Tag Archives: running

Say You Do, Barcelona

A steady rhythm of our steps pounded to the loud beat from the speakers we were carrying. To the curious onlookers, we must have seemed like we’d escaped from a video game as we ran through the streets of Barcelona. As we reached Placa de les Drassanes by the port before 9 pm, there was a brief moment when we held our breaths: “Now what?”. Seeming just as (un)likely, we were equally nervous about whether all or none of the 10,000 people who’d indicated interest in the Barcelona Midnight Run would actually turn up. The latter fear was soon dispelled, as the first interested party appeared. The police car.

The guardia civil soon found better things to do on a Friday night, and one by one small tribes of people started filling the plaza with a cacophony of neon. When I looked around, there were TV cameras. Despite MRs seeming to have some of the coolest gadgets, Greg turned into a human microphone welcoming (or ‘yellcoming’) the crowd. Our salute to each other that night became ‘THIS. IS. FUCKING CRAZY!!’ The doubts I had entertained in my mind, were swept away by the Mediterranean breeze, as I leapt over the benches at the beach as if I had three lives.  When one of the MR captains yelled whether I had seen the back and that we should spread out, I turned around. For the first time that night I was breathless –  not because I’d been running and samba dancing at the same time – and counted, as if I was watching the world’s longest freight train disappearing into the night.

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By Tanya Raab http://tanyaraab.uk

Three days later I was waiting for a train to take me to work. Above me, there was a billboard where two men embrace under the caption “He said ‘yes’”. While fighting back the tears of joy for the men having Lloyds bank accounts, I was thinking that saying ‘yes’ when this society wants us to, tends to come with a life time of compromises and monogamy or eight years of David Cameron. At the same time, when it comes to lots of other things, sensible adults say ‘no’. If you’re female, there are even more denials, and nowhere is it packaged so beautifully as in the cult of motherhood. 

I’ve never been a very good member.

As a single parent, any adventure – well, anything – is about weighing the reasonability of lugging the offspring along versus the (financial and social) cost of leaving them home, while maximising the fun (or minimising the misery) for both. I call it finding your opti-Mum. Sometimes – like earlier this month – my whole family comes to rescue, but as the closest member lives a three hour flight away, it’s not the default childcare option unless I’m in hospital or at the risk of missing a marathon.

But let’s not overplay external constraints. Logistics are easier to fix than attitude. I’ve been thrilled about discovering Midnight Runners, the biggest threat to the gym dressed as just really nice individuals, but the idea of doing one of their trademark high steroid 10k runs 36 hours before the Marathon when other runners get sports massages and eat pasta, filled me with hesitation. A week before the trip, I was sitting at Serpentine Cafe in Hyde Park listening possibly to the vaguest event brief in my life. Greg, one of the founders, was telling us how the Facebook event had gone viral and attracted 10,000 joiners and a million visitors. We had no idea what the average bail rate was in Spain. We knew we were twenty people, had three Beatbringers, six speakers and zero permissions with the local authorities. Fuck it, I’m in!

I was excited about going to Barcelona. It’s hard to explain to Brits, to whom Spain is either party in Ibiza or a pensioner resort in Malaga, that for me, Spain was the context of self-discovery and spiritual growth. When many of the Midnight Runners were still having midnight feedings, I travelled to Spain on my own, and walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage (self-discovery); met my father for the first time and asked him why (self-discovery); and tongue kissed an unknown Italian guy at an unknown tube station in Barcelona (spiritual growth). Flying back was like opening an epilogue to my teenage diary.

Our base camp in Poblenou would have probably sent my mum into a mild hysteria and motherly guilt had that been my accommodation fifteen years ago. The building rising opposite one of the biggest clubs in Barcelona, also housed an African pentecostal church and despite its windowless front, it boasted a concrete step that was enjoyed as a break-out area by local crackheads, who we skipped over on our way out for early breakfast before pre-inspection of the night’s route.

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The HQ

It was colder than what our choice of fashion and Norah Jones playlist suggested. The Midnight Runners do exercise stops every couple of kilometres, so what might have been mistaken for a leisurely stroll along the beach on sunny day, was actually really hard work to confirm and memorise their locations. I can confess that I couldn’t remember any of them. I could hardly remember that I was going to run the marathon hours later or that I had an inflamed tendon. The experience has already been remembered in a confetti of photographs shared by hundreds of people of the 3,000 who turned up. What those pictures don’t tell, is what we reminded ourselves over a dinner at our arrival: none of us knew each other a year ago. Let alone any of the hundreds of wonderful people who we were high-fiving later. Cheers for that.

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Tough day in the office. By Daniel Varga. From the London Midnight Runners FB page.

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Just before I knocked off the cyclist with my enthusiastic high five. Vamos, Barcelona! By Daniel Varga. From London MR FB page.

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I (at the back) may not look like it, but that’s how I felt too. By Daniel Varga. From London MR FB page.

It was hard to beat Friday night, but Sunday’s Marathon was what most of us were there for, and while some chose to run it together, to me it was a return to introspection. I read a lot of running blogs and admire the authors’ ability to recall each kilometre. As established, details are not my forte. I felt strong and chose to ignore what I had thought my pace should be. Underestimating myself had put me in with a later start, which resulted wasting a lot of time trying to get past people, like it was a Monday morning at London Bridge and the world had come for a visit. Ten kilometres in I tripped over on the asphalt, which could have ended much worse than in a few scrapes. I was pulled up by a stranger and was able to maintain 5:00/km pace. I decided I wouldn’t worry about going too fast but accept positive splits (slow down) when I got tired, and still be able to achieve my goal of sub-4 time. I did eventually get tired and started to die – but not before the 40th kilometre (which, by the way is when they always take the official race photos. WHY?)

