Thursday, December 31, 2015

The dark months

November and December in Norway are darkest months. The days grow far shorter than a typical work day and I struggle to find energy to do more than work and get in my daily workout. There has been little to no snow in Oslo these past months, and that makes everything seem terrible dark. But when I look back at the photos I’ve taken in the last couple months, all I see is the happy, bright moments of this dark time.

The advantage of the dark time is late, long sunrises and sunsets, and ample beautiful, low-angle light.

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The sunrise on a cabin trip to Kvitfjell in mid-November.

Being an expatriated American, I still celebrate Thanksgiving, although my traditions are different than the average Americans. Since it’s not a holiday in Norway, my family usual celebrates on a weekend. Since no one but my immediate family is in Norway, we often invite a group of international friends. And this year (like in 2013), we held Thanksgiving at Bårdsgarden, a cabin in the mountains. Although the cabin is cramped for cooking, it is great for getting outside.

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Audun crossing the frozen river near Bårdsgarden.

Dad, Audun and I squeezed in a 11 km run over a small pass to the next cabin, Vassendsetra, before Turkey on Saturday. It was -8 C, and the ground was dusted with snow, making for slow going. We considered heading further up into the mountains and making a bigger loop, but is was foggy and windy, and the trail markers were covered in snow. So we made in a out and back. The scenery was not terrible on the way back either.

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Spot the runner.

 The next day we got in a short hike up to the ridge of Okla peak, where the mountains were spectacularly lit up by the slanted sun.

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‘Summit’ yoga at our high point of the day.

My birthday is at the end of November, and this year I turned 25 (or five squared!). I celebrated by making some friends dinner, and building a tower of cupcakes...

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…and completing my personal ‘25K for 25 years’ challenge in adverse conditions in Nordmarka. Audun joined me for the first two thirds of our run before taking the bus home; he’s still working his knees up to longer runs. The run was my favorite type: a scenic point-to-point wherein I took the subway out away from my house and ran home. We started the day with the steep climb up Vettakollen.

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Me, Audun and Oslo, looking not too shabby in the background.

We then left the views and headed deeper into the forest. The trails were at times extremely icy, but enough of the ground was bare that I was glad I wasn’t using my studded running shoes.

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Pretending I’m a penguin, the best way to get across the icy stretches.

After grabbing a birthday cinnamon bun at the cabin/café Ullevålseter, we climbed to Fagervann lake. On the way up, the trail was literally an icy river. It was horrendous, but probably character building. 

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Trying to avoid getting my feet wet on the way up to Fagervann. I failed, several times.

On the way down from Fagervann, I slipped on a wet rock, banged my right knee and immersed most of my right side in icy water. After that it took a lot not to quit and take the bus home with Audun from the bottom of the descent. But I was determined to complete my 25 kilometers, and so I would. I put in headphones and cranked out the last 10 kilometers, which were mercifully easy, listening to podcasts and enjoying my own company.

In December we’ve head some beautiful sunny days, here from a run at Bygdøy in Oslo...

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Swans on the fjord. I’m not making this up.

…and in the forest with Audun. I’m trying to established a running route from home to work through the forest, which I think will end up being around 20 kilometers. So not for every day commutes, but for the occasional longer training runs.

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Audun near Røverkollen.

Christmas was not white in Trondheim this year, but we still found a way to use those precious hours of light. Everyone, except Dad who already had some, got microspikes for Christmas, and we had a chance to test them out on the icy hills of Liaåsen on Christmas day. Having what amounts to a miniature crampon on your feet is definitely a pretty sweet way to combat icy conditions.

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Dad in a Santa hat on the way up Liaåsen on Christmas day. 

