Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stage 43 - Rätan

A long, hot stage today. 54 miles more of the E45, and temperatures were very warm even as we started at 6am. They certainly reached the 80s today, with no significant shade or clouds along the way. I was very happy to be finished in a little over 11 hours. I've heard that very cold, wet weather is on its way - but not sure whether for tomorrow or Tuesday.

The very best thing mentally today (and you'll have to take my word for it that it is very hard to stay gung-ho and motivated after so much toil and so many miles) was that this was the last day of May. Every one of the remaining 21 days are in June, which somehow feels more like we're closing in on the finish. This is the kind of crazy stuff you think about ad naseum on the road.

The next two stages are a little shorter, as we head towards Östersund, the geographic center of Sweden. It's also where their national cross-country ski team is based. Shorter is good, by the way - very, very good.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Stage 42 - Sveg

Today was another hot one - not Texas hot, you understand, but certainly Sweden hot - high 70s, and not a cloud in the sky. "Only" 38 miles today, before a much longer stage tomorrow.

Weekends are always much nicer than weekdays, without logging trucks pushing us off the road. The road we're on, the E45, is the Inlandsvägen, the major inland south to north two-lane highway in Sweden. Sometimes we go 20 minutes without seeing a house or even a vehicle. It's almost spookily desolate. Strip logging is the only real industry - apart from that, there's nothing except vacation cottages, lakes and rivers. It might sound idyllic, but it's just so quiet. There are barely any stores or cafes. I can't imagine what teenagers would make of it!

Up front, Rainer Koch of Germany and Hiroko Yokihama of Japan continue to dominate the men's and women's races. These are incredible athletes and fine people. They continue to push hard each day, even though this could lead to injury and even potential withdrawl. Most of the rest of us are just busy trying to stay healthy (there's a nasty brochitis going around; at night the gym sounds like a consumption ward) and preparing mentally for some very long stages ahead.

Six weeks is complete - it's hard to comprehend, even for us - but there's still plenty of time for "the wheels to come off". Only yesterday, one of the top ten guys was forced to withdraw due to major knee problems which suddenly stopped him in his tracks.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Happy birthday from 2 Swedes'n'me

Happy birthday, Claire! Have a wonderful day - sorry I missed this one, but many more to come. See you in June!

Stage 41 - Västbacka

Today's beautiful weather more than made up for yesterday's misery - cold and sunny early, then just sunny blue skies until about 2pm, when it clouded over.

The course is now (and will be for another two weeks) straight along the E45. Well, not exactly straight - there are continuous and often very steep hills. I felt good for the first 30 miles, but started to feel very weary over the last 20, as the uphills and downhills took their toll on hamstrings and quadriceps respectively.

This morning's most priceless quote from a non-English speaker: "I run easy today...I can feel my hamsters already".

We're staying in cabins again tonight, then back to sports halls tomorrow (which I prefer - usually more space). Traffic was busy today - I think it's because June is Swedish vacation month, and lots of people were getting a jump on the weekend.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stage 40 - Mora

Wow, forty stages done! It's hard to believe. I'm enjoying the best hour of the day - flat on my back, showered and changed, eating, drinking, and blogging.

Today's weather forecast was, let's just say, off the mark. It called for light breezes, some sun, and temps in the 60's. What did we actually get? Torrential rain all morning, bitterly cold headwinds all day, and after lunch hail. Fortunately I'd kept my Goretex jacket at the start; even with it, I was only a couple of degrees north of hypothermia. Note to self - ignore forecasts and dress warm. At least I fared better than some who took the T-shirt option this morning.

Most of the run felt good, but I did have a few spells when my hip, hamstring and sciatic nerve let me know that they didn't want to continue. Very painful. My cold is waning, so that's proving less troublesome. OK, enough whining!

My friend Mike has posted some video from his visit on Tuesday - check out (I haven't been able to see it on my primitive technology here.) I wish him well for Saturday's Stockholm marathon.

