Hoka Highland Fling 2017

A couple of weeks ago I entered the Hoka Highland Fling race, a 53 mile (85km) trail run through the Scottish highlands. When I say “entered”, I’m not describing the process fully, so here goes.

I got introduced to this race by a bunch of Scots and Brits during my time in Viscri for the Transylvanian Bear Race. They all raved about the course, the organization, the atmosphere. I looked it up as soon as I got home and added the date when entries opened to my calendar. As that date grew came closer, the race directors announced that instead of an open entry, the entries would be decided by a ballot draw. We had a week to register and then we’d be notified within 2 weeks with the confirmation. With 1000 places on the entry list and about 1300 people entering the ballot, I knew I had a decent chance of getting it. Didn’t make me less excited when I actually got the e-mail, though 🙂

Photo by Kristóf Vizy

So now I start training. And since “just” running a couple of times a week isn’t going to get me through 53 miles, I’m trying to get some sense of structure into my running. I’m starting with 35 to 40 km per week for the rest of the year. Keeping that up will be hard enough, with work being massively busy and the weather being wet and cold.

As I said at the start of my previous big race, I’m going to try and blog about it more regularly. To keep me accountable and to keep you all up to date on how things are going.

(I may have a new running/blog related project in the works, if all goes well you’ll read about that pretty soon too :))

 

A week in the mountains

When my sister and me were little, my parents took us on summer holiday’s to Austria for a couple of years. The last time we all went on holiday with the 4 of us was over 10 years ago and with my sister graduating this year, the parents thought it would be a good idea to get some time away together again. Back to Austria

This year we went to the Zillertal, in a small village call Stumm, in a nice hotel at the edge of the village. On the first day we walked along the Ziller, had lunch in Zell and then I continued on to Mayrhofen, while the rest of the family took the train back to Stumm.

On day 2, we headed up into the mountains. But since each our abilities and expectations were somewhat different, we split up. The parents got off halfway up the mountain and would hike up to our lunch spot. My sister and I headed further up, where she would make a small loop to the hut and would hike/run a bigger loop. I ended up hitting 2 summits, the Ritzkopf and the Kreutzjoch, before heading back down and meeting the rest a the family for lunch (which was Kaiserschmaren, yummy :)). And we all arrived there within about 20 minutes of each other so the plan worked out great.

Then I found a route down the mountain and ran back to Stumm that way, while the others took the elevator and the train back. The run turned out to be about 20km, most if not all of it downhill. I definitely felt that in my quads the day after.

The weather during the week was quite nice, a couple of rainy and overcast days but for the most part it was hot and sunny. The sunburns on the back of my knees and calves prove as much 🙂

After a day of up & down fun on our own, we headed to the Durlaßboden Stausee on the third day. It was about a 10km hike around the lake, most of it in the blazing heat. But we got rewarded with some amazing views along the way so it was well worth it.

I could go on and on about the different hikes we did but needless to say we all had a great time. Good food, great weather, the mountains and most of all: quality time with the family.

There’s another post coming about a specific hike I did that was pretty adventurous, with lots of photos too. Stay tuned for that 🙂

Transylvanian Bear Race – Post race report

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!

Back to Romania – 3 days to go

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 🙂

 

GeeUp conference – Leiden 2016

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.

Looking forward to WordCamp London

It’s WordCamp time again and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s WordCamp London time again and I’m really really looking forward to it.

I’m leaving a day early so I can have an extra day of in London. The plan for tomorrow is:

  • Check out a couple of new coffee places (and a visit to Look Mom No Hands naturally).
  • Lunch or dinner with Kristof
  • Wander around town with the Fuji x100s that I borrowed from a friend
  • Work from the Google Hub for a couple of hours

Next up: the contributor day and 2 conference days with some interesting talks lined up (I already made a rough schedule). For the contributor day, I’ll probably be on the core team, working on tickets for the upcoming 4.2 release (I also hope to get #31467 out of the way).

It’s been crazy busy at work since the start of the year, finishing projects and pushing up against deadlines left and right, so it’s gonna do me good to be away for a couple of days. I know London quite well by now and even though it’s a giant and super busy city, I can relax and feel at home there.

London is always a good idea.

 

Sunday in Cologne

My sister Liesbet is living in Cologne for 6 months as part of the Erasmus program at her university here in Leuven. Last Sunday I took the train over there to catch up with here, as I hadn’t seen her in almost 5 weeks. She’s also taking up photography class while she’s there so we decided to wander around the city and shoot things. We also had a wonderful cup of coffee at The Coffee Gang. If you ever find yourself in Cologne and your in need from some quality coffee, be sure to check them out!

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