The curse of the single second

5 04 2012

Last weekend, Berlin was a festival of sight, sound and fitness. It was the moment when everyone crawls out of their winter hibernation to kick off the skate and running race season in one of the most exciting cities in the world.

GO!

It was my 11th Springtime sightseeing tour through the German capital, and I lined up with more than 1,800 others on wheels (the 25,000 runners started half an hour after us) under a brilliant blue sky and heartwarming sunshine. The streets were dry after Saturday’s brief but intense snow squalls, and it was really, really cold – about 3 degrees C (36 degrees F) – as we waited in the starting area for the gun to go off.

And standing there, warmed by the body heat of almost 2,000 other adrenaline-pumped athletes, none of us really had any idea what kind of gusty headwinds we were in for along the route.

In my last posting I said I was aiming for a time between 50 and 55 minutes. I came in at 57:01. Not brilliant, but not bad either.

So what’s my excuse? I have three.

1) I turn 42 years old next month. ‘Nuf said.

2) The streets. There is a reason Berlin’s unofficial city motto is: “Poor, but sexy”. (Many potholes = many reasons.) At least I did not leave a layer of epidermis on the asphalt like a number of other folks did.

3) The wind. A question for all you athletes out there: have you ever noticed that no matter which way you run/skate/ride your bike, that the wind is ALWAYS coming from the wrong direction? And I’m not talking about the wind in your face that comes as a result of speed. We are talking about near-tempest-like-conditions that hit you like a brick wall. Pay attention next time. You will discover that I am right.

My placement in my age group was about top quarter. That is the expectation I have of myself, and that at least has been relatively consistent since I started doing this kind of thing when I was in my 20’s.

My reward after a hard day's skate.

It’s that single extraneous second though, offensively and provocatively hanging off the end of my total time, 57:01, that is really starting to annoy me. Loyal readers will recall that my marathon time last year (a personal best, by the way) also had a single second dangling off the end of it (1:40:01).

It’s one thing to miss a lower minute-result by a whole lot, like, say, 19 seconds or 34 seconds, or 47 seconds. It’s another entirely to realize that you could have made it in under the wire if only you had skated just a smidgen faster. Something like 0.09 seconds faster per kilometer. In other words, next to nothing.

Grrrrrr…….

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Spring, at last!

29 03 2012

Ah, the joys of the European Springtime: Lots of brilliant sunshine, long days due to daylight savings time, temperatures climbing into the teens (Celsius) and pollen counts that go off the charts.

Ah-choo!

(‘Scuse me.)

Spring is the time that skates are brought down out of the attic and dusted off, ball bearings are cleaned and wheels are screwed on tight. It’s the time skate enthusiasts like me take a look at the new year’s innovations in the industry, and then compare the prices for these innovations to their own disposable incomes – and calculate what sum they can, indeed, dispose of.

Last year's stuff.

Is there a lighter, more aerodynamic shoe, or a newer, faster composite rubber wheel, or a ball bearing that will make gliding across asphalt even more effortless than last year? What can I buy to make me even faster? And what do I just want to have because it would make me look cooler?

Equipment-doping, so to speak. Totally legal.

In the 14 years I have been skating competitively, I have spent a small fortune on my gear, with lots of trial and error (read: wasted cash) before I figured out what works for me. It is a constant battle to find that sweet spot where technology, comfort, price and personal preference meet.

This Sunday marks the start of the summer running and skating race season in Europe – the moment when winter is officially O-V-E-R. The Berlin Halfmarathon, which traditionally takes place on the last weekend of March or the first weekend of April, rings in the new skate season very loudly. Nearly 27,000 athletes – 2,000 of them on wheels – congregate in the German capital and take back its streets from motorized traffic.

This will be my 11th Halfmarathon on the streets of Berlin. After last September’s unbelievable Marathon time (read all about it here), my expectations of myself have, of course, increased. (It would be boring if I ceased to raise the bar.) But as the first race after the long cold winter, spent mostly sitting around in a warm living room and eating sinfully tasty meals cooked my my amazing chef of a husband (with only the occasional hour on the crosstrainer) it’s always hard to gauge one’s form. I’m aiming for 50-55 minutes to cover the 21.095 kilometers in dry cool weather. The weather forecast for Sunday is for partly cloudy skies and comfortable temperatures.

