Category Archives: running

Kung Fu Panda LARPing*?

* LARP: “Live-action role play”


Just killed a 7M run-walk-run, the first in the new training plan towards a half-marathon. Adjust your training to what works ‚Äď I have zero interest in exercise-induced migraines or over-use injuries, but Jeff Galloway’s training regime works for me for summer time heat. It wasn’t fast, but that’s ok. I feel great ūüėÄ

Still a lot of work to get to full Kung Fu Panda, though. My kungfu kicks need some extra attention because it’s been a while, and I’ll have to work on this cool move on one side only rather than alternating between both arms as Panda and Shifu do here.

Shifu and Kung Fu Panda face each other and do alternating single-hand push ups, supported by only one finger.
Clearly neither of these two is recovering from shoulder surgery

No regular planks or push-ups for a good while I reckon, as part of post-shoulder-surgery recovery. Those makes me reach for the nearest jar of Aleve within three hours, and for the next three days. But hey, my single-right-handed plank/push-up should be awesome if I really dedicate myself to this! I also have a long-standing relationship with stairs as a form of exercise. Not quite my enemy though.

Kung Fu Panda out of breath at the top of the stairs - text says "Ugh, stairs"
How to spot the difference between me and Kung Fu Panda: our attitude towards stairs (even if we look exactly the same at the top)

The secret ingredient

I finally got round to making for the very first time a family classic and family favourite: Aalsterse vlaaien (no links in English to be found, that’s how local it is!). It has been so long since I last ate it, I didn’t even remember what it was supposed to taste like! When I tested the spice mix in the batter before it went in the oven it took a few seconds ūüėĪ before it clicked but phew I remembered.

I was very worried about getting it just right, because I wanted to share it with one of our freshly graduated Mules, who had seen this in Belgium but couldn’t fit a taste of it in her brief visit. And… I did not have the secret ingredient, mastellen.

Mr Ping, the Duck and father of Kung Fu Panda is about to reveal the secret ingredient in his famous noodle soup broth.
Feeling there is some truth to Mr Ping’s statement here…

These are bone-hard, dried little breads seasoned with spices. They’re specific for making vlaaien and even locally in and around Aalst increasingly hard to find, and bakers seem to be sworn to secrecy because we cannot find a recipe anywhere. (The ones we have found online are a different kind, not suitable for our purposes.) Mum suggested rusks, or ships biscuits might do the trick, but I couldn’t find those either, so I replaced all of that with… white bread, dried in the oven.

It worked beautifully. Fresh jars of Mace, and Organic Vietnamese Cinnamon probably helped, as well as the original brown sugar and sugar syrup imported from Belgium. A taste of home, recreated here on the other side of the Pond.

And now I know the secret ingredient (à la Mr. Ping), I also know I have ingredients for 3 more pans of this deliciousness. Perfect:

Kung Fu Panda stuffing his face with baozi


Back off the sofa, and onto the road (into the back of the pack), that is.

Surgery on 19 Jan. –> Cleared to try out if you can run 3 months later, on 19 April. I did a 5 min test jog on 18 April, and since my arm didn’t fall off, I decided to pick a “couch to 5K” training plan to sync with my Garmin 245 watch. (It’s pretty phenomenal what the watch will do, short of making coffee and porridge in the morning to get you fuelled up for your runs).

Screenshot with a coloured line indicating speed, running along a river. The map also shows features such as a railway line and nearly roads.
Today’s time trial – map is a screenshot from my running log on Fetcheveryone

During that test jog and the first “run-walk-run” my shoulder did feel a bit stiff, but nothing to worry about: it was just increasing my range of motion, but not asking it to do anything it couldn’t handle. Both PT and assistant were very excited about me taking it very steady with this approach: there was a benchmark run (“run as fast as you can for 5 mins.”), and then a lot of “walk-run” repeats, with equal amounts of walking and running.

The plan adjusts its length and workouts based on how well you’re doing, but I have to admit that by the end of May I was getting a bit bored with the regular fare and I felt good and the plan too easy. I have quite a few years of running in my bones, and worry less about overdoing it for my joints compared to somebody fresh off the sofa for the first time. I’m very good at spotting niggles before they become injuries, and have no shame in dropping back if I need to. In fact, I suspect I err on the side of caution more than necessary, but let’s talk again about this when I’m still running well into my seventies and many others are sidelined, shall we?

I switched out the plan for a time-oriented goal: a 35 min 5K. I mean… should be possible, right? My best 5K is 30’32” from many, many years ago, a more recent one 33’05” (another post-shoulder-injury return time trial) and someday I hope to get under 30′. I definitely had more fun with the tempo runs, intervals, and even hill repeats in the early morning heat (reducing the number because I’m not looking for trouble) in this plan, and I was getting better at sticking to the requested paces.

