Saturday, December 19, 2009

New podcast interview - Running with Ghosts

Hey gang, a new interview with me has been posted to iTunes. It's with the very informative and entertaining podcast, Running with Ghosts, by quotidianlight. This interview is a bit different than the last. We certainly talk about next year's crazy goal of running every event in the Rock & Roll Endurance Series, talk a bit about my sponsor PowerBar, and how I got into Team in Training and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for which my fundraising goal is $10,000.
What's different this time is that we focus on running and nutrition and the fact that both I and the interviewer believe in a diet that is low in carbohydrates. We both share our nutrition routines a bit but also talk about preparing for feats of endurance. I highly recommend giving it a listen.
After my interview, keep listening as our host talks through her ultramarathon in the Marin headlands. This is where I did my first ultra, too, so it was great hearing someone talk through this event.
A big reason to listen though, is that she talks through her nervousness before the race, her nutrition planning and gear selections. Then as she describes her time during the event, she relays how core training (like walking lunges) and cross training played a crucial role in completing her event.
Its really quite interesting to hear her diary of running and I highly recommend subscribing in iTunes today.
Have a great holiday!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

And "Spark"-y Makes 20!

Just finished my 20th career marathon and it was a great way to finish the year. My work sent me to Europe here in mid-December for some engagements with clients and I couldn't help myself; I had to see if there was a marathon in the vicinity.

The one I found was in a small suburb of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, called Spijkenisse. It was the 4th running of this event, nicknamed, "Spark," and I would be the only person from North America.

After a hard work of meetings, speeches, consultations and writing where I traveled back and forth from Paris to Munich and Milan, it was time to get out of town and relax before the marathon. I took the Friday night train from Paris to Rotterdam. Some of my colleagues questioned my choice of staying in Rotterdam when Amsterdam was only about 20 minutes further away and had much more history and culture. But I had been to Amsterdam a few times and had never been to Rotterdam. Part of their skepticism lied in the fact that Rotterdam was completely destroyed by the Nazis in World War II. But since then, the city has returned to its roots as the busiest and most important port in Europe.

Many important Dutch architects took up the challenge to rebuild Rotterdam and give it a new unique appeal and I have to say, they succeeded. The city has some totally gorgeous architecture, most especially the Erastmus bridge.

It's pretty similar to the new bridge in Boston but predates it and supports a curving bridge. It's amazingly gorgeous at night.
The city also has a very robust shopping district that was gussied up for Christmas shopping and drew the crowds in droves. Several important designers have shops here along with some lesser known brands from France, Belgium and Italy that you can't get in the US. Women, if you go, check out Kookai a line of clothes from Paris that are definitely worth the trip.

There are many good restaurants in Rotterdam as well and I wanted to partake for my pre-marathon dinner. Unfortunately, being just three weeks before Christmas and a Saturday night, the best restaurants were booked up with holiday parties and post-shopping dinners. Rather than have an Argentinian dinner in Rotterdam (seemed wrong), I was staying at the Rotterdam Westin and I decided to see if the hotel concierge was sincere in recommending the hotel's restaurant, VIS. Oh she certainly was. Its executive chef Jos de Groot, doesn't play around. Instead of set menu that normally features the cheapest items on the menu (I try to avoid these in most European restaurants, especially if they have an English language menu) de Groot's was a set of special items selected by the chef from the freshest ingredients bought that day. None of the items were from the regular menu and all were out of this world.

Pardon my indulgement here - I don't normally blog about food but in this case, I just have to.

The mean started with fresh baked bread and fresh olive tapenade that contained corn, Tuscan tomatoes and other ingredients that made it truly succulent - you didn't even need the bread.
Then came a special appetizer prepared that evening by the chef that wasn't on the menu. It was a light dish combining fresh beets, mozzarella cheese and homemade pesto. The combination was perfect. Also before the appetizer they brought a small plate with 4 smaller containers on it, holding freshly roasted mixed nuts, green olives, radishes and tiny puff pastries (and mayonnaise, a Dutch staple). Then came the menu appetizer which had a combination of tiny spring rolls containing freshly made ricotta mixed with seafood, wrapped in - get this - fresh pumpkin, sliced super thin. Next to these were two other items I couldn't recognize that tasted wonderful as well.

The main course, I was kind of unsure about when the waiter described it. It was tortelli stuffed with shell fish and when he described it he said it was in a heavy cream sauce. My standard eating habits are a maintenance mode South Beach Diet and so I typically shun anything that sounds loaded with carbs but I was running the marathon the next day so said, "why not."
When the dish arrived there was no cream. What I received instead (impeccable presentation of all the dishes, BTW) was four small, hand formed tortelli with shell fish surrounding a collection of capers, grilled sweet onions and other shelfish mixed together and crowned by muscles in the shell. Very interesting and completely succulent. A perfect compliment to my glass of Montepulciano wine from Tuscany.

Dessert kept the hits coming. In a very long rectangular tray came a homemade hazelnut ice cream, next to a very light pastry filled with cinnamon mousse and a coconut fried plantain. Yum, yum, yum (I passed on the pastry but the rest were amazing!).
If you come to Rotterdam in the future, definitely stay at the Westin or at least try this fantastic restaurant.

Note: If you are thinking about coming to Rotterdam, wait until 2011. They are remodeling the Central train station to turn it into another of the city's architectural wonders, but right now it's just a big construction site.