People, with best intentions, will tell you how fast you should go, where and how often. Sometimes they’re right. But most of the time they’re not me. Passing the 3:45 pacers felt unreal. My Barcelona room mate, a tall blonde woman in her 50s, said she didn’t really think about pace at all. Or bother with a watch for that matter.  She’d just run. And did she run – finishing third in her overall category in three hours and ten minutes.  I still have a lot to learn.

I’d been quietly hoping for a sub-4 time, but with 3:42 at 34 I got a ‘good for age’ for London! It will automatically guarantee me a place in one of the most popular and difficult to get to city marathons in the world. No ballot bullshit! No stressful fundraising targets! I had hardly collected my medal and before I had changed into a dry top, I turned on data roaming just to check that I missed the qualifying time for Boston by a couple of minutes. If I need to beat myself about something, I’ll go with that. 

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The medics not even feigning an interest in my life-threatening injury.

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Four times sub-four time

As to my first love, Spain, I won’t let another fifteen years pass before my next visit. In fact, I’ll be back in late August to walk the Camino de Santiago again, but this time I’ll be taking my daughter with me. I can’t safely say how many miles of ‘I spy with my little eye’ I can put up with, but that’s why we’re going to walk one of the busier routes. Sorry, pilgrims.

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My best photo from the trip. Welcome back.

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Please Disable Your Out-of-Office

In my last post I said this blog was about to get really interesting, and I have more than exceeded expectations.  I’ve been back at work for over two months now, and in my current role as a ‘leadership and cross-cutting issues performance driver’, the following quote in my Facebook feed today resonated with me enough to write a blog post:

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

In a glass building in London it is very difficult to make “I ran around 80 km per week” sound like a good use of time – especially if that time consists of a full (financial) year. What, I didn’t found even one teeny-weeny start-up? Or a charity to capacity build  indigenous women to make bracelets perhaps? Taught English? Nope. I just was. In Peru. And occasionally I ran.

“Yes, but what did you actually do?”

The funny thing is why I’m not asking the people in the office the same question. To an extent, a time could have been stopped for the whole year – bar some changes to a desk booking system (which doesn’t work) and the canteen, and a few greyer heads, everything looks more or less like I left it over a year ago.

If anything, I feel even less motivated by this emperor’s new clothes business, where I currently am the one with the responsibility for booking meetings for the senior needle and doing the admin for the senior specialist thread. As you might have guessed from my fancy job title above.

Your identity pends on your job, and not on the other things you do (if you have time to do other things).  On my career break, I used my business card to get access, and in the Immigration forms I would write as my occupation the one that I was having a break from. This would make others see that I’m not just a single mum, I am someone. Whether that job has any point is beside the point, and while it makes me feel worthless it is why I’m worth something, as the Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently reminded.

I’ve learnt there are a lot of things in the world that make me happy and that are not my job – or maybe any job out there apart from being a judge at the Great British Bake Off, and that’s ok! Perhaps it’s not in your job’s job description to be fulfilling in every sense, just like it’s not your partner’s responsibility to maintain your expected levels of happiness (although there are  some minimum standards).  I’d like to reclaim the word ‘passion’ and ban it from every single CV. I love writing, running, chirimoyas and my daughter. None of them earns me a living, but does that mean they are not valuable for their own sake? Today I managed  to get up at 5.30 am (this is much harder when it’s colder, darker and waaaayy lonelier than in Lima) and run 10km catching the sunrise over Alexandra Palace. A few hours later, in the office I responded to a request to invite someone to a meeting who had already been invited by another colleague, so I sent a couple of apologetic emails to clear the confusion. A bit of email traffic back and forth. Then I printed  a total of 160 pages of documents (containing an options appraisal for instruments to inspect inspectors, or something in this vein), which nobody in the meeting read, so I chucked these in the confidential waste bin.

Economists may disagree, but I think my most productive moment of the day was before 6.30 am.

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On doing what you love and being productive, last month I ran with the guys from Haringey Good Gym. There are GG groups all over London and the UK and they basically do a weekly running session combined with a bit of community work. The picture is from their Facebook page

Disclaimer:

If you are from work and you’re reading this, I’d like to say that I’m completely passionate about my job, the every day challenges it brings, the people I meet, the value I bring and the sustainable difference I’m making. I thrive on solving every day problems with printers and meeting bookings. Just in case that message was somehow unclear.  

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Heart Says Yes, Head Says No

I’m often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.
– Haruki Murakami, ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’
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“Don’t stop until you get there.”

San Pedro de Casta lies about 80 kilometres from Lima. The road climbs some three kilometres up along a narrow mountain roller coaster to the little village that is home to 500 people, donkeys and cows. It is an access point to an ancient site Marcahuasi, which is famous for eroded rocks mystically shaped into people and animals – inspiring generations of archeologists and UFO believers.

This was the route of last Saturday’s training run. One that I never completed. Which is not to say I didn’t see all kinds of mystical things. I started suffering from a bad ‘soroche’, altitude sickness, less than a kilometre from leaving San Pedro de Casta. Even writing about it gives me a headache.