Tomorrow is my Dad's birthday - have a very happy birthday, Dad! Thanks for everything, not least for the genes that are letting me get this crazy thing done! Have a great and restful day - I'll be thinking of you as we head slowly north.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dinner in Vansbro

Dinner in the local school tonight was charming, with authentic Swedish folk music on hand. I dined on copious quantities of spaghetti bolognese, salmon and salad, with a coffee / cookie chaser. I'd appreciate it all that much more if I was less tired!

We were invited back to take part in the Vansbro 3K river swim (famous, apparently, in Sweden), but I don't think there were any takers. Maybe they'd have enticed more of this hardcore bunch if it had been a 30K swim instead?!

Stage 39 - Vansbro

A third day on the good ol' E26. This was the best of them, with much less traffic and practically zero population. There's almost nothing except logging going on in this area. Skies were very black today, but we received only a couple of light soakings. It was very cold and windy too. The absence of sunshine, and the many black lakes and rivers (due to peat washing into them), gave the place quite a depressing feeling.

The route was a shade over 40 miles, and I was happily finished before 3pm. Right now, I'm lying on my mattress eating beef jerky and macadamia nuts from my care package, washed down with alcohol-free beer. Ahhhh! 25 days left.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sweden's E26

This gives you a sense of what we've been dealing with for two solid days, with more to come...

Lake on left side, plus trees, for scenic value. Volvo heading north, bus screaming south towards me. Narrow shoulder with slight camber.

It's OK for the first hour or two, but before long we become wistful about German bike paths, villages and canals.

Stage 38 - Lesjöfors

A great day...despite having to run two marathons! At just over halfway, I was met by my Austin friend Mike. His father is Swedish, and Mike's here on vacation, visiting family and running the Stockholm marathon on Saturday. He chose to celebrate his birthday drivng several hours from Stockholm, and then running 15K of today's course with me. It lifted my spirits no end.

To make things even finer, he left a wonderful care package for me at the finish, replete with loads of fresh salmon (already eaten!), other comestibles, a replacement GPS from Claire, and a ton of well-wishing cards from family and friends. Thank you all so very much! I will read some every night, to keep me feeling positive about the difficult miles still ahead.

Tomorrow's a shorter day - only 40 miles - so I'm looking forward to an early finish. We have two more days on the E26, before it becomes the E45. Truck traffic seemed lighter today, a trend that should continue as we head north. It rained at the end of today's stage, and more is forecast for tomorrow, but we've been generally so lucky with the weather so far that no-one's complaining.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Stage 37 - Kristinehamn

You know you're in a strange reality when running "only" 42 miles feels like a rest day. It is nice to be finished by 3pm - I've had time to shower and eat, and now I get to sleep for an hour before dinner. Sweet.

Today we ran exclusively along the shoulder of the E26, and will be doing exactly the same thing for the next three days solid, until we reach Mora. Then we switch to the E45, for two weeks.

At times, the road does seem to go on forever - the trucks barrelling towards you certainly do. I just hope traffic lightens as we get further north.

The weather seems to start cold and grey each day, but by lunchtime the skies are blue and sunny. If you want to imagine Sweden - wide open green fields bounded by woods; signs to interesting places like Nybble and Nolhassle; occasional red barns and vacation cottages; friendly people who speak perfect English; dark-looking lakes and streams; and Volvos.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Stage 36 - Hasslerör

I kid you not - we're staying at the Hassle Sporthall tonight. But it does have hot showers and plenty of space - a guarantee of several stars in the Trans Europe rating scheme.

Well, we ran - or in some cases walked and hobbled - 105 miles this weekend. Today alone we ran more than two marathons. The effects are beginning to show. At least 5 of the top 10 are nursing bad knee or shin problems. Back in the peleton (I'm 35th at this point), there's a lot of fatigue, as each "long" day takes an interminable time to complete. Today, for example, I was running for 11 hours 15 minutes. That leaves little time for recovery, before things get underway again tomorrow.

