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Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Dubai Marathon

The Dubai Marathon is known for its extremes: the extreme heat, the world-class elites, the exorbitant prize money, and now in 2023 there is one more superlative to add … a painfully boring race course.

dubai marathon ultramarathon holly zimmermann asics wrightsock bodyglide

The Dubai Marathon has been held since 1998 and has been known for its elite field, fast times and some of the greatest cash prizes in long-distance running history. In 2008, one million dollars were offered for a world record and a quarter million to both the men’s and women’s winners. Haile Gebrselassie took the win in that race with an impressive time of 2:04:53, though not fast enough for a world record and a clean million.

Now that my daughter is living in Dubai (hopefully not permanently), I figured it would be fun to visit her and combine the trip with the marathon, even though the course had the reputation of being relative monotonous with three city loops. But I was excited to run under the skyscrapers, including the iconic Burj Al Arab and the magical Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Plus, running a loop course gave me a chance to check out the elites several times as they fly by in the opposite direction.

But not to worry about three ‘boring city loops’ because just a few days before the marathon was to take place, there was a sudden change in venue. Instead of downtown it was set to be run out by Expo City. Wow! A new course, this must be exciting, I thought (prematurely and incorrectly).

dubai marathon ultramarathon holly zimmermann running speaker
Pre-race runner's area before dawn

The start was at 6am when the weather was still a bit cool and the sun hadn’t risen yet. It already started off strangely as there was no music at the start, no countdown and I didn’t hear a gun or any other signal that the race began. We just all unceremoniously began moving towards the start arch and the only sound to be heard were the shouts from the spectators who were limited to the runner’s friends and family since we were far removed from any residential area. The first 11 kilometers were comprised of two laps around the expo park (with no spectators, although the race volunteers were really cheery) before heading out onto a 7-lane highway into nothingness. At first I thought it could not be true, that there must be something coming up that would be worth seeing. After all, this was a major international marathon. But as the sun came up and tried futilely to filter its way through the sand and dust-filled air, the only thing that really became clear was that we were on a road to nowhere. Up and down highway bridges, past desolate industrial buildings and the beginnings of construction of hollow residential complexes. It was shocking really. There were speed limit signs with the number 100 in a red circle. Only 100 km/hr on this monstrosity of a highway seemed ridiculously slow compared to the no-speed-limit 2-lane autobahns in Germany. Kilometer 25 marked the turning point and I got to see it all again. People were running like zombies. There was nothing to see and the only motivation were the aid stations every 2.5 kilometers where the volunteers were really friendly and full of energy, so that was all I had to keep me going other than the mantras running through my head. Most aid stations provided only water. Two or three also had isotonic drink, but I found this too little considering we were running through the desert for hours, we needed mineral replenishment. There were only two aid stations that had small amounts of ‘food’: gummy bears, bananas, oranges and chocolate. Thank goodness I brought 6 gels tucked into my waist belt. It was clear the runners were frustrated. One man said told me he was going to ask for his money back. $150 for this?

And as if it couldn’t get much worse, it did. Thinking that the finish would be a highlight under the Al Wasl Dome at the Expo Center, I was shocked to find that spectators were on the last several hundred meters of the course including the chute into the finish. I was exhausted after having just run 42 kilometers and now I was dodging baby strollers just to get it over with. And if that wasn’t enough, once past the finish I was expecting to have a well-earned medal placed over my head, but there was no one there to greet us. We were cajoled to keep moving. I asked a helper where the medals were and I was told to follow the runners. We just kept going, mixed with non-runners, and I saw no end in sight. There were bathroom facilities off to the right so I ducked in to use them and wash up. Then I continued with the flocks of runners moving slowly around the expo walkway. It must have been at least 600 meters till there was a little stand with a sign that said ‘42.2 km marathon medals’ where we were given large plastic bags filled with a bottle of water, a protein bar and a marathon medal wrapped up in a little plastic bag. Another shock moment but at that point I just wanted to get out of there and off my feet, but first I needed to collect my drop bag. After aimlessly looking in the area I asked a helper who told me where to go… another 500 meters. Once collected I needed to figure out how to get to the Metro station to get ‘home’. A conveniently placed information map showed that I had to go the entire distance back to the finish line! I wanted to cry. I couldn’t make it in one shot and had to take a break on a bench and hydrate and eat the protein bar to give me some energy to get myself home.

Why the last-minute course change? I have no idea and couldn’t find anything on the Internet. I suspect licensing? Or maybe to allow all runners to finish without imposing a time restriction as was necessary when closing the main thoroughfares downtown? But hopefully by next year there will be time to rethink it and find a course that accommodates both the city and the runners.

