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Friday, June 8, 2018

The Mount Everest Marathon

The Everest Marathon is known for its extremes. Extremely high, extremely technical, extremely remote and, above all, extremely, breathtakingly beautiful.

To begin, what other race on earth takes ten days to get to the starting line? From Kathmandu it’s a 30-minute flight to the beginning of the trek which commences in the Himalayan village of Lukla. Sounds wonderfully idyllic. And it is, if all goes well. But this is Nepal and the clock ticks differently here.

Our 30-minute hop of a flight was delayed due to poor weather in the mountains. Then after finally taking off six hours later, only 15 minutes into the trip we were told that the weather window had closed in Lukla and a landing there wasn't possible. We’d be turning back to Kathmandu. Once back in the capital city, we taxied around on the runway till we pulled up next to a small building and the pilots jumped out of the cockpit to use the bathroom. The 15 passengers were also let out briefly to use the facilities while the plane was refueled, oiled and prepared for a second attempt.

An overloaded sherpa (porter)
We took off again and I was a nervous wreck during the trip while watching the pilots try to navigate through the cumulous clouds (yes, it was an open cockpit and I was sitting right behind them…so close that I could have helped out with the controls had they needed a hand). After nearly 40 minutes the runway was in sight. Though this was not necessarily prana for the eyes, since the airport at Lukla is reputed as being ‘one of the most dangerous in the world’ due to its ultra short runway, which is banked on one end by a mountain ridge and on entry the field drops off 600 meters to the village below. I said a brief prayer as we skidded to a halt. The trek was about to begin.

We were limited to 15 kilograms in gear. Our trekking bags contained not only our clothes, shoes, and personal items, but also our thermal mattresses, sleeping bags and liners. Most of us had clothing ranging from shorts and tank tops to hats, gloves and thick winter jackets. We’d need everything. Protein bars were also a major contributor to the gear list for the majority of us since no one was quite sure what we’d be served to eat along the way. These trekking bags were carried by the Sherpas (porters) or by the yaks. Each Sherpa carried two trekking bags plus his own gear on his back. The baggage was tied together with rope and the load balanced by a rope and band across his forehead. They walked severely bent over, like a table, and had to constantly strain to look up and forwards to navigate the path.

So, while the Sherpas suffered for our vanity, we each burdened ourselves with only a small day-backpack containing rain gear, water, cameras and snacks.

The rhythm was two days trekking then an acclimation stop. The weather was variable: Brief periods of sun interspersed with low hanging clouds that seemed to hauntingly creep up the valley.

The temperatures dropped as we climbed. The lodges were not heated, only in the dining rooms a wood stove was lit at 5pm to warm the guests a bit for dinner before sending them off to their cold rooms for the night. The facilities were atrocious. Dirty old toilets (sometimes only squatters) shared by dozens. Running water (when available) couldn’t be trusted to brush our teeth. We received boiled water at night to fill our bottles which we’d stick into our sleeping bags for warmth and then drink the next day.

The three meals a day were dominated by carbohydrates. Pasta, rice, potatoes, French fries, toast, and oatmeal. There was also always some form of eggs for breakfast, but I abstained. There were all but no vegetables.

Several in our group were experiencing minor symptoms of high-altitude sickness including diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, headaches and sleep problems. I had none, but we were nevertheless all encouraged by the group doctor to take Diamox, a medicine used to treat altitude sickness. Those without symptoms or only minor ones would take half the recommended dose while the others took a full. I was worried that the side-effects of the drug would be worse than any mild symptoms caused by the altitude. I was wrong. There was only one side-effect of the drug and it was marvelous: tingling toes and fingertips with temperature change. So, upon gripping that hot mug of tea in the morning, I soon felt a tickling tingle build until I felt like a sorceress ready to send lightning bolts firing from my fingertips!

During our last acclimation stop in Gorakshep, we woke early on our ‘rest day’ to  start a 5am trek up Kala Pathar at an elevation of 5,545 meters to view Everest and her neighboring peaks in the early morning light.
Khumbu Glacier Ice Fall

The following day, after 10 days in the Himalayas, we trekked to Base Camp Mount Everest, one of the most inhospitable places I’ve ever encountered (and I’m not exactly a home-body). The tents were scattered randomly about on the moraine field of the Khumbu Glacier. There was barely a flat area to be found as it was riddled with ankle-twisting rocks, ice, sand, ice-melt pools and streams. The world-famous popcorn field, or ice fall, of the Khumbu Glacier was directly in front of us. On our arrival that first afternoon we saw several climbers, just black specks in the distance, making their way down the glacier, bringing with them the equipment from the upper camps and the ladders to aid climber over the crevasses, marking the end of the climbing season.

If I’d thought the toilets were bad to this point, I had no idea what bad could be. I’ll let it at that except to say that standing in shit while squatting over a bucket should perhaps be a prerequisite ability when preparing for this trip.