Today's health report: sciatica better; feet OK; achilles tendons sore for the first time; quads and back very tired; very congested with cold symptoms. So good for another 43 miles tomorrow.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Stage 35 - Kvänum

Today's long stage (51 miles) is followed by an even longer one (54 miles) tomorrow. I managed to finish not long after 4pm today (10 hours of running - trust me, that's a long time to be on your feet), which means that my speed is marginally improving. As I've mentioned before, my only interest in speed is that getting done earlier gives me more time to rest and recover for the next day.

The day started very cold and bleak, but the rain held off, and by midday we had a very nice day on our hands. (It was light when we awoke at 4am - I've no idea what time it gets dark, as that's way after my bedtime!) We're passing through gently rolling farmland with occasional villages along the way. It's nice at this time of year, but I imagine that the winters can be awfully long and depressing. All the locals we meet along the way are very kind and friendly - the best, most curious reception yet.

As today was Stage 35, we're officially 5 weeks done, with only 4 left. Still a very long way to go, but it does feel like major, if ever so slow, progress.

Friday, May 22, 2009


I don't want to sound like an ignoramus, and everyone we've met here has been so friendly, but this language is strange, inpenetrable, and at times absolutely hilarious. Many words read like Scrabble hands. My favorite direction sign today was to Lårje Hed, but I didn't have my camera with me.

Stage 34 - Sjövik

After a monster buffet breakfast on the ship, we disembarked to be greeted by cheering crowds, cameramen and the press. They were actually covering the story about the two Swedish army guys, but we got to bask in some reflected glory...until it was time to set out in the cold and pouring rain. Skies were grey and leaden all day, with some heavy downpours thrown in. Luckily, I'd grabbed my Goretex jacket just before the start. An absolute lifesaver today.

We left Gothenburg by bike path, and followed nice peaceful trails for just over 30 miles to this little camp of cabins by a very Swedish lake.

My running's definitely improving, despite the fact that I'm working on cold #2. I'm much happier with shorter stages like we've had for the last 3 days, so the next couple of days of 50+ miles will be the real test.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stage 33 - Kiel

Greetings from Kiel! Here I am, fresh from coffee and cake with the mayor in the Ratskeller, and now waiting to board our enormous ship to Sweden. I'm proud to have just completed my second (and last!) crossing of Germany on foot.

What a strange day this is in Germany. It's Ascension Day, Fathers' Day, and a public holiday. To celebrate, older people cycle around, while groups of young men in their 20's and 30's walk around with handcarts full of beer. I'd had this described to me, but I couldn't imagine it until I witnessed it for myself. How bizarre.

Our 34-mile stage felt good for me today. Little trouble from sciatica, the course was beautiful, the weather fine, and the hills not too steep. Let's hope the crossing is smooth - skies have just turned dark and rain has started.

Sweden starts tomorrow, and will take 25 days to cross. It's hard to believe that so many of us have made it this far.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Life on the road...

Jenni from Holland getting an after-dinner buzzcut from Uli, a volunteer from Germany. My hair's growing, but I'm not ready for a visit to Uli yet.

Stage 32 - Bad Sedeberg

Halfway - at least in terms of days. It feels very good to have come this far, but it has been extraordinarily hard. Today's was the shortest stage of the whole race - a measly 28 miles, and many of us were done by noon. Because that let us start late, we actually got an extra half hour in bed, and so slept in til 4:30am. Bliss!

My breakfasts have taken on a standard form - two rolls with cheese, ham, salami and butter, two slices of bread awash with Nutella, a bowl of cereal, orange juice, a banana and two cups of coffee. I also take an extra roll with meat and cheese which is my "second breakfast" after the first 10 miles of running. Not exactly veggie or low cholesterol, but it's what my body needs.

Tomorrow we run to the ferry in Kiel, and then sail overnight to Gothenburg in Sweden. What an adventure - a welcome change in routine.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Stage 31 - Trittau

The very best reception yet, in this little town somewhere east of Hamburg. After 43 miles, as we arrived in town, we were met by our respective national anthems and groups of schoolkids with our flags, who led us to the finish line, where a band was playing and kids were doing gymnastics routines. Free, abundant, delicious food, happy people, and autograph-hungry kids. And hot showers! Life is good today, especially with three shorter stages ahead.