Was it worth it? Hell yeah! I love running. I love the feeling, not only during the race, but especially afterwards when my entire body is expunged from the chaos, stress, little things that don’t really matter and gets me down to the basics of how good my body feels when having been able to prove to me the amazing feats of what it is capable of accomplishing when having the opportunity to be used to its potential.

Plus, I got the quali for Comrades. 

holly zimmermann ultramarathon marathon dubai burj khalifa
Well-earned medal at the Burj Khalifa

Attire all in ASICS (of course): Gel-Nimbus 25 super-comfy running shoes in Papaya, Road 3.5-in Short in Black, Ventilate 2.0 Tank in Sage; plus lots of BodyGlide and double-layer Wrightsock with the luck of the Irish

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Kürbis, Grünkohl und Feta-Quiche in hausgemachte Kruste

holly zimmermann running everest ultramarathon mom

Vegetarisch, aber nicht vegan. Genug für vier. Kid friendly ;)


         1/2 Hokkaido-Kürbis in dünne Halbmonde geschnitten

         1 kleine rote Zwiebel dünn in Ringe geschnitten

         1 Knoblauchzehe in dünne Scheiben geschnitten

         2 TL Olivenöl

         Salz und Pfeffer

         5 Blätter Grünkohl getrimmt

         7 Eier

         60 g Fetta zerbröckelt

         100 g geriebene Käse (Käsesorte nach Geschmack oder was im Kühlschrank liegt)

         Quiche-Kruste (siehe separates Rezept unten)

Ofen auf 220˚C Ober- oder Unterhitze 200˚C vorheizen. Kürbis, Zwiebeln und Knoblauch auf ein Backblech legen. Mit Öl beträufeln und mit Salz und Pfeffer würzen. 20 Minuten braten oder bis sie goldbraun sind.

Der Grünkohl in eine hitzebeständige Schüssel geben und mit kochendem Wasser übergießen, bis er bedeckt ist. Eine Minute stehen lassen dann abgießen, abtropfen lassen, und nach einigen Minuten, wenn es abgekühlt ist, mit den Händen überschüssige Feuchtigkeit ausdrücken. Fein zerkleinern. Eier in einer großen Schüssel verquirlen, mit Salz und Pfeffer würzen, und mit dem geriebenen Käse vermischen. Kürbis, Zwiebeln und Knoblauch in die gebackene Kruste geben. Den Feta darüber streuen, dann die Grünkohlblätter gleichmäßig darauf legen. Die Ei-Käse-Mischung darüber gießen. Backofen auf 180˚C konventionell. Backen Sie bei 180˚C konventionell für 45 Minuten oder bis es oben leicht goldbraun ist und die Mitte bei leichtem Druck zurückspringt.

Hausgemachte Quiche-Kruste


1 1/4 Tassen (185 g / 5,6 oz) einfaches weißes Mehl (Allzweckmehl)

1/2 TL Salz

100 g / 7 EL ungesalzene Butter, kalt, in 1 cm große Würfel geschnitten

3 EL eiskaltes Wasser (+ nach Bedarf mehr)


Mehl, Salz und Butter in eine Küchenmaschine geben. 10 Mal pulsieren oder bis es wie Semmelbrösel aussieht. Gießen Sie bei niedrig laufendem Motor 2,5 EL Wasser in die Sondenzufuhr.

Auf höchste Stufe stellen und 30 Sekunden lang blitzen oder bis sich eine Teigkugel bildet. Anfangs sieht es aus wie Semmelbrösel, dann verwandelt es sich in eine Kugel aus weichem Teig - einige zufällig entkommene Stücke sind in Ordnung. Wenn es nach 20 Sekunden nicht so aussieht, als würde es zusammenkommen, fügen Sie einen weiteren 1/2 Esslöffel Wasser hinzu. Blitze nicht länger als höchstens 30 Sekunden.

Eine Scheibe formen, in Frischhaltefolie wickeln. Wenn Streuselstücke ausgetreten sind, ist das in Ordnung - einfach hineindrücken. 1 - 3 Stunden kühl stellen.

Backofen auf 200 °C (Standard) oder 180 °C (Umluft) vorheizen

Arbeitsfläche mit Mehl bestreuen, Teig ausrollen und auf das Mehl legen. Die Oberseite mit Mehl bestäuben und dann zu einem 27 cm/11"-Rund ausrollen.

Rollen Sie den Teig vorsichtig, sodass er sich um das Nudelholz wickelt.

Rollen Sie es über der Quichepfanne oder Kuchenform aus – 23 cm / 9 Zoll.

