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…)

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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?





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.





A teeny tiny vacation

26 08 2011

Today is the second anniversary of my skating accident. August 26th, 2009 is a day that will live on in infamy – read all about it here, if you wish.

Physically, I’ve pretty much recovered. I do still have some pain when doing a handstand or a cartwheel, and the flexibility in my left wrist is probably about 95 percent of what it used to be. But I can live with that. Psychologically, however, I still have trouble when I am traveling at speed and faced with a situation where I have to trust others to react correctly. I have a split-second to chart and signal my path, and I just never know what that other nutcase coming towards me – be it on a bicycle, attached via leash to a dog or with composite rubber wheels strapped to his/her feet – is going to do.

In celebration of two more or less accident-free years on skates (not counting my two splashes during last year’s Berlin Marathon), I decided to go for a mini-hike this morning, close to home. I had always wanted to walk up the hill that rises up high above the town I live in, near Zurich – to diversify my training and take a break from my rollerblades for a day. At the top there is a cafe with a terrace that features a panorama view: the city is to the left, its eponymous lake front and center, and the Alps rise off in the distance to the right. It’s simply spectacular.

...isn't it?

A cable car links the town in the valley with the recreation area on the crest of the range… the altitude difference is probably only about 400 meters but looks like significantly more. This is my preferred method of getting to the top, usually in anticipation of that wonderful, frothy latte macchiato that’s waiting for me there. But today’s mission was to propel myself up the trail as long as the weather held and it wasn’t too hot.

Cable cars are for wimps, anyway.

After about 15 minutes along, I decided that the next time I see the words “very steep ascent” on a hiking trail sign, I will believe them.

But the quiet (except for my heavy breathing) and the solitude of the forest (except for the baby snake lying across the trail that jumped about a foot as I approached, scaring the bejeeses out of me) felt like a little tiny vacation from real life.

Once up top, I decided that it was too soon to go back and continued on along the ridge for a few miles. Somewhere, I took another path back down I had never gone before, passing idyllic meadows with cows grazing peacefully in the sunshine. Arrived home after about 2 hours, soaked in sweat, knowing I had done my duty for the day.

What a great morning. What a great workout. Sometimes the world really is alright.





Real life

17 07 2011

My managers recently told me that my job will be going the way of the dinosaurs soon. As in: extinct. Quite unsettling, especially considering I had no say in the planning or the timing of all this.

I had been toying with the idea of quitting for a while now; I wasn’t particularly happy in my job. The issue of dealing with clueless and socially incompetent superiors is tough enough. But returning from a 3-month sabbatical to find no less than eight close colleagues had decided to flee the institution is a rather large blow to one’s enthusiasm.

Photo out of a recruiting brochure for a large bank. Exciting, huh?

So anyway, I have been chewing on this news for the last couple of weeks and trying to figure out how to make the best of the situation. My concentration often wanders while I am at work, I look out my high floor window at the world below and concoct complex plans involving idealistic notions of the way the world should be – and the positive difference I want to make in it.

The other day I applied to a job with exactly that in the description: “We are looking for people who want to make a positive difference in the world.” Well hell, where have you been all these years, dear potential employer?

The truth is, though, it never is like what they tell you…that’s what bothers me most about being an adult. Parents, teachers and other people of authority dangle this image of the perfect world in front of kids’ noses for the first 18 years of their lives. They are told a million times that a good education and lots of hard work will get them whatever they want, and enable them to live a life of happiness and prosperity. That anything is possible if only they put their minds to it. That there will be a reward in return for years of exertion, good sense and following real and unwritten rules.

When I was a kid, most of us actually believed it all.

And in the second 18 years of life, we found out that that’s simply a bunch of horse manure.

In the meantime – and currently motoring along in my 3rd chunk of 18 years – I am all for telling kids their dreams will never come true, no matter how hard they work or what sacrifices they make. As in: “Forget it kid, your ambitions are toast, especially in this economy.” That would be much more honest than sending them on a wild goose chase for a nonexistent pot of gold.

Certainly every generation has its winners, those superstars who proverbially fly to the zenith of their professions and are not only phenomenally successful, but also genuinely happy. But for all the rest of us who forewent things we believed in in order to bust our chops and never reach that level of success anyway because someone just doesn’t like the way we dress, or the friends we have, or the way we express ourselves, well, then, that’s just time wasted, is it not?

So now I wait for a new employer who will graciously invite me to exchange my brainpower for a pay check. I am “talent”, waiting for a place to be “managed”. Nothing more. My next job will be a transaction – a deal sealed by two signatures on a piece of paper – performed five days a week, for 47 weeks a year, for the number of years it takes before the one side is sick of the other.

Maybe I’m just tired. I know there will be idiots, intrigue, incompetence, injustice and inequality wherever I go, and I will make a sincere effort to deal with them in the best way I know how: to (try to) never again allow myself to get emotionally involved.  Hence, the positive difference I make in this world will be elsewhere.

And never the twain shall meet.





On writing

18 04 2011

I took off three months from work to get cracking on a memoir. That was my declared goal. Before it started, I created an excel-spreadsheet timetable, like in school, with slots for everything from breakfast to yoga to food shopping to skating to flying and, of course, to writing. According to my timetable, I was due to write for something like 7-10 hours every day.

Unfortunately in my immense wisdom and unbridled ambition, I forgot to schedule slots for basic things like showering, phoning with my husband, reading, vacuuming, paying bills and paying attention to the world around me. There was no time to “veg”. And I discovered (and perfected) the fine art of getting in my own way.

