Saturday, May 29, 2010

Trail des Forts or Bust

Last January (the 15th, to be precise), while waiting in the dentist’s office, Rebecca found a magazine with the most complete listing of local races I’d ever seen—and so I jotted down a list of a half a dozen or so. I like to race one 5k in the spring and one in the fall to take benchmarks of my progress. Around here there aren’t any 5k’s, though. The other kind of race I do once or twice a year is more of a stunt—to just see what happens if I push myself at a longer distance. With no benchmark race, I decided to go for a stunt race—a 19k called the Trail du Val du Loue that we blogged about before. It seemed pretty ambitious to me—not necessarily the distance, which I cover all the time on my long runs, but the three big hills:

So I asked my coworkers if anyone wanted to go with me, and a couple people said they were up for it. I kept up my training—but forgot to remind people a few weeks before the race, and by that point everyone else had forgotten about the big day—and everyone bailed. As consolation, Jean-Luc proposed we do the Trail des Forts—a 28k. I wasn’t sure about that distance, but decided to go for it anyway, it’s only 9 more kilometers, right? It’s still less than a marathon, so I won’t have to take a month off to recover, which is why I am not interested in that distance. So I was committed to the longer race before I did the 19k and hit the wall at 60 minutes, right at the top of that big second hump, at only 12k (I had to walk most of the rest of the race).

So why didn’t I just cancel for the 28k? I was determined to learn from my failure. I redoubled my endurance training. I ramped up to hill runs every weekend, then double-hill runs, and ultimately a hill run every Friday morning followed by a double-hill or super long run on Sundays. I learned how to carry water and food with me, and when and how to eat, and pushed my “wall” up to 2 hours. I was so excited to conquer la Dame Blanche two weeks before race day without bonking—that’s a 269+ (900 feet) meter climb and at least 20 kilometers round trip—I can’t get an accurate number on the map—I may have gone as far as 25k that day. So, I was ready for the Trail des Forts. Better yet, Jean Luc announced he was training too. He’d been doing hill runs, and wasn’t sure that he could finish the race, and didn’t think he’d be able to go as fast as me—but at the very least he was still in for the event. I said that I go on long runs all the time—that this day, for me, was about the run being social. I didn’t care if I had to run slower than my normal pace—and besides, that would just make it more likely that I wouldn’t bonk.

Even though I was pretty confident, I was still worried that I might bonk on this race as well. The Trail des Forts, pictured below (the shorter version, anyway) is a 25k (17.5 miles) trail run with 3900 feet of uphill climbs and 3300 feet in descent.

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We decided to start out slowly, and to walk up all the steep inclines. I always run up hills when I’m alone, so I was a bit concerned about the walking—but I read online that a lot of trail runners find it’s faster and safer to walk up steep ascents, so I was game. I read runner’s world every month and love hearing the stories of road runners—but don’t know much about trails. Pictured below is the starting line, followed by the traffic jam at the first ascent at Fort de Planoise.

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We hit a trail on Plainoise that I’d never run on—it was surprising because it descended from our initial climb and never hit the fort. As the day wore on, I realized that the short version of this race skipped all the forts, and that was disappointing to say the least. One of the main attractions I had for this race was the potential to see some forts I haven’t yet found in Besançon. Even though we were taking it easy, by the 7k mark you can see that I was getting tired.


Contrast my sweat-drenched face with the cool and relaxed look of Jean-Luc. How does he do it?

We continued on, up and down and up again, along narrow, muddy trails, across pastures, on and on and on.

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We hit the two-hour mark and I started to feel weak. I knew it was the beginning of a bonk… and I didn’t know what to do to fight it off. I had already been drinking my sports drink, and I knew we were not even half way. I lost my ability to focus, and Jean-Luc started having to tell me when the trail was flat enough to run again—it was like I was just floating alongside my body, and it didn’t really listen to my commands. Thank goodness he was there! Then Jean-Luc started getting cramps. I wish I could say I helped him, but I was just out of it. Half an hour later my cramps started… and while I learned a great way to deal with them—stop, put pressure on the muscle for a few seconds, then walk it out with deep breathing—they just kept coming back along flat stretches of the course. At one point I had such a bad cramp in my left thigh that I couldn’t bend my knee at all. Besides cramp management, I learned what my fat-burning pace is, because it was at that speed that I wasn’t losing my vision. This new pace is definitely slower than I normally do my long runs. Maybe that means I need to slow down—which is so counter-intuitive.