Of course I’d heard of soroche, but I tend to take a lot of confidence in having generous reserves of physical strength supplemented by mental stubbornness and, if everything fails, a pain threshold far, far higher than the threshold for higher tax rate. And the six years spent as a management consultant on the 9th floor in London – how’s that for altitude?

So I equipped myself with a coca-toffee sweet – coca leaves being an Andean folk remedy for altitude sickness – and was pretty much as battle prepared as I was seven years ago when I confidently waddled to a labour ward with a pill of ibuprofen.

Now I just smile and nod when soon to be mothers tell about their plans for natural birth. And now, I also know that people warning me about altitude weren’t necessarily lambasting my physical condition. Nothing to do with my resting heart rate. Apparently even Olympic athletes get altitude sickness. What happens is that your body isn’t used to the reduced levels oxygen that is available at heights of 2,500 metres and above. In some cases fluid builds up in the brain or lungs, which can even be fatal. Soroche has been described to feel like “flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover”. Pretty to the point, I’d say, although my preferred choice of conjugation would be ‘and’.

As I rapidly fell behind the group, in between taking photos, I used the voice recorder in my phone, because that is how much I care about this blog. On retrospect, Felipe, who later tried to call me, had a point in questioning the foresight in leaving my other phone that had network  (but no Spotify) in his car. Yet on the other hand, I bet Haruki Murakami wished he had thought like me.

Here is what I thought, as transcribed from the ‘black box’:

“3500 metres… never felt like this before. Is this the point where you turn back? Or maybe there are rewards for stupidity? Probably the oxygen is not going to my head… Oh my god, those cows – I should ask how do they do it? Absolute hell. Oh dear. Ouch. These fucking insects are going to eat me alive.

Why can’t I just go to Virgin Active, like normal people? I can’t see properly. I see everything like it was a filtered Instagram picture where the saturation and contrast are just off… There are people up there, I can hear them. Are these insects getting bigger and bigger? Is that a man in an orange coat or is it just a rock? Oh God… next time I want challenge, I’ll just wrap a plastic bag in my head and run up and down the stairs to Malecón. 

The lethargy I felt was worse than in all of the last year’s team meetings combined. There is a four minute clip about wanting a sausage with proper mustard, or alternatively a Peruvian ‘sanguiche’ with ‘salsa criollo’. No eternal light. No Heaven or Angels. Just a sausage with mustard for me, please.

I found a rock to lie on and slept for a bit, until someone told me to get up. Sleeping could lead to unconsciousness.

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…Ok so, I’ve moved 5.3km. That’s 300 metres progress in the past hour. I feel so ill… There were two girls returning, they said they couldn’t find the group anymore. They said the best thing to do was to turn back to the base, and that’s what I’m doing right now, and I already feel better. My legs are fine, my heart is absolutely fine, my breathing is fine, but it’s just this bloody head! I’m not even sweating, and why would I? I haven’t been able to run apart from the 20 metres for the photographer…

I thought it would feel like shortness of breath, but no, it doesn’t feel like that all. You feel like you need to vomit, only if your brain didn’t explode first. There’s a shortage of oxygen in my brain. A shortage of reason as well. I have to go down, find the bus… it’s a bit of  a defeat, you have to return, but I have no desire to go much higher and then get lost anyway.  I’m not running. I’m not sure I can ever become an ultra marathoner. I’ll be happy to run on the asphalt. Bring on the traffic lights, dog shit, congestion, people on your way! 

…Then again, I’d never have this view again, and I’ve never in my life seen anything like this. There’s something depressing about the remote beauty of these mountains. I feel like Ninny, the invisible child, in the Moomins, who wept at the enormousness of the sea. 

Beautiful but so big. I’m thinking about love and my relationship and these mountains. Impressive… make me feel so small and lonely. Part of me wants to carry on, but part of me tells me that I haven’t prepared. I don’t know if I could have. But now I’m so sorry I didn’t make it. We didn’t make it. About leaving in the past a future that never got the chance to be the present.

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San Pedro de Casta seen from above

Some obstacles are external, some are internal. I find the latter harder to bear. It took me glorious four hours and four minutes to complete 10k – two weeks earlier I had run 42k faster. Turning back implies failure and, for a moment at least, a lesson learned is a bitter consolation prize. Yet I don’t know if the winner feels any sweeter than the surviver, who returns to the base to the relieved applaud of her worried companions. Those are your friends. But if your attitude to life is ‘better to be sore than sorry’, you also deserve some background noise from people who kept their wanderlust in check and were just more capable of controlling their carnal incontinence.

I wish I never climbed that mountain. I wish I never fell in love with that person.

Yeah. Whatever.

That next mountain training is just over a week away. I wonder what the view will be like from there? (Any tips on how to cope with altitude, please comment.) There are those who say life is not a sprint but a marathon. I’m starting to think life is a trail run.

Hey, you think this is Chicken Run?

“I have nothing to do with her running metaphors.”

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Jack (or Jill) of All Trails

Having ran the 42k last week, got a diarrhoea for the following two days and then my period, I thought I had a fairly good reason to put my feet up. I mean, really up: about 2,500 meters above the sea level, and  join a group of experienced trail runners for a 3 hour vertical jog.

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Picture by the SRT, although I failed to get the name of the photographer and will stand the risk of being sued.

I’m more of an asphalt person even if all “long-distance” (over 1500 metres) running in my childhood took place in the Finnish forests. Still, back then nobody with any self respect or healthy concern for their social status would self identify as a cross-country runner.