Drücken Sie den Teig in die Ränder der Quiche-Pfanne und flicken Sie die Ränder bei Bedarf zusammen (wenn der Teig nicht ganz bis zum oberen Rand reicht).

Rollen Sie das Nudelholz über die Oberseite, um den überschüssigen Teig abzuschneiden.

Legen Sie ein großes Stück Pergamentpapier über den Teig und füllen Sie ihn dann mit Backperlen oder viel Reis oder getrockneten Bohnen, um ihn zu beschweren.

20 Minuten backen, dann aus dem Ofen nehmen.

Drehen Sie den Ofen auf 180 ° C (oder 160 ° C / 320 F Lüfter).

Verwenden Sie überschüssiges Papier, um heiße Perlen VORSICHTIG zu entfernen, und kehren Sie dann für 10 Minuten in den Ofen zurück oder bis der Boden hellgolden ist.

Aus dem Ofen nehmen und mit der ausgewählten Quiche-Füllung füllen.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Snowman Race

The opening sentence of the email read, “It is official, you are invited to run the 2022 Snowman Race Bhutan.”

zimmermann tigers nest bhutan running holly
The Tiger's Nest

The Snowman Race was conceived to be the toughest footrace in the world, covering over 200 kilometers in the Himalayan mountains, traversing passes of over 5400 meters (17,000 feet) above sea level, and nightly temperatures well below freezing. It was initiated by His Majesty the King of Bhutan to raise worldwide awareness to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, including climate change impacts, particularly on the inhabitants in fragile mountain ecosystems. What many people may not know is that Bhutan is only one of three nations world-wide that is carbon negative. This means that they absorb more carbon dioxide than they emit. Even so, the glaciers that feed its rivers, irrigate agricultural lands, and power its hydropower plants, are melting rapidly. Landslides and flash floods are no longer uncommon, leaving the Bhutanese highlanders constantly at risk of losing their livelihoods and their lives. 

The race was by invitation only, extended to 22 international and 8 Bhutanese athletes. The athletes chosen included some of the best endurance trail runners in the world. Why were trail runners chosen to be witnesses to climate-change impacts? His Majesty stated that he knew how much trail runners love nature and that they would observe and be in tune with their surroundings. In his mind, trail runners were the perfect messengers for his call to action.


When asked to participate in a 200+km race just 2 months prior to the start doesn’t allow much time for preparation. Either you are already trained for it, or you stay home. For me, it was not an option to decline. This was like a dream come true. The perfect race. And after years of running ultramarathons, my endurance was at the point where on any given day I could go out and run a marathon without thinking twice about it (though not fast). So I knew that the distance would not be a hurdle. My concerns were (1) the terrain: would it be at all runnable? and (2) the altitude: would I be a victim of the dreaded high-altitude sickness? To prepare for the technical terrain, I began incorporating more strength training into my weekly program. Hiking up steep rocky slopes would require strength and balance. And to prepare for the high altitude I rented an altitude-simulation compressor and tent, which I erected over my bed, allowing me to sleep at progressively higher altitudes over the four weeks prior to traveling to Bhutan. Other than that, my good-luck charms would have to suffice.

As the inaugural event, there were many unknowns about this race. Logistics, gear, availability of food and clean water, weather conditions, evacuation and health & safety options. And to be quite honest, I wasn’t 100% sure of much of anything as I packed my bags and boarded the plane, not even whether the race organizers would meet me as planned in Bangkok for the flight scheduled to carry the entire group of athletes up over the clouds and into the magical Kingdom of Bhutan.

Bhutan: Pre-race

The week in Bhutan prior to the race went by in a whirlwind. We hiked up to Paro Taktsang, known also as the Tiger’s Nest, and probably the most well-known temple in Bhutan to the outside world. The next day was a visit to the largest Buddha in the world, Great Buddha Dordenma, a magnificent golden deity which resides on a hillside overlooking the capital city of Thimpu. We enjoyed watching men ‘play’ archery, their national pastime, sending off arrows at lightning speed across the length of a football field where the small target was surrounded dangerously close by other competitors keeping an eye on the results. We dined with the former Prime Minister and visionary leader Tshering Tobgay, entertained by traditional music and dancing in costumes inspired by the wildest of fantasies. There were blessings from holy men, offerings to Buddha and candle-lighting ceremonies. We drank tea with roasted rice served in exquisite china cups with the abbot in the holy temple of Gasa Zhong, the political and spiritual center of the region where the race was to start. The Zhong was a magnificent fortification on a hill, where inside the main walls a maze of walkways, stairs, courtyards, small buildings and temples was to be found. 

We were treated like rock starts wherever we went. The news of our presence in Bhutan was omnipotent. Everyone knew who we were and we were awarded the royal treatment. Literally. As you’ll find out once you read on. 