Hoping, though, that the pollen count will allow me to breathe at least. In the meantime, could you pass the Kleenex, please? (Sniffle…)





Thanksgiving on the wrong side of the pond

23 11 2011

It’s Thanksgiving week and I am, once again, for yet another Thanksgiving, stuck in Europe. I came here after finishing my Master’s degree expecting to be away from the U.S. for one or two Thanksgivings. I have been away for nineteen, and counting.

Here in Europe, there is no such thing as Thanksgiving, and I must say it is the one day of the year I am physically sick with longing and blind with homesickness. And my European friends, all lovely people for whom I am eternally thankful, just don’t understand.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of all time because there are no expectations attached to it. There is no gift-giving and therefore no disappointment and no fake joy. The joy is (usually) real, and it’s all about just having a great meal together. Food that reminds me of where I come from and who I am. Food that reminds me of my good fortune in this life, so far. Comfort food.

When my father was still alive, he would come visit me at the end of the year. Every September we would have the same phone conversation – should he come at Thanksgiving? Or four weeks later, for Christmas? We always decided on Christmas because then he could hang around for New Year’s Eve too. And he loved being part of a traditional European Christmas over here… it reminded him of his childhood in Germany, a long time ago.

We would turn our Christmas dinner into an “end-of-year” dinner, so that we could celebrate all the holidays we had missed and the ones that were to come in the first part of the new year as well. The centerpiece of our culinary extravaganza was his Thanksgiving turkey. He had been the Master Of The Bird at home since as far back as I can remember, and was always eager to commandeer my mini-kitchen for a whole day, along with all of its tools and appliances.

I would pre-order the turkey from a local supermarket and he would directly import the stuffing and the cranberries in his suitcase.

The Bird, 2002 edition.

Since the amount of food on the table was usually far greater than the two of us could possibly consume in any useful period of time, and the standard European freezer is the size of a shoebox, I invited friends and colleagues over to partake in the gluttonous, succulent feast. Our rallying cry was always: “EAT MORE!” One year we had guests from six different countries, including Palestine, the U.K. and Germany, to name just a few. It was a real United Nations around the table in my little Berlin apartment.

Those were good times with my father, and old and new friends. Those evenings are past and long gone, now, but no one can take the memories away from us.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Be thankful, and eat well.





The story of two seconds

28 09 2011

Maybe it was the spectacular weather, or the crowd, or the electric atmosphere, or the fact that my big brother and an old friend were standing at the side of the road to cheer me on. Berlin Marathon weekend 2011 was a couple of days to savor, remember and cherish for a long time to come.  There’s a reason they call the 42.195 kilometers (26.2 miles) through the German capital “flat, fast and unforgettable.”

Allow me to begin at the beginning.

The Beginning.

Not wanting to set myself up for a fall, I went into the race thinking that a result around or near my personal best of 1 hour 42 minutes and 47 seconds, set six years ago when I was a sprightly 35-year-old, would be really great. Really great. I felt like a new personal best could be possible. Sorta kinda maybe.

But you know what happens when you bargain on what you think is a sure thing. (Just go ask American homeowners.)

And we were off. At the 5 kilometer mark I knew I was fast, but was also well aware of what the following 37 leftover can do to one’s general constitution.

At 10 kilometers, I was still on track for a personal record, and skating like a woman possessed. I started seriously doing the math and comparing the numbers with the acidity of my muscles and the pain in my lower back.

A marathon, after all, is skated in one’s head and not on one’s legs.

Just before the halfway point, I saw my fanclub standing on the curb, shouting my name and waving a big sign, cheering me on as if I was an Olympic champion already. I sailed across the halfmarathon mats like I had wings.

And then a left-hand turn, onward into the no-mans land of mental and physical exhaustion: just after the half, and before you have any sign that there might be land (or a finish line) in sight. Every seasoned marathonista will tell you that kilometers 25-35 are the longest in the world.

And they were e-n-d-l-e-s-s.

I must have missed a few of the signs, because the next time I looked up from the street I was at kilometer 38, and still on track for a new personal best time. The only thing that could stop me now would be a bad spill in the last 4000 meters of the race. (Kind of like what happened to the guy who went flying immediately to my right… I didn’t stick around to see if there was blood.)

Thumbs up at kilometer 38.

And then a new thought tentatively crystallized… (Okay, I admit, the adrenaline went to my head and I was getting greedy.) Could there be a “3” in front of the minute number? Once again, while speeding past thousands of onlookers, I did some last minute calculations as I turned the corner into Unter den Linden, the wide thoroughfare that leads through the storied Brandenburg Gate to the finish line. It was still theoretically possible, so I fired up (what was left of) the afterburners.

