Posts Tagged ‘Half Marathon


maas half marathon race review

The previous day, when we’d collected our race numbers, I’d tentatively asked if there was anywhere we could store 4 bags each whilst the race was on. I explained that we had cycled to Vise and had all our bags with us. I feared the worst – I have run races in the UK with no baggage storage at all (yes, Rat Race, I am talking about you) so felt asking to stow 4 bags was pushing it. I was told it was not a problem and we could put all our luggage in the baggage room on race day.

The organisation surrounding the event was phenomenal, there were a number of races all starting at intervals – a full marathon, a kids race, a 9.1km (??? no, me neither) and the Half Marathon we were taking part in. Race HQ was easily navigated and the staff spoke English. Toilets were plentiful with little or no queuing and the whole event was expertly managed. What seemed like the whole town were out on the streets to cheer us on and at 11am we set off with a 1km lap around the town before heading off out towards and along the banks of the river Maas. Marshalling was frequent and good, support at the inhabited sections of the route was loud and positive. It drizzled a bit and there were headwinds alongside the river but this is a fabulous race. I was running in my Vibrams and even a couple of kilometres of cobbles couldn’t dampen my spirit. Water stations with drinks, slices of orange, halves of bananas and slices of cake are at 5k intervals around the route and the support for the final 2k was fabulous. Cheering spectators, a sound system, drummers, everyone there encouraging and willing you on, lifting you through the final stretch.

I wasn’t sure how I’d fare in a Half Marathon after almost 400km of cycling but I came in 2:02:20. Delighted with the time, I met up with HMC who had finished a couple of minutes earlier and headed to Race HQ. There, we were given goody bags, a race branded back pack, a long sleeve technical t-shirt, water, apples, a couple of candle holders (?!) and the usual leaflets and bumph that fills post race goody bags. Most amazingly, the organisers had laid on a free buffet for all competitors with cheese rolls, cake, fruit, water… as much as you wanted. This was a complete eye opener for me especially as the race entry was only 10 Euros. So, if a race in a medium size town in Belgium can do all this and also get all the other race facilities and organisation so right for 10 Euros, why are there far worse races here with £40+ entry fees?


And so with a successful trip and a phenomenal Half Marathon completed, all that remained was to get ourselves home. A quick scrub up, the ceremonial binning of the Vibram 5 Fingers that had seen better days, and we were loading our bags back onto the bikes for what was to be our final leg of the journey. 21km cycle into Liege, a train from Liege to Brussels, Eurostar from Brussles to St Pancras and then the final train home. I was back in time for the 10 o’ clock news.


The whole experience was great and the memories will stay with me a very long time. The Jack Wolfskin waterproof and HMC’s GPS mapping were both worth their weight in gold and made the trip far slicker and more comfortable. HMC made a great companion and his time and effort in the bulk of the organisation and booking of the trip is enormously appreciated (you can read his version of events here). Everyone who we met in Holland and Belgium were lovely and couldn’t do enough for us and the race itself was up there with the best of them.

I went with the expectation of an enjoyable trip and another Half Marathon notched up but returned with so much more. So how do we top this for next year?


maas half marathon – how we got there

This had been 2 years in the making and when it eventually happened it was well worth the wait. Tuesday and at 1pm we met at Liverpool St station. Myself, Hauling My Carcass and 2 home made single speed bikes laden 6 days worth of luggage. We got the train to Colchester and then cycled the remaining 30ish kilometres to Harwich. We arrived early, killing time in a pub near the dock, eating, drinking and catching up.

We stocked up on some bits for “breakfast” at the supermarket and then went to the Ferry terminal to wait. I was surprised by the number of other cyclists waiting to board and, although promised that we would board first, we stood in the dark and the cold and were eventually boarded last. Bikes are wheeled on board and then hung by the handlebars in purpose built racks. We found our cabin, which was decidedly plush with some bunks, an en-suite and a massive porthole looking out over the sea. This was the bit that I was least looking forward to – I get terribly seasick but I have to say the crossing was fabulous. Very smooth and quiet and if you did not look out of the porthole, you would not have known you were moving. A quick drink and then I went straight to sleep. I awoke to the tannoy informing us that we would be disembarking in one hour.