One pleasant surprise in BC was the appearance of vegetables! We had cauliflower and bok choy! I was so overjoyed by this turn of events that I forgot much of the carbs to gorge on the veggies! Which was a mistake, as anyone who has indulged too much on cauliflower knows, as my belly soon had more gas than a Texaco station.

That first night the temperatures dropped to nearly -15 Celcius. I had acquired an expedition-grade sleeping bag at one of the previous lodges since I realized that the one I’d brought with me, that I’d used in the desert, was not going to cut it. So I now had a merino wool sleeping bag liner inside a mid-weight sleeping bag inside an expedition-grade bag on top of a foam and a thermal air mattress on top of which I piled my jackets. And I was just barely warm.

The following night was a bit warmer, but sleep was difficult under the anticipation of the early morning race start.

The starting line atmosphere was ridiculously chaotic. My toes were frozen, but there was the promise of sun rising from behind the mountains and the weather was good. A starting line band was held between two organizers across a giant pile of rock and stones which we were all cautiously trying to stand on. An ice-melt river flowed on one side, a steep icy slope on the other. There was no visible path to follow ahead of us, but a few marker flags were seen randomly protruding from the rocks.

I tried to place myself as much towards the front as possible, of course behind the fast-footed Nepalese, but right behind them as not to get caught in a single-file slog over the first several hundred meters. Then before long we were off and it felt so good to run!

I was wondering how the altitude would affect me, but it was not as significant as I’d thought. Ascents are difficult at any altitude so I paced myself according to how I felt and my own experience.

It seemed that the field thinned out quickly and I soon got into that trance-like rhythm that long-distance runners crave.

At around kilometer 9 a Sherpa passed me going the opposite direction and he said to me “erste Frau”. Seriously. He spoke to me in German, telling me that I was the first woman. First international woman, of course. Wow. Cool.

At kilometer 17 we began the Bibre Loop, an out-and-back 6-km loop which gave us the opportunity to see where we were in the field, as well as to greet our friends. On the back side I noted that I was at least one kilometer ahead of the next international woman, buffer but not safety; we still had a long way to go.

I ran where I could, hiked where I couldn’t. At the first several check-points I drank a cup of water and bent over with my hands on my knees to try to catch my breath. But it never helped. So I never stopped anymore, except for the quick chip check.

At kilometer 35 I was surprised when another woman came up behind me, an Austrian who’d I’d met in base camp. Scheisse. Ok, I thought, well if she really covered that much ground despite me giving all I can, then she deserves to take over the lead.

That was my initial thought.

Then, I changed my mind.

Fuck that.

I wanted to win this race and I wasn’t going to give it up after 35 kilometers!

So I ran with all I had. I don’t think I was all that fast…considering the conditions, the altitude, the insane ascents, but still, regardless of not being super fast, giving all I could was good enough. And with every last amount of energy I had, I fought it to the finish and ended up there as the first international woman, behind three Nepalese super girls, and six minutes before the nearest international competitor.

Just goes to show…

Believe in yourself and sometimes miracles do happen.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mount Everest Marathon: Prep Talk

I know I haven’t written much lately…with the release of the book I have been overwhelmed with marketing tasks that are all new to me…so unfortunately the blog has been silent.

But what a way to get started up again with the Tenzing-Hillary Mount Everest Marathon!

This year will be the 16th edition of the event which takes place each year on May 29th to commemorate the first successful ascent to the summit of the highest peak on earth, which happened in 1953 and thus we’ll be running on the 65th anniversary of the great day!

I will fly from Munich over Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu on May 14th, then fly to the tiny Himalayan village of Lukla on May 16th where we begin the climb.

A brief word on Lukla. Its is frequently referred to the home of ‘the most dangerous airport in the world’. Arriving and departing aircraft must use a single STOL (short-takeoff-and-landing) runway. There is low prospect of a successful go-around on short final due to the terrain. There is high terrain immediately beyond the northern end of the runway and a steeply angled drop at the southern end of the runway into the valley below.

We’ll be a small group with a guide to lead the way and Sherpas to carry our gear, and we’ll need ten days to reach Everest Base Camp, including three days of acclimation halt along the way. We will stay in tea houses in small villages, drinking yak milk (no) and boiled water (yikes!...I am bringing a bottle filter). With extra costs for WiFi, battery charging and showers. I have high-altitude and anti-diarrheal meds, antibiotics, probiotics, and anti-bacterial gel.

Our target is South Base Camp is in Nepal (whereas North Base Camp is in Tibet) which lies at an altitude of 5,364 metres (17,598 ft) above sea level. The oxygen concentration in the air there is at about 50% of what it is as sea level, which is why the rescue helicopters are incessantly flying in to retrieve climbers afflicted with high-altitude sickness.

Once we reach base camp, we’ll sleep two nights there in tents on the glacier in temperatures hovering above and below the freezing point depending on day or night.
All that said, after the treacherous flight, the high-altitude climb and not freezing on a glacier bed, I’ll be happy once I make it safely to the starting line of the marathon.