Health report: My feet are doing much better, as my "water weight" has returned to normal. My list has abated, and I'm practically vertical. Blood pressure is back to 120 over 80. The only niggle right now is a problem with the sciatic nerve in my right leg, which on uneven surfaces (and there are lots) sends pains shooting down my leg, and reduces me to a temporary hobble.

Garmin (GPS) report: dead! I dropped it leaving the shower. Cr%p!

And finally - Hey Jude - huge congrats to my friends Ramsay and Amy on their new arrival. Feels like the young man will be in college before I get back to Austin to see him!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Stage 30 - Bienenbüttel

Today's very long - 48 mile - stage was almost exclusively along the footpath of the Elbe-Side canal. It's a modern shipping canal, designed for transporting coal and other big stuff inland. The locks are as enormous as the huge barges plying up and down.

Running along a towpath sounds nice - flat, no cars, watery scenes - but as it turns out it's quite dull and soul-destroying. It seems to take absolutely ages to get anywhere. After the race, someone said to me "I had déja-vu fifty times today!"

Fortunately I had Christian Marti for company, so the 10 hours we spent didn't seem quite so endless. We were greeted at the finish by a nice big hall but wretchedly cold showers. Not the worse thing in the world, because in only 3 more days I can mark Germany complete for a second time. C'mon, Sweden!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stage 29 - Stüde

It's Norwegian Independence Day, which is a big deal in our destination country Norway, so here's a photo of a genuine Norwegian - Eiolf - luxuriating at the finish. Cool dude.

Today's run felt good for me - probably my best running since the first few days in Italy. The first 30 miles were flat and the weather close to perfect. I tried not to get carried away given we have a long stage tomorrow. The last 14 miles were along a boring, gravelly canal towpath into headwinds, so not much fun or fast running to be had, but so it goes.

Today's song stuck in my head? "Thirty Days in the Hole" by Humble Pie (really dating myself now!). Hint: tomorrow is day 30. Oh, and the accommodations suck and the showers are cold. Is that any way to treat a Norwegian, on this of all days?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bad press... :(

Here's a clipping from a local newspaper yesterday. A car and truck collided while braking to avoid one of the Japanese runners, who was running in the road. A girl in the car had to be taken to hospital by helicopter. I hope she's OK.

I don't think some members of our party treat other road users properly. Be safe out there.

Stage 28 - Gebhardshagen (pic)

Finally! A large gym to sleep in tonight. That always improves the group's mood considerably. And of couse we eat where we sleep. An ascetic existence.

Stage 28 - Gebhardshagen

Stage 28 complete - that's 4 weeks done! On one hand, it feels like we've travelled so incredibly far - 1,200 miles (we've averaged 300 miles a week, a daunting number). On the other, we're not even halfway - gulp. But, as ever, one day at a time...

Today surprised me. I had a silent dread of its 48 miles, and early hilly going through the Harz Mountains. But for reasons I can't explain, I got into a comfortable pace, and felt strong most of the day.

I finished with three Germans - Klaus, Bernt and Joachim. By coincidence, they were wearing yellow, red and black shirts. From about a mile away, they looked like a German flag! When I caught them after the last aid station, my blue Rogue t-shirt broke up the symmetry.

Two experienced runners abandoned before today's stage started, bringing the total to 14, I think. Hans Damm (who I met during Deutschlandlauf 2007) had problems with a high fever. I'm not sure why the other person withdrew - sometimes people have just had enough mentally.

Rainer Koch continues to dominate the men's race, while Hiroko Yokihama is doing the same to the women's field. The leaders work awfully hard each day to keep their places. The strain is visible on at least three of them, who are clearly fighting injuries or fatigue. Me, I'm quite happy to be doggin' along in the peleton. "Langsam und bequem" - slow and comfortable.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Stage 27 - Ebergötzen

So how's this for counterpoint?