In the Hook of Holland, HMC turned on his GPS and we were off, following the route that he had diligently mapped over the preceeding months. I have to say that having the GPS made this trip very easy. So easy in fact, that after an hour in, we decided to take a detour into Rotterdam to see the suspension bridge. Both HMC and I had agreed that this wasn’t just to be a “heads down and get to our destination” trip and that we should stop where and when we pleased to take in some of the places we passed through. A second breakfast of coffee and cake in Rotterdam and we were off for what was to be probably one of the toughest parts of the journey.


The weather closed in, rain showers and wind and we soon realised that we were hungry and in the middle of Holland with nowhere to stop and eat. At this point I was thankful for the Jack Wolfskin jacket that I had brought with me – it kept out both the wet and the wind and I would continue to use it throughout the 6 days – it became my warm, dry place that I could shelter from the elements whilst still eating up the miles on the bike. A snack bar was found that sold water, Coke, rolls, chips, crisps and chocolate. We basically ordered 2 of everything from the menu and set about re-fuelling. And it was fabulous. We finished up and set off on the final leg to our first destination – a B&B nestled amongst the flat farmlands of Holland. The reception couldn’t have been warmer, the owner even taking pity on us and offering to get us a Chinese take away to save us having to cycle somewhere to eat. Despite asking for vegetarian, I seemed to get food that contained meat, albeit only a little, so HMC feasted and I had some rice and a bit of soup. The breakfast that was laid on for us the following morning more than made up for it with eggs, rolls, home-made jam, yoghurt drink and coffee.


Day 2 and we set off through the pancake flat farmland on roads and cycle paths so smooth that it felt like you could go for miles without even pedalling. I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of people out and about – we passed a few cycle races and we found out that today was a national holiday in Belgium. Highlight of the day was the stretch alongside the Albert Canal – a perfectly smooth, perfectly flat and perfectly straight cycle path alongside a large man made estuary. Whipping past tankers and enormous canal boats, and with no traffic to concentrate on, we chatted as we tore up the miles. Again, HMC had done us proud, for when we arrived at the accommodation for the night, it was a massive “loft apartment” above a tavern in the middle of a forest. We were warmly greeted by the owners and promptly offered bottles of Coke (“You guys have cycled a pretty long way, I’ll get you some Coca-Cola” is one of the nicest phrases you can here after a day of cycling in the sunshine). We had to find a shop that was open to get something for dinner (pasta, as it turned out), and then settled down with our food to watch highlights of the Giro D’Italia before getting to bed before the 3rd and final full day of cycling.


Day 3 and we wanted to get a good portion of the days distance done in the morning. Today was the first day that we really had to spend any amount of time cycling on actual roads. We also encountered our first real hills of the trip. Up until now, they had been little more than inclines. A stop for lunch after 60km meant that we had roughly 30k to complete in the afternoon. Once again, the Jack Wolfskin came into it’s own, keeping the wind off whilst sat at the side of the road in a deserted Belgian village feasting on rolls stuffed with houmous, cheese and crisps. This is not my preferred meal of choice but it contains enough carbs to keep you going all day and, after 60 kilometres in the saddle, tastes fantastic.