The Race

snowman race start holly zimmermann running himalaya bhutan
Race Start

The race course itself on the first day began with 20 kilometers of forestry road which was easy to run on and fast, since we were still at relatively low elevation. The first river crossing that swept unabashed across the forestry road was running at a high level from recent rains. The current was strong and as I approached I saw no easy place to cross. There was a military officer on the other side who was clearly there to watch out for our safety. I looked at him in desperation, hoping for a tip as to where and how I should best traverse. He made a motion for me to remove my backpack as he began to wade across in his knee-high rubber boots. He took my backpack from me, motioned for me to stay put, then crossed back over the river, placing my pack on the other side. Then he waded across again, turned around and motioned for me to hop up on his back! A piggy-back ride across!

We then entered a valley that was ankle-deep full of mud for many miles. We couldn’t avoid stepping in the muck that was also loaded with horse dung, except to try to jump from rock to rock, tapping the mud with our trekking poles to find firm places to step. Then the trail began to gain altitude quickly. Running was all but impossible. Higher and higher, over passes strung with colorful prayer flags and meticulously-piled stones. It began to get very cold when the sun set around 6 pm, 12 hours since the race start. It began to rain lightly, which eventually turned to snow. The trail markings were difficult to see and I was left with only GPS to navigate the track. After 13.5 hours I finally reached the first night halt, cold and hungry. I was given a quick medical check and my vitals were good. The nurse was surprised to see that my oxygen saturation was 93%, higher than any of the other runners (I guess the tent had worked). I had woken that morning at an elevation of 2200 meters and was going to sleep that night at 4800 meters, a dangerously risky game with the altitude. 

Night Halt 1

5285 meters above sea level

I went to my tent, changed into dry clothes and pulled my sleeping bag out of my backpack. Food was brought to me which, despite being hungry, I had to force down. Altitude does crazy things to appetite and digestion. I was still cold for a long time but eventually fell into a light sleep. When I woke at 4 am and packed my bags for the 6 am start I felt pretty good. But I noticed right from the start that I was moving slower than normal, and then at the first climb over the Karchung La pass at 5280 meters, I realized that my pace was very slow, too slow. Although I had no symptoms of high-altitude sickness, at that elevation I simply could not move fast. I was afraid I would not make the subsequent daily cutoffs, which would keep me out on  the trails until late into the night, putting myself (and the organization) at risk. So I had to make the hard choice to return to camp 1 and retire from the race.

holly zimmermann snowman race bhutan himalaya running ultramarathon
Karchung La Pass

Post-Race Clarity

Six runners had retired on that first day, several more during the next, and some were even evacuated by rescue helicopters after showing signs of high-altitude sickness. In the end, of the 29 starters, 17 athletes completed the entire race (8 of 20 international starters), including all 9 Bhutanese who also, as expected, took every one of the podium positions.

holly zimmermann snowman race bhutan ultramarathon himalaya

But even as the race was over the fairytale was far from ending as we were subsequently treated to a reception with His Majesty the King and Queen of Bhutan. The finest whisky and wine in crystal goblets as well as hors d'oeuvre of Bhutan’s finest delicacies were being served in abundance. And if that weren’t enough, on the evening before flying back to reality we dined with the Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering who distributed certificates to all Snowman Race runners prior to mingling with him and other local and national politicians, including the Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji, as well as military officers and the Race Chairman and organization team. As I was sitting at a table with my tent-mate Sarah, the seat next to her suddenly became occupied and we were both surprised to see it was the Prime Minister himself! We chatted for about 15 minutes over hor d'ourves about the race and his vision for Bhutan's future. As I made the humble suggestion that perhaps some of the tourist dollars could go into supporting the infrastructure such as roads, since we'd just come in from Bumthang and the roadway was treacherous (landslides, sheer drop-offs with no guard rails, missing stretches of asphalt, cows, dogs, etc.) He gave me a smile and said, "The road from Bumthang is the best in our country!" We all laughed. 

holly zimmermann Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering
With Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering

I went to Bhutan focused on running a race, but I came home as an unofficial ambassador for this small country that stole my heart. It is one of the last untouched natural wonders of the globe, with nature, wildlife and mankind living in harmony as was done for millennia but is not seen anywhere else (or seldom) here on earth today. Their contribution to the climate crisis has been minimal if not insignificant, but they carry the greatest burden. In a bizarre reversal of the economic trickle-down theory, by the time that Western nations feel the devastating impacts of the climate crisis, the countries at the top of the world, like Bhutan, will be no more. 