After Christmas, Audun and I travelled to his family in Tingvoll. I had high hopes for some quality mountain time, but snow that fell just after Christmas wasn’t enough to giving a base for skiing. We decided to attempt a hike (or ‘winter summit’) the highest local mountain, Smisetnebba. The trail crossed half-frozen bogs in 20 cm in loose snow. It was slow going, but I was hopeful that the ground would grow firmer up high. As soon as we started to clear treeline, however, the wind started to blow really hard. We were making forward progress, but had decided not to bring ski goggles (for some stupid reason). When a layer of ice formed on the inside on my sunglasses so I couldn’t see anything ahead of my in the gusts of wind, we decided to pull the plug. No Smisetnebba today.

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Audun in wind, right before turning.

Luckily we bailed in time to hike up Høgfjellet, another, local mountain, where we had intel that the wind was not as strong. We powerhiked up and made it to the summit just as the light was getting spectacular for sunset.

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Audun on Høgfjellet, with Tustna in the distance.

I kind of regret forgetting my camera on this outing, but at least our cell phones take OK pictures!

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Descending Høgfjellet over Tingvollfjord.

And with that shower of photos and stories, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I’ll see you on the flip side of 2015!

-The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Morocco 2015

As a late Christmas present, here’s my Morocco trip report (only 8 weeks after the fact!).

Since 2012, The String trail in the Atlas Mountains has been the difficulty against which I have measured all other trails.

Quoth Audun on a steep, exposed trail above Lake Tahoe: “That was even harder than The String, Molly!” I never believed him. I thought nothing would ever top the String. In my mind, the String was kilometers of pure torture, an extremely narrow trail with a steep slope dropping off to the right the whole way. I automatically tend to dismount my bike to the right, which is bad news if there’s a cliff on your right. Since the 2012 trip to Morocco I’ve been working on dismounting on my left. I was about to find out if all my work had paid off.

In November, we went back to Morocco for another biking adventure. Seven people and seven bikes on one plane, and the stoke was high.

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From the left, Audun, Tor Andreas, Alf Petter and David with the seven bike bags at Marrakech Airport.

On the first day, we woke up to pouring rain.  Everyone wanted to ride, but our guide Pierre Alain from Marrakech Bike Action, who has been riding in these mountains for 20 years, said no. It was simply too wet, and the mud was thick and would lock our wheels. Instead, we went for a tour of a local saffron factory...

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Saffron flower. The orange bits in the middle have to be plucked out (by hand), dried, and ground to make saffron. No wonder it’s so expensive!

…and for a hike around the village in the Ourika valley where we were staying. The rain had let up by the afternoon, but the ground was still muddy.

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The gang looking over Ourika, including Austrians Andy and Hubert who rode with us some days.

The second day dawned grey but with no rain. I was itching to ride, feeling pent up despite the hike the day before. After a breakfast of white bread and Moroccan pancakes with honey and jam, and even some eggs (a rarity in these parts), we were ready to roll. Our van drove us high up into the mountains and we pedaled towards the Magic Carpet trail. The transport roads to the trail were muddy, but the majority of the trail was on dark shale that had absorbed the rainfall from the day before. Magic carpet indeed.

The trail brought us down through several Berber villages with houses built of clay. The houses seemed almost to have emerged organically, so well did they fit into the hillside. As I rode past Berber women in colorful headscarves, children scampering around their feet, I looked into their eyes and felt an uncomfortable lack of mutual understanding. The Berber villages in the Atlas mountains are a trip to the ways of yesteryear, and I can’t comprehend what a life limited to living in such a village, farming and raising children would be like. I am privileged to be educated, free to do essentially whatever I want and to have the means to jet off to anywhere in the world with my expensive mountain bike for fun. The gap in our life experiences is just so large. All I could do was smile, and mumble ‘As salam aleykum’, a respectful arabic greeting, and ride on.

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Alf Petter and Synne dropping in.

I was having a great day riding; all the pent up energy from the day before was working wonders for my guts. When I came to the top of a steep pitch, I squeezed my breaks and came uncomfortably to a stop. Often, I would just walk down these sections after having stopped, promising myself to try another time. But something came over me, and I decided to roll my bike back up the hill and give it a go. For once, my nerves were under control and I just let go and rolled down the steep pitch. It was incredibly liberating; I wish I could ride without fear like that more often.