The last 30km were probably the hardest of the whole trip – hilly terrain and then hitting Vise in rush hour was a real culture shock. We were back on actual roads and all of a sudden dealing with traffic. Lots of traffic. The final hill to our destination (approx 1km up followed by 1km down) was a killer when laden with luggage and trying to negotiate traffic jams but we made it. We checked in and then went in search of food. Unfortunately, the nearest restaurants were back in Vise so for each evening meal, we had to tackle the 1k up / 1k down hill that sat between us and the town. Saturday was to be our rest day before the Maas Half Marathon on Sunday and was spent getting our race packs from Race HQ, a little excursion on the bikes cut short by a torrential downpour and then an afternoon of watching the Giro. Finally, a cycle into Vise with pizza for dinner because tomorrow was race day…



listing season


The final stages of preparation for The Trip are underway. In addition to last weekend’s Big Training Binge (35km bike Friday evening, 20km run Saturday morning, 50km bike Sunday morning), I have been making lists. A list of what will be needed for a 6 day trip across Holland and Belgium by train or car is very different from what we’ll need to take for a cycling trip. Less is more. Or more precisely, multi-faceted is more. So a jacket needs to be waterproof, to pack down small and be windproof enough to act as shield from the cold should it turn breezy. Wet wipes will serve all manner of purposes – cleaning hands before meals, freshening up in the absence of a shower and also cleaning grease / grime off bike components and hands should we need to attempt any running repairs. There is also lists for:

  1. Race wear – running shoes, shorts, t-shirt, pins for race number etc.

  2. Travel Documents – tickets, email confirmations of reservations at B&B’s

  3. Essentials – clothing, wash bag, first aid kits, toolkits

  4. Tech – phones, iPods, chargers

See, I am doing it again – I can’t stop myself. Often, HMC and I would be taking the same things so we have had to rationalise in what must, to an outsider, seem like some bizarre bargaining game… “OK, I’ll take the suntan cream and the Wet Wipes if you take the first aid kit and the iPod charger…”

I have tweaked and lubed the bike and am confident that I can complete the Half Marathon. The 2 unknown quantities are:

  1. What will the cumulative effect of the trip do to me and how will that effect the Half Marathon at the end of the trip?

  2. HMC and I do not have the best track record on long cycle rides. True, we have done some training rides in the past that have gone off without incident but during the 2 Dunwich Dynamo’s we have done, in the first HMC clipped the kerb in the middle of the night and suffered a pinch flat that we had to repair in the pitch black in the middle of nowhere. In the second, I took a spectacular tumble into a drainage ditch at the side of a field –damaging both our bikes and meaning we had to cobble together 1 good bike from the 2 damaged ones so that HMC could complete the route and collect the car to come and pick me up

So a pessimist might say that, given our history, we are bound to have some sort of incident on our trip. An optimist would say that even if something does happen, we have dealt with problems in the past so are well equipped to deal with any technical hitches. Time will tell. And this time next week we’ll be waiting to board the ferry to the Hook Of Holland.


jack wolfskin vapor trail xt jacket review

I’d started to fret: I needed kit for my forthcoming cycling trip across Holland & Belgium en route to the Maas Half Marathon. It all had to be functional, lightweight and easily stowed when not in use. Top of the list was a jacket – the first and last line of defence between myself and whatever the Dutch and Belgian weather could throw at me. I’d read a few reviews of different jackets and was searching for something lightweight, waterproof and windproof that packed down small enough to stuff in a rucksack pocket. The Jack Wolfskin Vapor Trail XT looked like just the ticket…

I have had the jacket for the past few weeks and had the opportunity to try it out in a number of situations. English weather being what it is, the jacket has been used in fog, drizzle, heavy rain, sleet, snow and wind. Whilst running and also on the bike it has performed admirably. The Jack Wolfskin website claims that it is waterproof, windproof and remarkably lightweight and I would agree with all 3. I am always dubious of claims that fabrics can keep rain out but breathe enough to keep you dry inside but even on a breezy 17k run where I worked up a real sweat, it kept the moisture from my skin and the wind out – avoiding that chilly, clammy feeling you get with some outer layers. The jacket is well designed with velcro closures at the cuffs and drawstrings at the waist, neck and hood ensuring that drips and draughts are kept out. On the bike, it is long enough at the back to not expose any flesh to the elements, ensuring both warmth and dignity are kept intact. If adjusted correctly, the hood fits snugly around the face and the built in peak keeps the rain from your eyes. There is one internal mesh chest pocket which doubles as a carrying bag – roll the jacket up and flip it into the pocket and then stuff it into a rucksack pocket or hang it from a belt loop. I was initially confused by the lack of additional pockets at hip level (stopping to use my phone, I was fumbling about for somewhere to put my gloves – ending up looking like someone “doing the locomotion”) but this is a small criticism of an otherwise excellent jacket. In fact it is this minimal, essential approach to the design that makes the jacket so functional and, at only 290g, lightweight.