But now cross-country is back – with a vengeance. Trail running (or fell running in the UK) where backpacking meets running usually happens on a mountainous or at least hilly terrain with a lot of mud/snow/scree. As my very last challenge in Peru, I’ve signed up for a 50k ultra-marathon in Cordillera Blanca, the Andes. Yeah, I know. Never been in altitude. I thought I could start with having the right kind of shoes. Although I’m someone who reads a lot of running magazines and blogs (Google ads think I’m a 65+ multilingual female), the technical language and the expected level of knowledge of shoe anatomy left me bewildered. Besides, in a few months I’ll be worrying about snow and rain, instead of jungle undergrowth, and then I won’t be able to afford (yet) another pair. I email the training organiser for a recommendation and get a pair of Salomon Speed Cross 3.

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A custard apple a day…

I meet the Salomon Trail Runners (hence the recommendation), who I found on Facebook, at 5.30am on Saturday and introduce myself. Having spent my life in Finland and England, language barriers have meant that I’ve not had to endure a life time of jokes about my name – just some phonetic abuse. This has changed in Peru. “Dulce?” they say and “On a good day,” I respond. Having also satisfactorily responded to some questioning about my vital numbers and running CV, I feel socially approved. “No – it’s just that yesterday there was someone emailing me who didn’t even know what kind of shoes to wear!”

Just imagine the ignorance of some people!

We head out of Lima, and two hours away hides a little village called Callahuanca, which is Quechua, and means ‘divided rock’. It is also known as the land of ‘chirimoya’, my absolute favourite fruit in the whole world that I didn’t know existed before I came to Peru! Mark Twain apparently called it the most delicious fruit known to men and quite rightly. I love it for its bubble gummy flavour as well as for its texture. (Daughter thinks it’s completely embarrassing I buy the same fruit from the fruit vendor every single day.) It satisfies my sweet tooth, fills me up and is apparently one of the healthiest fruits out there. On top of this, because training in high altitude increases the production of harmful free radicals in the muscles, what a better idea than supporting local farmers and taking home a few kilos of these green antioxidant powerhouses. How many super foods can just one country grow?

Apparently I’ll be ok, as ASDA sells these as ‘custard apples’, but I can’t imagine they compare to the ones in Callahuanca. I may need to take some seeds home with me in any case.

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Callahuanca is popular among trekkers and mountain bikers.

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My gym last Saturday.

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There was some undulation…

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…and even a pool with ice cold water waiting for us after 9km. 

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Between the Pasta Party and the Post-Marathon BBQ

Tomorrow it’s the Lima Marathon – for those to whom such things matter – ‘el maratón’, which is to be distinguished from ‘la maratón’. The English translation could be ‘the marathon’ vs “a marathon” in quotation marks*, i.e. the actual official distance of 42.195 km vs whatever distance some deceived marketing department has decided to call a marathon. No, Pheidippides the Greek messenger, of the legend on which the race is based, didn’t collapse to death after a 5k, even if by today’s general standards that might seem completely credible.

(*This may not clear the confusion if, like my daughter, one doesn’t know how to use quotation marks, which I hope is the reason why on the mother’s day card she wrote that she was very quote-unquote “happy” that I was her mother.)

So while I’m still digesting yesterday’s pasta and thinking about tomorrow’s BBQ, I’m taking a quick look back on all the preparation that has gone in for tomorrow.

Training

Around 1,500km since August. My clothes have a permanent smell of sweat only a little less notable than that of the synthetic turf of our local football pitch.

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Playlist

The other downside of the above is that I’ve got sick of my Spotify playlist. Here’s the partly updated backbeat.

Gbese – Lil Kesh

Wild for the Night – A$AP Rocky

Ride Wit Me – T.I.