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Me in action on the steep section of the Magic Carpet trail. Hassan, our guides, coaches me at the bottom of the hill while Alf Petter takes pictures. Photo by Audun.

In the afternoon, we rode another winding trail, this one more muddy than Magic Carpet. We frequently met villagers with donkeys heading home after selling and buying wares at weekly souks. Naturally, the donkeys were allowed the right of way. Donkeys are the most common mode of transport through the mountains were there are no roads, only narrow footpaths between villages.

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David (foreground), Vibeke and Synne let a donkey pass.


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Audun zooms through the trees. 

On the third day, the sun was finally shining, a welcome sight for us Norwegians who had come to Morocco for some warmth and sun. It had snowed in the High Atlas, and white towering peaks seemed to dominate the landscape we rode through, even at a distance.

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We started the morning with two trails know as Highway 65 and the Chameleon. The trails followed narrow, exposed balconies before dropping into tightly knit, twisted forests and swooping out onto open ridges. It was gorgeous, fun riding, but I couldn’t quite relax and enjoy it. Because in the afternoon, I knew, would be The String.

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From left to right, Hassan, Thor Andreas, Synne, Vibeke and David pause on the Chameleon trail

After lunch, yet another round of delicious tagine, we pedaled off to ride the String. To say I was nervous was an understatement. I was terrified, scared I would choke again and embarrass myself. Afraid that three years later I would find no improvement. I tried to talk it down, telling Vibeke and David (who weren’t with us in Morocco last time) that it wasn’t really that big of a deal, that it was all in my head. It may have been all in my head, but it really got to me.

I just need to find a way to relax, I thought. And then I remembered my secret weapon: singing. I sang to keep my spirits up in the dark and snow on the way up Mount Kilimanjaro in 2010 (before this blog). I sang at Nordmarka Skogsmaraton after 35 km when everything hurt and I wanted to keep running. I have sung countless times in fear, fatigue and elation. So I sang to myself as I pedaled onto the String, and it worked (as it always does).

Shockingly, The String was not death-defying, and it was not the instrument of torture I remembered it. Actually, apart from the steep hillside on the right, it was kind of…easy. It feels silly to even write that, but it’s kind of true. Some things get easier with practice, and riding on exposed, steep hillsides is definitely one of them.

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Alf Petter at the end of the String, heading down to Terre d'Amanar

At Terre d’Amanar Ecolodge that evening, we sat around a campfire and I revelled in my success. The velvety night sky was speckled with stars that seemed to reflect the glittering lights of the city of Marrakech in the distance, all in honor of my triumph over the String.

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The campfire at Terre d’Amanar

The next day we rode up a mountain, and down the open mountain side with no trail. It was cool to be able to pick your own line and ride wherever you wanted to, just like skiing, but the hillsides were steep and ofter filled with loose rocks and I grew tired and frustrated. It was hot, so hot, and my hands hurt from breaking. Whine, whine, whine.

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The gang on top of the nameless peak we conquered.

That afternoon I snapped. I was hot and tired and I felt like I couldn’t ride anything at all. I would point my bike in one direction and try to ride a line, only to have it seemingly disobey me and go in a different direction. I wondered riding the String was all I was capable of, if I had spent too much energy worrying about it and had none left for new challenges. 

It’s amazing what a night’s sleep can do. If I could tell the "worried Molly" one thing, it would be to relax and trust that you can do this. Fresh from a great night’s sleep, we set out to ride B62, so named because the trail contained no less than 62 switchbacks. I didn’t expected to be able to ride all of the switchbacks, and I wasn’t able to, but I had fun trying all the same. I counted the switchbacks I was able to ride instead of thinking about the ones I wasn’t able to manage, the ‘glass-half-full’ approach.

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Vibeke heads into a switchback.

In the afternoon, we were shuttled up to ride a new trail that the guides had just established. We decided to name the trail ‘Le cheval est en colère’, which is French for ‘The horse is angry’. The backstory for this is that Alf Petter speaks very limited French, but he knows this one phrase and would go around saying it. Our guides, Pierre Alain and Hassan, are both native speakers and found this hilarious. So they said that’s what they would call the trail. It remains to be seen if the trail name stuck!

