Thursday, April 30, 2009

Too much pasta, too little time

It will be many years before I'll be able to face rigatoni again! Meals tend to be interminable (when all you want is sleep) and uninspiring (seems like all the caterers have heard that stuff about runners "carbo-loading" - there's never an ounce of protein - or flavor - in sight!).

Sorry for bitching.

Race versus journey

My Trans Europe experience is very much a journey, not a race. I know that if I pushed for good times and obsessed over my classification (which I think is currently somewhere around 40th), then I would end up injured and abandoning. So my "strategy" is paying off thus far. But what's happening in the race up front?

One great feature of the race is that the first 12 finishers from the previous stage get to start 1 hour later at 7am. Because of that, we get to see them scream past us sometime between 3 and 4 hours after our start. It is amazing to see how consistently hard they can work.

The leaders are currently Rainer and René, both from Germany. Today - for the first time - I actually saw them working together, rather than trying to run each other into the ground. They are running 3hr30 marathon pace...the whole way! Japanese and Scandinavians make up the next few places.

On the women's side, Hiroko for Japan is dominant, but Ria from Holland is having a great race too. Japanese and Germans make up the other leader places.

These are amazing, humble people I am privileged to have gotten to know. I hope they are enjoying the journey as much as me.

Stage 12 - Ostiglia

An amazing day! It started inauspiciously; cold, windy and rainy. I was very tired at first from yesterday, and just slogged through the first 15 miles. Then, suddenly, the course headed onto a bridge...which turned out to be across the River Po. A truly dramatic sight - at least 3/4 mile wide, and extremely flooded. Water and flotsam was flying downstream beneath us. But it got even better.

Our course took us along the towpath on the other bank for about 5 miles. There, suddenly, off on the horizon, were unmistakably snow-capped Alps. After nearly two weeks of toil getting to this point, it suddenly all seemed worth it! I got quite choked up. I know it'll take us a couple more days before we start climbing, but if I was Hannibal, I'd be putting in the elephant order now!

I was done running before 1pm, so had plenty of time for miserably cold showers, laundry, and a walk to town for a kebab (well, not too veggie, but I really need protein). Today's 31 miles were much nicer than tomorrow's 43!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stage 11 - Alberone

Today was, simply put, exhausting. We ran 54 miles - more than two marathons - and lots of people looked very much the worse for wear over dinner.

The course was quite flat, as we're crossing what is I guess the Po delta, a huge expanse of very fertile farmland which was once under water. The weather for the "first" marathon was nice - cool and cloudy - but severe thunderstorms built up in time for the "second". Let's just say that it rained a great deal, and very quickly. It also left the narrow, two-lane roads covered in huge, muddy puddles, which compounded traffic problems.

Tonight I'm sleeping in a church - the hall was full by the time I crossed the finish line a full 12 hours after our 6am start. A strange feeling, but I could honestly sleep anywhere at this point.

Tomorrow is a much kinder 30 miles - more of a sprint, really! One piece of trivia I worked out on the road - today I completed my 50th Ultra run (i.e., greater than a 26.2 mile marathon). Shame I'm too tired to celebrate!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stage 10 - Lugo

Stage numbers finally in double digits - woohoo! (Sorry for the delayed posting - many tasks after
running today, including a long walk from the town square finish to the gym, an MRI, medical tests, and laundry.)

Today's 43 miles was blighted by 3 "police on scene" car wrecks. The first one included 3 cars, a truck, and three fatalities. Horrible. I thought the race might get shut down, but they directed us right through the middle of the carnage. It put our lives and adventures into perspective.

The course was long, flat, sunny, and very dangerous. One or two more have abandoned today for both physical and mental reasons. It's never easy finding the right words to say to folks who are devastated by quitting. A big preoccupation is tomorrow's monster 54 mile stage, which most of us are silently dreading.

I just had my medical measurements taken. Unfortunately, I've gained a lot of weight (5kgs, or 11lbs). This happened to me in Germany too. I have to work with the doctors to quickly figure out how to reduce my "water weight". Extra salt & bananas haven't been doing the trick.

OK, on to dinner. It'll be Jenny Craig for me soon at this rate!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Stage 9 - Bellaria

Today's 45 miles was in two distinct and completely different halves - the first was very hilly, through some spectacular scenery just inland from the rocky coastline, and the second was a gale force windy half along the mainly deserted seafront, including the resort town of Rimini. Both were draining in their own way.

For our efforts, we were greeted at the finish by cold showers for the first time. But at least we're staying in a modern volleyball gym tonight.