The seconds on the official competition clock ticked relentlessly as I approached the finish line….55…56…57…58…. And I thought – well how about that. It must be. I must have hit 1 hour 39 minutes and 50-some seconds. I must have.

But guess what. I was officially clocked at 1 hour 40 minutes and 1 second. I had missed the mark by a mere two seconds. That would be less than 0.05 seconds per kilometer (less than 0.08 seconds per mile). And that would be less time than it took you to blink.

So the moral of the story is: I have a new personal best, 1:40:01, which I am absolutely over the moon about. But on the other hand, sometimes life can be incredibly, brutally, bitterly unfair.

Maybe I have peaked – but maybe not. Since I started racing in 1999, I have shaved off more than 15 minutes on that time. Yeah, okay, I guess I can live with that. If I keep dropping an average of a little over a minute per year, I’ll finally be skating with the world elite (and for victory) when I’m 60 years old. Now how’s that for ambition?





42.195 reasons to wimp out of the marathon

22 09 2011

I’m no wimp.

But two days before the biggest distance race event of the year, every athlete has her last-minute doubts. If she claims she does not, then she is flat-out lying to you.

So in the past couple of days I put together a list of the best (worst) excuses I could come up with to justify going AWOL this coming Saturday at 3:30pm in Berlin. You will note that each is valid in its own right, or in combination with any other excuse on the list. And not one of them has to do with training or a lack thereof.

  1. It’s cold.
  2. The third wheel on my left skate is squeaking.
  3. R. is not here.
  4. I’ve had insomnia for the last six months.
  5. My right knee hurts.
  6. I hate my job.
  7. QE3? You’re kidding, right?
  8. I can’t decide which skate suit to wear.
  9. My hotel room is too small and the view is crap.
  10. My bib number is stupid.
  11. Have a useless conference call at 10:30 this morning.
  12. Who moved my cheese?
  13. The plane was late getting into Berlin airport.
  14. Think I have the stomach flu.
  15. The Eddie Bauer Store went out of business.
  16. There are too many people here.
  17. I want a new spandex skate suit.
  18. I want an ice cream.
  19. I feel fat.
  20. Where’s my fan club?
  21. Need someone to blame for me feeling like doggie doo-doo this morning.
  22. I’ve waited a year, surely I can wait another.
  23. There wasn’t enough foam on my Latte Macchiato this morning.
  24. Is that a tiny blister forming on my little toe?
  25. I have writers block.
  26. I didn’t do enough retail therapy in Euroland yet.
  27. What happens if I come in last place?
  28. Will I be able to live with myself?
  29. My breakfast bagel landed cream-cheese-side-down on the floor.
  30. Damn…Need to go buy R.’s birthday present.
  31. My blog only has eleven regular readers.
  32. I didn’t win in the lottery (yet).
  33. Need a nap.
  34. I have to go back to work on Monday.
  35. Tomato sauce on my spaghetti: Bleah.
  36. 7,000 other competitors? Really?
  37. I’m too old for this.
  38. The free beer in the finish area is non-alcoholic. (What kind of a ripoff is THAT?)
  39. The line for the skaters is green, not blue!
  40. Murphy was a smart guy, coming up with that silly law…
  41. There’s no free lunch.
  42. Life isn’t fair.

0.195   Who’s dumb idea was this anyhow?

Deliverance. (The finish line.)

******************

Ladies and gentlemen, this is my 100th post. I thank every single one of my eleven regular readers for their loyalty, as well as all you strays who have dropped in along the way and pushed my click numbers into three figures (a couple of times at least). A year and three months ago I started this blog as an outlet for the creative energy I could not put to legal or constructive use elsewhere. I still don’t have a dedicated theme, but am still having fun. So I will carry on and hope you will continue to accompany me on my journey.

ES





Countdown to Berlin 2011

17 09 2011

It’s that time of year again.

The mornings dawn foggy and grey, and dusk arrives much earlier than it did a month ago.

The leaves are turning.

Nature is preparing itself for the darkest season.

And it’s just one more week till the Berlin Marathon.