Le cheval est en colère was hands down my favorite trail of the trip. Everything was rideable, but just technical enough to be interesting. I felt like I was rippin’, even though I was still basically the slowest rider in our group.

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Concentration.

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Synne in action.

And we got to ride it twice! The second time around I rode even faster, but we had several stops because of punctures. Guess people were getting tired and careless after all the downhill riding that day!

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Me and David on the second round of Le cheval est en colère.

On our last day of riding I was tired, so tired and hot. The sun beat down relentlessly, and I felt like I was just fumbling around and loosing my balance all over the place. It was time for a rest. The High Atlas mountains glittered with the remains of the snowfall, waving goodbye as we rode away from them.

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Vibeke and Audun on the last day of riding.

We spent our final afternoon in Morocco in Marrakech, and toured the Majorelle gardens. I fell in love with the bright blue color of all of the buildings, which is the signature of the gardens and is called Majorelle blue.

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Marjorelle blue buildings with gorgeous details in the gardens in Marrakech.

 The next morning we had time for a traditional Moroccan spa treatment, a hammam, before heading to the airport for our flight home. It had been a beautiful, challenging week, and it was time to go back to the real world.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, October 30, 2015

Shoulder season

The days are growing longer in Norway, and the first frost has come (and gone). We’re on our way into winter, although we’re not quite there yet, and we’re squeezing in a last few adventures before snow and ice cover the landscape. 

The weekend after our Adriatic Adventure, Audun and I headed to Norefjell with our mountain bikes to enjoy what promised to be a spectacular day.

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Mountains upon mountains on the way up Norefjell

The fatigue from our week-long ride was still stuck somewhere, deep in my legs. It was a rough day for my legs to be riding, but a beautiful day for views!

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Looking back down the (highway of a) trail at Norefjell

It was officially fall vacation week, for people who follow the schedule of schools. As a consequence the mountain was crawling with people, especially as we approached our turning point at Høgevarde hut. Surprisingly, most people were pretty nice about us passing them, saying hi and asking questions. There is a history of conflict between hikers and mountain bikers, especially in the Oslo area, so this was a welcome change. Maybe we’re finding a way to share the trails? All it takes is for hikers and cyclists to respect each other!

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Descending at Norefjell

On the way down the mountain, there was one woman who started shouting at me about ‘trails being for walking’, although these trails are on public land and legally open to anyone using non-motorized transport. Oh well, you’ll never have everyone on your side.

The next weekend we headed to Skeikampen, another mountainous region not far outside of Oslo. This time, ‘we’ were a larger group, gathered to celebrate Audun’s impending and Alf Petter’s recently passed 30th birthdays. In a dramatic start to the weekend, the what-should-have-been-3-hour drive to Skeikampen became six when Alf Petter and Synne’s car broke down, and much effort was required to find a rental car that had space for several bikes.

It was foggy on Saturday and we could glimpse snow on the upper part of the mountain, but our jovial group of 9 riders set out with enthusiasm nonetheless.

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Synne and Sara pedalling up the road

After a section of rolling dirt roads, we entered the trails to find them slippery, snowy and difficult. Somehow we made it up to the high point of Kristavarden, which provided some limited views in the fog.

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A group photo in the snow

Then we got to head downhill, which turned out to be more fun than I expected in those conditions. I only wiped out once, but the snow made the landing soft, and I landed in the perfect place to snaps photos of the guys coming behind me:

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Alf Petter with Chris in the background

As we descended, the snow started to thin out and the trails grew muddier but at least slightly more predictable because obstacles weren’t hidden under snow.

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Synne in the last of the snowy terrain

 Once you got used to the feeling of sliding around in the mud, the riding was pretty fun!

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Audun enjoying the trail below snow line, with Prestkampen peak in the background.