Consecutive long days and hills are causing lots of shin splint issues, even amongst some of the leaders. I actually overtook one of the top ten guys in the final miles today, as he hobbled cursing to the finish. At least one more competitor has abandoned today, and I'm expecting more over the next two long stages.

I continue to eat well. Sore feet are my only real complaint. I'm going to experiment with a different pair in the morning, but will leave my current shoes with the 20k aid station folks, in case I need to switch back.

We leave the coast tomorrow - goodbye Adriatic! And after 9 stages, we're actually one seventh done. Good thoughts.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stage 8 - megablister postscript

Before Jan operated, he first took a photo of "the biggest blister he's ever seen". Avoiding infection is the key - once again I have a rubber glove on my foot til bedtime. He'll tape it in the morning before we run.

OK, I promise to post no further ghoulish blister shots!

Stage 8 - Fano

A 46 mile day today. Very big hills for the first third into Ancona, then plenty of flat stuff along the seafront to Fano. During the day, the weather cooperated - again cool and cloudy - and there were nice tailwinds along the coast. Now, however, is not so good. Heavy rain and strong winds have blown in as I lie in my tent, as yet unwashed and unfed. I guess our good fortune had to come to and end sometime!

My running today felt good despite persistently sore feet and a couple of new, supersized blisters. Hopefully I can track Jan the medic down shortly, and get some treatment. I was running for 10 hours today. Although I'm tired, a lot seem in worse shape than I. We have four more of these longer days ahead too.

I'm eating well at the aid stations , which I think is helping me stay relatively strong. Today I concentrated on getting lots of bananas, as I think my potassium levels may be low. I washed them down with cheese & salt on crackers, tomatoes, apples, gherkins, salami sandwiches, peanuts, cake, chocolate, cookies, granola bars, apple juice and coke. Great diet, eh? Luckily my dental hygienist Michelle gave me some heavy duty fluoride toothpaste before I left!

Well, I'm off to brave the elements in search of food, and hopefully a shower. Thanks for all the kind comments from friends, family, former co-workers, Rogue runners, and anyone else who's following along. It really helps me through the long hours on the road.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Stage 7 - Porto Recanati

One week successfully finished. Here's what feet look like after a 272 mile week! Both are pretty swollen, and so I've moved up a shoe size. Jan my medic friend has done a good job preventing infection in the two blistered toes. Last night I slept with my toes bathed in iodine, and wearing a rubber glove...on my left foot! Curiouser and curiouser.

Today was an OK but fairly long stage - 45 miles. The weather cooperated - cool at the start, then a mix of sunny and cloudy. As today is a national holiday in Italy, truck traffic was much diminished, but there were loads of holidaymakers all along the seafront which made for quite a bit of dodging and diving. I again ran most of the day with Jean-Hervé - our paces and temperaments are quite compatible. My legs and feet felt good til halfway, but then started to feel tired towards the end. Fancy that!

Two more days along the coast, then we'll start to venture inland towards hills and eventually Alps. But I'm getting ahead of myself - one slow day at a time. Oh, and I understand from rumour that we've had our first two "abandons". :( I'm expecting more with 3 very long days ahead.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Endless lines for food

The speed of Italian catering cannot hope to match the calorific demands of 68 runners and their crews. Lines seem endless - not good for ravenous folk. Tonight's pizza line seemed particularly tortuous.

Luckily, Trond and Ria had gone on a brief shopping expedition earlier today, and returned with 3 half chickens for us. A lifesaver. We fell upon and devoured them like my dogs would have.

Stage 6 - San Benedetto del Tronto

Today started, like all days on the Trans Europe Footrace, at the ungodly hour of 4am. The mad scrum which is breakfast is at 5am, and then we start running at 6am. This continues anywhere between 6 and 10 hours, with aid stations every 6 miles or so.

Today was our shortest stage so far - just over 30 miles. The weather was fairly perfect for running - cool and cloudy, rain threatening but not materializing. I finished not long after noon, blissfully early to be able to start recuperation.

So now I'm showered and lying in my sleeping bag on a gym floor, hoping to get a few hours sleep before dinner. If dinner is on time at 6pm, I can usually get to bed by 7:30pm. Nightlife? Not so much!

Today's course continued along the Adriatic seafront. There were few hills, and miles of still deserted beaches. We're now north of Rome (which is on the opposite, Tyrrhenian Sea coast), so it feels like we're making progress.

My legs and energy levels felt good today. My only issue today is with very sore feet, which despite the love I heap upon them don't seem to appreciate the 227 miles I've run in the last 6 days. Hopefully anti-inflammatories and a cold soak will give some relief before another longer stage tomorrow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stage 5 - somewhere beyond Pescara

Quite a hilly first half today, then lots of sunshine and heat as we passed along miles of seafront. Not bad for this Texas transplant, but others from colder climates didn't seem to appreciate it. It's not quite the season yet, so everything is starting up but not too crowded.