This article was first published on Ask the Monsters (https://www.askthemonsters.com/the-snowman-race-running-on-top-of-the-world-literally/)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Race Report: Raid Nirvana

Lake Como
Nirvana. The name alone is irresistible. From there it only gets better. Raid Nirvana is a 150-km adventure race (AR) located in and around Lake Como with it’s tranquil waters, picture-postcard villages, friendly locals and all of it cradled gently in a ring of majestic mountains. A more idyllic and spectacularly scenic location is hard to find. 

The invitation to join a Swiss team came from Lucas, a friend I’d raced and trained with before, who I got along with well, and who had tons of AR experience dating back to his upbringing in Columbia. And despite having another race already on the calendar two weeks later, this one I couldn’t resist. Nirvana was calling.

raid nirvana holly zimmermann adventure race running everest
Race Plan
The other two team members were new to me. Lucas had already raced before with Laure, a French woman, and the fourth, David, was a ‘last minute’ replacement for his training partner. David was young and strong but a newbie to both AR and ultra-endurance sports. He’d done some long-distance triathlons, and although the two sports share similarities, the speed, environment and time span are like comparing apples and oranges. For this reason it is completely common and acceptable to match up young, strong competitors with those who are older and experienced. It’s a team sport in which diversity offers stability and resiliency as long as the chemistry amongst the individuals works. And it worked with us. It was clear as soon as we met that we would all get along. Right from the start, the conversation flowed easily, even though we were of four different nationalities and the same number of mother tongues. 

holly zimmermann adventure racing
Logistics and organization (although it doesn't look very organized)

holly zimmermann running everest raid nirvana adventure racing
Team Powerbar Swiss Explorers!
We met at 10am in the parking lot of the race organization where the start and finish were to be held. The race briefing was scheduled for 8pm that night, with the start scheduled for 9pm. Even with the somewhat restricted timeline, packing transition bags and planning race strategy were done with ease and calm. We were allotted a bike bag, a paddle bag and a transition bag. Our bike bag was limited to contain only our bike shoes and over-shoes for warmth, which we all had since the weather was expected to be cold up in the mountains, intensified by the rain. Our paddle bag was a large mesh sack which was to hold our PFDs (life vests), paddles, paddle gloves, shoes or whatever gear we’d need in the boats but no other items such as clothing or food. We’d get the transition bag about half-way through the race prior to the longer trekking stage and in that we could store food supplies, gear and clothing. Once we’d finish discussing the race stages, transitions and strategy, we had a few hours to rest and eat before heading to the briefing. 

We arrived at the race briefing around 7:30pm and shortly after 8 we were given the maps. With maps in hand, the race director was still relaying important information, but once you have the maps and the count-down is on, paying attention to anything else is a challenge. I was dying to start marking maps but there is critical info that you don’t want to miss, such as having to disembark from the boats at the dam and carry them to the other side; the long difficult march after the paddle stage and to follow the marked path; that the gate at the railroad crossing was welded shut and we’d have to heave our bikes over the gate and climb over the barbed wire. Finally all info was relayed and we could concentrate on the maps: David, as lead navigator, marking a full set with Lucas, while Laure and I marked a second set of trekking maps. 

The sun went down, it got dark, the rain started, and at 9:00pm on the dot we were on our way, racing through the streets of Lecco with headlamps on, map in hand and full gear on our backs. The first leg was a short urban orienteering stage which sent teams in all directions collecting five checkpoints before heading to the shores of the lake to assemble our paddles, get into our PFDs, and shove off in our kayaks for the first longer stage, a 14-km paddle southwards till the lake transformed from a massive waterway to a narrow river-like inlet and eventually to a marsh. 

holly zimmermann running everest raid nirvana adventure racing

But the start didn’t go off as hoped for. 

The kayaks were not rigid but rather of the inflatable type, which are difficult to maneuver unless you’ve had some experience with them. This had Laure and David, who were in a boat together, going in circles. Lucas and I were quite a bit ahead and after about 30 minutes I asked Lucas if he could see our teammates. He replied that they were one of the three boats ahead of us. I said that I was pretty sure that they were behind us. And after closely inspecting the teams up ahead we realized that our teammates were not only NOT in the group ahead of us, but also not in the small bunch of boats behind us. We’d have to wait and let them catch up. This, of course, is part of the sport. To fruitlessly expend so much energy and then have to sit still and wait may be frustrating but it was our own fault for not having stayed close together from the start. But we knew that we weren’t fighting for the podium anyway. As a team we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and throughout the event at some stage you have to wait for everyone. And on the bright side, even in the drizzling rain, the lake glistened under the lights of the villages dotting the hillsides. It was magnificent. There was no place I could imagine that I’d rather be.

