April Runs

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We did it!

This morning, I woke at 5 am to drive my mother to the airport. It was rainy and windy and misty and the idea of running 20+ km in these circumstances sounded everything except appealing to me.

Fortunately the weather improved significantly so after the chaotic ‘what-to-wear’ session (while working warm crusli and banana into my stomach hoping it will stay there) we returned to the original idea of long pants and Team AprilRuns shirt. What a comfort to participate in a 1/2M race that starts just 2 miles from our house! We parked the bikes, visited the portable toilet, panicked some more about Garmin, iPhone, starting numbers (nothing unusual) and walked to start area.

Some twenty minutes before the shot this is what we saw in front of us:

And this is what we saw behind us:

I suggested to run the first 10k in a comfortable pace and see how we feel. Of course, the reality did not resemble the theory at all: the first 5k was one of our fastest ever, then after a short drinking pause (10 seconds of walking) the second 5k was quite similar. Except for my knee we felt very good. The path was quite nice, leading us through small villages and fields, we even saw deer. And along the path there were lots of locals cheering and offering drinks, fruit, sponges… I absolutely loved the atmosphere and was predetermined to enjoy it all the way.

The crisis came around km nr 12. The black currant gel did not go down too well I guess. Also, there was some wind against us and I’ve noticed we were slowing down a bit. Around that moment, I lost my hand made wrist strap with pace time for my Dream Time of 2:20. Well, whatever – as long as we finish, I thought.

I was encouraging V to run faster but she would not leave me behind. I was guessing that part of the reason being her two tennis matches last night. All the time, even though I ran with an mp3 player and earplugs, I was looking around enjoying the crowds: kids giving us high-five (and begging for sponges and gels), families, older people, bikers, dog walkers, musicians. And indeed, the kick I got when people/strangers clapped and yelled my name is hard to describe. And so my first crisis left as fast as it came.

At 15k we paused again, drank some and from that point somehow I knew we would make it. Suddenly more and more people around us were walking rather than running. I have to admit, watching an athletic guy with muscles that looked like sculpted by ancient Greeks in front of me and then passing him by (with my snail pace but still) – that gave me a kick of a century!

Short after that we crossed the 20k sign and intuitively speeded up just a little as one cannot look too slow down at the city centre. The finishing line was a dream, we crossed it hand in hand, laughing like crazy and utterly happy. We ran our first 1/2M and we did it together: for ourselves and also for April.

And for the statistics (not that time matters so much), the time was 2:14:45.

P.S. Even though this little bit is written all the way at the end, it is the most important part of this post: Thank you, V, for doing this with me. And thank you 12Honza, Shadow, Cheeta, Barborka and ALL other bloggers for your blogging which is a neverending source of inspiration for my humble running attempts.

My first race

… was supposed to be the 1/2M in Leiden but short time ago we came across a folder with the (much shorter) Singelloop in Leiden: it is a nice 6.6 km loop following the canal around the medieval part of the city. Since I’ve been living in Leiden for several years now, I decided to use this ‘back garden’ charity run to spice up my training a bit. V was happy to join (“Otherwise I have to go running tonight anyway…”)

I worked all week and had little time to google more information on the race. Also, we have friends from Prague visiting us this week so I was not really focused to get ready – enjoying long evenings with wine, chatting, eating and more wine.

The start of the race was scheduled at 19.30. At the end of the afternoon with still a lot of work related stuff to address, I quickly googled the report from the last year race: 5000 runners, major regional sports event,… hmm – it looked like the start line would be rather busy. Luckily, the start was at a walking distance from our house. I geared up our guests with 2 huge umbrellas (the weather forecast promised heavy showers) and a heavy back pack with warm dry clothes and we all walked towards the town. On our way, we could already see many runners – some on bikes, some already warming up by jogging.

Of course it was cold (wearing our Team AprilRuns t-shirts). And of course I had to go to the WC. And of course there were only 3 (three!) of them for the whole crowd. Luckily we were nice on time and queuing among other runners allowed me to calm down. I knew that 6.6 km was an easy distance and I had nothing to worry about. Yet my legs were shaking and I could hear my heart beating in my ears. I haven’t been feeling like this for the past 20 years. I haven’t been RACING since I was 18.

We did not hear the start shot, we just heard the crowd getting louder as it started moving towards the start gate. And then, several minutes later, V smiled at me and said it was our time to get going. The euphoria of that moment, the first hundred meters when you somehow feel united with that crowd, is hard to describe.

Young and old, slow and fast, fat and thin – all the people who exchanged the comfort of Friday night in front of their TV for the experience we were going through as well. The course brought us along the nicest parts of Leiden: 2 windmills (one of them used to belong to Rembrandt’s family), the old university buildings, botanical gardens, both city gates. I knew all the places, I have passed them many times by bike, by car or just walking – but never before I saw them from the perspective of a runner.

The crowd on the road and alongside the course was wonderful – people waving at us from their balconies, from the pubs and parks. Kids offering us water and snacks, students yelling at us. And so we ran. We ran as if there was no tomorrow. The atmosphere was too good to think about a slower pace. Soon we were half way and guess what: we were not at the tail, quite the contrary – we started passing many runners and as I quickly checked the watch, I knew this would be our fastest run so far.

