Marathon Envy

May 24, 2012

Me and my daugher cheering on the runners!

It was Copenhagen Marathon on Sunday and once again I was in spectating. It was extra special this year as one of my friends and my brother-in-law where both participating. In both cases it was their first marathon and I’ve been eagerly following their training over recent months. As their excitement has been building, so has mine. Every time I’ve been chatting with one of them about their training I’ve been struggling with a little voice in my head saying “why don’t you just run it too”! The truth is I have been totally envious of their marathon projects! However, by the time the race started on Sunday it was absolutely too late to change my mind and so I just enjoyed being a spectator and cheering them (and all the other runners) on. It was a beautiful, sunny day and perfect conditions for spectating (though maybe a tad too warm for running).

After I ran Berlin marathon in September, while I was proud at what I had accomplished after a hellish year-and-a-half, I will admit that I was really disappointed that my time was so much slower than before the cancer. In retrospect I can see that it was totally unrealistic, but when I finished the cancer treatment in December 2010 I did have some kind of vague idea that I would be “back to normal” by September. By September the only physical sign left of what I had been through was that I couldn’t run as fast any more (apart from a few small scars and my 5 blue tattoos of course!). So at that point I started to doubt that I ever would be as good as before and in some irrational way it made me angry. I felt that in some way the cancer had won. I am ashamed that I felt that way. After all, I was (and am) healthy and cancer free and in every important way able to live a normal, happy life.  In the grand scheme of things, not being able to run fast is not really a huge problem.

Anyway, luckily I’m not the type to lounge around being angry and bitter for long, so I decided to do a bit of historical investigation. I have kept a training diary for many years, so I decided to go back and find out how long it took from the time I originally started running seriously i.e. following a systematic training programme, until I reached my plateau. Just to explain, when you first start training systematically you improve quite quickly and dramatically, but at some point you hit a plateau and after that improvements are much more limited and often more to do with avoiding injury, having a good day etc. . I was really surprised to discover that it had taken 2 years first time around! Hmm, that really made me feel silly that I had somehow expected to run a marathon in a good time 9 months after finishing cancer treatment, when I had probably been in the worst physical condition of my entire life!

So I decided that until the end of 2012 I would not set myself any big running goals in terms of races. I wouldn’t run any distance longer than half marathon. Instead I would focus 100% on training to increase my speed. I still wasn’t sure that I ever would be able to run as fast as before (and I was under any circumstances prepared to accept some age-related deterioration!), but I was going to give it my very best shot.

So that’s why, when the little voice was telling me I wanted to join the others and run Copenhagen Marathon this year, I resisted. It would have been fun, but I am very focused on increasing my speed and marathon training, marathon running or recovering after a marathon are really not good for that.

The good news is that I am now starting to believe that I will get back to my previous form! A few weeks ago I ran a 5km race in just
under 23 mins which is very close to my all time Personal Record. To put this in perspective my 5km time this time last year was over 25 mins and in December 2010 (just when I finished treatment) was almost 31 minutes! And as a direct comparison I recently ran a race (a very hilly 5km) in 23:36 and in 2009 I ran the same route in 23:15 – so that is only a 21 second difference over 5 km!

Anyway, back to my friends on Sunday – I am pleased to report that both did really well in their first marathons! I was a very proud friend/sister-in-law indeed. Time will show whether they decide that this was their “only” or only their “first” marathons, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it was only their first because it’s a lot of fun having nerdy marathon running friends!

In general terms I don’t think I’m a bimbo (some may disagree!), but I do seem to have more bimbo moments than your average person. Why this should be, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because I don’t really care what people think so I make no effort to cover them up (or avoid them).  In fact I have on occasion been accused of being a drama queen as I enjoy the humour (and attention) when I work one of my bimbo moments up into a good story (at my own expense of course)! It could also be that I push myself out of my comfort zone more than your average Barbie, and it’s when I’m outside my comfort zone that most of my bimbo moments occur.

Needless to say, my recent forays into swimming and cycling provide ample opportunity for my bimbo self to shine. Particularly cycling.

As I have mentioned I have no particular interest in the technical aspects of bikes, only in their function and performance. However I’m starting to realise that to get the best out of my cycling I am not able to ignore the technical side of things. And now I’m going to apologise to those of you who are knowledgeable about such things, because as I relate this story I find myself limited by my lack of vocabulary to describe bike bits. I am starting to learn, but the words I’m picking up are in Danish and since I’m writing this in English it doesn’t really help much.

So, my lovely racer bike (I must find a name for her), has 20 gears. 10 on a big gear wheel and 10 on a small gear wheel. I was instructed that I can change from the big wheel to the little wheel using the lever on the left side. I can switch through the 10 gears on whatever wheel I’m on using the lever on the right side. However, since I’ve never had a bike with this arrangement before, when I picked up my bike I was advised to start out with it on the small gear wheel (the easier gears) which would be ample for my purposes to start with. So far so good…. (or so I thought).

