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Transylvanian Bear Race – Post race report

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I’ve been back home from Viscri for a (couple of) week(s) now and I still don’t quite know where to start with this post. What a race. What an experience. I feel like I still haven’t fully processed it entirely so here’s an attempt to write it all down…

Arriving in Romania

We left for the airport bright and early on Thursday morning, making sure to avoid the usual morning traffic. All went well and we arrive at Charleroi Airport on schedule and with time to spare. Checked in, sat down for a drink and headed to the gate. Weather in Belgium at the moment was the same as it had been most of the week: grey, windy and loads of rain. We took off with some delay but after a smooth flight we touched down at OTP and the weather was absolutely smashing:

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We jumped in the shuttle van to the car rental company to pick up our VW Jetta and hit the road north-west for Brașov. As we drove up north, the weather slowly turned. From intermittent showers to full on pouring down by the time we passed Brașov. That’s what the forecast for Viscri called for, and what the weather had been like for the past couple of weeks. By the time we arrived in Dacia and left the main road for Viscri, it was almost dark. The last 30 minutes were slow and the road to Viscri was in quiet a bad shape. We got settled in our rooms at Nina & Dorin’s place (Viscri 195), went for a short walk through the village and called it a day. We we’re all quite beat after a day full of travel.

Friday

We slept in a bit on Friday, had breakfast around 9 and headed out for a hike until noon. The weather hadn’t gotten any better overnight, ranging from a slow drizzle to all out downpour the entire day. Needless to say we all had enough of it after 3 hours of trotting around and getting soaked, so we changed into something dry, had lunch and then we went for a road trip. My dad had scoped out some points along the race course where we intersected with roads and that’s where I’d see them along the course. There were 3 points and we wanted to check them beforehand, to see if they could actually be reached by car.

The first point was in Crit, that’s fine. (later we found that the course had changed and that only the ultra would be passing there)

The other 2 points took us over small dirt roads, turned into deep deep mud after weeks of rain, and our Jetta was far from up to that challenge. Disappointed we headed back to Viscri for supper.

Pre-race briefing

27492844991_b22119c6a5_o.jpgA little before 19h I headed to Viscri 125, where the race HQ was located, for the pre-race safety briefing and for dinner with the other runners. I met 2 runners for England and as more people arrived we all introduced ourselves and chatted about how wonderful Romania is, about previous races and the usual “are you doing the ultra tomorrow? or just the marathon?”. All in good fun off course. And it wasn’t just a marathon, was we’d soon find out.

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We moved the renovated barn next door, where race director Ben would update us on the course, the weather forecast, signage and any other things we had to be aware of. Due to some last minute course changes, what first was the marathon course would be about 5km longer. That is, if we wanted to start at the official start: the fortified church. For some of the runners, it was their first time doing a marathon distance race and they didn’t want to push their luck by adding more distance to their day than needed, so they arranged to be dropped of along the course. Most of us on the other hand felt like we should be starting at the church, extra distance be damned, we’d tough it out. After the briefing we had a pasta dinner, a beer and chatted away with new people. Around 22h I headed back “home” (that’s what 195 really feels like for me when I’m in Viscri) to pack my race kit (and then reconsidered, pack again, changed my mind again, pack again..) In bed my 23h, head buzzing but I was able to get some descent sleep none the less.

Saturday – race day!

I was up around 6, jumped in the shower, triple checked my vest and food and then I headed up the village to 125 for breakfast with the other runners. Some coffee and eggs later, we all headed for the church a little before 8 to see of the ultra runners. 80km in this weather and terrain is nothing short from impressive and it was great to see these 16 amazing runners off. After that we headed back for some more coffee, pinned on our bibs, took some pre-race photos, filled up our bottles and headed back to church for our start. Nervous laughs and people checking their laces and vests for the 12th time. This was it. Here we go. With a couple minute to go before 9am, we all huddle together for a group photo, then everyone spectating counted us down and off we went!

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I was fairly familiar with the first 10/15km of the course (I ran it on our visit in November last year) and it felt good to know which way to go. What didn’t feel so good was the immense amount of deep and heavy mud on the first 25 minutes of the course. A couple of weeks of rain, combined with heavy logging vehicles moving in and out of the area hadn’t done the terrain any favours. Slowed down to a crawl we pushed on, the front of the pack still bunched together as the mud bogged us all down.