At 7am on May 29th we’ll start an official marathon of 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles) back down the mountain. Ok, but just to make this clear. ‘Down’ the mountain is deceptive. We will constantly be alternating between climbing and descending, with a loss of 4,579 meters and a gain of 2,777 meters! So, forget about the 4,500 number just now. A technical trail marathon with a 2,777 meter climb is about as tough as it gets. I figure I’ll need about double the time that it takes me to run a flat road marathon… at least.

The best part of it all is that I will be making the trip with Beatrice! My tent-mate from the Marathon des Sables, also known from her namesake Chapter 3 in Ultramarathon Mom.
So, how does one train for such an endeavor? Well, living at just a few hundred meters above sea level doesn’t afford high-altitude training, nor do the weekends that I spend running in the Austrian Alps at 1,000-1,500 meters. High-altitude chambers and oxygen deprivation masks are pricey, so I am trusting the traditional route (and some hefty dose of prayer) and sticking with anaerobic training which, even in the flatlands, can help the body to optimize it’s oxygen consumption, so plenty of hill intervals, long intervals and tempo runs appeared on the training plan in the months approaching the race. Of course a weekly long run is always in my schedule to keep me going for hours on end.

I will try to post some photos on Instagram and Facebook when and if I get access to WiFi.
Wish me luck!


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sneak-preview: Chapter 23 of Ultramarathon Mom .............................................................................................................. Boston Marathon 2013: The Bombing

When I crossed the finish line in Boston, I was on cloud nine, but the primary emotion was that of relief because I could finally stop running. I was completely, physically empty. Like every other runner who’d just finished, I walked wearily forward and filtered into the mass of exhausted human beings as we wove our way farther up Boylston Street to be greeted and cared for by the B.A.A. volunteers. We first collected water and HeatSheet blankets. I was freezing by the time I’d gotten mine; it’s amazing how fast your body cools down. They were also handing out stickers to bind the front of the HeatSheets closed, but I didn’t have the energy or coordination to take it in my hand and stick it on, so I just stood there like a child and had one of the volunteers attach it for me. I wasn’t the only runner to do this, and a smile was all I could summon as thanks. Then we got our medals, a bottle of Gatorade, and a bag of food. The volunteers handing out these items were so friendly and were joking with us; they were clearly having a blast themselves. But several times I had to stop and bend over, holding onto my knees to rest. I knew I needed some energy in the form of food, but I was too spent to do anything more than stay in motion. The buses that held our bags full of clothing and personal items were still ahead, so I pulled my HeatSheet blanket as tight as I could around me and searched for yellow school bus #23. A few minutes later I’d found it and received my bag, then slipped behind the bus to put on some warm clothes. I peeled off my sweaty shirt and replaced it with a warm, dry, long-sleeved one, and a jacket. Another female runner who’d come back there with me saw me take off my shirt (of course I had a sports bra underneath) and said that she was too embarrassed to do that since there were so many people around. I told her it’s like giving birth…you’re so desperate you don’t give a damn how many people are in the room. She laughed and made a quick change.

From there I returned to the middle of Boylston because I needed to go back in the direction of the finish line to get to the runners’ exits. I was feeling better since I was now warm, and I was enjoying
watching the other runners, all of us sensing our mutual satisfaction and camaraderie. The atmosphere was charged with excitement, yet very controlled and peaceful. I didn’t want it to end.

And then in a moment it all suddenly changed.

There was a deafening noise. I looked up and saw a ball of white
smoke rising into the air on the right side of the road on the far
side of the finish line. Everyone around me stood still. My first
thought was that it was part of the event, a celebratory canon
shot or something. It didn’t really seem to make sense. It didn’t
fit in with the scene, in the atmosphere. I stood for a moment
to see what would happen next. But nothing did, so then all the
runners and I slowly began moving again; I was only able to take
another step or two before there was a second loud noise and
the accompanying smoke. But this time… I knew. And so did
everyone around me. The woman next to me said, “Oh, no. This
is not good.” We began to move faster in all directions. I took the
next street off of Boylston in the direction where I was supposed
to exit and meet my family. It was only a matter of a minute or
two before the sirens began; ambulances were being brought into
the area, one right after the other. There were still thousands of
runners trying to get to the exits, and the police were urging us to
the sides of the roads so that the ambulances could get through.
And they were coming at unbelievable speeds. I was trying to
push back against the crowds so as not to get hit by one of the
rescue vehicles flying through. Panic began to spread rapidly. I
was exhausted and began to get scared. Tears welled in my eyes,
and I was shaking. When I finally got to the runner’s exit, there
were men there who were telling us to get back. To go the other
way. But I knew that I was supposed to meet my aunt and father
just around the corner. I didn’t want to go the other way.
I wasn’t sure what to do, but then decided to take the risk and
moved forward, despite the warnings; I squeezed myself through
the metal barriers. When I was outside of the runner’s-only area, I
began to see spectators and families. There were parents running
down the street with small kids tucked under their arms. I felt a
brief wave of relief that my kids, for once, weren’t there. I also
noticed many people who had no idea that there was something
wrong. More than a block behind Boylston, they had probably
not seen or heard anything. When some of them looked at me and
saw the fear in my face along with the screaming ambulances,
they knew something wasn’t right. I tried to cover my face; I
didn’t want to scare anyone since I wasn’t at all sure what was
going on. Maybe (hopefully) it was nothing? But I was just so
exhausted after the race that I couldn’t help but let my emotions
out. I finally made it to the place where I’d planned to meet my
dad and aunt—under the large letter M. But they weren’t there.
Now I was really scared. What if something happened to them?
And where do I go now?

