Cyberloafing

12 02 2014

This week I have been engaged in a particularly egregious bout of cyberloafing. The 2014 Olympics started last Friday, and they are taking place 9 time zones ahead of where I am currently sitting. That means unfortunately most of the competition happens while I am still asleep. And that means that the moment I get into the office I have to catch up on everything that happened overnight that I missed.

After selective trawling of internet-disseminated news from several sources in numerous languages, what follows is a true all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of livestream TV feeds direct from Sochi. Though perhaps somewhat complicated to navigate, the NBC Olympics website opens up a myriad of possibilities to keep one occupied and entertained well into the afternoon, Eastern Standard Time. I usually start off with biathlon, then maybe some luge, a bit of snowboarding, and of course the crowning highlights of the games from my perspective: speedskating.

speedskating_small

I tried speedskating once myself, because hey, I’m an inline skater, how hard can it be? Answer: A lot harder than it looks. Speedskating on ice is an entire nother ball of wax. First of all, the blade edges are perpendicular to the ice rather than rounded as we well know from hockey or figure skating, designed to glide without unnecessary friction. This allows for ludicrously easy sideways slipping, too. My first move in speedskates was the splits. (Virtually impossible with composite rubber wheels unless you go skating in the pouring rain.) Second, the blades attached to the boots are about as long as my thigh, making it terribly difficult to propel oneself forward without tripping on them and thereby drilling a hole into the surface as one brings ones foot forward to take the next step. Third, the ice (upon which one inevitably ends up sitting, usually sooner rather than later) is wet and terribly cold.

Ice vs. asphalt does have one advantage: when you submit to the law of gravity there is no shredded skin…. only freezer burn.

So anyway, when the Olympic competition ceases for the day, by about 2pm my time, the next major decision is figure out what I will have for lunch and then check out which tape replay to watch. But I  haven’t really gotten into the whole tape replay thing since I know most of the results already. So I decide to write a blog post instead.

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The mighty race called Gigathlon

29 05 2012

Today in a month is the first day of Gigathlon 2012. For those of you who remember my heroic efforts at last year’s event, you will shake your heads and cry for me. For those of you who do not, here are the stories from before and after.

Gigathlon is a Swiss invention, and encompasses every hobby-athlete’s worst nightmare: five disciplines (swimming, running, mountain-biking, road cycling and inline skating), performed on two days (including two nights sleeping in a tent on a campground), in the midst of mountains. There are three categories: single (the serious nutsos), couple (similar nutso-potential, divided by two) and team of five (mostly sane, mostly rational individuals). I am a team-player and as you know, I skate.

Final equipment check before hitting the road

Gigathlon 2012 is, at first glance, a somewhat tamer version of last year’s event, where as a team, we climbed 2,500 more altitude-meters (8,000 feet) than Mount Everest is high. This summer’s event takes place in the Swiss midlands (as opposed to the Alps) and is, at least as far as the inline skater is concerned, seemingly civilized. It’s like they took last year’s two skate-legs and ironed them flat. But what the routes are lacking in altitude difference they make up in lateral distance. If I make it safe through the two days, I will have skated nearly 100 kilometers (60 miles) in less than 36 hours.

Take a moment to think about that because I don’t really want to.

My team this year comprises three women (road cyclist, runner and moi) and two men (mountain-biker and swimmer). We call ourselves the “Flying Five” and our bib number is 1984 (a very good year, for me at least). Our average age is, I’ll say, late-30ish. It just got bumped up a notch yesterday because I turned 42.

Last summer the skaters had the privilege of kicking off the event on both race days, giving me a wake-up call at 0-dark-30 two days in a row. While 4,000 other gigathletes were still snoring in their tents on the campground, visions of energy drinks dancing in their heads, we 1,000 or so skaters were busy tightening wheels by flashlight, strapping on protective equipment, lining up in front of the porta-potties and limbering up sore and aching muscles.

(Let’s just say I ain’t no great fan of camping.)

In this year’s race, “Urban Saturday” for me will begin at 4am. Again. Grrr. And off I go, for 52 kilometers (32.5 miles).

Yellow = skater, blue = swimmer, black = mountain-biker, red = road cyclist, green = runner.

At least I get to sleep in on Sunday, when I am the third of the five relay athletes in my team. I shall certainly be celebrating, on “Celebrating Sunday,” for another mere 40 more kilometers (25 miles).  Piece of cake.

Follow the yellow brick road…

The Flying Five aim to finish the race uninjured, and within the time limit (ie. daylight). I have taken Monday off from work, just in case we need a little longer than planned.





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…)





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





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.





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.





Zen and the art of Alpine racing

22 06 2011

Gigathlon.

The word kind of sounds like the Wrath of God, doesn’t it?

First let’s take the back part of it: “thlon”. “Duathlon” and “triathlon” are the other two common words with this suffix. Any other contexts you can think of? Nope, me neither.

Right, then let’s look at the beginning of the word: “giga” – reminds you of storage space on computers, SD-cards and USB-sticks, right?

OK. So whatever it is, it seems to have something to do with activity, and lots of it. And since this is Switzerland, that means it probably takes place in the mountains, and probably has a few thousand participants with an irrepressible urge to torture themselves. (Taking the software-storage analogy one step further: “Kilothlon” and “Megathlon” just sounded too wimpy, I guess.)

I first heard the word “Gigathlon” when I arrived in Switzerland a few years ago. The Swiss – Masters and Mistresses Of The Universe when it comes to physical activity – invented the Gigathlon as just one more fun thing to do outdoors during an action-packed summer. It is an ultra-endurance race that spans not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE disciplines and is usually held on some (hopefully warm and dry) July weekend in the Alps.

Yep, count 'em. Five.

Altogether the distance to be covered in the 2011 edition of the race – on bicycle, mountain bike, inline skates, by foot and in the water – is 340 kilometers (213 miles), and the difference in altitude from start to finish is 11,111 meters (37,000 feet).

No, that is no typo.

There are three categories: Relay teams of five (each person responsible for one discipline), two (a man and a woman dividing the labor unequally) and one (contested by athletes whose sanity I must question).

A friend and I wanted to put together our own team of five – we had been discussing it since about this time last year. Despite weeks of querying, prompting, nagging and cajoling, we could not find three equally-motivated individuals to join us. She too lost interest and energy, and her last deed before heading off to the beach was to hook me up with a team needing a female skater.

And so lo and behold, in my seventh year here, I find myself as a registered Gigathlon participant. Our team name is: “Isches nah wiiiiit?!” Loosely translated from Swiss German that means: “How much fuuurrrrther?!

So in nine days I will travel to a valley in the southwestern corner of Switzerland with four strangers, sleep in a tent, and skate a total of 55 kilometers over the course of two days. Saturday’s skater route is a relatively civilized and flat 35 kilometers, Sunday calls for 20 kilometers up a sheer mountain face. The relay races on both days start at the crack of dawn (with skaters heading out first) and, if successful, I will have completed my share of the work by 8:30 a.m.

Gigathlon 2010: Skaters trailed by an ambulance.

And now that there is just over a week between me and this year’s race (subtitled: “On the Rocks”), that oh-so-obvious and sneakily familiar question pops into my consciousness like a blinking red traffic light: “What on earth was I thinking?”

Along with its bastard cousin: “Who the hell am I kidding?”