As expected, quite a few runners are starting to hobble badly with shin splints. Downhills are particularly aggravating for them, and there were plenty of steep ones this morning. I'm doing OK - blisters no worse, and sensible, conservative pacing means I'm not yet hurt.

I ran a lot today with my French friend Jean-Hervé - we helped each other through the long miles. Right now, I'm blogging from my tent - tonight is its maiden voyage. It's quite comfortable compared to a crowded, noisy sports hall. The line for the showers seemed endless a while ago.

Anyhow, today's done - tomorrow is another (thankfully not too long) day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Post-dinner soak

Dinner was finally great - antipasta, lasagna, salad, chicken & fries, and fruit (and wine for some). I was preternaturally hungry. It's amazing what a psychological lift food gives fatigued people.

Now I'm standing in this VERY cold pool, with the Adriatic Sea in the background, hoping to calm my hot, aching feet. Life is good!

Stage 4 - 162 miles done

A more scenic day today. Grey skies all day, but no rain. We ran parallel with the coast, with our first major climb into and out of the town of Vasto. Today's course was supposed to be 39 miles, but my GPS had it measured at over 40.

This is our second campsite night - another crowded bungalow, but with its own shower & toilet. Not too bad.

The race up front is starting to heat up. There are at least 8 very strong runners, who are already starting to duke it out. Three Germans are in the lead; I'm rooting for my Norwegian and Finnish friends, Trond and Janne. Predictably Hiroko is leading the women's field - one amazing runner. I, on the other hand, am probably enjoying the journey more than they all are, comfortable in the peleton and getting to know some new friends. I just wish my Japanese was better - but at least my Italian is improving!

OK, nap time for this tortoise!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stage 3 - the final birthday celebration

My wonderful French friends - Gerard, icole, Jean-Herve, Melyne, Alain, Christophe, Roger, Fabrice & J-B - just gave me a great birthday cake complete with candles. (I can't seem to post the picture...anyhow...) Excellent friends to spend my birthday with, if I can't be home.

Stage 3 - the birthday stage (cont.)

Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes - too many to reply to individually, I'm afraid, as my conscious time is short, and my technology is limited here.

Today was long - 45 miles - my legs felt very tired and heavy after 123 miles in 3 days. No surprise there! The day was rainy and windy, and traffic along the main Adriatic coast road, the SS16, was pretty ghastly. The police were very much in evidence. They cruised up and down with flashing lights, and didn't seem to appreciate our presence. They did not, however, seem to care much about the prostitutes plying their trade every couple of miles at the side of the road. Extraordinary.

I was done in a little over 9 hours. It's a long time to be on your feet. My aid station fare today included: salted tomatoes, pickled gherkins, chocolate cookies, pears, apples, bananas, cheese on crackers, bread, coke, apple juice and water. I think I covered most of the major foodgroups!

Right now we're holed up at a campsite for the night. The great news is that we get bungalows with a shower and real bunk beds. Birthday luxury!

Tomorrow is back down to 39 miles. Blisters continue to multiply, but should be OK with a little suffering, plus disinfectant and needle treatment from Jan tonight. It's a glamorous life, eh?

OK, nap time, then the usual dinner adventure to come.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Stage 2 - the birthday stage

It's Hiroko's birthday today too. One crazy party likely tonight - after 45 miles today, I might even stay up til 8:30pm!

Stage 2 - the gruesome post

Not for the squeamish. Toenails on my left foot are starting to take a pounding, even despite running with toeboxes cut out of my sneakers. I think maybe slightly tight socks plus rain today were the culprits. Jan the medic has worked on them already. Now I need to invent a modified sock design to alleviate the pressure on what's left of my toenails for tomorrow's longer stage.

Stage 2 - the pretty post

Today's 69km (43 miles) was mainly lined with vineyards. Who drinks all this wine?! The wild flowers bordering them are just fantastic right now. I captured just one typical sample. Poppies, daisies, and lots I can't name. Spectacular. I hate to be disloyal, but Austin bluebonnets don't come close.

It drizzled refreshingly most of the day, and the temperatures were ideal. I'm whipped after over 8 hours of running, but now I can lie on my "bed" (bliss!) and console myself with the thought of being 3 percent done!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


In all the excitement, I nearly forgot...good luck to everyone I know running Boston today... enjoy your "victory lap"!


