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Better late than never

Oh how the title of this post applies to so many things. I haven’t written in months. Better late than never. My training could have started before it did. Better late than never. I finished my recent half marathon in my slowest time ever for that distance. But: Better late than never!

Last Saturday night was my first official race in two years. TWO YEARS! Long time coming. Injuries and having a baby will do that I guess. There’s so many running stories between last November, when I started running again after Nahuel’s birth, and now that I want to share, but for now they will have to wait. This post is simply going to be about Saturday’s race.

The ING marathon and half marathon in Luxembourg is a great big running event. The sort with helicopters, hot air balloons, DJs, an assortment of free stuff for the crowd to shake, rattle and wave, tonnes of people lining the streets in support and a route which takes in the delights of the city. Martin ran the full marathon last year and the route is famous for its inclines in the second half of both courses. He was a supporter this year, along with Nahuel.

I was nervous. The previous weekend I had run 10.3 miles along the ups and downs of the vineyards around the Moselle valley, where we live. It had been hot and tiring, but I had felt great. I had reserves and could have kept going. On that starting line a week later, my nerves led to doubts. Would I make it? I have never experienced that before. “I’m nervous,” I said to my friend who was also running. “Me too,” she replied. It was her first half marathon. It seemed to me she had the right to be nervous and I didn’t. Perhaps I just needed to start and I’d feel fine.

And then start we did. We kicked off at lightening speed. There were lots of people so you had the usual first couple of kilometres skipping past people and dodging around others. But we did it quickly, at just under 5 minute per km. This was not my half marathon running pace. But it felt good. So I carried on that way.

I got to the 12 km marker in an hour. Way too fast, knowing the up-hills that were coming on the way back. The crowd were brilliant, shouting and cheering your name at every part of the course. In the city centre, there was no way you could stop. The route was narrow and lined both sides with cheering and clapping. I felt like I shuffled the cobbled streets of Luxembourg city at that point on the wave of the semi-drunken audience with bubbly in their hands.

But after that euphoria, the roads widened again. There was space and a breeze and the setting sun behind me on the way back to Kirchberg. I had nothing in the tank. I had to walk. So I walked and ran the last part, hoping I had done enough to come in under 2 hours. I tried to buddy up with a couple of people who also seemed to be suffering, egging them on to get the same support back. But I ended up leaving them and their blisters and woes behind.

At kilometre 18.5, a friend shouted out from the void. “LAURA! Come on Bird!” There was a world out there beyond the pain and exhaustion! I ran up to her and got a kiss, some energy to get me through the last couple of kilometres. It worked.

Martin and Nahuel were also there, on the final bend before the finishing line. And so I made it. Not elegantly, or fearlessly or strongly, but I finished. My watch said 2 hours and 9 seconds. Oh well. Better late than never.

Congrats to all the runners of Saturday’s half and full marathon! And to my friend Kris, who finished her first half in 1 hour 54 minutes. Great job!

Before the start with Kris and Nahuel.

Before the start with Kris and Nahuel.

Pregnant Walking Club

I’m in (hopefully) the last 2-3 weeks of my pregnancy. I feel at times like a balloon; you could hang a basket off my feet, gas me up and I could take you on a lovely trip over the Moselle valley in Luxembourg and Germany. Other times I feel like a walrus, struggling to turn over in bed or get out of the bath; cumbersome and heavy. I have put on roughly 13kg during this pregnancy and I seriously can’t understand how people permanently live with this kind of extra weight, and more.

The most important thing to me during this time is that, as well as getting enough rest, I have also kept active. Don’t get me wrong, there are some afternoons where I don’t feel guilty at all about two hours on the couch watching BBC iPlayer. But I also need to move and do things and stretch.

My main activity has been power-walking. I’ve had some great company on many of these walks from a pregnant friend who  lives just down the river – another runner like me. She’s due this week, so has paused the power-walking, but I am still heading out every other day. It helps me sleep better, keeps my appetite up, allows ‘Plum’ and I to enjoy the remaining days of summer. I also think it has contributed to the fact that my legs haven’t swollen and my ankles haven’t disappeared.

Last week I also did some yoga, which I hadn’t done for a while. I followed a 20-minute routine from my book. It felt slow compared to swimming and power-walking, but it was calming and relaxing, opening out my body in a way that my other forms of exercise don’t. “I am connected to the circle of life.” As Plum continues to kick his/her way out, I can only agree with that!

The competitive edge

As regular readers will know, I am no longer running. At 32 weeks pregnant my power-walking might even be described as the strange shuffle of a person that looks like she’s smuggling a beer keg along the river. Sigh, but I still get out there and I love it.

Today is my first official day of maternity leave and I am a little loss of what to do. The sun is shining, summer holidays here in Luxembourg are in full bloom, my to-do list has nothing with a deadline like when I was working. My husband left this morning with the words “Take it easy” ringing through the house before he shut the door. OK. BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! Help!

I’ve been swimming a lot recently. Being heavier than usual, the water is heavenly. I can still float! Brilliant! I do a mixture of breast-stroke and front-crawl, and on my last two trips to the pool, I realised something.