I seriously began to think I might need to bail. I just was having so much difficulty. Then I had this inspiration that was motivating—but my brain was so foggy all I could say to Jean-Luc was (in French, of course): “This is the best possible day to push myself, because I’ve got your help and all these refreshment stations.” Then, a few minutes later, I was able to remember my original thought: “This is awesome—I wanted to find my limits—and this is so hard, I’m sure this is it—this is my breaking point. If I can finish this, I’ve had a real triumph. If it were easier, then what sort of accomplishment would it be?” P090510_11.05 Everything began to hurt. My feet, my muscles. The spastic cramps. I wanted to cry. I wanted to rest. I wanted my next refueling station—the food—something to look forward to--NOW. It showed up about 2 kilometers past where I expected it to be—and I was pissed. I felt robbed—and said so to Jean-Luc. He thought that was funny—but I said I needed something to distract me, so I focused on the anger (beats focusing on cramps!). I deserved my treat—I’d come a long way! When it finally came into view, it was such a welcome sight that I had to catch it on the camera. I got to the station, grabbed a couple dried apricots, then an orange slice, and on the way to my mouth noticed the mud on my hands had besmirched the orange—and I couldn’t have cared less—I wolfed it down and grabbed two more slices. I walked in little circles around the booth, eating as much as I dared, refilling my bottle, and continuing on.

After this refueling station, I knew the trails, and I thought I only had about 5 kilometers left. Unfortunately, it was much further—9km—but I just refused to give up. Walking, running, trudging, fighting cramps, just moving forward. My decision to continue cost me everything but my sheer force of will. Though that was merely a whisper, it did carry me on. When I got to the Chateau Montfaucon, they had some jesters playing music—but I didn’t even care enough to do any more than steer around them. Some people said that we had just 1km left before a down hill, and I all I could think was that I was sick of down hills—they hurt more than flats or ups. I urged Jean-Luc to go on without me, because he was doing fine and I was just slowing down. I was sure I’d finish at this point—just not sure when. He refused politely, but I insisted and he easily left me in the dust. Here we are at the finish line, including a shot of some of my loyal fans. Jean-Luc came in about 2 minutes ahead of me, and as you can see, he is still as perfectly coiffed as at the starting line.

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There was a post-race meal, but I was so weak I couldn’t touch it—too fatty and greasy. All I wanted to do was lie on the grass while the kids lifted my legs in the air. Pictured at right is Jean-Luc and I after half an hour of recovery. I thought it would be me helping him finish, but it was the other way around. Thanks for pulling me along, Jean-Luc!

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I was sore for 2 days, but luckily no injuries (except blisters and a dead toenail) and I am now back on a full training schedule. I don’t know if I’ll ever try such a race again, but I’m happy with my performance for the day. The mind was willing, but the flesh was weak—yet the mind won. Mind over matter!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Salzburg – That’s right - the hills ARE alive!

Like so many of you out there, I wa

s raised with at least a yearly dose of The Sound of Music (tSoM).  I know all the songs by heart and love them.  The kids also love the movie and the music.  It is funny how some things are eternally popular – or maybe my kids are just strange.  Do their peers also want to memorize Doe a deer?  Wonder if my grandkids will know tSoM?? 

But, back to the point.  Which of course is, where was Maria from? The real, honest-to-god VonTrapps (and Maria too) came from none other than the country we were visiting - Austria- and many parts of the movie were filmed in Salzburg!  When I started researching Salzburg I was inundated with tSoM information and told that it would be simply eResized_DSC04561verywhere in Salzburg.  There are all day tours that take you to all the VonTrapp hot spots. In fact, I was looking forward to picking up a cheesy tSoM souvenir.  When we got there, I saw absolutely nothing!  Total bummer.

We still went to the Mirabelle Resized_HPIM6327Gardens first thing, where large parts of Doe a Deer were filmed.  Again, there wResized_DSC04564ere no outward indications that this was the place.  But the fountains and gardens seemed so familiar- it was as if I had been there before - and we took lots of photos. It wasn’t until I got back home and looked at the video that I realized it really was the right place! It actually gives me chills to watch this now and realize that I saw all this stuff. It makes me strangely happy to realize that, every year when my kids watch this show we can say.  “Hey, remember when we went there?”  Maybe they’ll even say that when they are old, to their grandkids. “My mom and dad took us there when we were little.”  I think I am way too young to be so nostalgic, but in a way, this is what powers some of my desire to do all these great things.  When we do so much together, we are building memories and, if I die tomorrow, they will know that I took every moment I had with them and lived it to the fullest.  TResized_DSC04569he castle, the gardens, the fountains, the gnomes…. saw them all.   It reminds me, a bit,  of how people come to Philadelphia just to run up the Art Museum stairs and pretend to be Rocky.  Here in Besancon when I tell people I come from Philadelphia they tend to either reference Rocky or the more recent Tom Hanks film Philadelphia.   I know lots of Philadelphians think that is totally lame – since there is so much more to Philly (and the art museum, especially) but I was never one of them.  If this makes people want to go to Philly or even just remember Philadelphia in some way, shape or form – then that’s cool – and there is more they will discover just  by being there. And what’s wrong with Rocky?

The entire garden was absolutely magnificent, of course. An amazing blend of formal garden design and bright flowers growing in many of the beds.