Shots – Broiler Remix – Imagine Dragons

If It Wasn’t For You – Alesso

Hold You – Radio Edit – Basto

Next To Me – Otto Knows

Are You with Me – Radio Edit – Lost Frequencies

FADE – Radio Edit – Wild Culture

Siberia – Instrumental – Tez Cadey

Holidays – ft Alan Palomo – Miami Horror

Stronger – Clean Bandit

Of The Night – Bastille

Tarantula (Ft. Fresh, $Pyda & Tenor Fly) – Pendulum

A Sky Full of Stars – Hardwell Remix – Coldplay

Falling – Radio Edit – Fedde Le Grand

Heroes (we could be) – Alesso

Save Me – LISTENBEE

Firestone – Kygo

Shooting Star – Radio Edit – John Dahlbäck

RIVA (Restart The Game) – Radio Edit – Klingande

Seve – Radio Edit – Tez Cadey

Stole the Show – Kygo

Sexual Healing – Kygo Remix – Kygo

Beautiful People – Ultimate Fitness Playlist Power Workout Trax

Kickstarts – Running Music

If I Go – Ella Eyre

Hold My Hand – Jess Glynne

Waves – Robin Schulz Remix – Mr. Probz

Listen (feat. John Legend) – David Guetta

The Nights – Avicii

Numb/Encore – JAY Z

Nobody To Love – TS7 Remix – Sigma

Nobody To Love – Radio Edit – Sigma

Rather Be (feat. Jess Glynne) – Clean Bandit

The Last Ones Standing – Tep No

You’re On – Gramatik Remix – Madeon

The Hanging Tree – Rebel Remix – James Newton Howard

Fade Out Lines – The Avener Rework – The Avener & Phoebe Killdeer

Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall – Coldplay

7 / 11 (Originally Performed by Beyoncé) [Instrumental Version] – Brant Ivory

Alive – Empire Of The Sun

Pompeii – Bastille

Running On A Rainy Day – Paul White

I Had This Thing – Röyksopp

Letter To TINA – Fuse Odg

Outside – Calvin Harris

Alright – Logic

First – Cold War Kids

Last Nite – The Strokes

Red Hands – Walk Off the Earth

A Sky Full of Stars – Coldplay

Break Free – Ariana Grande

Prayer in C – Robin Schulz Radio Edit – Lilly Wood and The Prick

Midnight City – M83

We Come Running – The Knocks Remix – Youngblood Hawke

I Follow Rivers – The Magician Remix – Lykke Li

Midnight City – M83

Do It Again – Röyksopp

Work Hard, Play Hard – Wiz Khalifa

Can’t Do Without You – Caribou

All of Me – (Tiësto’s Birthday Treatment Remix) [Radio Edit] – John Legend

Say My Name (feat. Zyra) – ODESZA

Waiting All Night (feat. Ella Eyre) – Rudimental

Sinnerman – Felix Da Housecat’s Heavenly House Mix – Nina Simone

Alive – Chase & Status

Children Of The Sun – feat. John Martin – Tinie Tempah

I Need Your Love – Calvin Harris

Powerless – feat. Becky Hill – Rudimental

Move – Original Mix – Mausi

Sweet Nothing – Calvin Harris

Without You (feat. Usher) [Radio Edit] – David Guetta

Youth – Foxes

Save the World – Radio Mix – Swedish House Mafia

End Credits – Chase & Status

Spotlight – Moto Blanco Radio Remix – Jennifer Hudson

We Found Love – Calvin Harris

Changing – Sigma

Starry Eyed – Ellie Goulding

Safe And Sound – Capital Cities

Red Lights – Tiësto

What You Know – Two Door Cinema Club

Blame – Calvin Harris

Goodness Gracious – The Chainsmokers Extended Remix – Ellie Goulding

Houdini (RAC Mix) – Foster The People

Prayer in C – Robin Schulz Radio Edit – Lilly Wood and The Prick

Changes – Original Mix – Faul & Wad Ad

That’s Not Me – Skepta

Still Speedin’ – Radio Edit – Sway

Spaceship – Dappy

Pasta party

I should have known that carb loading in Peru is an excuse for another social event. On Friday we shared two delicious pasta dishes between eight of us. My take on  Gordon Ramsay’s pancetta spaghetti with Peruvian dry cured ham went down well, although I’m taking no responsibility for any after effects.

Gear

Happy with the official deep blue sleeveless race top and found a matching pair of shorts. However, I realised only afterwards that it only came with a very small side pocket, and after much deliberation I had already decided against my ultra-fashionable hydration belt. I won’t be carrying any water – let the volunteers work for their money. I then bought a much sleeker belt by ASICS, but after I’d stuffed it with four gels, under inspection, from the side, it made me look fat. Given I may not look my best for the photographers anyway, this was something I wasn’t very fond of. Hence I’ve managed to cram two gels in the little pocket, and one will possibly go in my bra. I don’t mind if one of my boobs looks fat and symmetry is overrated. I’ll update later if this was a good idea.

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Route

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Strategy

Reminds me of school.

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Support

Gladly no quotations marks.

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Post Marathon BBQ

Booked for the whole family. Apparently this is the most important part of the day.

Sleep. Now.

Blog. Later.

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Run, Run, as Fast as You Can

There’s nothing as natural as running. As anyone who’s ever survived a school holiday knows, children run all the time. You tell them to stop, mainly because it’s annoying, distracting, stuff breaks and you can’t focus enough to finish a bloody blog post. But parents also fear the horrible accidents that might leave them unable to run, climb or jump ever again – and so we’re always telling them not to run, climb or jump.

Kids don’t ‘jog’ or ‘do exercise’. They don’t run because they missed the train. There’s the sheer joy of movement, even before we were upright, and the language of running is universal. Among my daughter’s first Spanish words was “chapadas”, “tag” (in Peruvian Spanish).

Last Sunday, over 1,500 adults were playing catch in Lima in the Wings for Life World Run global event that drew over 100,000 participants in 35 different countries. Irrespective of time zone, the clock starts at the same time for everyone, but whether you’ll be running a 10k, a half marathon, 42.195 km or even an ultra is up to each runner. Winning in the race is not about being the fastest but also about running the furthest, because once a ‘Wings for Life’ car catches up with you, your life as an antelope is over.

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Picture by ifitness.

But it was a good life nonetheless for the Lima participants – no rain, no blaze and temperatures of around 20C. I don’t know whether the race organisers do something to ensure that the race conditions are as level as possible, but in any case, it seems for the top Peruvian runners there’s no mountain high enough. Last year’s men’s silver medallist Remigio Huaman running this year’s race in Austria came third in the global category. Remigio made it to 78k, a distance equal to London to Cambridge. To give perspective, he’s had to average 3:50min/km. I just got out of the city onto the motorway as my journey stopped at 23k (So it would have been Uxbridge and a zone 6 travel card for me).

I have nothing but awe for this humble runner, who I was lucky to meet at the North Face Endurance Challenge earlier this year. The father who doesn’t speak any English, says he could have never imagined travelling the world with his young son, which is what he did with his last year’s prize. Social mobility as literal as it gets.

