Posts Tagged ‘Maas Half Marathon

16
May
13

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?

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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.

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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?

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15
May
13

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

TO BE CONTINUED…

30
Apr
13

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.

22
Apr
13

weekend whirl

 

With only 2 weeks to go before Hauling My Carcass and I attempt to cycle from the UK to Maas in Belgium to run the Maas Half Marathon, spring finally arrived in the UK bringing with it the fear that I have not prepared enough.

I have reached the “Paranoid” stage in my preparations – a stage that I am sure is very familiar to many of you: The race looms and you feel you are underprepared. But there is also the secret fear that if you train now and injure yourself, you could put the race in jeopardy. I managed to talk myself out of the paranoia by promising myself that if I ran on Saturday morning, I could spend Saturday afternoon celebrating Record Store Day by meeting up with some friends in Berwick Street and whiling away the afternoon soaking up some sunshine and buying some music. Incentives, even when they are to yourself, are a great motivator.

So, bright and early Saturday morning (and it was both bright and early), I set off for a 16.6kms run in the sunshine. I seem to have plateau’d in my running and now hit a point at about 12km where no matter how hard I push, I doggedly travel at the same pace. Frustrating. But it was still 16.6km in the bank. And it meant I could go and play in the sunshine in the afternoon…

Sunday was cycling day. I’d decided that I also needed to get some miles in on the bike and so I packed the bike up with everything that I intend to take on the trip to Belgium – firstly to make sure it all fitted and stayed put, and secondly to get used to cycling with panniers and bags loaded down with 6 days worth of stuff – clothes, washbag, tools, running gear.

It was beautiful cycling through the countryside in the early morning sun – I’d deliberately taken an undulating / hilly route to begin with and then decided just to keep cycling until I was approximately half way through my desired distance and then turn round and make up the return leg as I went along. The uphills were tough – the extra weight slowing me down and adding an odd pendulum effect to the sway of the bike when up out of the saddle. The flat and downhills were lovely with the weight working in my favour. Just shy of 60kms done and I arrived back home with a big grin on my face. I felt great.

The weekends activity took its toll that evening when, after dinner, I sat down to watch a programme on television and found myself struggling to keep my eyes open after a few minutes. But it was a satisfied sort of tiredness – the sort where you feel justified in getting a good night’s sleep because you’ve earned it.

08
Apr
13

Spring forward…

Easter: 4 days off for the ceremonial eating of chocolate. But not for me. The return of snow the previous weekend had me forlornly looking out of the window and wallowing in guilt. I had retreated into that horrible pre-race dilemma – I have a race preceded by a big cycle trip in 5 weeks time. I should be training. But if I train and it is icy, I may fall over whilst running or fall off the bike and not be able to do the very event that I am training for. Therefore I won’t train. But I  will feel guilty for not training.

So each of my Easter mornings consisted of either a run or a cycle. I alternated – run the first day, cycle the next, run the third day, cycle the fourth. By the end of the 4 days, I at least felt smug that I had done 4 consecutive days of training as I gingerly made my way up and down stairs or struggled to get up out of a chair.

And then Winter seemed to ebb away, leaving some comparatively mild days. I managed a 16km evening run after work without the use of tights, gloves and a head torch. And then Sunday morning, I actually had sunglasses and short sleeves on for the run for the first time since… probably October!

And the sun does have such a psychological effect on me. I bounded out of the house on the Sunday morning and headed off – with only a vague idea of where I wanted to run. In the end, I sought out one of my old Berlin Marathon Training Routes – running along shady bridle paths into the next town and back again clocking up 19km in the process. And it felt good.

Most of my recent runs had been the day after a long cycle ride and the difference was noticeable. My legs no longer felt heavy – I was bounding along – a spring in my step. Mentally, this is a massive reassurance for me. I had been agonising over the heavy-legged feeling for a few weeks… Maybe I was just getting old and this is how it was going to be from now on. Turns out the legs were just knackered from the previous day’s exertions.

So Sunday will see the annual running of my local 10k – The Hertford Charity Run. I love it because it is a small, local race with a friendly feel and a killer hill right at the end. Most of the route I run regularly when out training but the hill is generally avoided – except on race day when I treat (!) myself. So I shall stay away from the bike this week and hope for sun on Sunday morning so I can fully enjoy the race.

24
Mar
13

guilt

I’d been so good. Running, cycling. Slowly building up distance. Then…

I had planned a 50km cycle for Saturday and a 20km run for Sunday. Early weekend mornings recently have been taken up with this combination for the past 4 weeks. I’d worked my way up from 10k runs and no cycling to a 17k run and 40ish kilometre cycle. Then I heard that snow was forecast for this weekend.

I thought perhaps I could outwit it by waking early on Saturday morning and getting in at least one of my two sessions before the snow hit. Wrong. At 6.45am, I woke – ready, primed – to find that the snow had come down overnight. Bugger. Seems the weather doesn’t keep regular hours after all.

I did see a few hardy souls out in it over the weekend, wrapped up, grimacing their way through the snow. And I could have joined them but for 2 things. I am training for a Trans-European cycle trip and Half Marathon in 5 weeks. A tumble from the bike in the snow or a slip whilst running could easily mean that the trip would need to be cancelled – which I obviously don’t want. Secondly, to force myself out in such harsh conditions would make the training feel like a chore – I had a glimpse of this mindset whilst training for the Marathon last year. Losing the fun of getting out and running / cycling at this stage would be sad – particularly if I am to spend 5 days in the saddle followed by a Half Marathon.

So instead. I head off into the garage where the weights and bench are and go hell for leather on the free weights for an hour. Then spend the rest of the weekend tackling chores and ferrying my kids around feeling just a little guilty that I haven’t got out on the bike or for a run. And it’s this guilty feeling which I am hoping will give me additional momentum for when the snow and ice does clear and I can once again continue to prepare for what will probably be one of the most physically tough but potentially enjoyable things I have attempted.

16
Mar
13

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.

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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.




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