I took out my phone and tried to call my aunt Cathy, but the call
didn’t go through. I checked my messages, and she had sent me a
text, but it didn’t make any sense to me. Later that night I recalled
the text on my phone; it read: “I’m at the m sign on corner.” How
could I not have understood that? But my mind couldn’t process
anything; my cell phone felt burdensomely heavy and looked to
me like a strange device that I couldn’t even begin to understand.
Then, finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was probably
only a minute or two, I heard someone calling my name. It was
Cathy. She had briefly gone to look for me. I was so relieved. I
pretty much fell into her arms. My dad was right behind her.
I said, “We have to get out of here,” and we started walking in
the direction of Copley Plaza. Cathy practically had to carry me
the first couple of blocks; I was so completely drained. My poor
father was struggling behind us. I knew I needed to call home and
let them know I was safe. So at the next corner we stopped for a
second, and I called Frank. Thankfully the call went through, and
it was a panacea to hear his calm voice answer on the other end
of the line. I said in a panic, “I’m ok! I’m ok!” but at that point
he hadn’t heard any of the news yet, and he didn’t know what I
was talking about, but then he heard the sirens and mayhem in the
background of my call, and he knew that something was wrong.
I told him what I knew and promised I’d call him again shortly
since we had to keep moving; we just wanted to get away. Cathy’s
car was parked in the garage under the Copley Plaza Mall on
Boylston. We couldn’t get to it from Bolyston because the roads
were now closed off, so we thought maybe we could get there via
the glass overpass one block away. The ambulances were starting
to line up, and the police vehicles kept coming in, every make
of vehicle from Hummers to full-size pick-ups, suited up with
flashing lights behind the grill.

Once we finally made it into the Copley Plaza Mall, I began to
feel better. Safer. It was quiet. We found a bench, and I finally
got to sit down for the first time since finishing the race, almost
an hour earlier. But sadly there were other runners in there who
hadn’t been able to finish. The mall was on Boylston about a
quarter mile from the finish line, and some of them were stopped
right outside and went in there for safety. They didn’t have any
warm clothes, or water, or food. I gave my foil HeatSheet to a
woman in a tank top and shorts who told me she was stopped a
half mile from the finish. Others were given tablecloths from one
of the restaurants and had themselves wrapped up in those. People
were walking around with blank stares, texting their friends and
loved ones since the cell phone network had since been shut down
(apparently for fear of a triggered explosion).

We then learned that we were under lockdown. No one else
allowed in the building and no one out. We had to “ask” to go to the
bathroom. There was a bank or an electronics shop (can’t remember
which) in the mall, which was closed, but had a television that we
could see through the glass storefront with CNN reporting live
about the events in Boston. We were getting our information from
that and from our friends who were texting us about what was
going on from Internet or other news sources.

Then we got the news in a text from Frank: Two dead. Forty injured.
That was the first mention I’d heard about casualties. Oh, Lord.

My aunt Cathy looked at me seriously and said, “You know, we are
sitting here under the tallest building in Boston.” A perfect target.
“Maybe we should get out of here,” I replied. And that was
timely, too. Since, just then, after about an hour and a half of
lockdown, we were told that they were evacuating the building.
We had to leave. But where to? There were no trains or buses. We
didn’t want Lou, Cathy’s husband to come get us, because, really,
we weren’t sure how safe it was downtown. So we just headed
out and away. We kept walking and decided to try to flag down
a taxi or maybe hitch a ride. But of course, every taxi that went
by was already occupied. Plus, most of the streets where we were
had already been closed to public traffic and were cordoned off by
police with flashing lights. The undercover police cars were still
coming in at a constant rate, and this was about three hours after
the explosions. Where were they all coming from?

My poor father, at 70 years old and with weak lungs, kept having
to take short breaks. But it’s amazing what the human body can
endure under such circumstances. After walking for a while, we
came across a bench, and my father sat down. It was then that
Cathy spied a taxi at the next intersection that was empty. She
hailed him and had to do some wrangling to get him to take us
to Winchester—normally a 10-minute drive, but under those
circumstances it would be about an hour. We climbed into the
cab and breathed a sigh of relief. There were road closures and
detours, but we didn’t care; we knew it was over for us. We
listened to the radio in the taxi, and there was news of an incident
at the JFK Library in Dorchester. Another explosion? They
weren’t sure.