On a particularly nasty section my left shoe got stuck in the mud. I managed to keep my balance and got out of it while someone behind me pulled my shoe out. Laced up again and onwards. Not 5 minutes later, same thing happened with my other foot. This time I tripped and had to catch myself on my shoeless foot: down in the mud halfway up my calf with just a sock on. Someone pulled out my shoe again, I poured the water/mud from it and strapped back in. We were 30 minutes in, both my feet were drenched in mud and soaking wet. This was going to be fun.

The weather on race day also deserves a more than honourable mention: after days of rain and a forecast that called for intermittent thunderstorms and showers, we all feared (and packed) for the worst. But on Saturday morning, while having breakfast on the patio, the clouds started to recede and we actually caught a glimpse of some sunshine. Things were looking up. And sure enough, by the time I reached 30km mark and aid station 3 (I had been running for just under 4 hours at that point), the sun was all out in full force. After aid station 3, the route crossed an open meadow for 2km’s and without the cover of the forest, the heat was just too much too run in. I tried a couple of times but ended up hiking the better part through there.

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With almost 15km left to go, I was quickly approaching the point where I’d be running for longer then I ever had before. And with the number of participants being so small (around 45 people running the marathon), I had been running by myself for most the second part of the race. All that, combined with the blisters I had around my toes made I really hard to run and to keep running. Also: open blisters and muddy forest water aren’t the most enjoyable of combinations.  Kilometer 42 came and went and I was nowhere near the finished line, still deep in the forest without a sign of civilisation in sight. But I knew it wouldn’t be long now, I had to be almost there.

Bringing it home

Around 2km later, the course emerged from the forest and Sighișoara’s citadel appeared in the distance. It was mostly downhill until we entered the city itself and went up to the citadel. But before we got there, there were a bunch of large (too deep) concrete steps that were really hard to navigate with feet as sore as mine were by that point. At the end of the descend, I ran into my dad who was waiting for me there and who pointed me in the right direction up into the city. Running under the citadel’s gate, I was greeted with loads of shouting and applause from runners that had already finished were having drinks out in the town’s main square. I was really exhausted at that point but I managed to keep running along the cobblestones. Until I reached the stairs to the school, where the finish was. 2 steps in and my lower back just cramped up. Total shut down. Struggling up the stairs, stopping over 4/5 steps to stretch, I pushed through. Those cramps made this by far the hardest part of the course for me. When I reached the top, it wasn’t very clear where the finished was so I went left (more uphill, my back protesting even harder at this point). As I rounded the corner I was greeted with cheers from the finish line, where my mom and sister, along with some other runners where cheering me on. That was it. Done.

I ran the 47km course in 6 hours, 23 minutes and 58 seconds and came in in 16th place.

Post race festivities

After I caught my breath, we headed down the stairs and joined the other finishers for a beer and catch up on how our races went. Good to hear I wasn’t the only one having trouble going down those concrete stairs :). A good hour or so later, it was high time for a shower. I headed for the nearby hostel, where the race organisation had arranged a couple of rooms where we could shower. Refreshed and in clean clothes, I headed back to the town square for more drinks 🙂 Later in the evening, we all had diner together and I got to meet some more of the runners. I found myself setting with a 2 amazing people from Northern Ireland, father and daughter, who ran the race together. And with a marketing teacher from London. A fun evening with good and wine and new friends. We left around 10pm, as we still had an hour’s drive back to Viscri to do.

I was absolutely beat, knackered, sore and equally happy and warmed by the day and the amazing people I got to meet.

Sunday consisted of sleeping in, reading, eating, napping and more eating. The blisters were bothering me a bit and my left knee felt a bit wonky but other than that I was fine.

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On Monday we left for Bucharest early, anticipating Monday traffic and we still had get our rental car cleaned somewhere along the way. The drive down went fine and we ended up at the airport with time to spare. That was it then, the adventure was over.

Epilogue

Fast forward a couple of weeks, I can safely say it may be over that it hasn’t been forgotten. Not by a long shot. As is evident by how long it took me to actually finish this write-up I guess. Running this race reignited something me, a drive to run more, to push myself beyond what I have done in the past. I’m back to regularly running every week and I’d love to do more trails in the future, even got my eye on an ultra next year 🙂

Shout out to Paull ‘Wildman’ Mitchell for the gorgeous photo’s and to Ben and  Hannah for putting this all together!