A long and extremely hilly day, many poor road surfaces with nasty cambers, very sore feet, an annoying lean to the right that everyone comments on, grey skies with on-and-off rain, and a 42-mile stage that turns out to be over 44.

Then, at the finish line, a German band, bratwurst aplenty, kids asking for autographs, and hot showers.

Today was very tough, but at least the ending was happy. My body is feeling very tired and beaten up after so many days on the road, and I had to work very hard for nearly 10 hours to keep in positive mental territory. The next four long days will be challenging, but I understand that after tomorrow's Hartz Mountains (not just a brand of flea and tick powder, apparently!), things start to get flatter.

Sorry about the whining. My mantra today and every day, to answer Barbara-Anne's post, is "relax and float". That's what I focus on whether or not things are going well. Being relaxed is obviously critical for an event of this duration. And floating is my mental way of picturing making all my energy work horizontally, not vertically (i.e., bouncing). Sounds a bit hippy-dippy, but I do like to keep pushing some simple, positive thoughts to the front of my mind, to displace the negative ones that try and sneak in.

Wow, I just realized that it's Friday - again! Enjoy your weekends.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Going Dutch!

My Dutch friends Anneka, Ubel and Jenny have been very kind to me, helping me to find prime real estate on the gym floors (they're always finished before me each day, so they pre-nab me a good spot before I arrive). Huge thanks to them - lifesavers! It's a reminder that we ultrarunners are totally dependent on the kindness of strangers...

Stage 26 - Waldkappel

Forty more miles today, not too many big hills and kind weather. I felt strong early in the day, but started to feel very tired by noon. The last three hours seemed interminable; I was grateful for the company of Christian Marti, who conversely had felt sluggish early but finished strong. All that I can predict is unpredictability!

We have seven more days in Germany - 5 long and 2 relatively short. My list to the left of a few days ago has changed to a similarly pronounced list to the right - I have absolutely no idea what's up with that. Otherwise, things are holding up OK. Food has slowly but steadily improved, my water retention problems have receded, and there's little trace left of my cold. Tonight's gym is spacious, the showers were hot, I'm eating a tin of mackerel and a KitKat, and so life is just about as good as it gets on the road.

Stage 25 - Queck dining

My Swiss running friend Christian Marti outside our surprisingly quaint and large portioned restaurant last night. We ran most of today's stage together.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stage 25 - Queck

A good day today, although it started badly. First, we had to take a bus to the next village at 4:45am to breakfast, and then take it back afterwards to pack our things. Then the start at 6am - very cold and dismal. Moods didn't improve much for the first 20 miles of very steep hills.

But then by lunchtime we arrived at the old town of Fulda, and went through it on lovely, flat cycle paths. It was odd observing "regular" people again, hanging out in the parks, walking their dogs, generally getting on with their normal lives, while we aliens passed through. I am starting to miss really everyday things - like reading the paper, going to the store, watching a mindless TV show. We take so much for granted...

So the last 25 miles were long but pleasant enough, with not much traffic and lots of cycle paths. I felt physically and mentally strong today. Some are already starting to negatively fixate over the arduous, monotonous Swedish experience ahead of us. I'll just be glad to have made it that far, to a fourth country. Positive, positive - every step takes me one step closer to the North Cape - where, by the way, I'm planning to lob my sneakers theatrically into the ocean.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More energy generation...

The church in front of the stacks is dwarfed by man's secular needs.

Solar panels

Here's just one example of the thousands of roof solar panels I was ragging on in yesterday's post. Very green and very unsightly.

Stage 24 - Weissenbach

Twenty-four stages done, over 1,000 miles run. Today's run was not too long, but very wet, cold and hilly towards the end. Our overnight accommodations are, well, appalling. I'm sharing a 15x15ft space with 4 noisy Japanese and 3 angry Germans. Man. The showers are apparently cold, and nerves are getting pretty frayed (not mine, you understand!). Four of the race leaders got lost this morning - they were not happy when they finally caught up with the rest of the field - and that always gets folks riled up. I'm praying that tonight's dinner is OK, but I'm not holding my breath.