I then realized that the small toe on my left foot hurt, so I took off
my shoe to find a fat blood blister. Hard to believe how I did not
feel that until four hours after finishing a race. Just goes to show
how powerful the mind is.

All in all, I was one of the lucky ones that day to have come home
safe and without injury (except for a meager blood blister), and
I’m grateful that my father and aunt who were there to watch me
finish were also not hurt, though my dad had been in the vicinity
of the explosions but on the opposite side of the street just minutes
before. My heart breaks for those who were injured or killed and
for their families and loved ones. And quite naturally I carry some
guilty feelings—running is a very selfish sport, and most of those
injured were there to watch us, to cheer us on. My sympathies
are also with the B.A.A. and the volunteers who organized and
implemented such an enormous event that flowed with perfection
and was simply meant for the enjoyment of not only the runners,
but also the spectators, volunteers, and the entire city of Boston.
After seeing the quick reaction of the medical workers, hearing
about runners donating blood, and all the outpouring of support
for those injured, I know that for every ignorant, self-serving,
hate-filled human being, there are thousands upon thousands of
good, loving, helpful, and wonderful souls.
I know that I will always carry memories of that day with me—
good and bad. Although before the race I said it would be my oneand-
only Boston, I’ve since changed my mind. I know that I’ll
be back to run the Boston Marathon again, an opinion probably
shared by most of the runners on April 15, 2013.

Yes, Boston is strong.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Koordination für Anfänger :)

Vor kurzem, an einem eiskalten Wintertag Anfang Februar, ging ich mit Wolfgang Scholz in den Bergen über dem Zeller See in Österreich um eine kleine Laufrunde zu drehen. Wer ist Wolfgang Scholz überhaupt? Obwohl er in seiner Disziplin einer der besten Athleten der Welt ist, ist sein Name nicht sehr bekannt. Denn bis vor kurzem wurde sein Sport mehr in der Freizeit als im Wettkampf ausgeübt. Wolfgang ist Europameister im Nordic Walking über die 10 Kilometer Distanz und Vizeweltmeister in der Halbmarathon. Mit 44 ist er nicht unbedingt in der Altersgruppe, in der man normalerweise Weltklasse-Athleten findet, und obwohl er für seine Jahre in ausgezeichnetem Kondition ist, schreibt er seinen Erfolg der richtigen Technik und nicht der körperlichen Fitness zu.

Nein, ich fange nicht mit Nordic Walking an. Aber im vergangenen Sommer, als ich versuchte, die 85 Kilometer und 5000 Höhenmeter des Hochkönigman Endurance Trail, genau auf der anderen Seite des Tales wo ich mit Wolfgang stand, zu erobern, wurde ich mit Heldentaten von meinen Konkurrenten für das Rennen ohne Stöcke aufgenommen. Was diese anderen Läufer damals nicht wussten, war, dass es eher eine Frage der Unerfahrenheit und Naivität als der Heldentaten war, dass ich keine Stöcke mit mir hatte, und nach nur etwa 40 Kilometern wurden meine Oberschenkeln so fertig dass ich hätte alles getan, um überhaupt ein einziges Stöck zu haben, auf dem ich mich während die steilen Abfahrten lehnen könnte.

Dann wurde mir klar, dass ich, wenn ich weiterhin langdistanz Trailläufe in den Bergen machen wollte, lernen musste, Trekkingstöcke zu verwenden. Warum also dann nicht gleich beim ersten Mal richtig machen und von den Besten lernen?

Ich gebe zu, ich bin kein hochste-koordinierte Mensch. Aber da war ich also... ich rannte neben Wolfgang und versuchte mein Bestes, mich nicht über meine neuen Anhängsel zu stolpern, noch auf das Eis und Schnee zu rutschen. Und ohne auf meine Schritte oder Stöcke zu achten, begann er zu reden. Er startete mit den Grundlagen der menschlichen Kinetik in Bewegung und brachte mich dazu, mich darauf zu konzentrieren, was meine Brust, Schultern und Arme tun sollten, anstatt wie man die Stöcke kontrolliert. Schultern zurück, Brust offen, atmen. Halte die Arme nahe am Körper und übertragen Sie den Schwung des Armschwingens in die Vorwärtsbewegung der Beine.

Die Prinzipien waren sehr einfach und ich erkannte bald, dass ich so laufen sollte, ob ich Stöcke in meinen Händen hatte oder nicht. Aber ich war schnell außer Atem. Warum? Denn zusätzlich zu den Muskeln, die ich normalerweise beim Laufen verwende, konkurrierten die Waden und Oberschenkeln nun mit meinen Oberkörpermuskeln um den Sauerstoff, den sie alle benötigen, um zu funktionieren. Ich verglich es mit dem, was ich beim Schwimmen fühlte; Wenn jeder Muskel im Körper zur gleichen Zeit arbeitet, dann solltest du besser deinen Atem- und Sauerstoffverbrauch optimieren oder du hängst am Poolrand ausser Atem (mit mir).