Once reunited with David and Laure who were also frustrated at having to learn the hard way to maneuver an inflatable kayak, we decided to put a tow line on them and stick together. Although this kept us as one unit, it was a huge strain on the front boat, especially Lucas who was aft. He had the difficult task of being the pack-horse and maintain course. David had to use his paddle in the rear boat to keep them moving straight, while Laure and I just paddled blindly, trying to keep in tempo with Lucas’ tact calls. 

Half-way through the stage we were confronted with the dam at which point we needed to go up on-shore, get a check-point, and then carry the boats adjacent to the shoreline and to the other side of the water-work. Then things got tricky. The water level was low. It was dark. There were difficult-to-discern sandbars and a couple times we got stuck. After briefly trying to push ourselves off with our paddles, Lucas gave up on keeping his feet dry (which was a premonition for what was to come) and he climbed out of the boat and dragged the two boats to deeper water. After a couple of hours of paddling and another check-point in a side inlet, we finally saw the exit point and were relieved to disembark, but unfortunately the transition area was about 500 meters away through a marsh. And we had to transport the boats all the way to the transition. So we each took hold of an end of the now water-filled kayaks and sloshed our way through sometimes knee-deep boggy ground. This was much more physically strenuous for me than the paddling, as it was tough enough just walking but also having to grip and hold the weight of the kayak with the chronic joint pain in my thumbs. Several times I had to put the boat down and re-grip. Then once we got to more even, stable ground, I took the backpacks and carried them while Lucas dragged our boat. Finally at T2.

There were three teams in the transition area when we got there. It was located in a material storage warehouse. It was not warm in there but it was sheltered from the rain. We moved fast in order to keep our body temps up. I stripped down out of my wet clothes and put on dry bike clothes, then repacked essentials quickly and we were out of the TA before the other teams. The race marshals checked to be sure we all had front and rear bike lighting and then we were back off into the darkness.

Only about the first kilometer was flat, and then it was up and up, and up some more. And then when you thought it couldn’t possibly continue going upwards, what happened? We’d round a bend and see the trail continue upwards even higher. It varied between paved roads that were rideable to steep muddy paths, some of which were in such poor condition due to the rains that even pushing the bikes over some sections was all but impossible. We had to carry and climb, slip and fall, push and be pushed. David and Lucas helped me a lot on the bike, with a hand on my back during the road ascents and even David quickly riding or pushing his bike up the steep trails then running back down to grab mine. This continued for about 3 hours before we had a slight reprieve with an exhilarating serpentine descent of about 30 minutes ahead of the next multi-hour push and shove up the next mountain peak until the morning began to break. Around six am the first rays of light began to appear and the mood immediately went from somber to light-hearted and optimistic. Laure was singing and making jokes and I felt intoxicated by her positivity. After six hours of nearly just climbing, the last 30 minutes was another descent, this time over rocky trails that had us carefully navigating the ruts, but it was a welcome reprieve from the strenuous uphill slog. 

The next transition area was in a small sports club building. There was a fire lit, coffee and a few plastic chairs where we sat for a few minutes while changing our clothes and shoes for the next trekking section. It was 07:30 am when we set off for the next leg, back up into the hills where we’d just spent the night.

I was exhausted, which was not typical for me this early in a race. But I knew why and was worried about it and whether I would be able to make it to the finish line. I’d been sick with Covid-19 just two weeks earlier. I had been down for about 10 days with a fever, couch, congestion and exhaustion. But I had been feeling better for about a week and figured that since all my training had gone well prior to being sick, that maybe I could fight it out and make it to the finish of this relatively short race. It wasn’t like I was huffing and puffing, but it was clear that my lungs weren’t functioning right because my muscles seemed to suffer from oxygen deficiency. I had no energy. Nothing in the tank.

holly zimmermann running everest raid nirvana adventure racing
Short nap before the via ferrata

I could jog quite effortlessly on flat sections, and we were moving along at a pretty good pace, but traversing uphill was a battle for me. It was also pretty clear to my teammates that I was in a bit of trouble. After a couple of hours on our feet we were approaching the via ferrata section after which we would have a considerable climb to the peak. It was time to make a decision. Did I want to attempt it? It would be easy to turn back now, but not half-way up the mountain. I knew that I was rapidly slowly down, and did I have to energy to climb? But I was determined to get everything I could out of the race that my body could offer, so I suggested we take a short break at the base of the climbing wall, then move on. We put on our climbing gear and lay down for about 10 minutes of shut-eye, after which I felt better, but not great. We moved ahead slowly and my teammates were absolutely amazing with me, taking time to be sure that I was climbing safely and waiting patiently each time that I had to sit to take a breather. I was in good hands.