My Garmin (GPS) continues to be a godsend. It allows me to know distance travelled at any point in the day. Psychologically, that's a surprisingly big help. I've ceased taking an interest in features like average pace, because it is so irrelevant.

Parts of me continue to hurt at all times - one or both feet, right knee, hip, hamstring - the list doesn't change, nor do I expect it to, as there's no time or chance for recovery. But I do feel mentally strong. It's exciting to think that we'll complete Germany in only 9 more days.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stage 23 - Prosselsheim

The last "killer day" - for now - is done. Another 51-miler complete. Two more tough cookies abandoned the race today, making 12 of the original 68 starters now back home with loved ones. While I envy them that, abandoning is very tough, especially after having suffered for 3 weeks.

Before today's stage started, the heavens opened for 2 hours. Magically though, 5 minutes before our 6am start, the rain gods relented, and we only got intermittent drizzle all day. The course took us over the Main river at Würzburg, a beautiful old town I'd like to have seen more of.

Just before we hit town, we were running on a cycle path, and a police car pulled up beside me. (I've never been pulled over by the police during a race before!) I explained our journey, and was sent on with a cheery wave. It can be a dangerous approach - one of the other runners did the same in Northern Italy, and was nearly arrested, as the story sounds so implausibe.

Two observations for today - cuckoos and solar panels. Both are everywhere here in Southern Germany. While the cuckoos are charming, the solar panels are not. While I applaud the greenness, they look just awful on old terra cotta rooves. And because we're headed north, we see every one as they all face south. Sorry, but a 17th century half-timbered barn doesn't look good covered in grey panels.

OK, a quick dinner before another night under canvas - the hall is small and very cramped.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Swedish Army

Andreas (right) and Matthias (center) somehow always manage to get first in line for every meal. They're great guys. I try to follow them, but somehow I always seem to get elbowed aside. Looks like Jan the medic was strategically positioned for tonight's dinner!

Stage 22 - Schillingsfürst

A long day again - over 50 miles and 11.5 hours running - but a better one for me. My cold / cough seems to be improving, my listing to the left didn't get worse, and despite another megablister my feet and legs seemed to be working OK. Psychologically, it's nice that we have only one more 50 mile day tomorrow, before we drop back into the 40-45 mile range for the rest of the week.

The weather today was probably the very best it has been - nice temps and a mix of sun and cloud and gently breezes. The course was pleasing on the eye and quiet too, in part because it is Sunday. Running with lots of traffic all day is surprisingly wearing.

So one more huge effort tomorrow, and then hopefully some relief. One day at a time...and indeed, this too shall pass. Thanks to everyone who's checked in and/or commented. It's very encouraging each morning to grab a few thoughts before the craziness gets underway.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Stage 21 - Nattheim

As predicted, today was physically very tough - 50 hilly miles which took over 11 hours to complete. It was hard psychologically too, as we have two more days straight ahead with the same length and "degree of difficulty".

My "listing to the left" didn't get worse today, but my back has become quite painful. My theory is that my muscles are slowly wasting, due to inadequate recovery time and diet. One look at my biceps confirms this - they looked weak and wizened despite working hard all day. And so my back and core muscles aren't able to give my spine the support it needs.

What to do? Well, apart from just sucking it up, I'll continue to try and find more protein each day. As far as recuperation goes, there are no options there - rest is all I do when I'm not eating or running. Lying flat as I am right now writing this definitely feels good.

For positive stuff...the Bavarian scenery continues to impress. Everything is as ever spotless here. Even the cows appear freshly bathed and smelling of roses. It is a surreal corner of the world - litter-free, manicured, and ever so slightly anodyne. It would be an odd place to call home.

And we're 3 weeks done! Some tough days ahead, but I'll be a happy camper when I get on the overnight ferry in Kiel headed for Scandinavia in 12 days time!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Tan lines

Ria Buiten from Holland, one of the leading women. Everyone's getting pretty fried, the Japanese in particular - me, I'm steering clear of skimpy tops.

Hardcore fans!

