Friday, October 26, 2012

Amelie's Race Recap: Amsterdam Mizuno Halve Marathon

Last Sunday, Ed and I ran in the Amsterdam Mizuno Half Marathon.  This would be my seventh time running the half distance, and Ed's second.  Our race didn't start until 1:30 PM (another something different; we're used to morning races), so we were able to watch the marathon leaders fly down the street, about 200m into the final 5k of a pretty windy race.

Here come the frontrunners!

The push for 2:06!

Blurry Wilson Chebet due to his elite speed, not to photographer sloppiness.  Those buildings are fast, too.

Here come the laaaaaadiiiiiiies!

Meseret Hailu and Eunice Kirwa duking it out... nice and cozy.

The quarter-mile jog down the street did not make us thrilled to race in the wind.  The leaders looked cold and, yes, a bit tired.  Being busy with the double-move (Chicago-to-Colfax, Colfax-to-Amsterdam) in the past month, my training had been a far cry from either organized or adequate, and I honestly didn't have high expectations for my own performance.  I hoped for a slight PR, if things went my way.

A slight PR?  Isn't that something?  Well, yes and no.  About a year ago, I made a very squishy goal of running sub-1:30 before I turn 30 (I've got three years).  I chose 1:30 because, to that point, I'd chipped slowly from my 2004 first half time of 1:54, to 1:51, to 1:45, to 1:42, to 1:39.  1:30 seemed like an attainable-with-some-focus goal.  I knew from a couple of runs with "the fast kids" in Chicago's bRUNch club that 8-10 miles at 7:30-7:45 almost killed me.  I was wholly resigned to a long year or two of battling through the 1:30s.  I slogged through a hilly trail half marathon one month ago in Idaho in what I felt was a "meh" 1:41-something.

So, when I pranced merrily along to a 1:31.00 on Sunday, I felt almost guilty.  It took a couple of days to come to terms with my conscience.  I felt like I had been playing Super Mario Bros. 3 (original NES, of course), found all the magic flutes, and flute-ported over the Ice Level, the Maze Level, the Water Level, and all the other levels I suck at and don't want to bother with.  For 3:15 of your life, you can have both the reference and some extreme childhood nostalgia here.  Because I didn't really train.  I ate pastries and Gouda and drank wine all week.  I haven't done CrossFit in over a month.  I rode 30+ miles into a stiff headwind four days before the race.  So:  What-The-What Just Happened?  Closely followed by:  How Do I Make the Most of This Awesome Gift?

I just got a free pass though most of the 1:30s!  I have no idea what to do next. I do know that for the next year of racing, it's likely that I will be very nervous about eating anything other than dates and oatmeal and peanut butter for breakfast, drinking anything other than green tea and water with my breakfast, and racing in anything other than my shiniest blue spandex from high school that used to reach all the way to my ankles but now only reach my mid-calf. 

You should check out  I hear they have nice pictures.

Apart from superstitions, I would like to recap the things that I strongly feel Made A Difference for me during this race.

1.  I did not drink coffee.  I notice that caffeine makes me nervous and my circulation go to pot (heh, little Amsterdam joke...).  Being jumpy and tense during a long run kills my rhythm, makes me use my accessory breathing muscles too soon, and kills my form.  Anything under 5 miles, a-okay.

2.  For the first time ever:  I did not partake in the mass "duck-and-dodge" game that usually ensues after runners in a large race cross the start line.  In past large races, I was continually jumping up on curbs and medians and side-stepping every ten paces to pass slower runners in the first three miles.  Not so this time.  This was a pretty straight course with few turns, and I wanted to capitalize on that and not add any extra distance with lateral movement.  So I waited behind people for a space to open, then moved through it.  There was a good 10mph wind from the NE in our faces during parts of the race, so in those stretches I made an especial effort to get behind a taller runner or three.

3.  The race was not marked in miles, or, as they are known here, "English Miles."  Since I can barely count to ten when fatigued, let alone 21 kilometers, I only paid attention to the 5k points.  Usually I try to keep all 13 miles straight, and fail miserably.  Ed calculated my 5k/10k/15k splits for a 1:35 goal time, and I memorized them (22.37, 45.10, 1:07.45).  The 15k mark is always my "dig-in-and-go" place, so I looked at the map and figured out that 15k would be landmarked by crossing the Amstel River.  My final splits were 21.46, 43.21 (21.35), and 1:04.54 (21.33) were my official 5k, 10k, and 15k splits.  At each 5k mark, I thought, "Gee, I should probably slow down."  By the time I hit 15k, the "anything goes" point, I still had a reserve, negative splits and all.