We got back to the hut, covered from head to toe in mud and happy with our outing.

The next day I squeezed in a 25 K run on the trails around Skeikampen. I tagged the peaks of Skeikampen itself, Prestkampen, and ran the whole long ridge than makes up Bånsæterkampen. Most of the snow from the day before had melted. It was spectacular but slow going with lots of vertical. I should go to the mountains to run more often!

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The view of Bånsæterkampen from Prestkampen.

Since Hytteplanmila two weeks ago, I’ve been taking a break from running. It’s been a long season - I started training for Skogsmaraton in early February - and I definitely feel a lack of motivation, especially with no races to ‘scare me’ into training. Hopefully a couple weeks off will reenergize my legs and, more importantly, my mind. We’re getting into the time of year where I have to run by headlamp, which although it can be nice, definitely requires more motivation just to get out the door.

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Fall leaves on my last ‘run’, where I ended up turning after 2K due to a lack of motivation.

Today I’m headed for Morocco for our annual fall mountain biking trip, where we escape the dark Norwegian fall by heading south. Stay tuned for the trip report!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hytteplanmila 2015

My first 10K race was Sentrumsløpet in 2014, which happened right in the middle of my peak Ultrabirken training. I signed up, pretty spontaneously, two days beforehand, just to see what I could do. I had fun, ran a huge negative split and finished in 47:21, convince I could do better. With that thought in mind, I signed up for Hytteplanmila, purportedly ‘Norway’s fastest 10K’, nearly 6 months ago. It’s also one of Norway’s most competitive 10Ks. I also signed up my mom, who has been making huge strides in the training the last couple years, so she would have something fun to train for. Dad also eventually signed up, as did Audun; this was going to be a family event!

I had this idea that I would put in six weeks of quality training for the 10K to round off my running ‘season’ (not that I’ve raced that much!), but I had a bad cold for the first week, still getting rid of the cough from the cold for the second, and then we went to Croatia and put in 600 kilometers for cycling. So yeah, not the optimal training cycle! I had a few good interval and track sessions though. Reassuringly enough, my last track workout the Wednesday before the race was great; I did 5x1000 meter progression intervals and texted Audun after the workout: “45 minutes. I think I can do it.” 

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Last track session before Hytteplanmila at Øya in Trondheim in gorgeous fall weather. Photo by Dad.

It felt cocky to be trying for a PR of over 2 minutes, and as race day drew closer I grew more nervous. I feel that my nerves before a race are like stage fright; they prepare me for being ready in the moment and I usually perform better if I’m nervous first. Mom, Dad and I all arrived in Oslo by night train from Trondheim the morning of the race, and we stopped by my apartment to cook a good breakfast of pre-race pancakes with apples and almonds. These high-protein pancakes were the perfect thing, as I was too nervous to eat much lunch before the race and they stuck with me well.

Following a 45-minute drive to the race location, we picked up our bibs and commenced to mill around with the 1900 or so other people who were running. Audun and I put in at 25 minute warm-up with some strides, scouting the last part of the race course. The last 300 meters of the course were a brutal uphill in an otherwise fairly flat course. “This is going to hurt!” Audun remarked, and I could only agree.

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Waiting for the race to start. Photo by Dad.

Everyone started at the same time, but we were supposed to line up with the appropriate pace group to smooth things out. So Audun went forward to find the sub-40 minute group; I lined up with the sub-45 minute pacer, and Mom went back to the 60 minute pacer. Dad had unfortunately injured his calve a couple days before and was acting as the official photographer. 

Standing alone in a sea of people before the start, I mulled over my race strategy: stick with the 45-minute pacer, and see if I could pull away from him in the last couple of kilometers for a sub 45 minute finish. But I would also watch my heart rate and keep it at a reasonable level. The magic number is 189: pass that and I am certain to crash and burn in anything but a sprint.

Bang! The start gun went off and the movement of the front runners soon propagated back into the pack. We were walking, then jogging, then running. I had no choice about my pace; I was surrounded by people and we were moving as a single mass inexorably forward. A man ahead of me was sporting compression tights, a water bottle fanny pack and had a banana in each hand. Really? Do you need all that for 10K? I thought.