So eleven weeks after I was cleared for running, I went to the D&L trail near Laurys station, where the path is nice for running, well drained, there is plenty of shade, and I should be able to keep an even and steady pace. Even the weather cooperated! After a horribly oppressive hot start to the week, the rains had come and it was a most pleasant 17C/62-63F. A half-mile walk/run warm up, and off I went.

I immediately could tell that today was not the day for heroics; and it would be hard to hit the 11’16″pace required to get to my target 35′. Oh well, I’d just set off reasonably fast with a 4 (paces) out-2 (paces) in breathing pattern, with a Podrunner mix at 171BPM. The common race strategy for a 5K is: “start fast and hold on for dear life”, after all. First mile: 12’23”, not too bad, but I need to be faster. Haha, doesn’t feel like that’s in the legs! And indeed, mile 2 clocked in at 12’39, despite upping the breathing pattern to 3out-2in. At the start of mile 3, I turned around (I had to get back to the car after all!) and took a breather walk to get my heart rate down a bit, and I took another walk break about half a mile later, so mile 3 came in at 13’18 (breathing pattern in “hard work modus”: 2in-2out). But there is always something left in the tank, the final 0.11 I squeezed out the equivalent speed of a 10’48″mile but ooooh boy I was glad when my watch beeped to signal the end! 39’29”

Graph with X axis showing distance, Y axis showing speed, and the line in colours indicating speed as well.
Pace graph of my time trial, screenshot from Fetcheveryone training log


  1. The race predictors on my Garmin watch are big liars for me: my watch claims there is a 30’xx” 5K in me. Erm yeah… Though I think the Fetcheveryone predictions are more accurate. (see pic below)
  2. The slightest hint of an uphill and I notice and I will need to work on that to even out things (viz. mile 3. Imperceptible to most, but I notice…)
  3. Not a terrible time, but definitely four and a half minutes slower than I wanted.
table with predictions for 1M, 5K, 5M, 10K, 1M, half marathon, 20M and marathon in total time and average mile
Fetcheveryone predictions for common distances, based on today’s personal time trial

Where next?

On to the next training plan: I’d like to get back to the point where a 10 mile run every week is nothing special, or I can do two 10Ks in a weekend (not racing, just getting round). That is a few years and a few pounds/kilos ago but there is no reason I can’t get back there if I focus.

Why “doubles”? Because the real thing that itches, the ultimate goal is to get into shape to take part, somehow, in another SLMM or other Mountain Marathon in the UK. I just bought the lightweight tent and camping stove we’d need. ūüė¨ Anybody interested to be the other half of a team? Drop me a note, we’ll talk!

P.S. If you like the stats and maps you see here, check out Free and fair site for all your training needs with awesome analytics, run by one man. Imports data from Garmin (and other places) automatically and then makes the most amazing graphs and useful analyses, without you having to lift a finger. I love it so much I pay a small contribution to keep it going (so it’s ad-free for me ūüėÄ ) Thanks for all the work you put into the site, Ian!

Scenes from SLMM 2014

The Saunders Lakeland Marathon 2014 took place in Deepdale (near Patterdale) in the Lake District, on 12-13 July. Team Kingfisher (=Marj and I) was¬†there, and I wrote up these short scenes to give you some idea of what happened and what goes through my mind while we’re out there. For the basics of Mountain Marathoning UK style, please look here. Click on the pictures for a bigger view,¬†in¬†my Flickr account (doesn’t work for the bits of map).

Getting there

I’m running, with a big backpack. I’m not yet even anywhere near the Lake District where the race will take place. I am running through Brussels, on my way to the railway station to catch the Eurostar. The best laid plans of mice and men… I checked carefully which¬†tram would get me there on time, but unfortunately two trams did not show up at all. Traffic congestion further up the line, I hear¬†later. I see multiple trams going the other way, and I¬†wonder if¬†all these trams ride down some dark hole, never to be seen again… That might explain why none of them ever come back up the line again.

I am running with quite a bit of additional weight, this is everything I need for four days away and not my light race pack with minimal kit.¬†The breathing is fine, it’s comforting to know the training pays off. The knee, however, isn’t fine after about 10 minutes of this unexpected extra training. I slow down to a walk, and curse the Brussels public transport authority under my breath. If this race turns into a DNS (did not start), because I bugger up my knee, they’ll hear about it.