The event was organised for the first time a year ago to raise funds and publicity for spinal cord injury research. In Peru, the charity running format is still relatively rare and no-one’s heard of fund raising. There are probably various reasons for this, including socio-economic, but I feel that as in Peruvian society in general, there’s also a strong sense of entitlement, with little sense of responsibility. For example, “banditing” – joining races and taking advantage of facilities without paying the registration fee – is not frowned upon like in Europe. In fact, the Spanish expression “correr libre” (run free) has a cute anarchist ring to it, a personal choice a bit like the Paleo diet but less annoying.

As this scenario inevitably changes  – Peruvians are getting richer and international donors are pulling out one by one which means fundraising will become vital to the survival of many charities – Wings for Life seems a completely appropriate cause in Lima.  Most spinal injuries are caused by traffic, and Lima’s traffic being among the most dangerous in the world with nearly three deaths per 100 vehicles. There was some finger in the air pleasure in facing the anger of Lima’s drivers stuck behind the police lines that were providing security for the runners.

It is said that spinal injury is among the worst pains one can experience. On my personal pain scale, I’d give birth without epidural anytime over having vertebral compression.  The nights before I’d convinced myself that it might be a good idea to pop in the clinic, I would lie on the floor in spasms, unable to finish my sentences, while my 6-year old would be fetching pain killers, water and warm towels, or massage my back by walking on it. How we were up for school and work a few hours later, I can’t remember, but if I was a grumpy bitch to be around, I’m sorry.

I know I’m bit of a broken record about the (once) broken back, but it’s partly for me not to trivialise or forget the memory only because in my case it turned out well. For many, especially in lower or middle income countries like Peru, it doesn’t. But it’s also partly because the Wings for Life asks ‘what’s your reason to run’, and the experience just gives a bit more depth to the ‘because I can’.

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The ‘quantified self’ there checking her pace too busy to smile for the cameras. Luckily. Picture by ifitness.

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Together again! Picture by Luis Antonio Roldan for Peru Runners.

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Running with the Peruvians

I have a confession to make. I’ve been unfaithful. Two-timing. Strayed from a perfectly functioning relationship. I look beside me at 4.30 am and there’s a man, thirty years my senior. And I’m struggling to keep his pace.

Which is precisely 5:13 min/km on a half marathon. After the first 10k of our 21k training run, I fall behind my running buddy. Since the outlandish school hours forced me to cheat on my old running group ‘Miraflores Runners’, I’ve started my mornings with delegates from ‘Corre Perú’, which has a radically different approach to training.

Because getting from A to B is never as simple as getting from A to B. For the past few weeks I have been a slave to my sports watches (I can’t decide between Polar M400 and Garmin Forerunner. It’s me, the person who can’t choose on which continent to live!) to help me follow the detailed data tables specifying my speed zones for each workout. These are supposed to achieve me a respectable finishing time for the Lima Marathon in May. I did run my 10k PB sparked by the words of the Cuban coach Daniel Gorina that too many of us are “conservative”. Not as in Katie Hopkins – although there are too many of her as well – but as in conservative energy savers during a race; like you had any further use for your body parts after the finish line. If you’ve never during your career pledged to give “your 110%”, nor had the pleasure of working with someone who does, we need to have a chat, because I want your job. This boast has never made much sense to me – until last month. Now the cliché could even be quantified (04:20min/km)! Never mind Academia Gorina was only really asking us to give our 98% – less catchy for management consultants, but on a 10k you will enjoy the taste of blood in your mouth all the same. “If you abandon the training, you abandon the training – as long as you give it ALL you got.” (Minus the 2 per cent…)

This is completely opposite to the Protestant take on life of ‘to the bitter end, no matter what or how long it takes’. As for everything delivered while dressed in lycra, I started considering how I might apply this new piece of wisdom as a metaphor to other areas of my life, say, relationships. (But Hazel Davis already makes the case for drinking absinthe in the street here.)

While deviating from the macabre data tables by going too slow or too fast is parallel to making excuses to the speed camera, a failed run with Miraflores Runners would probably just be a run that you didn’t enjoy. Or a run without any group selfies. (My FB friends can appreciate the success rate in this regard.)

While I do need to challenge myself, I feel at home with this philosophy. In Peru I have discovered that endurance running is not about the solitary but the solidarity. The running equivalent of ‘we’re all in this together’ – as Adrharanand Finn describes in his thoroughly enjoyable best-seller Running with the Kenyans:

“In a group it is easier. It can feel as though the group is running, not you. As though the movement around you has picked you up and is carrying you along. The switching back and fort of legs focusing the mind, synchronising it, setting a rhythm for your body to follow. As soon as you become detached from the group, its power evaporates and it feels harder to run.”

If this camaraderie, training in high altitudes, ‘reverence for running’ and, in some cases, escape from poverty lie behind the success of Kenyan runners, it’s not surprising that there are Peruvian runners hot on the non-cushioned heels of the nation of champions. On Sunday, the pint-sized 28-year-old Inés Melchor made a new national 42.2km record nowhere else but in neighbouring Chile – a sweet Peruvian victory that is spurring high hopes for an Olympic gold in Rio next year.

So I will conclude with a wisdom that I’m happy sell to the highest paying political party candidate to use in the next elections, without having to travel 6,000 miles to the ancient land of the Inka empire:

“We’re all in this together – 110%.”