Loyal readers will know that Berlin is the highlight of my season, the day I hope to be in top form after a long summer of blood, sweat and tears. Time to concentrate on staying healthy, and getting psyched. Time to switch out the ball bearings and rotate the wheels – to make sure all my equipment is also in top form. And hope that the stars are aligned for two hours on next Saturday afternoon.

Get out of the wayyyyyyyyy....!

Last year’s Marathon in Berlin was a washout, the weather more appropriate for waterskiing than skate racing. (I will spare you the photos… it was ugly…) The city’s streets were covered with at least two inches of floodwater, of which my skates soaked up several liters each over the course of 42 kilometers (26 miles). I limped across the finish line after more than two hours on skates in a downpour, with not a personal best but rather a personal worst, blood streaming from my left elbow – a result of the asphalt jumping up to bite me. Twice.

Within hours, every single one of my 16 expensive newfangled ceramic-cased ball bearings was rusted solid.

The year before, in 2009, I had to forfeit completely due to a training accident a month before the race that left me with three broken bones and a titanium plate in my arm. It was heartbreaking.

The year before that was the last time I did anything noteworthy in Berlin.

So in 2011 I hope to redeem myself for the past two years of slip-ups with a new record time, in front of a new fan club – my big brother.

This past Spring I got an early start on my training, due to the fact that I was in Florida and not in still-wintry Switzerland. And after my otherworldly, herculean efforts at the legendary Gigathlon earlier this summer, I feel stronger than ever that I am in a much better shape than in previous years. I even dropped a few kilos along the way.

Next weekend I will line up for my seventh Berlin marathon over the course of the past 12 years, and probably my 35th race overall. The weather forecast so far is for a sunny autumn day.

It’s always a thrill to shut the city down for a while. To take back the streets from motorized traffic, pretend you (and your 8,000 other co-skate-racers) own them, even if it’s just for a day or a couple of hours. And Berlin – whose inofficial motto is “poor, but sexy” – really does know how to throw a grand party on marathon weekend.

Can’t wait to hear the crowd roar.

Evelynn prepares to hit the blue line in 2008.





Burnt toast under the hot September sun

6 09 2011

Last weekend, a local skate club threw what they called “The Inline Festival”. It’s one of very few skate races left in Switzerland since the semi-professional circuit, Swiss Inline Cup, folded earlier this year.

So, never one to miss out on a good party that includes rollerblading, bratwurst and beer, I signed up, hoping to use it as a final test ahead of the Berlin Marathon, which rolls around again in less than three weeks.  (Last year’s race was marred by a torrential downpour.  Flooded streets and two spectacular skids on the pavement slowed me significantly. I am looking to redeem myself this year, so stay tuned.)

Foresight overruled cockiness and I decided to register for the shorter, 18.2 km (11.3 mile) race in the category “Fitness” as opposed to the full marathon “Speed” race. It takes me a good long while to recover from a marathon, and I kind of wanted to keep my powder dry for the highlight of my season.

Cool number, though.

While I am not a great fan of torrential rains, I am also sensitive to temperatures far above normal. An unusually late summer high pressure system soaked Switzerland in sunshine last Saturday, sending the mercury to over 30 degrees C (86 F).  Ugh.

I knew I was in trouble early on when I got the first cramps in my thigh less than 600 meters into the race. By the end of the first of three circuits on a 6km track, I was toast, and knew it was a matter of time before my legs would give out under me.

Fortunately, my brain was still working normally, and all I could think of was the power of a strong will.

Willpower: the emotion that keeps the amateur athlete on her feet when every other muscle in her body screams for mercy.  Or… sense.

During the second round, overstretched, overheated and overacidic, I was passed by a tall dark stranger, looking like he was on a Sunday stroll. He took the lead, allowing me to draft behind him and reassess my sorry state for a few kilometers. My speed and energy level recovered dramatically. At some point I told him he could continue on if he wanted to… I didn’t want him to wait for me if he felt like turning the engine up a notch. He said something to the effect of, “Oh no, don’t worry about it… I’m just warming up for the marathon.”

Talk about a blow to the psyche.

But the disappointment of the day was still to come. I struggled through a painful third circuit and crossing the finish line barely conscious, I found out that my time and ranking had been stopped after the second round. The eventual winner had apparently lapped me on my second round (really? guess I missed that…), and that meant my ordeal had been in vain. My estimate is around 51 minutes, respectable considering the sub-tropical conditions, but not great. But I can’t say for sure.

So much for trying to figure out what to expect in three weeks’ time.