You know the feeling. There’s someone who is lapping just that bit quicker than you. Whether it’s running round the local park, or pushing through the pool. And you want to beat them, to get level. You know you can. You pump that bit faster. You kick that bit harder. You get level, you push further, you get past them.

Ha! Did it! Now I’ve got to stay there. Your running/swimming groove is now that little bit quicker. You’ve got a  sweat-on. But you need to stay there, just ahead. You’re not quite sure what you’re proving, and who to, but you feel in these minutes of round-and-round the park or up-and-down the pool that there’s some other inherent reason than pure exercise you’re doing this.

You are competitive. That’s why you run with a watch/GPS. That’s why you swim and check the clock. That’s why you get your finger tips to the wall before the person next to you. Or you try to. If you don’t, next time you will.

I finished my swim and sat on the side rehydrating. The man I had lapped in the pool finished up and got out. He noticed my belly, pointed at it and said something in Luxembourgish I didn’t understand. We smiled and he gave me the thumbs up.

Plum, we’re back in the race.

Enter, Sun.

Day One: There is blue sky and everyone, at first, is squinting. We look east, we look west. There is not a cloud in sight. And we smile and enjoy it.

Day Two: It’s here again. Pure sunshine without a cloud in the sky. It’s too good to be true. After work, I don my trainers and, for the first time this year, my running sunglasses. I feel like I run faster, powered by that glowing yellow ball in the sky. A great start to the weekend.

Day Three: Martin goes running and sweats too much in long jogging bottoms and a fleece top. Why? It’s still sunny. photo 5 (1)It’s warm. We fling open the windows at the front of the house and let in spring. I sit in the window and wait for him to run past, clapping when I see him. Afterwards, we make a picnic and visit Bernkastel, sitting at the top of the hill by the ruins lazing in the first real warmth of the year. We are surrounded by vineyards and the river glimmers below us.

Day Four: We do still live in Luxembourg, right? We haven’t suddenly moved to a Caribbean island? Another warm day and another sunny river run. I head west, following the river to the next village and do a loop around. Martin heads east. The paths are full of Nordic walkers with their poles, runners smiling, families on bikes, families with strollers, couples with heads tilted upwards. I run in shorts and t-shirt for the first time in 2014 and when I get back there is that joyous line across of the top of my thighs. A running tan line.

Day Five: Commuters look different. It’s the sunglasses and the lack of gloves and hats. I cross the street and walk on the sunny side to my classes. I enjoy wearing pumps with no tights; in class with bare feet.

Day Six: It’s time for the pool. After swimming a mile, I head to the relax terrace to read a bit. It’s inside, but the wall of windows lets in the late afternoon sun. I’m soon dry; my skin is warm.

Day Seven: We are getting too used to this. I open the blinds each morning and expect the rays to hit me and, again, they do. I take a walk along the river and then head to Trier for some shopping. It hits 21 degrees in the afternoon and I sit in the main square with a bratwurst and mustard. My toes cold on the cobbles are warmed in the afternoon sunshine.

Day Eight: A long teaching day, but we still have blue sky. I ignore the bus and walk to the station, again on the sunny side of the street. All the restaurants and cafes have dug out their outside eating furniture and the plazas are humming with early diners, keen to take advantage of the al fresco temperatures. I’m tired when I get home, but change into my running gear straight away and head out for a quick 5km. Again in shorts and t-shirt; again the blue sky brings me home.

Day Nine: Teaching in an office with no windows sucks, but at least I’m only there for a couple of hours. My students have to stay all day. I tell them to get outside for lunch after class. Spring still shows no signs of leaving us. I walk back from the station, the sun behind me highlighting the pink blossom trees lining the path. As I go to meet friends for dinner that night, I drive into the burnt orange sunset, the sky aglow with streaks of pink and red. I turn on the radio. U2 is playing. It’s A Beautiful Day.

Spring Blossom

Oh, deception

I am not a runner. You can’t not run and be a runner, can you? Runners, please forgive me.

After my last post, I wanted my first post-holiday write to be full of sweat and smiles at the miles I ran in Buenos Aires. This was my intention. This was no lie.

But my mile total for the two week-vacation? A big, fat zero.

I only have myself to blame. The chances we had to run in Puerto Madero when we were staying in the city, I forgot my all running stuff. Then came a huge storm. Then I just overslept. We sat at a cafe in the sun as some rowers glided through the shimmering water of the docks; as rollerbladers sailed by; and as runners trotted past on this well-worn and much-loved old route of mine. I watched them with a half-smile, but it was as if I was behind a pane of glass. I wanted to reach out and join them, but there was no way through.

I am an idiot.

So, it was up to the pool and miles and miles of blocks to walk for exercise. Which worked. But it’s not romantic like running is.

We got back to Luxembourg this week and the routine of running along the rivers has already set in. It’s not as cold as last winter by any means. Crisp and showery, yes. Cold and biting, no. Martín has started his marathon training. He’ll be running the Luxembourg marathon at the end of May. Maria is well into her training plan. Another friend is gunning for her first half marathon this weekend. I am surrounded by people with running goals. I need one.

I think the first is just to remember my trainers, don’t you?