Even if last weekend I couldn’t keep up, and got lost from my literally young at heart running partner. It’s a good time for a dose of Finnish pessimism, and remind myself that despite having the ugliest feet in the world, I don’t currently count ‘Olympic hope’ among my occupations, but rather, am a 30-something mum, with a degree in sociology, a certificate in project management and one or two other weaknesses. Who cares about my (running) achievements or failures – or to the point, can tell one from another, apart from me? And I can always load my expectations and unrealised dreams on the cute shoulders of the next generation. While also reminding her – if something ain’t working for you, it really is ok to leave. (Except the vegetables.) But the face says she might not be doing that any time soon.

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Playas Del Sur where DD gets covered in pink and comes third.

Sharing the page with Inés Melchor, DD with the Miraflores Runners in yesterday's Libero.

Sharing the page with Inés Melchor, DD with the Miraflores Runners in yesterday’s Libero.

La ciudad blanca - or five white kilometres organised by the local borough of Miraflores.

La ciudad blanca – or five white kilometres organised by the local borough of Miraflores.

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Problems and possibilities

In February, the always reliable BBC reported that training very hard is as bad as no exercise at all. Timed well to relieve the guilt of possibly already broken new year’s resolutions, the study of 1000 people found that strenuous joggers were more likely to die sooner than couch potatoes. Later it turned out there were 36 people in the self defined category of ‘strenuous joggers’ and two of them died (of unknown reasons), but the story was out, and now only strenuous joggers and sociologists were interested in the truth.

So when my running buddies joke that I run nine days a week, it’s not far off the truth. Never mind what BBC would make of that, I don’t know how many casualties there might be if I DIDN’T run. The more intensive training plan the coach Rolando has devised to prepare us for the Lima 42k in May, has not just kept this sociologist out of mischief but also reasonably balanced.  This is code for not going completely berserk. Because, man, do I have reasons to start buffering:

  • The school holiday in Peru is longer than an average Kardashian marriage and about as long as the Falklands War, which precipitates all kinds of problems in itself.
  • Our tourist visas expired, of course we had made zero progress in obtaining residency, and thanks to the mental damage caused by David Cameron I couldn’t bear the thought of staying in any country illegally. Having read about foreigners being denied re-entry or, worse, being kidnapped by bandits, our border hopping trip to Ecuador was ok. DD got fined for overstaying her visa, though. Given that the stamps in our passports had exactly the same dates, and that you just don’t argue with border officials, my only conclusion is that time must literally fly faster when you’re small (except on school holidays), a bit like, you know, dog years. It was the only time in my life I was happy that I don’t own a Bichon Frisé.
  • There comes a point when a career break becomes unemployment. We can argue about the exact coordinates, my guess is definitely by the time the bank balance drops below £49. My sympathies go to anyone trying to find a job in a foreign country that requires that you’ve gone to primary school (and possibly other places…) with every juan pablo worth knowing. Peace be with you.
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Feeding iguanas in Guayaquil, Ecuador

So against these and other adversities, I’m happy to share some running success. My first race since the Amazon Race Forest, was slightly less respectable 10k dirt track by the beach on a hot Sunday that the Real Club organisers preposterously called the ‘marathon’. (Real Club is a leisure club…) Had it been a marathon, I’d be in the world records, which I’m not, but nevertheless took my first ever podium position in an organised race. I also got 500 soles (and so doubled my wealth) for coming second! This was great given I’d just spent 200 soles to sign up to run 21k in the North Face Endurance Challenge on 28th February. I can’t help feeling that my achievement had something to do with the state of women’s participation in amateur sports in this country.  The very elite aside, the people from Huancayo aside, I think the gap between men and women’s level in such events is not really justifiable. But if that means I can run through the cracks and to the podium, what are ideals for if not for discussion?

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She’s not here to discuss ideals.

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Miraflores Runners took home four medals in three categories.

No such cracks at the NFC event though. We’re talking about one of the main ultra and mountain races (including a 10k and 21k) events in Peru taking place in the serros of Asia, about 100km south from Lima. The landscape may feel homely if you’re e.g. a Taliban, but for me the sight of endless dry rocks, sand and scree with a few pitiful cactuses, made a too strong metaphor for the solitude I often feel in this country. If it was a jigsaw, it would be one of those fucked up ones with 5000 pieces and just two colours: blue and brown. I filled my bag with more water, snacks, vaseline and sun screen than what might have been necessary.

The NFC also supposedly had cut-off points, meaning anyone taking longer than a set time to pass an aid-station would be automatically disqualified. I didn’t see this being enforced by any degree (as with most of civil law in Peru), any more than I saw anyone getting penalised for throwing rubbish on the route, another commendable principle, I think.

What was enforced, and controversially so, was the two hour penalty to the originally claimed male winners of the 80k, Remigio Huamán and Emerson Trujillo. According to the race organiser, the elite runners had “involuntarily shortcut”. This is a very Peruvian way of assuming responsibility, be it bad sign posting or bad public policy. (“!No es mi culpa!”, as I’ve heard several times from our back garden during this – did I already say ‘long’? – school holiday.)