4.  I'm not working as a nurse, or in school, or in the middle of packing to move internationally or cross-country.  Golly, this was a stress-free run.  Instead of trying to run just ahead of the present, to escape my head and reclaim sanity, I was able to run in the present, enjoy my stride and breathing and those around me, and had a great time.

That was officially the most baffling race I've ever run, and the best I've ever felt (breathing, shoulders, hips, back esp.) during a half.   The six months of CrossFit was a good decision:  I feel strong, strong, strong.  Thanks to Ed for twisting my arm...

Speaking of Ed, he has something called "a job," which means he hasn't yet finished his own race recap.  I will leave you waiting in breathless anticipation... because he also PR'd by over eight minutes!  He's kind of a big deal.

I leave you with a dynamic stretching video.  Try this at home, kids!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wha'd she orda? Monkfish fillet!

This is a picture of my new friend:

After I gave up calling him "Friar Tuck" and dressing him in a brown cassock, we followed this recipe for one of the lemony-est, most delicious pre-race dinners I've ever eaten.  Thanks, Jamie Oliver, you're the best!

Things I learned about monkfish last week:

  • In Dutch, it's called zeeduivel, which means "sea devil".  Monk?  Devil?  Hm.
  • If you want enough fillet-o-monkfish for dinner for two, it will set you back about 20 euro.
  • When searching for zeeduivel in Amsterdam, you might find it for 5 euro/100 grams cheaper at Marqt supermarket than at Albert Cuypstraat Markt.
  • If you don't season the fillets with a good amount of salt and allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes, it will take for-ev-er to broil.  It's a thick, juicy fish, and it tastes pretty rubbery and gross when it's not done.
  • When it's pan-fried, then broiled, as instructs the above recipe... oh man oh man oh man.

 You can still break bread with Friar Tuck, even when he's cooked.  He won't mind.

On another cooking note, it's pumpkin pie season.  Go, go, go!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Great Grachtenrace

Last Saturday, in the very cold, cold, wind-driven rain, Ed and I spectated Amsterdam's Grachtenrace.

*Flashback!*  I rowed once.  I mean, I rowed several times, over the course of one year in college.  Look: here is a picture of my friend Ali rowing bow in a faster boat, to prove it.  Ali likes rowing more than I do.

Crew was hard.  I have never been colder, nor wetter, nor more tired, than during those late fall/early spring mornings on Lake Washington, Portage Bay, and Lake Union.  The dock was frosty.  The goose poop on the dock was frozen.  My hands were numb.  My feet were numb.  My butt was numb.  Sometimes the bottom of the boat collects rain.  Everyone has to empty their water bottles to bail, otherwise the sloshing movement of the water will screw up the forward progress of the boat.  There are no bathroom breaks, nor hope for a bathroom in a dire bladder moment.  My hands were raw.  My shoulders and hips hurt.  These were the lesser joys and pleasures of university crew.

Rowing novice, and second boat to boot, I had things comparatively easy.  We did 2k and 6k erg tests, whereas 10k tests were pretty standard for the JV and varsity teams.  The longest "long" row I ever did was around 8 miles, slowly, and I don't think I was ever on the water longer than 2 hours at a time.

In contrast, the mighty Grachtenrace is 24 km long, almost 15 miles.  Unlike crew races, which are traditionally a 2 km more-or-less straight line, the Grachtenrace course features 90-degree and 180-degree turns, and captains have to navigate canal bridges, other boats, and houseboats using a traditional wooden rudder, while also fulfilling the normal coxswain-style duties of calling commands, counting strokes, and motivating.  The rowers don't "slide" on their seats as they do in crew, which means most of the power for the stroke comes from the back muscles, with the legs braced against the crewing equivalent of "foot stretchers."  The shaft of the oar, rather than being nearly parallel to the surface of the water during a stroke, exits the water surface at about a 45-degree angle, which means that the rowers shoulder extend to 90 degrees or more in order to reach the oar's handle and pull it back toward their chests.

The above is 100% based on observing one hour of Grachtenrace.  Conclusion: It looked painful.

