those wet trainers and socks and toast our toes by the crackling flames of the fire. Darkness had descended and we sat boggled-eyed staring at the fire’s glow. Maria went for another chorizo.

Then we heard it. Your bags will be arriving between 12 and 1am. We looked at each other. It was nearing 10pm. The temperature had dropped. We now understood why people had run in that sweltering heat with fleeces strapped to their packs. We also knew that information was a lie. 1am meant 3am. We had lived in Argentina long enough. We understood that.

Two shadows cast over us. “Chicas! Equipo 90!” It was José and Gonzalo, our neighbours and saviours of Equipo 86. It had been a tough day for them too, but they had arrived in plenty of sun and sat on the beach with mate awaiting our triumphant arrival. The wonder of crossing the line, however, had now passed. We sat and considered what to do for the night.

Equipo 86 came into their own, lending us dry socks, plates and cutlery, handing us fleeces and jackets. They kept our places by the fire as we went to fill our bowls with pasta. With each forkful the need to lay horizontal and be warm intensified. More news came over the loud-speaker.

Some people were being offered a trip to San Martín de los Andes for the night in a hostel. A warm shower and bed seemed like an amazing option. But we had driven that road two days ago. It was a long trip. By the time we got there and found a bed for the night, we’d have to come back for the start of the third leg. And what about our passports? They were in our backpacks. Would we be let out? Would we be let back in? We knew we had to make some kind of decision soon.

Then José told us about a cabaña that had been mentioned earlier (way before we crossed the line). He went to investigate as we shoved spaghetti into our mouths. A dry and warm bed, here in this tiny village? Too good to be true, surely. Why wasn’t everyone there?

He came back. We were going to the cabaña, regardless if we were on any list or not. Equipo 86 thought they knew where it was. It wasn’t as if you could get lost in the village: one way was forest and the Argentine border; the other the lake with a tiny boat working its way back and forth all night. Anything resembling a cabaña was in total darkness. There was only one light on in the village and we headed to that door.

The heat that hit us from inside was wonderful. Smells of coffee and bread greeted us. It was a tiny kitchen, which we learnt made the bread rolls for the village. All the lady could offer us was a couple of inflatable mattresses and some blankets. Would that be all right? Sounded like heaven to us.

José and Gonzalo left us to it, as the lady’s sons brought mattresses out and laid them on the floor in front of the mud oven. We kept looking at each other, shaking our heads in disbelief. We were inside; dry and warm, with snug clothes, a better bed than we would have had in our tent and a working toilet. This was 5-star luxury.

I laid down as Maria helped a woman find her contact lens. Another couple had arrived and found the kitchen shelter for exhausted runners. We were happy to share. Even in extreme tiredness, relief buzzed around the room. I tried to move my legs. They were stuck, already sleeping.

The stars out of the window next to us pulled us towards sleep as well, and we were rocked by the lady’s kindness, the smell of baking and warmth of that oven all night long.

Think Easy, Light, Smooth and Fast

Laura talked about the book Born to Run and I completely agree that it is an amazing book and a must read whether you love to run or not.  It inspires and makes you want to go out for a run as you turn the pages.  The underlying storyline is about Caballo Blanco (Micah True) and his desire to create an ultra-marathon with the Tarahumara.

Sadly, earlier this week he passed away.  On Tuesday, he went out for a 12-mile run and never came back.  He was later found by a search party near a stream.  The cause of death has yet to be determined, but it appears that he died of natural causes.

“When I get too old to work, I’ll do what Geronimo would’ve done if they’d left him alone.  I’ll walk off into the deep canyons and find a quiet place to lie down.”

Caballo Blanco was quoted saying this several years before to Christopher McDougall during the writing of the book, but he knew exactly how he wanted to go.  He knew it’s inevitable that we’ll all die one day, but he did just as he said he would on his last run.  At least he was doing what he loved and was at peace.

So today I went out for my run in honor of him.  I followed one of his lessons and repeated the words over and over.

“Think Easy, Light, Smooth and Fast.”

I took it easy and tried to float over the asphalt.  I paid attention to the details.  I keep my arms relaxed, landed properly and for once enjoyed the wind that was pushing against me.  I left the fast for another run and just took the time to appreciate the movement of my legs in unison with the beat of the music.

Discovering a new city

Many will say that the best way to get to know a new city is to walk around and discover the nooks and crannies.  This past weekend my boyfriend and I went away to San Nicolas with friends.  It’s a city about 2 hours north of Buenos Aires and it was a perfect excuse to get closer to green pastures with good company.  Granted there isn’t much to see as far as sights, but I woke up Saturday morning and headed out for a run to see what I could find.

I walked through the main plaza towards the riverfront.  I didn’t know which way was best, but after finding the road blocked by a rowing club I opted for the other direction.  I worked my way along the shoreline and passed the open fish market.  If I hadn’t seen it, the smell would have let me in on the secret.  The large fish were basking in the sun waiting for someone to buy them and cook them on the grill.  Then I started to hear music and as I looked around I spotted the church that is the one and only landmark of the city.  A 10K race was finishing up at the base of the church and runners were still crossing with their numbers pinned to their chests.  I’d decided to leave my mp3 player at home and leave my ears open to really absorb my surroundings and it turned out to be a great decision.

I passed those that were stretching after crossing the finish line and continued along the river.  The city had a 4 km aerobic track along the road that was being used by runners, walkers and bikers alike.  I watched as families set up for what would likely be their spot for the rest of the evening.  They unloaded food and drinks while their fishing poles were already set up with the lines bobbing with the flow of the river.  I looped around and said hello to passersby as well as a random man on a horse.

My run was coming to an end, but I had seen what I considered to be a good portion of the city.  Once everyone in the group was up and moving, we headed out with the locals for a “tour” of the city.  Needless to say, they didn’t take us anywhere I hadn’t been.  Turns out my running tour was quite efficient.  So if you’re ever in a new city and need to get your bearings, try doing it on a run.  It’s exercise and tourism at its best!

Tip: Try Googling “running tour” for a city you are visiting or check out Global Running Tours, a site that compiles companies around the world.