Though I have been a writer of sorts for more than 20 years (journalism counts, doesn’t it?), I’m finding that the act of writing, the physical undertaking, is much more difficult and excruciating than I expected. Or maybe I have just forgotten how to do it. Wit, truth and insight are buried deep. Wherever they are lurking, they seem to like it there.

Lots of words on a page. Easy, huh? (Not really.)

In the past few years, I feel like creativity has bled out of me, replaced by ordinariness and tedium. Like my craft has abandoned me. I can’t put a finger on the time or the place – it was a process… it happened much like a stealth bomber approaches a target, creeping in under radar, with folks on the ground not noticing it’s there till it’s too late.

But perhaps I was never the fountain of ideas and the visionary of originality that I thought I was in the first place. Still, the (perceived) end likely came after I traded in my journalism combat boots for corporate 6-inch heels. Press releases, communications strategies and report launch plans do not inspire me. At least not in the industry in which I am currently caged.

This afternoon’s visit to the local bookstore was a sobering experience. Hundreds of biographies and memoirs, most of which are probably exquisitely written, lined the shelves, each story more compelling in its shock and tragedy than the next. And I only skimmed the back covers of maybe 30 of them.

I once read somewhere that a good story is one where the protagonist changes somehow. That through some event or encounter she matures, grows and becomes a different person. It’s this transformation, this emotional evolution that forms the core of a good story. And in many books I saw today, this transformation happens through one or more of the following: death, disease, drunkenness, denial and destruction.

So that’s another thing I’m wondering as I wade into this ocean of words. Must one have hit rock bottom in some way in order to write a convincing and gripping memoir? Must the road of personal growth always be paved with catastrophic and wretched experiences? Doesn’t that get old after a while? Is this the only formula that works? Or that publishers publish?

There are thousands of websites that offer tips and advice to hopeful writers, and the glut of information makes your head spin. If you read enough of them, you will find absolute contradictory information. One “expert” advises one thing on her blog, and the next advises the opposite on his. This wealth of data leaves the nascent yet increasingly insecure creative non-fiction writer to pick and choose to the best of her knowledge and belief. She’s left guessing what’s important and what’s not. This seems like no way to be successful.

Some famous writer in ages past once said something like: writing is one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration. If I was inspired, I would go on google right now to find out who it was. But I’m not. I’m already sweating and overwhelmed by the information I already posess. And with every passing day my discouragement grows. Do I just not have what it takes? What does it take? And why does every writer go through these toxic fits of paralyzing self-doubt and hesitation? And who wants to read about my lousy, insignificant life, anyway?

My writer friends tell me this is all quite normal. But honestly, it is truly crushing. And I’m not sure anymore that I am cut out for the job.





Just another Saturday night

23 03 2011

A cacophony of voices, a throng of people of all ages, all shapes and sizes, black, white and brown, mingle on the beach promenade. The stroll, skate, sit, eat, talk, run and bike away the lazy day.

I spread my towel on the beach facing the water, take off my sandals and let the clean beige sand slip through my toes. The wind comes out of the Northeast, and the late afternoon sun warms my back. My shadow gets longer and longer as the sun sinks westward, behind the beachfront restaurants, the intracoastal waterway, the Everglades, and the earth beyond. I take out my journal, and write down what I see around me.

Watching my shadow.

To my left, four generations of an extended family chatter away in Spanish. All at once and without punctuation or paragraphs. Some of them sit on blankets in the sand, others on coolers, a colorful umbrella angled away from me is their shelter. Turning right, I see some teenagers play 3-a-side soccer in the sand while, other, smaller kids watch as ice cream from their too-large cones drips off their faces, and between their fingers.

A disembodied orange flag in the ocean mysteriously creeps closer to shore, snaking around to the right. Only as the flag, floating on a buoy, approaches the shallow water do I notice the scuba diver, dressed in black neoprene, attached to it by a cord. He emerges from the waves, takes off his over-long flippers, gathers up his flag-buoy and walks out of the ocean. He looks around at his surroundings as if he was a Martian, just landed on earth.

In my line of vision to the open sea, a small girl sits in a hole in the sand that it probably took her all day to dig with her tiny white plastic shovel. Her head is the only part of her body still sticking out above ground. The incoming tide inches ever closer to her construction site. And just a few minutes after her mother calls to tell her it’s time to go home, her hole is inundated with water, the waves rolling in like last week’s Japanese tsunami.

Beyond the beach, a triathlete swims parallel to the shoreline, his labored strokes witness to the fact that he’s probably got a few miles in those arms already today. But he soliders on, bobbing up and down with the surf, moving slowly and steadily from right to left. After a few minutes he disappears to the north, continuing on his way.

Miles off shore, huge cruise ships – cities on the water – march steadily out of Port Everglades in the opposite direction, one after the other, heading towards Caribbean points south, unknown.

On the beach promenade behind me, Tony the Pizza Chef serves up his pies the size of hors d’oevres platters to a hungry clientele. Still, eyes grow wider yet when they see dinner arrive at their tables.

As dusk falls, the blood-red, radiant supermoon surfaces in the distance. Cheers go up, cell phone cameras are aimed and thousands of underexposed, shaky photos are shot, filed, emailed, messaged, uploaded.

An honest attempt with a compact camera.

A rock band strikes up the first chords of its evening set in the bandshell. People dance, tap their feet, embrace life.

On just another Saturday night at the beach.