The first kilometer was flat and then downhill, and we were moving fast. The sounds of hundreds of running shoes slapping on the pavement heavy breathing filled the crisp fall air. I didn’t dare look at my watch at first, not wanting to remove my eyes from the pacer for fear of him disappearing the crowds. When we passed the first kilometer sign I sneak a glance: 4:05. I nearly gasped; I was hoping to average 4:30 /km pace; this was practically suicidal! Well, this section had been mostly downhill.

Kilometer 1: 4:05

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The 45 minute pacer, who ran way under 45 minutes! I’m somewhere in the group behind him. Photo by Hilde Oline Selte for Hytteplanmila.

The pacer slowed down, but just barely, at the bottom of the hill. Suddenly I saw everyone ahead of me running around something. As I jogged by I saw that a runner had collapsed and a group was performing CPR. I was horror-struck. What had happened to him? Was he going to die? How could we all just keep running like this? But there was nothing to do, apart from make space as the ambulances rushed in.

Kilometer 2: 4:17

The road started to climb, gradually for someone who is used to running in the mountains and forest, but steep enough to slow me down at this hard effort. I struggled to keep up with my pacer, but even before I glanced at my watch and saw that my heart rate was 190, I knew it was useless. I had to run my own race. I let him pull ahead and found a comfortable rhythm up the hill.

Kilometer 3: 4:34

The road rolled along for the next kilometer, and the pacer only had a 50 meter gap on me. Although I was focused on keeping my tempo up, I couldn’t help but remark at what a beautiful fall day it was. The fog of the morning had burned off the a perfect, if slightly chilly, sunny day.

Kilometer 4: 4:31

The course started a descent towards a larger road, and I could see hundreds of runners stretched out ahead of me in the distance. OK, use the downhill, I told myself. Let your legs roll, and you’ll catch the pacer. As I tried to cruise down the hill, I developed a severe cramp in my abdomen. It kind of felt like my stomach muscles were trying to detach from the rest of my body, and it was so painful I actually teared up. Oh my god my race is over! I thought frantically, before trying to correct the negative thinking. You can still fix this. Breath in. Breath out. Don’t stop running.

It was flat and easy terrain now, and I wanted to speed up and catch my pacer, but I could barely keep myself from not walking. I passed the 5K sign in just under 22 minutes, and realized that the pacer wasn’t going to be running 45 minutes; no, he would be running much faster. I abandoned my race plan and decided to run completely at my own pace.

Kilometer 5: 4:21

I slowed down slightly and tried to breath, hoping the cramp would pass. Slowly but surely it eased up and I sped up a little, praying it wouldn’t come back. The lyrics of several songs drifted distended through my mind… Young the Giant’s ‘My body’ suddenly came on full blast. “My body tells me no, but I won’t stop… cause I want more!"

Kilometer 6: 4:21

As we turned off the main road, the course headed slightly uphill again. The carnage of the first 5K were starting to show; some people were starting to walk, and one guy was doubled over like he was about to vomit. A 10K is a hard distance, but I hoped that by keeping my heart rate under the magic threshold I wouldn’t blow up. 

Kilometer 7: 4:32

This was starting to hurt, when would we reach the top of this infernal hill? I thought about slowing down; I could almost certainly PR if I let up just a little? NO! the Competitive Instinct that lives in my head shouted, you have to run this as hard are you can. Come on, it’s only going to hurt for another 15 minutes. The sun was in my eyes now and I regretted not wearing sunglasses. I saw that the course would duck into the shade soon and used that as motivated to keep running hard. 

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Almost over! Photo by Dad.

Kilometer 8: 4:35

Don’t stop now don’t stop now. If you pass the 9K sign in less than 40 minutes you only have to run the last K in 5 minutes! That’s easy, right?