holly zimmermann running everest raid nirvana adventure racing
Cozy warm hut on the mountain top
It became colder as we ascended and we had to stop to put on jackets. The rain had stopped but the weather was overcast and a low fog restricted any views over the lake which would have been breathtaking from that perch. So we climbed blindly. Several times we stood off to the side to let a few sky-runners pass through, quick and light on their feet. At last the peak came into view and after collecting the check-point we retreated into the mountain hut that was thankfully open and serving the few brave climbers. Inside we were thrilled to find a fire lit, which I settled myself close up against. We ordered Cokes, relaxed and re-grouped. It was then that I hesitantly admitted that I would have to call it quits at the next transition area. I was a near-empty shell. The team, although mega disappointed, agreed without question. This is a team sport and if one is out, all are out. They could have continued on out of ranking, but they also decided to call it a day and save some precious energy for the next race on the calendar which was only two weeks away. 

holly zimmermann running everest raid nirvana adventure racing
All teams at the finish!

In the end, the weather had created such horrendous conditions for the first bike leg that it forced most teams early onto short course and only three teams finished the full course. This sport is like no other: unpredictable, exhilarating, dangerous, multi-faceted and thoroughly addictive.

And although I didn’t come home with a medal, I did arrive home safely with another ‘adventure’ in the books. 

holly zimmermann running everest raid nirvana adventure racing
Cheers and till the next one!

Friday, May 13, 2022

Speedy Regeneration after the World Championships

holly zimmermann adventure racing world championship running everest
Adventure Racing World Championship,
Galicia, Spain

After competing at the Adventure Racing European and then the World Championships within a few weeks of each other in the Fall of 2021, covering nearly 800 km in total, I came home with a completely wrecked body, inside and out. I was thinner than I’d been since I was a teenager, my hair was falling out in handfuls, my teeth were over-sensitized, my feet were swollen and blistered, and several toenails were gone. To say that I was simply exhausted grossly underestimates my physical state, as the thought of even a recovery bike or jog was completely out of the question.

Sleep. Healthy food. Supplements. Repeat. That was the plan.

But when weeks went by and I was still feeling schlapp, I knew I needed to focus more seriously on my recovery. I got a blood test done and found that I had both Vitamin D and Ferritin deficiencies and my Omega 6:3 ratio was through the roof at (33.9:1).

And as fate would have it, at that time I met a man in my village named Oliver who worked for a company called Zinzino that made high-quality all-natural nutritional supplements focused on the individual.

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Bike Leg at the Adventure Racing World Championship

As if heaven-sent, that was exactly what I needed.

I told him my story. He explained that his company occasionally worked with select athletes as product ambassadors. I made it immediately clear to him that I would not represent a product that I did not believe in and have personal success with, especially when it came to health. I would have to try it out for myself and see if it worked for me. He was so sure that Zinzino could help me that he gave me three bottles of Omega-3 oil from his own stash and said we’d talk soon.

zinzino balance oil omega 3 supplement holly zimmermann

‘Soon’ was an understatement as I began to feel the effects almost overnight. The aching in my joints diminished, my energy increased, my hair began sprouting new growth like a frizzy teenage nightmare that needed gobs of hairspray to tame the wilds. And I was finally able to run again without feeling like I was dragging a sack of potatoes behind me.

Four weeks later another blood test using Zinzino’s Balance test revealed that my Omega 6:3 ratio had normalized and was down to (1.7:1). A ratio anyone could only hope for. When Oliver gave me the results (tested at an independent laboratory) I laughed and told him I didn’t believe it. He said that he was also very surprised at the blitz-schnell turn-around and that’s why he had consulted the company’s medical experts before giving me the data. Well-trained athletes often have an excellent system of regeneration when given the right tools. Considering that my body was in rock-bottom condition, plus the fact that I am vegetarian and consume no fish oils, and the oils had free reign over the chronic inflammation that is typical of an endurance athlete, the rapid optimization of my blood health was not overly surprising.

But just to be sure, we retook the test and and found that it yielded very similar results.

At the same time I had an independent blood test done at my general practitioner. Still slightly low on the Vitamin D and Ferritin. No big surprises there as nearly everyone living in central Europe has a Vit D shortage in winter and I’ve always had an issue with iron. But what did surprise me was that my red blood cell values were better than they have ever been. Apparently, complete regeneration of the body’s red blood cells occurs every 120 days, and with the help of the Omega 3 balance, the overall quality of the cells was improved.

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Needless to say, I was thrilled with the preliminary results of what I attribute, at least in part, to the Zinzino Balance Oils, and agreed to test out some of their other products and become involved with their company activities as a sponsored athlete.