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Planet Money 704: Open Office

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In this episode of NPR’s Planet Money podcast, the topic is the rise of open plan office spaces.

Sometimes I just dream of having a door, with wall that go all the way around me.

I’ve only every worked in open plan offices and they can definitly be challenging, depending on the people you share the space with. Intersting episode, give it a listen.

 

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Learn to see problems – Daniel Pasco

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As one of the most experienced members of the team, part of what I have to do is be on the lookout for the things I’ve seen burn myself or others in the past. And they frequently show up again, no matter how good the team is.

There are always problems. Your job is to see if you can spot them before they hurt someone.

Daniel Pasco

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Back to Romania – 3 days to go

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Shoes packed. Spare shoes packed. Running gear packed. Cold/wet weather running gear packed. Food packed. Off to bed now.

Our flight is planned to take of for Bucharest OTP tomorrow morning at 10:40 from Charleroi, which puts us in Bucharest around 14:25 local time.

I’m looking forward to landing at OTP, to driving to Viscri. And to spending time there with my Mom, who’s only been there once.

And I’m really looking forward to being greeted by these 2: Goofy and Sissy :).  Eventhough we’re only in Viscri for a couple of days each year, they know and recognize us everytime we  arrive back there. They make it feel like home.

I’m hoping to keep you posted on our travels and on the race once we’re there so be sure to check back here 🙂

 

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iPod shuttle discoveries: my marathon playlist

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While packing my kit for Saturday’s race, I stumbled across my iPod shuffle. I almost only use it during races and well, it’s probably been laying around since 2013. Luckily, I packed the charging cable with it so I plugged it into my MacBook to charge it.

And low and behold, the playlist I listened to during my London mararthon was still on there 🙂 But since I’m on a different computer now then I was back then, I couldn’t sync the iPod without whiping out the excising playlists. So I just charged it, I’m probably not going to use it during this race anyway.

But you’re probably wondering what was on that playlist right? Here goes.

By the end of a race some of these get skipped and/or repeated more then others, I especially remember starting off with Florence + The Machine and crossing the finish line with Jimmy Eat World’s Pain.

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GeeUp conference – Leiden 2016

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After a year of intermission, we headed back to Leiden for the second GeeUp conference.

In 2014, 4 of us from work attended both the conference and the workshop. Back then, there was a big focus on Expression Engine (we follow the workshop on EE plugin development), bringing in mostly people from the EE scene. The conference itself covered much broader topics and it was definitely worthwhile for us.

Today, in 2016, the conference focused on Craft CMS and ExpressionEngine, drawing much of the same crowd as it did 2 years ago. And while we don’t actively build new projects with Expression Engine these days nor have we gotten into Craft, 2 of us from work, Wietse and myself,  wanted to attend the conference anyway. Getting to know other systems and taking inspiration from those is always valuable.

We left for Leiden on Wednesday evening by train, making a quick stop over in Rotterdam for burgers and drinks. We checked into our hotel, dropped of our stuff and went for another drink in town.

On Thursday we attended a full day workshop on Craft Commerce, the e-commerce add-on for Craft CMS that was released about 6 months ago. The day was led by Luke Holder, the lead-developer for Commerce over at Pixel & Tonic. We started off with general settings and principals and quickly got into some code after that: hooks, events and how plugins can use them. In the afternoon we went over a new plugin P&T is releasing this week: Digital Products for Craft Commerce. Think WordPress EDD but for Craft CMS. After some Q&A we called it a day but stuck around the venue to work out some ideas for plugins we could build for Craft CMS.

The day ended with a couple of beers in the sun at Annie’s, Thai food and then cocktails with the other GeeUp folks at Bon Vivant (that last one is worth checking out if you’re ever in Leiden, best whiskey sour I’ve ever had).

Friday morning we headed back to Scheltema for day 2, the conference itself. We had a cup (or 2) of coffee, chatted with some of the other attendees and then got settled in for the talks. Attendance seemed to be down from 2014, making it very small and intimate conference. That fitted the venue and the speakers perfectly and I quite liked the smaller group.