We are being entertained tonight by a Bavarian band and great local kids. It may not be the Tour de France, but hey, this is their moment! Vielen dank', Pfaffenhausen. We are honored.

Stage 20 - Pfaffenhausen

Today's 40 miles was a relative breeze compared to the three 50 mile days ahead. The weather was good, the terrain was rolling but not truly hilly, and the Bavarian natives were friendly. The sportshall we call home tonight is delightfully spacious and modern, with fully functional hot showers.

Like most of us here, I feel very, very weary. By close of business tomorrow, we will have run 880 miles in 3 weeks. That's probably why!

I felt OK today, but I have developed a worrying, unconscious list to the left as I run. Some things - sailors' hats, for example - look good at a jaunty angle. Runners don't though. I think my body is trying to protect my injured right hip, hamstrings and sciatic nerve, but it's a little freaky, especially because I'm unaware of it until I see my shadow or reflection. Oh well, a new thing to work on tomorrow.

Something tells me it's Friday (days here don't really mean anything, except maybe with regard to traffic), so have a great weekend doing whatever normal people do - i.e., not running 100 miles!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Stage 19 - Seeg (pic)

Neuschwanstein castle, from Füssen.

Just had to include this one - a glorious (OK, touristy) place we've been to before. But it is amazing.

Stage 19 - Seeg (pic)

Approaching Reutte, Austria.

These flat, traffic-free, hard-to-get-lost-on bike trails are the very best.

Stage 19 - Seeg (Germany!)

Today's 44 mile stage started with a long, cold, traffic-heavy climb up and over the Fernpass (the place where, apparently, Hannibal's elephant concept went horribly wrong). By 8am though, we had reached the summit, and were able to enjoy a more restful and sunny descent through the towns of Lermoos and Reutte.

Somewhere around mile 30, we passed into Germany. Not a sign, flag, or anything to indicate our arrival...except...and I kid you not...the world's largest wheelbarrow. I was too busy looking for a border sign and forgot to snap the wheelbarrow. Oh well, you'll have to take my word for it. Just imagine a very big wheelbarrow, and there you have it.

So then we passed through the lovely old town of Füssen, where people actually cheered for us, and then on to the finish at the village of Seeg. A wonderful Bavarian reception awaited us, with cheering at the finish line, that lederhosen dancing thing, sausages and rolls, and requests from star-struck kids for autographs. Now that's more like it!

The day was filled with beautiful blue skies (i.e., hot) and stunning views. Another 40 miler tomorrow, then three 50+ miles days after that which should prove, um, challenging. But one day at a time.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Stage 18 - Nassereith

"Only" a 38 mile day today, but dominated by a 7 mile climb over the Reissepass. Here's a photo of second place runner René Strossny actually running up it! At a brisk walk, it took the rest of us mere mortals 2 hours to get to the summit at over 5000 ft.

Several quicker folks had issues today with shin splints - very painful swelling in the shins - caused by the long, steep descents. My cautious pace downhill has helped me avoid them completely. Now if only I could get rid of this cold...

Tomorrow we reach Germany, and pass through beautiful places like Füssen that Claire and I have visited before. But 30 more Austrian miles to go before we reach the border.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Stage 17 - Pfunds (pic)

The apple blossom in the foreground is amazing right now, and covers miles of fields. Villages and mountains beyond are each more beautiful than the next.

Stage 17 - Pfunds (Austria!)

I'm very pleased to have arrived in Austria. Italy was a long and at times very difficult struggle, but 59 of the original 68 starters have made it.

The middle section of today's stage - before we hit the border - involved some long, serious uphills. As an analog, imagine running for 15 miles, then spending 3 hours at the gym on a stair stepper, then running another 15 miles. Oh, and at 35 degrees and into biting northerly headwinds. (See, I don't want to make this sound easy!) To compensate, the scenery was again beyond superlatives.