So as soon as I have some other revelations to share about Zinzino’s products, you can be sure I’ll pass them on to you via my blog or social media because I know that I’m not the only one looking to optimize their health and performance. And who can't use a little help?

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Live to be 100

An old joke asks: “Who the heck wants to live to be 100?” 

Answer: “A 99-year-old.” 

I recently attended a funeral for a woman who died at age 101 years. She lived in the mountains and was active till the end, even skiing regularly until she was 95. The attendance at her burial was impressive, although all of her peers had long said goodbye to the world. She had clearly done something right in her life, and I wanted to know how to follow in her footsteps. So I did some digging. 

Our lifespan is believed to be determined 10% by our genetics and the remaining 90% by environmental factors. If that is true, then there is a lot that we can be doing to extend not only our number of years, but the quality of life in those years. 

Studies have been conducted in the world’s Blue Zones, namely, regions in the world where people not only live the longest, but are also the healthiest. The top five include: Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the main aspects of a healthy lifestyle are diet, exercise and stress reduction, but the details of those and how best to adapt them to our lives can be tricky. Let’s start with the ‘easy’ ones first: diet and exercise. 


A healthy diet should concentrate on (not be restricted to) the following: 

5 servings or more per day of colorful fruits and vegetables

Nuts and seeds for snacking

Beans (protein)

Whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, etc.

Drinking lots of water

While avoiding or limiting:

Excess salt and preservatives (processed and packaged foods; artificial sweeteners; i.e. avoid the center of the supermarket)

Processed meats. High-quality meat should be limited

Added sugar (including sweetened beverages)

Alcohol in moderation (Better avoided. It is, after all, a poison)

And we should never eat to the point of being full. In the Blue Zone of Okinawa, Japan, there is a Confucian teaching called Hara hachi bun me, which instructs people to eat only until they are 80% full. Okinawans typically consume only about 1800 to 1900 calories per day and elders have an average BMI between 18 and 22, compared to 26 to 27 in the same age group in the United States!


This is also a no-brainer. Move your body. If you are reading this, then you are probably already quite active, and although a regular exercise regime is great, what we should really focus on is incorporating more movement into our lifestyles as a way of life. Park in the back of the parking lot, take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a walk on your lunch break and stretch whenever possible. Stretching helps keep your muscles active and healthy, along with your joints flexible and strong. This doesn’t necessarily mean getting on your tights and doing yoga poses; rather, while sitting at your desk, stretch your arms up over your head, side-to-side, do neck and shoulder rolls, rotate your ankles and wrists.

holly zimmermann running everest ultramarathon mom adventure racing polar circle

Again, we can go to the Okinawans for role models, as their preferred sedentary pose is a squat, something that is nearly impossible to copy for adults in the Western world, but is beneficial in stretching the hips, thighs, knees and ankles. 

Now we get to the more difficult part: stress reduction. This is multifaceted and has both physical and mental components. 

The acronym, ASICS, is derived from the Latin phrase, “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano” which means “a sound mind in a sound body”, and is the English translation of a famous quotation by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales (Miletus, 624 – 546 BC), demonstrating the close links between physical exercise, mental equilibrium and the ability to enjoy life.

Believe it or not, between 80 and 90% of doctor’s visits are directly or indirectly linked to stress. Stress is more than just a feeling in your head, it effects your entire body - including lowering immune function, interrupting sleep, causing muscle tension and complicating digestion to name a few.  Research suggests that less-stressed individuals tend to live longer, healthier lives. Different things work for different people, but many find stress-relief from yoga, exercise, meditation, getting outdoors and deep-breathing techniques.

Sleep: Try to get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night

Be Mindful: This means focusing your attention (“awareness”) on what’s going on in the present moment, rather than ruminating over the past or worrying about the future. 

Get Outdoors. Time spent in nature, along with getting enough sunlight, has been linked with the prevention of diabetes, auto immune disorders, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease. 

Put your family and loved ones first. Surround yourself with the right people (positive energy). This provides a sense of belonging.

And last but not least…

Have a purpose: Wake up each day with an outlook or purpose for your life: a job you love, a passionate hobby, fulfilling relationships.

A healthy lifestyle of taking care of the physical body implements the tools, but passion and purpose are the keys that unlock the door to a long and satisfying life, which, if we’re lucky could guide us to the status of centenarian. 

If you want to run the numbers on how long you are likely to live, check out the John Hancock Lifespan Calculator.


And if you’d like to read a thriller novel on the subject you can get yourself a copy of Lifespan, by Holly Zimmermann.