Nach einer Zeit unterwegs, während ich seine Tipps einbaute, bewertete Wolfgang meine Technik, die "gut aussah" und er nahm dann ein Video auf, damit ich es selbst sehen konnte. Und obwohl ich gehofft hatte, mich an eine Gazelle erinnern zu können, die den Berg hinauf tänzelte, sah ich stattdessen eine Ultraläuferin mittleren Alters, die plötzlich eine sanftere, rhythmischere Bewegung in ihren Schritten zeigte als noch dreißig Minuten vorher.

* Wolfgang Scholz lebt in Regensburg, Deutschland und hielt Privat- und Gruppenunterricht in den Techniken des Nordic Walking und der allgemeinen Nutzung von Trekkingstöcken. Er kann über seine Internetseite unter https://pnwr.jimdo.com/ kontaktiert werden.

Monday, January 22, 2018

4. Asitz Skitour Race – Vertical Kurz (400 HM, 2.5 km)

Vertical Skitour Racing (Source: International Ski Mountaineering Federation)
I had a panic attack in the gondola. Just a minor one, where my heart started racing and that feeling of helplessness swept over me.

With Luca (right) and Anton Palzer (Austrian ski touring king!) 
The race started at 6 pm, after the slopes were free of the daytime skiers, the course could be marked, and the sun set behind the mountains welcoming darkness over the valley. This last point was the instigator for the panic. It was so dark in the gondola that I could barely see the faces of the people sitting just feet in front of me. The tall evergreens zipping by were a blur and the ground below was indiscernible.

What if I get lost? What if my headlamp batteries die out? What if I can’t finish the race, have to stop, and freeze to death out here because no one can find me in this blackness?!?

Crossing the Finish
Luca was with me. My daughter’s 17-year-old boyfriend. He’d also never done a ski tour race before, let alone any other kind of race. I kind of dragged him into it. The poor guy didn’t know what kind of a crazy family he was getting involved with. I could almost read his mind as we were being drawn upwards into the unknown… What am I doing here?!? I just wanted to date the pretty girl!

We exited the gondola at the middle lift station, which was also the starting point of the race. We arrived 25 minutes before the start and there was no place inside to wait, so we walked out into the cold night, looked at up the luminous mountain and the treacherous incline we were about to attempt. It was really steep. Could my skins grip that? What if it’s icy? I’ll just keep sliding back down into the starting line, crossing it in the wrong direction! And damn, it’s cold out here!

Then I spied the bathrooms and I told Luca I was going to check and see if they were heated. They were. And that’s where I remained for the next 15 minutes. Another one of the racers was in there, a 20-something-year-old woman from a nearby village who was also doing this for the first time.

Ten minutes before the start I went outside and did some jumping around and stretching to warm up, then put on my skis and headed to the inevitable.

"Finished" in every sense of the word
…3…2…1 and at the signal we were up, up and away! Almost immediately my pulse was in the red zone. Despite the insane incline, my skis held firm to the snow. Most of the skiers were quickly ahead, but I was at my limit and simply progressed as fast as I could, concentrating on keeping a smooth stroke and focusing on the path in front of me.

After the initial steep ascent, there was a section with a gradual slope but my pulse never seemed to slow down. The light from my headlamp was adequate though and mercifully supplemented by the skiers behind me. A few officials were on the course with lights to guide our path every few hundred meters, so thankfully I never felt that I could potentially get lost.

Around a curve and the lights at the finish line way up on the top of the mountain were in sight! On that flatter section I was passed by a man who’d been right behind me the whole way, but as soon as we reached another steep ascent I overtook him again and that’s how it stayed. The last ascent up to the finish was amazingly precipitous, my heart rate was at a max but there was no slowing down for fear of sliding backwards, so I just powered on with everything I had left. I heard some cheers but kept my head down, afraid to fall off balance if I turned in any direction. Then just when the burn in my quads was too much to bear, after an intensely anaerobic thirty minutes, the flash of the photographer’s camera signaled the end. But the beginning of a new addiction.

Mountain chalet with post race party

Post Race Party

Monday, November 20, 2017

Kale, quinoa & white bean soup

With the arrival of kale season it is time for a recipe with the king of the green veggies. This is currently the favorite soup of my whole family and it usually gets made a little differently each time. I have found several similar recipes on the Internet, and have taken the best ideas from them all and come up the general recipe here. You can also add whatever extra vegetables you happen to have in the fridge or substitute potatoes for the quinoa. Also, feel free to spice it up any way your taste buds desire.

Fresh kale plants in my car 
A brief nutritional note on kale... 
it has nearly 200% of our daily requirements of Vitamins A and C, it is loaded with Omega 3- and 6-fatty acids; plus, it contains major doses of Vitamin K (684%), folate, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. It puts spinach to shame!