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Still the winner, Remigio Huamán. Still alive, me. (right to left, ahem)

Apparently somewhere at 70k, the two leaders (“involuntarily”) missed a turn and so cut 3 km of the official route. Of course the opprobrium of Peruvian runners and fans, was not the least alleviated by the gold or, to be exact, North Face gift vouchers – which makes it worse – being now handed over to a gringo, Michael Wardian (US). “The route wasn’t well sign posted,” people protest on Facebook. Even worse, some of the poor course marshals whose job it was to keep the runners on the route, had involuntarily fallen asleep when the first runners passed them at the crack of dawn! (They’d been up since 2am and it was only the most hailed ultra marathon event of the year.) Those who hadn’t, gave wrong, even contradicting directions, which ANYONE who has ever asked for directions to ANYWHERE in Peru will find extremely shocking…

But back to the more interesting topic, that is me, at least to me. Although proper trail shoes and protective gloves wouldn’t necessarily go to waste on a route like this, I enjoyed every second of the race, and was kept going by some atavistic survival instinct. When many seemed beaten by the mountains, I was able to pick up pace and run the last four kilometres well below 5min/km ending up as the 16th woman. More importantly, this race marked a special anniversary. One year ago, one momen20150228_093432t I had been filling my time sheet or doing whatever important shit consultants do on a Friday, and preparing to go for drinks with the colleagues. The next, I was sitting in front of someone with a lot of letters in front of their name calling an operating theatre about an urgent case of a female patient, who I figured, had some connection with me.

A lot has passed since the spine operation, including miles I thought I’d never be able to run. The organisation of these events hasn’t put me off the idea of doing an ultra marathon either. It’s Peru. “Problem and possibility”, as Jorge Basadre, the nation’s historian put it nicely. By the time I’ll be passing them, no course marshals will be asleep anymore – or they’ll be waking up to my victory scream, should I ever, ever, ever in my life make it past 70 km. And I promise, they don’t want that to happen.

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iFitness photographer exposes the ‘I enjoyed every second’ lie.

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Consultancy In ma-La-La Land

I’m really happy that Malala has won the peace prize, even if I had my money on Vladmir. Hey, when I was seventeen, all I could worry about was looking fat.  Gendered problems all the same, but on the scale of feminism, more Emma Watson than Malala.

But I was fortunate enough to be born in a country where we shoot ourselves in the head so  the Taliban don’t need to; where both girls and boys go to school, eat organic, have lovely teeth and get good enough marks to put Finland on top of the PISA education league tables, year on year.  So as any mother would do, I’ve sold our things and moved to a country that has the poorest education out of all OECD countries, just behind Azerbaijan.

So is it a surprise that my first consultancy request is to run a mini workshop on the Finnish educational system. The request comes from Iquitos, Loreto, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest and one that you can reach only by air or boat.  I know I was the one pretending to be busy whenever there was a risk of being sent on a consultancy somewhere you couldn’t access by the Northern Line, but that doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate to drop everything you’re doing and go WICKED WICKED JUNGLE IS MASSIVE.  (Watching Ali G with your 6-year-old is. Unless it’s done to maintain your cultural links to the Commonwealth.)

In my response email, I caveated my experience like no-one in possession of a Y-chromosome ever would, and suggested an agenda for the workshop. They were thrilled. I was exactly what they were looking for in this region that suffers from the poorest quality education in the country. I was the one to change this and train 400 teachers in 100 hours over two months.

Hold on.

Either Mr Rainforest is in lala land or something in my management consultancy CV gave the impression that compressing the five year Finnish teacher training into a two month course in the middle of the rain forest was my special competency. Was it the bit about operationalising payment by results to maximise value for money and optimal yet measurable and demonstrable outcomes in an effective, efficient and transparent manner while engaging and empowering project stakeholders, at the baseline and going forward? Need to re-word that. Again.

Deploying the same rigorous due diligence methods known to bluechip consulting outfits, DP then googled the prospective client, which hadn’t occurred to me yet.  It revealed that he had been on trial for paying for sex with an underaged girl. I started rewriting the agenda. Item 1: No sexual abusing of the pupils, paid or otherwise. Never. Item 2: the pillar of success of the Finnish educational system – all teachers are university educated with a post-graduate degree. Lunch.

But I decided to give it a benefit of a doubt – we’re after all in Peru, where it’s easier to buy the justice system than sugar free yogurt. Let’s be professional about it i.e. I need the money; and when before have I been promised “a team of psychologists to help because the atmosphere in Loreto is special,” despite the fact that in my experience the atmosphere is always a bit special from the moment management consultants arrive.

I email Mr Rainforest – so perhaps you are not looking for 100 hours introduction to the educational policy in Northern Europe, but a course in pedagogy. Which I’m not qualified to do, so best we meet or have a phone call to clarify the project objectives. In the meantime, if you could kindly tell me about the project…such as who it is funded and managed by?

To this email I didn’t get a response – and DP told me to forget it. But nearly a week later:

“It probably wasn’t a good idea to tell you about the reality of the educational level in Iquitos. But this is the truth and we want to change this little by little. We want to be taught to apply the Finnish educational system in our class rooms. Do not worry, we will find a specialist who is willing to do this. I profusely apologise for bothering you.”

Today I woke up convinced that I’d been in Peru a month longer than I actually have. I don’t think even a hundred hour workshop could have prepared me for all this insanity. To all my Facebook friends who are sick of seeing me wearing lycra at sunrise: running is no longer a hobby, it’s a lifeline. Because it really says something, if the sanest, most normal people I’ve met here are the ones who get up at 4am on a Saturday to drive 50km out of town to then run 7.5km uphill. And then for the fun of it, run it up all again. Booyaka booyaka.

If anyone is interested in an education consultancy, all expenses covered, a team of psychologists included and good prospects for a Nobel prize, send your CV and cover letter to the author.

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As the picture demonstrates, the hot topics here right now include online bullying at schools, hence commissioning a Finnish education consultant. Picture from DS Lands.

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