I got back to my room, rested and full. I dressed my chair for the morning, looked over the logistics for getting to Spijkenisse and tried to get some sleep. This trip to Europe had been a rough one sleepwise. I suffered my usual up at 3am and can't get back to sleep evening on teh second day but struggled to sleep every other night that week too. I finally got a full night's sleep Friday and hoped Saturday night would be a repeat. Ah, no.
I feel asleep at 10pm no problem but woke up at 11:30 and couldn't get back to sleep until 2am. Thankfully marathons on Northern Europe are typically later in the day. This one started at 11am, so I was able to sleep until 8am. I'll take it; 6 hours is better than nothing.

Normally the morning before a marathon is all about dressing, preparing and traveling to the marathon start. This time, I had time to shower, eat a nice leisurely breakfast at the hotel before my train to Spijkenisse. It was only a 30 minute trip plus a 15 minute walk to the sports field.
Spijkenisse was the last stop from Rotterdam Centrum so I couldn't miss it.

The morning temperature was a nippy 2 degrees Celsius so I arrived wearing 3 layers of clothing. I shed one layer in prep for the run, stashed my stuff in the locker room and headed out for a warm up lap on the track. I can't speak Dutch and there was no translation. There were only 3 participants from outside Western Europe, two from Great Britian and me, so I guess they didn't see any point in translating the announcements.
The Dutch were kind enough to tell me what was being said but one joker decided to play with the stupid American and tried to convince me that the marathon didn't start until 12. I double-checked with the help desk and made my way across the track to the start line in time to reset my Timex Ironman watch and make my way through the crowd a bit.

We started with a half lap around the local track then out and around the sports complex. Then it was up to the bike trail along the canal where a flock of sheep cheered us on with a few "ba-ah-ahs." The sheep were in full coat due to the cold - something I would be wishing for later in the run.

It was sunny at the start and the wind was nearly non-existent for the first 12K. Gorgeous countryside scenery was everywhere you looked. You also got a look at the ubiquitous Dutch windmills. Not the quaint farm staples but the large white power generating kind. They are everywhere in the Netherlands.

Perhaps the most glorious moment came at 15K. We were running along a bike path that split two wide open fields. To our left lay a massive flock of birds who at this moment decided to cast themselves aloft and cross over head to the field on the right. They rose in v-shaped order the leader and lieutenants shrieking their orders as a thousand wings took flight and briefly darkened the skies as they moved as a featherweight and porous sheet over us. The sound of their calls and the flapping of so very many wings created a symphonic cacophony that I will long remember.

Around the 18K mark I came to a fork in the road. To the left the sign said "Helf Marathon." To the right, "1/2 Marathon." Huh? Where was the full marathon. Asked the course monitor standing between the two paths and learned that "Helf" must mean full. I guess that makes the Dutch, optimists.

Off I went to the left along with the very few of my compatriots as we said goodbye to nearly everyone who went to the right. That's pretty typical of an event that starts the half and full marathoners at the same time. I felt this event reminded me of the inaugural Santa Rosa marathon. Both had less than 150 full marathoners, were both small suburban marathons and both wound along waterways and past a lot of beautiful pastoral settings.

As we crossed the half-way point at 21K the clouds moved in and darkened. The temperature dropped nearly immediately and a vicious headwind carrying lots of chilling moisture slapped me in the face. It would remain this way for the next 12-15 km. I had stripped off my second layer of dri-fit clothing -- the long sleeve Big Sur marathon shirt -- around the 5K mark and was carrying it around my waste but the chill didn't seem bad enough to warrant pulling it out.
We passed several more sheep (who looked very warm, thank you) along with goats and horses. Strangely every time we passed a horse it was accompanied by a miniature horse. These stocky, full coated animals are very different than ponies. They have the build of a full horse just in smaller form. Very beautiful.

The sun finally peaked around the 32K mark and by this time we had returned the main town of Spijkenisse but were along the main waterway through town so the headwinds were back and more than able to offset any warmth the sun planned to provide.
I'm always filled with excitement when I see the 25 mile marker in a marathon. The equivalent in this one (the European marathons are, of course, marked in kilometers, not miles) was the 40K sign which was perched facing the main bridge from Spijkenisse to Hoogvleit. We wouldn't have to cross it (thank goodness) but would follow a bike trail that went just beneath it and then head back the way we started to the sport park. I felt a surge of energy that didn't do much for my speed but lifted my spirits.

I finished in 3:38:47, which is pretty much par for me.

I kind of have to call this event the silent marathon as there were very, very few spectators and nearly no one cheered. The best you got was the faint clapping of mittened hands and the occasional "you can do it" (at least that's what I think it was, since I speak no Dutch) from a course volunteer.
That was true as well when you rounded the corner and entered the sports park track. The only sound you could hear was the course announcer saying everyone's name as they hit the final straightaway. His voice had a lilt that conveyed excitement for you but he had few compatriots.

Despite this minor nit, the marathon was a true joy. It was dead flat, had gorgeous scenery, was very well supported and had a very cool medal in the shape of an "X." I should have requested two medals as this was XX for me.

And of course, I had to finish it with my usual reward:

Now its time for a week's rest, then the training begins again for the Rock & Roll Marathon campaign of 2010.

Thanks for reading and for supporting my fundraising efforts for the LLS.