The most dangerous part of the entire race so far was a 3-mile stretch of unlit tunnels, which we had to share with cars and 18-wheelers. We were thoughtfully issued with reflective jackets before entering - nice touch, eh? The stuff of nightmares - but I think everyone made it.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Stage 16 - Schlanders (pics)

Covered bridges, castles, rivers, mountains, all accessible by apparently endless cycle paths. This is a cool place indeed.

Stage 16 - Schlanders (pics)

Littered with beautiful schlosses, I've been very impressed by this Süd Tyrol region of Italy.

Stage 16 - Schlanders

Today went very well. The hills were not of the up, up, up variety, except in two places. The weather was ideal - cloudy & cool. The scenery was out of this world. And my mojo at least partially returned, as nothing really hurt too badly, and I was finally happy with my running.

Austria tomorrow! If only I could get rid of this hacking cough...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Injury treatment

People get desperate! Here Shiro from Japan is practicing moxibustion (okyu in Japanese) on Frenchman Christophe Midelet's leg injuries. It involves setting little incense-like cones on fire at acupuncture points on the skin. Ouch!

Sorry to report that Christophe is still struggling each day.

Stage 15 - San Michele

Whew! Not as bad as & thought ... except for the last 5 miles, but we'll get to that.

So last night I finally managed some good quality sleep, after my fish and salami sandwiches (no, NOT mixed together...ugh). I also experimented successfully with taping anti-inflammatory pads to my feet, which helped to reduce footfall pain, so this morning it looked more like I was running than hobbling.

The first 40 miles continued along the bike paths by the Adige river. No car traffic, but Sunday cyclists everywhere. Headwinds were less, but the afternoon was hot - in the mid-eighties - so nice for the cyclists, but not ideal for us.

The last 5 miles into San Michele were up, up, up. Not exactly what the doctor ordered, but good preparation for the next two stages, which I think will be equally hilly.

One interesting point of note is that this part of Italy is German-speaking. Every sign is a mélange of German, Italian and English. Tomorrow we head to Schlanders (still in Italy - see what I mean?) before hitting Austria on Stage 17.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Stage 14 - Nomi

Most of the day was spent on bike paths on the Adige river, as we headed north upstream towards Austria. Traffic was either light or non-existent, but headwinds made much of the day uncomfortable. Cyclists looked at us strangely, but were interested to hear about our route.

Stage 14 - Nomi

The scenery was spectacular - vines in the foreground, medieval town and castle behind, all framed by beautiful Alpine geology.

Stage 14 - Nomi

A very tough day for me today...but let's start with positives:

We're two weeks done, and we've run an outrageous 575 miles;
We're only two days from Austria;
The weather today was sunny and very warm;
My blisters are healing, and I have no achilles or shin splint problems (quite rare here);
The scenery is spectacular - I'll try and post a couple of photos later.

OK, for the negatives:
My feet were really horribly painful today, especially my left one;
There was a fierce headwind for much of our 43 miles today - that gets very draining;
Tomorrow's stage is at least 5 miles longer, and way hillier. Given that I took over 10 hours to complete today, tomorrow could be as much as 13 hours - ouch!

So tonight I skipped the restaurant dinner so I could spend more time elevating and resting my feet. I've kept the protein and calories coming with salami and fish sandwiches, washed down with copious quantities of yoghurt. Like I always say, a glamorous life! And in 9 short hours, the fun begins again.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Stage 13 - Pescantina

Jan the medic (known affectionately now as Mister Blister) worked his magic on my feet this morning, and I made some judicious, last-minute shoe and sock modifications. The net result was my most pain-free day on the road so far. I ran 42 miles in up to 84 degree heat, most of it with my Swiss friend, Christian Marti. We finished in a little over 9 hours, and saved plenty for the hills, which start tomorrow.

As it's May Day here in Europe, truck traffic was blissfully light. I really don't enjoy running as a contact sport.

We are now level with the south shore of Lake Garda, to its east. Tomorrow will be spent working our way 43 miles to the north end of the lake. We have only 3 days left in Italy, before moving on to Austria. Tomorrow's our official two week anniversary! Now I've got my "flatland" legs working again, it'll be interesting to see how they respond to hills, which they haven't seen in days.