Talks this year ranged from inspirational on adaptive design, automated testing, technical debt, ethics in web development and how to survive doing customer support all day. Lots of interesting and engaging topics that left me asking questions and wondering how I/we can do things differently, both at the office and in my freelance work.

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After the last talk we hung around for a drink and it was off to the station to catch the train home via Rotterdam (above) and Antwerp.

In his closing remarks, Low (from gotolow EE fame, he makes this conference happen) said that this was probably the last time he was going to organize. While I can certainly understand that (loads of work and staying break-even on such a small conference is very hard), it would be great to have the conference again next year or in a year or 2 🙂 Either way, I should plan a trip to Leiden sometime because I also really like the city.

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Transylvanian Bear Race update – 2 weeks to go

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2 weeks to go until race day, so I wan’t to post a little update on how my preparations are going.

The race has a strict set of items that all participants are required to carry at all times during the event. A compass, a waterproof map pocket, a waterproof jacket, a head torch, etc… The only thing missing from my arsenal up to now was the waterproof jacket. I have a bunch of jackets for running, but they are either too heavy to carry the whole way or not really waterproof. So I asked
around on Twitter and decided to go for a Salomon BONATTI jacket. Expansive yes, but I’ve been through a couple of rainy runs in it by now and it’s pretty great: breathable, really waterproof and fit for running. Waterproof jacket: check.

Apart from that, I’m expecting one more package with some last bits and bods (a cap to wear during the race, some extra nutrition stuff, some socks) from Bike24(I get most of my gear here, their prices are ok, they ship fast and are very responsive to questions).

That’s it gear-wise. But how am I doing?

Somewhere last week I caught a nasty stomach bug that has kept me in bed for the better part of Friday and this weekend. Not seeing up improvement so probably not going back to work tomorrow. But I should be able to sleep this off and hopefully my stomach will be back to normal when it’s time to run. (I got sick during my Amsterdam marathon, around the 30km mark. Not cool.)

Running-wise, it’s all systems go. My knee has been ok for the last couple of weeks so that should be ok. Running wise I’m feeling good as well, I’ve been doing lost of uphill work and repeats this last month and my conditioning feels good.

With my stomach acting up and the 2 days I’ll be away for a conference next week, taper time will start right now 🙂

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Closing out with this semi-running related tidbit: while strolling around the local bookshop last week I came across “The Way of the Runner: A Journey into the Fabled World of Japanese Running” by Adharanand Finn. Only 80 pages in so far, I’ll post about it again if I think it’s worth it :).

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Where to invade next – Michael Moore

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Docville, the yearly documentary film festival in Leuven, is coming up next month and the film closing the festival will be “Where to invade next” by American filmmaker Michael Moore. While I was in Rotterdam for a couple of days of downtime last week, I saw they already had the film in the theater and decided to go to the late showing of it at Cinerama.

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The film starts out a bit too tacky for my taste, with Moore’s “official” mission to “invade” these other countries. But once that’s out of the way, what follows is are a bunch of sincere stories from Italy, France, Norway, etc. Each perfectly contrasted against their counterpart in the United States, eg: payed holidays, food in public schools, the prison system, free education, … the list goes on. Moore takes the ideas from these places back to America, ideas that we consider basic rights and welfare.

The premise of the movie is quiet predictable but that doesn’t take away from it. The best part of the movie for me was the focus on education, on kids and on humanity. The film closes by asking the question “Knowing all this, would you want to move, live and work in the United States” – And the answer spells out loud and clear: “No”.

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Back to Crossfit

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I’m not sure how it happened but around May of 2014, I stopped doing Crossfit. Not that I had lost interest in training, the methodology or the people at the gym. I guess I just needed a break and try some new things, and new things that turned out to be old things, like starting badminton again.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been struggling with some minor injuries and aches here and there, and training hasn’t been going the way I’d like it to. So I decided to add Crossfit back in, to make sure I have some strength work on the schedule too.

The box I used to go to relocated further from the city and going there wasn’t very practical for me. Meanwhile, a box had opened up right around the corner from our office (which is a 5 minute bike ride from home, so still very close by). I emailed the owner, jumped in on a class and enrolled right away.

So far, I’m really happy to be back at it. And it’ cool to see that I’ve still got some of the movements (squats and deadlifts for days) while other movements seem to be lost forever (medicine ball to the face, 4 times in a workout :)). Good times.