I went for the “leaf green” which is bright enough to be easily visible without being hi-viz and has reflective detailing on chest, shoulder, cuffs etc. to add that extra bit of visibility after dark. There are other darker colours (blue and charcoal grey) that are less ostentatious for everyday wear. But for me, the jacket needs to be purely functional – it must keep me visible, dry and comfortable for 400kms of Benelux landscape and, going on the performance of the last few weeks, I am confident that Vapor Trail XT will go above and beyond the call of duty.


share and share alike

3 weeks ago, Son Number 2 – my youngest – was off school – high temperature, lethargic, gallons of snot. By the following evening, Mrs Eatingtrees, myself and Son Number 1 all had the same symptoms. Ironically, Son Number 2 seemed to be recovering. A few days later, we were all feeling better until the tail-end of my illness seemed to mutate into an ear-infection culminating in a perforated ear-drum. Brilliant!

So the last few weeks have meant that I have been moping about, weary and coughing and a little off balance and asking people to repeat themselves so that I can try and make out what they have just said through the muffled and tinnitus filled right ear. I don’t often get ill, but when I do it is always in style and I get really frustrated if I cannot recover quickly.

Yesterday morning, the sun was out and I was confident enough that I could retain my balance with one still-dodgy ear that I set off for my first run in about 4 weeks. 11km which easily felt twice that distance – legs were heavy from inactivity and lungs laboured to get rid of the last traces of whatever had been settled in them for the past couple of weeks. Once back home and showered, I felt great though. Cleansed. And alive again.

Then this morning, another crisp and bright morning, I got out of bed determined to get out on the singlespeed. Once again, partly because I now can and partly because, earlier in the week, I received my confirmation for my entry into the Maas Half Marathon complete with instructions in, helpfully, French and Dutch. It dawned on me that I will be required to run a Half Marathon and also to do it after Hauling My Carcass and I have cycled to Belgium from the UK via Holland. I absolutely cannot wait to do this although the fear of being unprepared and getting there under our own steam – only having our bikes and running gear – lends this particular race a sense of urgency. We have accomodation booked on specific nights in specific towns so there is no margin for error -we must cover the full distance each day or we have nowhere to sleep that night. It will be awesome but, right now, with little running training and less cycling under my belt, it still feels a little scarey. 37km cycled today then before many had crawled from their beds. That has eased some of the pre-trip jitters but I know that I have 11 weeks to get myself to a place where I can comfortably cycle 100km a day over multiple consecutive days.

Soundtrack to this post: Ben Harper – Steal My Kisses


i will survive

So have you missed me? It has been a while. Problem is, I was abducted by Aliens. No really. Except these aliens weren’t the vicious  HR Giger / Ridley Scott variety. No, these were nice ones that let me out for a run once a week.

So then, to paraphrase Gloria Gaynor, “Now I’m back. From outer space”

The combination of Xmas and a once a week opportunity to run has meant that the fitness that I built up whilst training for the Berlin Marathon has quickly vanished. My once a week runs were 10-12k but that was all. I did squeeze in a couple of reasonably long cycle rides between Xmas and New Year that made my legs burn and my lungs scream and, at one point at the top of a steep incline, had me almost certain that I was going to vomit.

No good at all. Particularly as the clock ticked over from 2012 to 2013, the realisation that this years challenge is in just under 5 months time.