At the finish line, our Czech guests were waiting so we even attempted to speed up for the finish photo. I guess we succeeded as they told us we were too fast for their cameras. And then, at the end, after crossing the finish line, we got our first running medals.

With the real time of 37:28, we managed to maintain the pace above 10 km p/h and that is a good sign that we can do the 1/2M in a month time. And it is a major achievement for me. Remember, several months ago I was not running at all. And I was 30 kg heavier…

Running the dunes

Saturday was our first morning without April – sunny and bright sky but the house was awfully quiet and we both felt rather empty. We decided to gear up with our new Team AprilRuns running shirts and hit the road to the dunes near Noordwijk. We have the 1/2M distance to run next month so why not to try how far we could go today.

We parked the car and quickly found a forest trail at the edge of the dunes. The views over the blossoming tulip fields were fantastic:

As we ran on, the paths started to fill up with bikers, hikers and other runners. Also, the paths started getting a bit hilly.

After about 7 km’s, we tested our fast-energy banana sticks (grrrr, awful) and decided to run further. Then at 10 km’s, our legs still felt fresh enough to continue and we decided to check the beach café nearby (well – sort of nearby). The truth is: we did not want to return to our quiet house… so we ended up with the total of 16.5 km, V’s longest run ever.

Happy Easter Running

The Easter weekend is almost over and it was good. My mother and April enjoying themselves with good food, talking and cuddling, me and V spending two mornings on the road (10 and 12 km). Both our runs were easy going and rather enjoyable. We managed to run next to each other, talk a bit, focus a bit, get tired but not too much… I think we found a pace that is ‘runnable’ at the 1/2M next month. Mum is leaving tomorrow morning and this might have been the last time for her to be with April.

Btw, this is the picture we chose for our Team AprilRuns shirts:

Running therapy

Eversince we’ve heard about April’s illness, my urge to run grew. As written previously, we have established a proper AprilRuns Team now and registered for a real race (scary!) – so we need to train. Early in the morning V hit the road to her tennis club to participate at her competition and I started thinking where to run and what to wear on a not-so-sunny-but-soon-to-be-very-warm day. I drank large coffee and decided to repeat my longest run to Rijpwetering. Some 16 km. Did I eat breakfast? No. Did I use bathroom? No. I just did not think about it…

… until km 3 when the full bladder announced its presence and demanded me to find some bushes. Usually I am rather kind to my body’s requests but I cannot do the impossible. This is South Holland in March, there are no bushes, trees, leaves, terrain obstacles – NOTHING to hide behind (especially not when wearing yellow):

I decided to run to the next village and try to find an open restaurant. But then again: this is a Sunday morning in South Holland: people are either in the church or on a bicycle so no restaurants to welcome wandering runners in need. Did I turn back and hurried home? No.

By the time I reached km 8, the bladder problem got a competitor: my right knee. Not my left knee, the injured one that I’ve been pampering for 2 years now in fear that it collapses one day. Not at all. It was my totally healthy and strong right knee that went on strike. So here I am, in the middle of nowhere with no money, no bushes, full bladder and needles in my knee thinking what are my options. I figured there was only one way to get home…

As I ran on thinking how desperate or embarassing would it be to ask the car drivers passing me by to give me a lift, another 2 km passed. And then running surprised me yet again: all of the sudden the knee pain was gone and so was the bladder-urge (note I did not wet my pants!). I ran additional 5 km or so home bringing the total to my new maximum of 17.2 km (and my week mileage to 40 km) – no pain, no problem.

At home, April’s wagging tail was welcoming me, her eyes suggesting to have a large brunch in the garden. And so I quickly showered and went to sit outside to play the neverending game of dropping pieces of cheese and ham as I was eating so that April could be cleaning all of them…

Bad news and The Plan

April’s arthrosis got worse during the past months, she suffered especially from painful swelling in her right front leg.  Several days ago we took her to the vet again and insisted on an x-ray. Unfortunately the results were not good. The pain and swelling are caused by an aggressive bone tumor (osteosarcoma) and it seems like the cancer is spreading into other parts of her body already. Without going into much details, the facts are devastating. She probably only has weeks to live. Except for some pain management, there is nothing we can do for her. No words to describe how we feel. There is a lot of quiet moments, tears and hugging. The good thing (as long as there is a good thing about this situation) is that the pain killers seem to work quite well and April is all happy and vital.

Yesterday evening I took V for a run along the river. I thought it would do us good to go outside together for a change. It was a nice quiet evening and as we were running, without much thinking V said that she would like to run a race with me and The Plan was born: we registered for the 1/2M in our home town.

It is a crazy idea – except for V’s tennis competition and my biathlon races 20 years ago, we have no experience with races. We never even ran 21 km in one go! But somehow, yesterday evening out there, thinking about us, the dog and all important things in life, we formed the AprilRuns Team that will participate in the Leiden Half Marathon on May 20.

Does it make any sense?

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