I make it into the Eurostar terminal, and just as I am looking around to find a place to sit down and have a breather, boarding begins. I am glowing profusely (horses sweat, men perspire, ladies glow, apparently) but I caught the train. On the train from London to Cambridge I text my teammate Marj with a request for a bag of frozen peas to ice my knee, just to be on the safe side. I also get a tweet from Brussels transport¬†with an apology for the delay, after I called them out on Twitter. Kind, but as useful as a chocolate ashtray on the back of a motorbike… Team Kingfisher is reunited at basecamp Cambridge before driving out to the Lake District. We’re a bit apprehensive, but excited none the less, when¬†the “lumpy bits” come into view.


Base camp at Deepdale, the evening before the race.

Victory no. 1: the start line

If you’re training for a long¬†race, like a marathon or a multiple day event, getting fit to the starting line¬†is a victory in itself. The year has been hard for both of us. Training this winter for me felt more like I was preparing for the winter Olympics, with all the snow and temperatures that made my freezer seem comfy warm, but things improved when spring finally came. Marj had more serious¬†setbacks, which left us hesitating to sign up for the race until March. But now we are at the start line, and we are over the moon. We’re feeling ready, my knee is fine. We know it won’t be easy¬†(though we don’t know yet how bad it might¬†be), but as we line up for our start, we lift our eyes unto the hills and feel the thrill of the race. Bring it on!


Ups and downs


wall of stone-map view

We’re¬†sliding down a hill side, and dropping height quickly. This is good, because I managed to waste time and energy by going past¬†the 1st¬†control, and we had to turn back. In my defence, it was located east of the boulder, and not west as indicated on the directions. We saw many other teams struggling to find the darn thing but I should do better as chief navigator¬†and keep my eyes peeled. The 2nd¬†control took us up a steep hillside, but was easy enough to find.¬†But it¬†came¬†with the realisation that we have to get over this sheer wall of stone in front of us, and then immediately back down again to number 3, and there is no path down… Fortunately, there is soft grass, and so we just slide down and lose about 250 meters in no time.

IMG_0032Google Earth view of the wall of stone, we have to get to the other side…

IMG_0034Google Earth view of the descent from the top of the wall of stone to control 3. This looks more reasonable than in real life…

We then have a long way to go to control 4 (Look! Picture!), but there is a path and the views are rewarding: Ullswater in the distance, as we are going around¬†Grisedale Brow. I can’t quite see the way to control 5 yet, but the contour lines on the map are ominously close together. There is a path, but with many switchbacks (i.e. zigzags), which suggests the same: it’s going to be seriously uphill, baby.

switchback and ski tow-map view

The list of should-haves

With every race, there is a list of should-haves. A sample of my past races: I should have trained harder/differently; I should have put on different socks; I should not have had that fish and chips yesterday for dinner. Today’s should-haves include: I should have checked the map and seen that we need to take on water at Mires Beck, where everybody else was doing this. As it is, we’re working our way up the steep path to control 5, and there is no good source of water until we’re heading¬†off¬†the mountain towards¬†the end of the day. I am fine, but Marj is starting to have trouble as we make our way to the top of the ski-tow where control 6 awaits us. The climb is a good 225m higher up from control 5, although not vertical, but the long day is getting to her. There’s another one: I should have made sure my teammate is “grazing” on snacks throughout the day, like me, but it’s hard to force food into somebody who claims not to be hungry.¬†But hauling yourself and a pack up the hills consumes a crazy amount of calories and they need to be replenished, even if your health situation means appetite is suppressed when you’re nearing exhaustion. We have a brief rest, ration the water, and prepare for the big one: the top of Helvellyn, the third highest peak in England at 950m. We will just follow the path south to Whiteside (868m), then onto Helvellyn Lower Man (925) and Helvellyn itself a bit further with control 7. We have to go this way to get off the hills anyway,¬†to¬†the midway camp, and¬†we’re not giving up. Not yet.

Stairway to Heaven

I am walking on the saddle between White Side and Lower Man. To my left in the distance the blue Ullswater. On my right I see Thirlmere, another lake. I have done this route on Google Maps as part of my orientation preparation, but that pales in comparison with the real thing. At the far end, where the path climbs to Lower Man, the sheer cliff face from Swirral Edge bumps into the top of Browncove Crag. I am walking on the spine of the world, and I am suddenly overcome by intense emotion: utter bliss, feeling part of the universe, and a deep sense of gratitude that I am allowed to be here. I am exhausted, thirsty, hungry and could lie down for a nap here and now, yet I feel more alive, in every cell of my body, than ever before. This moment of pure joy is worth every step of the long and hard way we took to get here. I am on the stairway to Heaven.

Google Earth view of my stairway to Heaven. It doesn’t do it justice at all. Go up there and experience it for yourself. Worth every step of the way. Go on. You know you want to.

Who moved my sheepfold?