Some of you will know that Hauling My Carcass and I have a little adventure each year in the shape of a European running race. It usually takes the form of a Half Marathon (except for 2012 when we did the Berlin Marathon). We have run in Prague, Lisbon and Den Haag. We have flown to destinations and driven to destinations. When discussing this years escapade, we wanted something a little different. So we decided to run the Maas Half Marathon near Liege in Belgium. Looks like a nice little race, smallish and flat. Then we decided that flying or driving there would be too similar to what we had done before so we decided that we will cycle there. Over 4 days. Starting with an overnight ferry from the UK to the Hook of Holland and then cycling 80-100km a day down through The Netherlands and into Belgium. We have a day off / day’s sightseeing the day before the race and then we get up, cycle to the race, run the race, cycle to the Eurostar terminal in Liege and get the train home. All things being equal, we should be back home in the UK about 12 hours after the start of the race. So 400 odd kilometres, culminating in a 21km run and then a train home from Europe. And you wonder why people worry when HMC and I are left to our own devices for a while.

Preparations are well under way, B&B’s are being booked and routes planned. I have begun buying bits and pieces that I will need for the trip starting with a pannier rack from Amazon – a bargain but supplied with the crappiest alloy nuts and bolts you ever did see. The the alloy had the consistency of dried chewing gum and the bolts rounded off the second a spanner got near them.

A quick trip to the LBS was in order to see if he could sell me some bolts. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any he could sell me as he refused to let me pay for them. Instead he patiently went through his collection of stainless steel nuts and bolts and supplied me with enough to fix my bike rack – for free. He then gave me a discount on some other bits I was buying. Brilliant customer service and I shall definitely go back there for any other bits and pieces I’ll need for my trip.

16kms run in the cold today and I didn’t feel too bad.

So just need to get up to running 21.1kms.

At a reasonable speed.

After cycling 400kms over the preceeding days.

Suddenly 5 months doesn’t sound like very long at all.


not training

Nope. Not me… No siree. I am still somewhat in denial about The Berlin Marathon and being a paid up and accepted competitor and all that… I know I have a place but it seems like a very long way off and I haven’t really admitted to myself that in 6 months time I now plan to do something that I never intended to attempt and run 26.2 miles.

However, there has been a little nagging internal voice that had piped up around the time I finished the Marlow Duathlon a couple of weeks back. “You always run the same route.” it whined, “Always 10-11k. I bet you can’t even run any further you’ve run it so often” it sneered. That coupled with myself and Hauling My Carcass discussing Marathon training plans had given me a bit of a kick up the behind but I definitely wasn’t “training” yet… just attempting a few “longer runs”.

So last Sunday, with the sun shining, I set off on a “longer run” which felt surprisingly good. 18.5kms in a big arcing loop taking in some horrible hills and leaving me weary for the rest of the day. Then, a day working from home mid-week afforded me the opportunity to get out for a lunchtime 10k on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year so far. It was horrible as I had taken nothing to drink and by about the 5k mark, I felt like my mouth had dried up and my throat was lined solely with dust and pollen.

The weather forecast for this Sunday said that it would be sunny but only 11 degrees… perfect for another long run. But this time, I was not going to be caught out and took with me a bottle of Lucozade Sport. When I set off, I wondered if my optimistic choice of t-shirt and shorts was perhaps a little, erm, sparse for 11 degrees but I soon warmed up, the feeling in my freezing cold hands returned and I hunkered down and enjoyed the relaxed pace of the run. I sort of fancied about 20k, but as I neared 18km, I still felt relatively fresh and thought that it would be a shame to miss out on running a half marathon distance so amended my mental route map to incorporate a couple of loops and turns to bring the final distance to exactly 21.1kms. At 2 hours and 5 minutes, it was never going to set the world alight but has given me a little confidence boost as it proved that 1) I can still run a half marathon on no real training, 2) taking something to drink is probably a good idea on long and/or hot runs and 3) I didn’t feel wretched at the end of it so I may have a little more to give beyond the 13 mile mark. Admittedly, at the end of my run, I didn’t feel like doing another 13 mile lap but that’s what the training is for. And I haven’t started that yet.

Soundtrack to this post: Aswad – Dub Fire

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