Saturday, 20 August 2011

James Cracknell and the Marathon des Sables

Yesterday I read an article about James Cracknell and the Marathon des Sables.  He was the fastest Brit ever, and yet he does not possess anything near to the classic running physique.  Tipping the kilos at 90kg he was a good 25kg heavier than most of the top runners.

Apparently after each stage his eyes would be rolling in his head, and after one stage he had to go to the medics tent and they wanted to put a drip in him because he couldn't keep down any fluids.  Just when they were about to put the drip in, he asked them what time penalty that would incur him, and when they told him 2 hours he told them not to do it.  They said they would forgo the drip as long as he could start keeping down fluids within the next 30 minutes, and that he did.

The most amazing thing is not how good a runner was, but firstly his recovery rate and secondly his willpower.  On the issue of recovery, apparently less than an hour after almost being forced to have a drip put into him he was socialising with his tentmates again.  Then comes the willpower.  Most of us just simply are not willing to push ourselves that hard, and then there are some that will but they don't know at all when to stop.  It seems like James Cracknell pushes himself right to the edge but stops just short of seriously overdoing it (just), somehow managing to keep going.

Yesterday was a sweltering day here in Zurich.  Despite this, I thought it would be a good chance to go for a run from work back home with my backpack.  For a lot of people just being in the sun was too much, and the majority were hiding in the shade.  As I was running, and sweating, and feeling the full heat of the sun I remembered what I read about James Cracknell, and instead of slowing down I actually pushed harder.  I may not have the same mental toughness as him, but faced with slowing down or speeding up in the face of tiredness I chose the latter.

When I arrived at the Letten baths to meet with Anny and her cousin I was completely cream crackered at first.  But after sitting down for half an hour I was starting to feel normal again.  I will do well to remember what makes James do so well whenever I am starting to lag in training, and especially during the race itself.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Roundup of the last few days

The last few days has been a combination of cycling, running and Pilates.  Unfortunately I had to skip the yoga on Tuesday lunchtime so that I could go to the bike shop to choose my tour bike.

The bike rides have been between 40 and 50km in length.  Bikes rides of this length are very easy to fit in before or after work.  Ideally I would do one before work and one after work i.e. 80 to 100km per day.  My colleague is doing this at the moment and you get fit very quickly cycling 80km per day.

The running on Wednesday lunchtime was the usual casual jog through the forest, so nothing too strenuous there.

Then finally the Pilates has started again after a 3 week break due to my teacher being away on holiday.  The session tonight was very good and I don't feel any worse for wear, but I do feel like I have worked my powerhouse.  I also noticed there is less belly in the way during some of the exercises.  The belly fat is definitely decreasing.

Diet wise I have maintained my healthy diet.  The only slips have been chocolate bars, although I limit these to one per day if I can.  I am still taking my natural yoghurt with bee pollen on a daily basis.  It may not be the best tasting superfood ever, but it certainly isn't the worst either.  If anything  I would just describe it as "crunchy" with relatively little taste.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

I have chosen the bike for the tour

Today at lunchtime I went to the bike shop I usually go to in Wallisellen to look for a bike suitable for the South America tour.  The maximum price I had in my mind was 1,500CHF.  I wanted a good bike after all, as it has to see me through 5,000km of touring.  On the other hand if it gets stolen I don't want to be crying for the rest of the tour.

I started by looking at mountain bikes but nearly all of these came with disc brakes, and the recommendations from the tour organiser said V brakes are preferred over disc bikes.  I guess this is related to how easy it will be to fix the bike, and to get spare parts.  I showed the recommendations to the bike shop owner and then he said he had just the bike for me.

The bike he had in mind was a Stevens X 7 Cross bike.  The 2011 model comes with disc brakes but the 2010 model comes with V brakes and he had some 2010 models in stock.  The advantage of this over a mountain bike is that it is somewhat lighter (11.9kg), and with larger wheels and narrower tyres it is faster on the road sections.  The downside compared to a mountain bike is that on really rough ground it is not so comfortable, and the tyres will slip more.  I weighed up the pros and cons and decided that the lightness and additional speed on the paved sections made it a win for the cross.  If the Vuelta Sudamerica was a MTB tour then I would have chosen a MTB, but since most of it will be paved or gravel tracks a cross should be fine.  I double checked with the bike mechanic for the tour, and gave him the link, and he also thinks it will be fine.

The recommended retail price of the X7 Cross on the Stevens website is around 1,500CHF but the bikeshop owner said he would give me a discount of 15% (as I am always buying stuff from him).  That means that I can spend the 15% saved on upgrades and spare parts.  All in all a job well done.  My next task will be to find a tent suitable for the tour.  Ideally this will be one that can withstand rough weather and extremes of temperature, one that will keep me dry inside with enough space to move and one that will be quick and easy to put up and take down.  The rest of the bits and pieces I need for the tour I probably already have from my various excursions in the past.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Barefoot walk

Yesterday we went ahead with the plan of doing the barefoot path from Gontenbad to Jakobsbad.  As I mentioned I would, I cycled from here to meet Anny and her dad in Jakobsbad.  It didn't look that easy to get there on the map, but I memorised a lot of place names, and hoped that there would be signs for the places that I had memorised.  Looking at the map I estimated it would be about 80km - as it turned out that wasn't far wrong, although it was a bit nearer 90km.

The first part is simple enough - cycling down the lake from here to Rapperswil.  Going along the lake in Zurich was a nightmare though.  The streets had been cleaned after the street parade, but there were still small bits of broken glass everywhere, and the water that had been used to wash the streets had helped to spread the stale beer a little further.  I tried to avoid the broken glass where I could, but there was no much of it that some of it crunched under my tyres.  Luckily no punctures however.

Once I got to Rapperswil the next place I needed to head towards was Wattwil.  That was also easy as there were big signposts all the way there.  Once in Wattwil I realised I had cycled there before, when I went to Lichtenstein with Pete a few years back.  The route after Wattwil wasn't too obvious and I stopped to ask for directions.  I was fortunate that the first person I asked knew the way perfectly, although he said it was going to be quite tough with a lot of undulating sections.  Once I got a little further up the road I saw what he was talking about, but any climb below 500m is really not an issue these days.  There were a couple of smaller climbs though, so it will be interesting to see what my GPS says was the total climb.

I arrived in Jakobsbad with perfect timing, just 10 minutes before Anny and her dad arrived on the train. After a couple of minutes chatting we removed our shoes and set off on the Barfussweg (barefoot path).  It is the first time I have walked without shoes in the countryside, as I am usually worried about what things may be lurking in the grass.  I am sure that they check the route regularly for broken glass, or hope that people are not stupid or nasty enough to leave broken glass on a Barfussweg.  However you can't stop the wild animals going to the toilet on the path.  It doesn't really matter though, and the feeling of grass and bare earth and squelching mud beneath your feet is great.

Negrita went totally nuts and even jumped headlong into a pool of black mud.  She was then stuck firm and had to be pulled out by Anny, who was also covered from head to toe in mud by the time she got out.  The path was jam packed with other hikers, most of them Swiss.  Despite the sheer number of people on the path, almost everyone said Gruezi as they passed.  That is the kind of courtesy you only see in the countryside these days.  Although it would also be impractical in the city, as you would be saying Gruezi all day long in the city.

The only downside to the barefoot path is that there are stony sections, and if you don't have your shoes easily to hand, and don't have feet made of leather then it can be a bit uncomfortable.  All in all though it was a great experience and I would be happy to try out more barefoot paths in Switzerland.