Source: The Simple Veganista

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 large celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dried quinoa
2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes, with juices
7–8 cups vegetable broth
100 g fresh kale, loosely chopped
3 Tbls chopped fresh parsley
Salt, black, and cayenne pepper to taste

Alternatives: Add carrots or other veggies; or you can use potatoes instead of quinoa, preferably a mix of white and sweet potatoes

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat, add onion and saute for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add in garlic and celery cook another couple of minutes. Add in the quinoa, beans, tomatoes and vegetable broth, bring to a boil, cover, turn heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes. Add in kale and parsley, keep on low heat, stirring occasionally, until kale wilts.
Eat with a warm, crispy loaf of dark bread. Yummy!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


(Click here for the English version)

Das ist Leni.

Sie und ich, wir sind gute Freunde. Sie macht das absolut klar, indem sie total ausflipps wenn sie mich in meinen Laufschuhen sieht.

Leni ist eine 7-jährige weibliche Schokoladen-Labrador und wir laufen seit einigen Jahren regelmäßig zusammen. Heute haben wir Bergsprints gemacht. Bergauf sprinten, bergab joggen, wiederholen. Zuerst dachte sie, dass ich verrückt war, aber nach den ersten paar Mal hatte sie den Dreh raus. Angeregt durch das Piepsen meiner GPS-Uhr fingen wir an, stoppen, dann umdrehen. Am Ende hatte sie Spaß mit dem Spiel und wollte nicht aufhören.

Aber Leni ist nicht mein Hund. Sie gehört zu unserem Nachbarn, was für meine Familie ein unschlagbares Deal ist. Wir passen auf sie auf, wenn ihr Familie unterwegs oder in Urlaub ist; wir müssen nicht früh aufstehen, nicht im Regen oder kalt spazieren gehen; noch müssen wir sie nicht füttern oder die Tierarztrechnungen bezahlen. Und weswegen liebt sie uns nicht weniger.

Hunde sind erstaunliche Tiere und können leicht mit ein wenig Geduld und Disziplin trainiert werden. Glück für mich, Matthias, ihr "echter" Besitzer, trainierte sie, als sie ein Welpe war, um mit ihm zu laufen. Als sie also bereit war, mit mir zu beginnen, musste sie nur ein paar englische Befehle lernen: right, left und straight ahead und natürlich, wenn wir einen Hasen auf dem Felde sehen, Holy shit, Leni! Slow down or you are going to kill me!

Matthias und Leni rannten an einem Sonntagmorgen einmal allein im Wald, als Leni plötzlich den Kopf hob, schnupperte in der Luft und hob die Geschwindigkeit. Matthias hatte keine Ahnung, was los war, bis er um die nächste Kurve kam und mich ungefähr 50 Meter vor ihm sah. (Geez, ich wusste nicht, dass ich so viel stinke!)

Leider ist etwa die Hälfte der Hunde übergewichtig. Das ist natürlich nicht die Schuld des Hundes. Abhängig vom Alter, der Rasse, der Größe und der allgemeinen Gesundheit des Hundes benötigen sie unterschiedliche Mengen an Bewegung, aber nur wenige bekommen das, was sie für körperliches und geistiges Wohlergehen benötigen. Abgesehen von den kurznasigen Rassen wie Bulldog, sind diese zwei oder drei kurzen Spaziergänge pro Tag, obwohl gut gemeint, höchstwahrscheinlich weit von den 30 Minuten bis 2 Stunden pro Tag, die das Hündchen erfordert! Die Rassen der Jagd-, Arbeits- oder Hütegruppen (z. B. Labrador Retriever, Hunde, Collies und Hirten) benötigen die meiste Aktivität, einschließlich mindestens 30 Minuten strenger körperlicher Betätigung auf 1-2 Stunden täglicher Aktivität (z.B. spazieren, im Garten spielen, Ballabruf, usw.).

Also, wenn Sie einen Freund oder Nachbarn mit einem Hund haben, geh kurz vorbei vor deine nächsten Lauf und bitten Sie, den Hund mitzunehmen. Sie werden definitiv am Ende mit einem über-glücklichen Hündchen und einem neuen wahren Freund belohnt.

Ich wurde oft gefragt, ob ich mich allein im Wald sicher fühle. Normalerweise mache ich mir keine Gedanke über zufällige Ereignisse, aber mit Leni an meiner Seite fühle ich mich auf jeden Fall sicherer, weil ich weiß, dass sie mich mit ihrem Leben beschützen würde ... und wie bei jedem guten Freund, das geht in beide Richtungen.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Running Canine

Leni with my Persian cat keeping her in sight

Meet Leni. 

She and I are good friends. She makes that absolutely clear by totally flipping out upon seeing me in my running shoes.

Leni is a 7-year-old female chocolate Labrador and we’ve been running together regularly for several years. Today we did hill sprints. Sprint up, jog down, repeat. At first, she thought I was nuts, but after the first couple of times she got the hang of it. Prompted by the beeping of my GPS watch we’d start, stop and then turn around and jog downhill. By the end she was having fun with the game and didn’t want to stop.