Here's our spacious accommodation in Barletta. We are now officially 57km from Bari. Day 1 was a short stage of "only" 36 miles. It was flat, it didn't rain much, and the wind was mostly at our backs. The route was a mixture of scenic Italian seaside towns, ugly industrial complexes, and long, straight country roads. I'm tired and my legs are sore, but nothing too bad. My blood pressure reading at the finish was 90 over 60 - no wonder I felt like I was about to keel over again! Apple juice and a seat helped.

At one point today, a policeman stopped me and asked where we were going. I respectfully addressed him as "Signore", described the countries we were passing through, and our destination, Norveggia (Norway). He was duly impressed, and even drove past us later and gave a friendly wave.

I ran sensibly and conservatively today, let some faster people like Mike Friedl and Hans Damm go at halfway, and finished in a middle-of-the- pack 6.5 hours. Coach Claire should be proud! OK, now I'm really hungry. Dinner is in one hour. I could eat a veggie horse.

Blogging on the start line...

Ain't technology wonderful!

A rainy but cool day...a great day to be in Italy and on the road.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Luggage hostage crisis just ended!

Big sigh of relief - I've never been happier to see two suitcases. Like Joni Mitchell said, "you don't know what you've got til it's gone".

I've picked up my race number, and now everyone's in town and raring to go. Now I'm going to try and wash my dirty clothes before they run off to Norway without me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Benvenuti a Bari, part "due"

With no luggage in sight, I decided to go walking, to get oriented, and hopefully to find the race site at Stadio della Vittoria. I did both, and ran into this delightful specimen on the sidewalk in one of the seamier parts of town. Delightful.

The good news is that I managed to find the stadium, race director Ingo, the medical team, and a number of old friends - Jan, Tomas & Helmut from Germany, Gerard & Nicole from France, Trond from Sweden and Ria from Holland.

I gave blood and urine samples (I swear I'm "clean"!), and spent a very uncomfortable & claustrophobic hour being MRI'd.

Three days to go. I have one pair of sneakers and the clothes I'm wearing. I ask you - would Lance put up with this?! But at least the man on the Hotel Boston desk has been very helpful trying to track down my luggage - full marks there. Patience, patience.

Benvenuti a Bari

Welcome to Bari, indeed! It would have been much nicer if my luggage had arrived on the same day that I did. It's still worryingly missing - thanks a millions, Alitalia. And doubly infuriating as they charged me nearly $400 in overweight charges.

So after a long wait at the airport to file a missing bag claim, a taxi driver brought me to my hotel. He had absolutely no regard for any street sign, road marking or speed limit. Neither did he seem to believe that sharp cornering at 70mph was in any way challenging the laws of physics. I think I tipped him more as an offering to the gods, than for his maniacal service.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Roses from Kenya

Thought for the day, six days from the start...
I was supermarket shopping today in England with my father, and spotted a huge display of roses. "They're probably from Kenya", he suggested ... and he was quite correct. I was amazed - roses grown in Kenya, then shipped and sold in UK suburbia. Now, I'm sure that Kenya could use the export surreally ungreen is all that? Trucks at both ends, cargo ship in the middle, and all for perishable items which last a week. Maybe not the biggest contributor to global warming, but crazy wasteful nonetheless. And last time I checked, roses do actually grow prettty well in England!

I've had 3 comfortable runs each day since I got here, just to keep everything flexible, and to remind my legs of what's to come. Today Claire joined me along the towpath of our local canal, and we chatted for 6 easy miles. Miraculously at this stage, nothing hurts. I fly to Rome and then on to Bari on Thursday. I'm ready - or at least as ready as I'll ever be!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Austin is one Fit City

And big thanks also to Pam LeBlanc of the Austin American Statesman, a long time supporter of my crazy adventures, who gave me a nice plug on her Fit City blog today. Don't trust her natural modesty - Pam's a strong runner these days, and to prove it we chatted the whole way. We also had a lot of fun shooting some video with Jorge, and I worked on them both to run Lake Tahoe with our Rogue Running group in September. I'm betting even money that they'll be there!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Local TV last night

Thanks to reporter Jim Swift, our local news station KXAN ran this great piece on my race last night.

Monday, April 06, 2009

L'Aquila earthquake

The epicenter of today's tragic earthquake in Italy was only about 30 miles west of our race route on days 5 and 6 (April 23-24). A terrible nightmare situation for everyone in the region. I wonder what damage we'll see along the way? Our campsite plans on the nights of stages 3 thru 8 could be affected, but I'm pleased that we're not staying in sports halls or school gyms on those nights, which could be weakened by today's quake, or even destroyed by aftershocks with us sleeping inside them. Scary stuff, and yet another horrendous unforeseen complication for our poor race director Ingo, as he tries to get us through Italy.