I am walking back up the hillside in search of a blimmin’ sheepfold that contains control 8. I saw it as we were walking down from Helvellyn and started our descent on the path to the north of Birk Side. It’s freaking big, you can’t just tuck it away. Yet that is exactly what happened, because as we were going down the path it did not just pop up on our left side as it should have.

Now we have come down too far. Marj is completely exhausted, but we found water. While we wait for the purification tablet to work its wonders, I decide to trot back up and find the control. I look back regularly to make sure I know where to find her again. You’re not supposed to leave your teammate, but asking her to go back up there is just mean at this point. There is no danger of hill fog, so we should be fine. I am annoyed with myself for missing a second control in one day. Chief-navigator and Master of the Map, my a***. The sheepfold is¬†as big as a house, literally- how can you miss it? Some kind competitors confirm my suspicion that it is just a bit further to the north, and my determination (stubornness?) pays off. I stick the dibber into the control and I have rarely been¬†this relieved to hear the *beep beep* as it radioes our time to race HQ.

I go back down to pick up Marj, who’s significantly more chipper now we have water, a rest, and some food. We study the map, and head out in search of control 9, which is all the way at the bottom of the hill, some 350m lower.

sheepfold to finish-map view

Lessons learned from last year

I don’t like the look of those contour lines. One of the should-haves from last year pops into my head, and I remind Marj of the longest twenty minutes of our lives. I can’t quite see how we- completely at the end of our reserves by now- will make it safely down between the cordonned-off area and the stream, on a hillside at a 45¬ļ angle or worse. We’re not even worrying anymore about being done before the cut-off time, that is pie in the sky by now.

“You see those runners there? That’s where I’d like to be.” I say to Marj. She’s good at finding paths and making tracks, and is usually out in¬†front doing exactly that. Much to my relief, she complies with my request, even if it means going back up 100m or more, so we can safely cross the stream. I see my old friend the sheepfold again, from a distance. It feels like we’re going round in circles this last hour, but at last we get on the other side of the stream, and onto the grassy hillside. This one is also at a silly steep angle, but there is space. And we can slide down, because there is simply no point in standing up. As soon as we take two steps, we’re back on our bum, so we lose¬†a good 300m height¬†in very good time. We are both very happy with the decision to take this route, even if it looked like a detour. No gorse or bracken to pick out of our underwear (and worse places) for the next three days, like last year.

To the finish, and victory again!

We get to control 9, and our quick descent means we do actually stand a chance of making it to the final control on time. It is just a few hundred meters along an easy, even path. We clock off with ten minutes or so to spare.¬†The course was much¬†harder than last year- with 18km and 1310m of height in the ideal case, and my navigation mistakes added probably another 2-3km and maybe 150m.¬†We’ll worry about tomorrow after we have had some food and a rest. Today is a major victory, and we’ll cherish it.

They’re at it. Again | Daar zijn ze weer…

On the right side list of widgets of the blog you’ll notice a countdown timer has appeared. Four months from now, my friend Stickless and I will be running the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon again! We did it last year and we’re crazy enough to do it again this year. Crazy, not stupid, so we’re in training.

Road running is quite a different game, but it does not hurt to build up endurance and some speed or strength that way. My plan this time round is to focus more on the “double long” sessions: two days back to back of longer runs, building up during the training block. That means this week 7 miles on Saturday, and 6 on Sunday.

There will of course be the required “running with pack, full weight”, “stairs” or if I can get to them “hills”. Cross training, in particular swimming and some strength training for upper and lower body will help to keep me injury free, so that may be a smarter move than cramming more miles into my weekly schedule. I’m ready!

Aan de rechterkant van mijn blog vind je nu een datum, en een tellertje (een “afteller” is geen woord, maar kom). Over vier maanden zijn Stickless en ik weer op pad in de Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon! We haalden de eindstreep vorig jaar, en we zijn gek genoeg om het dit jaar opnieuw te proberen. Gek, maar niet dom, dus zijn we aan het trainen.

Hardlopen op de weg is een heel ander beestje dan dit soort wedstrijden, maar wel nuttig om uithoudingsvermogen, snelheid en kracht op te bouwen. De focus van mijn trainingsplan heb ik dit keer meer gelegd op de “dubbele lange” loop: twee dagen na elkaar met langere afstanden, die geleidelijk aan opbouwen. Dit weekend betekent dat 7 mijl (11km) op zaterdag en 6 mijl (net geen 10km) op zondag.

En dan moet je in het schema ook nog de vereiste “loop met rugzak, vol gewicht”, “trappen” of beter nog “heuvels” bijvoegen. Zwemmen en krachttraining voor de armpjes en beentjes zullen me hopelijk blessure-vrij houden, en dat is dan misschien een betere tijdsbesteding dan zoeken naar tijd om meer kilometers in mijn schema te wringen. Ik heb er zin in!