Kilometer 9: 4:27

I had reached the final kilometer, and picked up the pace another notch. I dodged past a couple of women and grimly noted that I was moving up a couple places in the rankings, not that that really mattered. As I passed the 800-meter to the finish sign, I tried to my encourage myself, thinking, that’s only 2 laps around the track! Bad strategy - that sounded terrible. So I just stopped thinking altogether and started running.

Suddenly I was rounding the final corner and heading up the dreaded hill to the finish. It was easier than I feared, at first. Then I saw Audun, sweaty and wearing his finishers metal, and decided that it was time to start sprinting. The hill went from ‘not bad’ to ‘please don’t let me collapse this close to the finish line’ pretty quickly. A photographer from the race organization caught the moment pretty well:

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Pain embodied in my face. Photo by Hilde Oline Selte for Hytteplanmila.

I crossed the finish line, swaying and dizzy. I later learned that although finished 107 of 635 women, I ran the 53rd fastest time up that final hill.

Kilometer 10: 4:24

Final time: 44:20

I had broken 45 minutes, and set a PR by 3 minutes! I feel this is both a product of training and also experience in the 10K distance. I started harder at this race than Sentrumsløpet last year. Who knows how fast I can go with a little more training and experience?

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Three happy finishers with MEDALS! Photo by Dad.

Mom finished in a solid 59:26 for her first race in over a decade, and Audun (being the animal that he is) ran 40:02. I like the 10K distance, and I think I’ll be running some more in the future. I also bought myself a PR present: my first pair of ‘fast’ running shoes, Mizuno Hitogamis. Excited to see how these work out for me next season!

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- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Adriatic adventure days 7&8: Serenissima

This is a story with several parts. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 and Part 5

The final leg of our bike ride to Venice started, ironically, on a train. Wanting to have at least part of the day to sightsee in Venice, we opted to bypass most of the remaining kilometers and start riding from San Dona di Piave, about 40 km outside of Venice.

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My navigation setup, heading to Venice

The last couple days had contained numerous climbs, but the road out to Jesolo and along the peninsula towards Venice was completely flat. It was so comfortable to be able to cruise along, nearly without pedalling, at 25 km/h. As was the case for most of the trip, we were travelling along the water. This water had a murkier sheen that the Adriatic coat, and the color sometimes seemed to meld with the cloudy sky. This was an area that was clearly touched by the passage of humans; the coastline was a cement wall and there were many boats in the water. 

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Incredible colors along the Jesolo lagune.

After a couple casual hours of riding we reached the end of the road, with only water between us and Venice. It would be a suitable end to our journey, I thought, to enter Venice by boat, triumphant with our bicycles. I headed over to the ticket both and asked for tickets for two people and two bikes. “No bikes,” the Italian woman at the ticket booth informed me, “You have to leave them here.” 

Leave them here? But we had to get to the airport tomorrow! How could we have travelled all this way on our bikes and not be allowed to take them with us? If I had done a little more research before travelling to Venice, I would have realized that bikes are completely forbidden in the city. This is for good reasons; the streets are small and winding and there are numerous staircases.

It took a few minutes of questioning before the woman stopped repeating “No bikes!” and conceded that we could in fact take a ferry, with our bikes, to an area called Tronchetto. From there we might be able to find somewhere to leave our bikes and then walk into the city center.

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If you must wait for a ferry, cross your fingers there’s a panificio (bakery) you can stuff your face at in the mean time.

Thus began a two hour journey of getting ourselves and our bikes the last few kilometers from Punta Sabbioni to Venice. We refined our plan even more, realizing that since most of our luggage was camping gear would could just leave it with the bikes. And that’s how we took travelling light to new heights and repacked so that we would both enter Venice with no more than our 10-liter cycling packs.

The bright side of our long ferry journey all the way around Venice to get to Venice was that we got to go around Venice in a boat, giving us nice views of the city.

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On the car ferry, with the Venice skyline in the background.