There were over 100 teams in the race this year.  From what we could tell, there seemed to be none-too-strict standardization in terms of boat size, numbers of rowers in each boat, numbers of freeloading passengers in the bows of the boats, gender and/or age of rowers in the boat, or whether the boat was wooden or metal.  Most boats had 8 rowers seated in four rows of two.  I know a girl who was rowing with a men's team, so we stood a long time at the bridge by our apartment, waiting to see if we could spot her. 

Rowing east along the Prinsengracht, en route to the wide open Amstel.

This poor captain was having a little trouble holding her line:

They finally peeled themselves away, and wobbled across the canal, where they again became stuck going under the bridge.  This provided the boats behind them with an opportunity to snag a quick bite of banana and bagel from the gunwhale.

I hope they survived the second half of the race and didn't end up in Belgium.  Or wherever the Amstel meanders.

As cold and wet as it was, watching the teams in the silvery-blue light reminded me of what I enjoyed about rowing.  Those "best-of-the-best" mornings when the water was was satin-smooth and misty, the dip of the oars, the pink-and-blue streaks of sky, crystalline Mt. Rainier on the horizon, herons and ducks and bald eagles, the houseboats on Portage Bay and Lake Union... such pure beauty.

I didn't spot my friend's boat, but maybe one of our cameras managed to catch her.  With over a hundred boats, it's hard to say, but I hope that we did.  There are fewer photographs more appealing than a good shot of someone in a race, be it running, rowing, or otherwise.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Long Way to Utrecht

Tuesday, as I perched like a gargoyle on the arm of the sofa and snapped dozens of unsuspecting cyclists through the living room window, I realized that I should really get outside.  If possible, I should get outside for the majority of a day.

So I rode to Utrecht on Wednesday to get lunch and city-stroll with a Seattleite who is staying there this week.  I ate raw beef, and it was delicious.

The Netherlands has an extensive web of paved bike trails.  Small white signs are scattered along the major bike thoroughfares, serving as way points throughout the entire country, so all there is to riding from one city to another is to connect the dots.  A cyclist can plan a route using De Vrij Vogel, write down the points, figure out how to get to the first sign post, and pay acute attention to the side of the trail for the entire ride so as not to overshoot a way point and end up three miles west of nowhere.  Nobody likes backtracking.

Here was my route down to Utrecht Centraal from Amsterdam:

 Those green nodes all over the country are the fietsknooppunten, or bike node points.  Or something like that.  I'm stuck on "knoop."

And here is the direction the wind was blowing:

The ride should have taken me no longer than two hours, factoring in a couple of rest stops.  I ended up arriving at the final blessed fietsknooppunt 3 hours and 15 minutes after leaving Amsterdam.  At least it didn't rain!

The route took me southeast from A-dam through ArenA, where Ajax plays and I drooled over this Reebok Crossfit Gym.  It wound through three or four villages, and ran the length of a very pretty canal lined with monstrous old estates and a castle or two.  Sheep, goats, and cows bleated and lowed their regards.  Some of them left their best on the trail, as well.  Further south, I rode between the distant parallel lines of the highway traffic on the A2 and the blue-and-yellow trains of Dutch NS.  On entering Utrecht, I was warmly welcomed by a long line of houseboats that turned out to be some kind of red-light district.  The floating kind, I guess.  Whatever floats your boat. 

Navigating Utrecht itself was made wonderfully easy by following the magic trail of fietsknooppunten all the way to the city center, where I was able to change clothes and attempt to reverse my motorcycle hair in my friend's hotel room.  A couple of hours and my first beef carpaccio later, I opted to ride back to Amsterdam... on the train.  It cost just over 6 euro and took 30 minutes, with a short 3-mile bike home from Amsterdam Zuid station.  *Short note on bikes on trains here:  Dutch rail allows passengers to carry-on bicycles during non-peak hours.  Folding bicycles are welcome any old time, which is nice, but riding 30 miles into an 18 mph headwind on a folding bike with 20-inch wheels would be not-so-nice.

I did bring my camera.  I did not use it.  I was in a hurry.  On a nicer day, I will ride there again, and show you about it in full photographic splendor.

The Northern Migration

Rebel.  Riding south AND talking on the phone.

Folding bike!  They've got a niche here.

Get to the choppa!