But Leni is not my dog. She belongs to our neighbor, which is an unbeatable deal for my family. We dog-sit her when they are on outings or vacation; we don’t have to wake up early, nor go out in the rain or cold for walks; nor do we have to feed her or pay the vet bills. And she doesn’t love us any less because of that.
running with dogs, ultrarunning, ultramarathon mom, holly zimmermann, canine runners
Dogs are amazing creatures and can be trained easily with a little patience and discipline. Lucky for me, Matthias, her ‘real’ owner, trained her when she was a puppy to run with him, so once she was ready to start with me all she had to learn were a few English commands: right, left, and straight ahead and of course, upon seeing a rabbit in the field, Holy sh*t! Slow down, Leni, or you’re going to kill me!
Matthias and Leni were once running alone in the woods on a Sunday morning when Leni suddenly raised her head, sniffed the air and picked up the pace. Matthias had no idea what was going on until he came around the next bend and saw me about 50 meters ahead. (Geez, I didn’t realize I stink that much!)

running with dogs, ultrarunning, ultramarathon mom, holly zimmermann, canine runnersSadly, about half of pet dogs are overweight. This naturally is not the fault of the dog. Depending on age, breed, size and overall health of the dog they need varying amounts of exercise but few get what they actually need for both physical and mental well-being. Except for the short-nosed breeds like Bulldog, those two or three brief walks a day, though well intended, are most likely far from the 30 minutes to 2 hours per day that the pooch requires! Breeds in the hunting, working, or herding groups (e.g., Labrador retrievers, hounds, collies and shepherds) need the most activity, including at least 30 minutes of rigorous exercise on top of 1-2 hours of daily activity (i.e. walking, playing, ball retrieving, etc.). 
running with dogs, ultrarunning, ultramarathon mom, holly zimmermann, canine runners
So, f you have a friend or neighbor with a dog, stop by on the way out for your next run and ask to take it along. You will definitely be rewarded in the end with an über-happy pooch and a new true friend.

I’ve oftentimes been asked if I feel safe running alone in the woods. Normally I don’t worry about random events, but with Leni at my side, I definitely feel safer, because I know that if she had to, she would protect me with her life…and, as with any good friend, that goes both ways.

Ready Leni? Here I come!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Training Start: Season 2018

Today was the big day. The anticipation had been building for three weeks.

Ok, that’s not exactly true.

Actually, it’s not true at all.

Mmmmm....that was delicious!
Since the Landkreislauf Ultra in the middle of September I’ve taken some time off. Three weeks to be exact. And I gained 5 pounds. Of course, I didn’t lie around on the couch and each chips and chocolate (ok, I give in, I did that), but there was some mountain biking with my son, a few short jogs and one easy 5k race, but essentially I did no serious training during that time.

My coach recommended two weeks off. I extended it to three, not necessarily because my body needed the extra week, but my mind did. Towards the end of the season I had to force myself out the door to go running or biking. During my strength training sessions, I’d find myself taking short breaks to check my messages and flip through my music. My head was just not in it. This is not surprising, since, according to my coach, I’d done 632 hours of training during the previous 12 months. That’s 26 DAYS of training, nearly a month, so a cool-off period to reflect on the past year as well as look forward to the future was definitely welcome.

MTB with my son who loves taking a slo-mo

But does a break really help? Or conversely, can it do some serious damage to the fitness level that I’ve worked so hard to achieve?

Yes and no.

High volume running takes its toll on the body and there is definitely a point of diminishing returns. But even worse than a performance shortfall is the risk of pushing too hard for too long, which can inevitably lead not only to injuries but inflammation and chronic stress response as well, marking the beginning of the end for an ultrarunner.

Enjoying nature in my garden
A short post season break ranging from one to four weeks is good for the body and soul. This period should ideally consist of one week of complete rest followed by one to three weeks of ‘active’ rest, whereby easy, fun activities on a daily basis are the only calorie-burners with the aim of maintaining flexibility and mobility. The decreased intensity allows vitamins and minerals to be replenished from the gorging; your body is healing, repairing any tissue damage and rebuilding; hormone levels are allowed to find their equilibrium. The immune system also gets a chance to catch its breath, which is perfect timing with flu season right around the corner. Plus, there is the benefit of extra time to do things you never have enough time for like family, friends, work and maybe even getting a head start on the taxes or cleaning out the garage. Towards the end of the break is a good time to sit down and plan out goals for the following season, which will help to provide focus and motivation when it’s time to start up again.

But you may also feel some depression due to a lower dose of endorphins. And then there is the weight gain. Why does it go to my belly and not my breasts?!? And fitness level will decrease of course, but that is ok, because if you’ve done things right in the past, then you have built a perfect platform on which to start training for the best season yet.

And when you start to get bored, then you know it is time to get back to doing what you love.

For me, today was the big day.