Finally at Trochetto, we located a parking garage where people from the mainland leave their cars before entering Venice. A familiar scene was replayed; I approached the ticket booth for parking and asked if we could leave our bikes somewhere in the parking garage. “No bikes,” the man in the ticket booth exclaimed, as though we were retarded. “You have car?” We shook our heads. “Then I can’t help you.” We withdrew to regroup, but I was beyond rethinking. How could everyone in Venice be so horrible to cyclists? Had no one else ever arrived here by biked? Audun tried to reason with me, saying that we could find somewhere outside to lock our bikes and then take a water taxi with our luggage, but I felt the reasoning pass straight over my head and tears well up in my eyes.

I was a snivelling wreck in an Italian parkering garage. But the crying helped more than any of our words had, and all of a sudden the man in from the ticket booth was ushering us to a back room where we could leave our bikes. I almost started laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation; ask a simple question and all you get is no, but start crying and they listen?

Soon we were waltzing down the streets of ancient Venice, free of baggage and bikes. I was hungry and started to look for somewhere to eat. Every snack bar seemed to display the menu in at least 4 different languages and give off a distinct vibe of tourism. I wanted something authentic, and Italian, and I didn’t even know what that would be.

That is, until we passed a tiny shop crammed with people, filled with the noise of Italians having a rowdy discussion with each other. Curious, I peaked in and watched as people procured sandwiches and tiny glasses of wine while speaking animatedly with three chefs, who were somehow able to gesticulate as they talked at the same time as they made sandwiches. 

“I think we should stand in line here,” I announced to Audun, and he tended to agree. This shop seemed like The Real Italian Experience.

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The Magic Venetian Sandwich Shop

After spending about 20 minutes being cut in line by Italians who were far less timid than us, we too had procured the magic sandwiches that everyone else was eating. They were great, and I finally felt like we had done something right that day.

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Magic sandwiches

After consuming our delicious sandwiches, we wandered towards the heart of the city and our AirBnB. Navigating in Venice is difficult at best; most of the streets are very narrow, they all twist and turn, and a fair number of them suddenly dead end at a canal.

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Audun in a typical Venetian alley

There were undeniably lots of tourists, especially on the larger streets and near attractions like the Ponte di Rialto. In these areas the cloying scene of masses of people armed with selfie sticks and DSLRs obliged me to put my camera away and simple watch. Although I like to take pictures, my motivation is to tell my unique story, and I find it frustrating when I encounter swaths of people all taking pictures of the same thing.

Amid the hubbub of tourism, the air of secrecy, power and decaying beauty were omnipresent in the streets of Venice. Sometimes we would round a turn and end up in a quiet alley which gave the convincing impression that we were alone, all alone in this labyrinth of a city.

After checking into our gorgeous AirBnB, we headed to the very center of tourism in Venice, namely the Piazzo di San Marco. It was every bit as crowded as I expected, but still impressively majestic.

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The crowds at Piazzo di San Marco

We only had time for one museum, and settled on the Doge’s Palace, which was once the very heart of political power in the Venetian Republic. It was impressive just how much money was put into making powerful places look fancy back then. Countless detailed paintings cover the walls and ceilings and I lost track of how many things were gilded and made out of expensive marble. There are also dungeons, although they aren’t very impressively displayed.

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The view from the Bridge of Sighs, on the way to the dungeon in the Doge’s Palace.

The next morning we got up early for a run. Morning runs are my favorite way to experience big cities; there’s just something about the quiet lull of the morning and the empty streets. Venice did not disappoint. 

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Just a casual morning run on the streets of Venice.

I even got to take advantage of all the empty space on the Piazzo di San Marco:

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JUMP!

After a yummy breakfast, we headed out to walk back through the city to get our bikes. They were still in the parking garage where we had left them; success! We were hoping to take the bus to the airport, both because we didn’t want to ride the highway to get there and also so we wouldn’t have to fly all sweaty.

When we showed up at the airport bus ticket office, the ticket vendor gave us the at this point predictable "NO BIKES!". So we had to ride to the airport after all.

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On the bridge out of Venice

But really, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

- The Wild Bazilchuk