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Of course, we couldn’t leave without playing in the park.  We were excited to see great swings, which are in short supply in France.  When I was a little girl, we had a backyard swing set.  I used to go out there and swing and swing and swing all by myself, especially if I was feeling sad or lonely.  Of course, I would sing as well and the song I always chose (and is still my ‘swing’ song to this day) was A Few of My Favorite Things.  “When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad…. I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel…. soooooooooooooo bad!”  I don’t think the VonTrapps had a chance to play here, but at least we sung some of their tunes…

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Off to find some lunch.. and discover what else is in this burg…..

Thursday, May 27, 2010



We woke up, stretched out and got ready to visit Innsbruck.   This small city is the site of 2 past winter Olympics and is known for amazing skiing!  We parked the car and wandered around visiting, first, the famResized_HPIM6279ous Golden Roof located in the Old City.  This thing was built in 1500 for Maximilian 1 the Holy Roman Emperor.  It was used as his royal box where he would sit and view tournaments that happened on the square.  It may have been pretty awesome 500 years ago, I mean, check out the expressions on the statue pictured at left, but I was not particularly impressed, and the kids said: “That’s it?”

We went on in search of more exciting discoveries and soon came to Hofkirche – the imperial church.  It is the royal church for the Hapsburgs and the cenotaph for the aforementioned Maximilian 1 – Holy Roman Emperor.  A cenotaph: “is a tomResized_HPIM6301b or a monument erected in honor of a person or group of persons whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere.”    Never stop learning….

The gothic masterpiece, built in only 10 years between 1553 and 1563, also holds the tomb of Andreas Hofer.  This: “Tirolean innkeeper and patriot.. was the leader of a rebellion against Napoleon's forces.  He was an innkeeper turned politician who fought for Austria against the French during the War of the Third  Coalition. In 1809, he became the leader of a rebellion against Franco-Bavarian forces that sparked the War of the Fifth Coalition. He was subsequently captured and executed.”  They still have a festival each year to celebrate his contribution to the freedom of this area of Austria.  Unfortunately, since it was Ascension Thursday, they weren’t letting anyone in to see the church (unless you were coming in to worship)  They even had a guard outside to ward off the sneaky (he looked very forbidding). 

We wandered a bit further, never giving up hope, and found a church we could actually enter!  It was called the Jesuitinkirche.

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As you can see, it was magnificent, with stunning plaster work and gorgeous inlaid marble floors.  We were particularly lucky because it was deserted but for the people practicing organ music – heavenly.  It is the burial place of famous royals, including Claudia de Medici.  Also it celebrates the life of several famous Jesuit missionaries.  They had two dedicated chapels,  and the one on the right was for none other than St. Francis Xavier. There were two Catholic churches in my area growing up, St. Catherine’s and St. Francis, so my ears perked up right away.  Anyway, St. Francis (1506-1552) is famous for being one of the greatest Jesuit missionaries ever.  “Like Ignatius he was born in the Basque country; they met at the university of Paris where Francis Xavier, after some initial resistance, joined the first companions. He died on the shore of an island facing China. The stucco ceiling shows a star between India, China, Japan and the Moluccas. St Francis Xavier is glorified as Lightbringer of the far East.”   I wonder what China would be like today if those Jesuits hadn’t shown up in the 1500’s….


We wandered back towards the car and saw the usual fun quirky foibles that draw my camera like a magnet:

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Taken left to right we have: 1. The road sign - I think you are not allowed to go down this particular avenue if you are not a well dressed professional. 2. Perhaps the worlds ugliest necklace – (priced at well over a thousand Euros).  What type of gown, exactly, dResized_HPIM6308oes one wear with a diamond inlaid strawberry? 3 and 4. The Flying Florence Nightingale fountain which was sheltered by a coffered ceiling featuring a little gargoyle with his butt hanging out and 5. The recipe that I want to try someday (OK, I know it is lame to take a photo rather than buying the hand towel,  but do I really want a hand towel?)

Before we got back in the car, we stopped by a chocolate market.  It was some of the most amazing art I have ever seen – check it out – even cheese chocolate!

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We couldn’t resist getting something to sample!  Turned out to be a 5 Euro bag of 12 chocolate spoons (4 each white, milk and dark).  We ate our yogurt with them later – divine.Resized_DSC04522

Well, we were off again, passing that ubiquitous German sign as we departed “Gute Fahrt”.  Despite the fact t

hat I know that Fahrt means something like a trip or journey – in German, I just can’t disconnect this word from its US association. Yes, that would be the sound of flatulence.   I feel like they are hoping that I release a little built up pressure!  I mean, in a strange way, it really kind of makes sense.  The city planners are thinking: “We hope you came, ate some our our yummy traditional gassy food and, as you leave, have a good fart – It can be a relief to let one rip sometimes, right?”  I don’t believe I have ever reached this level of crassness in past blogs. I believe I am channeling my father, who never outgrew potty humor and absolutely loves the scene left from Blazing Saddles.  This one’s for you Dad!

Unless they remove this particular word from common usage, I don’t think I will ever be able to live in Germany… I am far too immature.

Gute Fahrt!


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