Anyway, recently as I have gained confidence and speed, I have no longer been finding these gears ample and have frequently felt the need to be in a harder gear. However while I knew that in theory I could switch to the big wheel with the lever on the left, I was worried about how this would play out in practice. After all, whenever I felt the need I was already in the hardest gear on the little gear wheel and I could figure out enough that if I changed then I would end up in the very hardest gear of all, and I could see this ending very badly…..

I suspect that most people would just experiment, but while I can be very bold in many situations, there are others where I‘m rather timid (like when I imagine myself crashing onto the tarmac). So I figured it made sense to ask the trainer at our Sunday morning cycle sessions for advice. For some reason though, I decided to do it in front of the whole group. Big Mistake. As soon as I got the question out I realised this was another Kirsten Bimbo Moment. It’s not that they sniggered. There was just an atmosphere…. And OK, some lighthearted bantering. It turns out everyone else in flat Denmark cycles around using only the big wheel. They only use the small one for cycling in the Alps or the Pyrenees!  How come everyone knows this but me?

Anyway, Mr. Bike Trainer was very gallant and cycled alongside me to coach me through the big moment of switching from little wheel to big wheel. And lucky he did, because it turned out not to be as easy as expected. The system had seized up in disgust at my ignoring it and refused to switch! And luckily Mr. Bike Trainer knows lots about bikes so we were able to stop and he could help me sort it. Actually, that is a total lie. He didn’t help me sort it. He sorted it. He helped me by sorting it.

And the moral of this story? Do not be afraid of bimbo moments! The worst that can happen is that people have a laugh and more often than not you will learn something!

Boys and their toys

May 6, 2012

Like most women I have a giant handbag full of all kinds and weird and wonderful things. In fact it is so giant and full of so many things that I actually have a little bag inside the big bag so that I can keep everything under control! I’m not going to embarrass myself by telling you everything that I have in my bag, but let’s just say there are very few eventualities that I wouldn’t be prepared for.

Most women I know have a similar size of bag presumably with a similar range of contents. The thing is though, that we girls don’t show each other what we have in our bags. Yes, we are sisterly and happily dish out a plaster or a headache pill or the like to a sister in need who inadvertently doesn’t have said item in her bag (or  whose bag is so copious that she simply can’t locate it!), but generally speaking, the contents of our bags are a private issue.

Also like most women I know, I am also amazed that men can get by with what they have in their pockets.

Needless to say (or until this morning I thought it was needless to say) I don’t take my handbag with me when I go out cycling. On my bike, less is definitely better. I have a little saddlebag which has space for exactly a spare tube, little thingies to lever the tyre off (I have no idea what they’re called) and my iPhone. I have holders for both a pump and a water bottle on my frame (complete with pump and filled water bottle) and I have a holder for my GPS watch on the handlebar. Apart from that I have some tissues and my bank card in my pocket. That is it. I reckon with the combi of the phone, the bank card (which doubles as ID) and not forgetting the tissues, I have most eventualities covered!

I was totally bemused (amused?) then, as we were standing in a car park at 7am this morning prior to our cycle session, and the men in the group started comparing the stuff they had in their pockets. You know, those big pockets they have on the back of their cycling tops. Some of them even had things with them that they didn’t even really know how to use and had our trainer show them! One guy even had a handful (yes, not just one, but a whole handful) of rubber surgical gloves so he could keep his hands clean if he needed to change his tube!!!! What is that about???? Honestly their pockets were like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag the amount of stuff they had in there. And I can guarantee that by next Sunday their pockets will be even fuller as they now have to rush out and buy all the little gadgets that one of the others had that they didn’t. I expect we may even have another show and tell session next Sunday so they can show off their even fancier versions of the gadgets!

Bike Madness

May 1, 2012

Another recent development in my life has been the purchase of my over-the-top racer bike. She is a beauty! (Giant Avail Composite 2 in case you are interested in checking the techie details).

Yes, I know you are all saying “oh, oh, now she’s jumping on the triathlon bandwagon”. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. I do have thoughts of having a bash at triathlon in future, but whether or not it happens depends on whether I ever master the swimming.  So for the time being I have no specific triathlon goals, although I am signed up for a “mini-triathlon” in a few weeks. The bike thing is more than that though.

I don’t know how it is where you live, but in recent years in Denmark there’s been booming trend of middle-aged, middle-class men squeezing their corpulent figures into brightly coloured lycra, spending a fortune on top-of-the range racer bikes and God knows what other gear, to then speed up and down the country roads imagining they are starring in Tour de France. I’m not a man, and while I’m personally not fond of the labels being used in relation to myself, most people would probably describe me as middle-aged and middle-class. So while I have for many years cycled quite a bit as a supplement to my running, I have trundled off on my completely ordinary street bike, just in case anyone should confuse me as being a member of Tour de France wannabee club.

However events of recent years have changed the way I look at a lot of things including this. Life is for living and if I fancy zooming around on a fancy bike and I can afford a fancy bike, then why not! And if I want to imagine I’m racing in Tour de France then who cares? (I confess it, I do imagine exactly that!) Luckily no-one in their right mind would describe me as corpulent and I still refrain from dressing in brightly-coloured lycra (my running kit doubles up quite nicely with the addition of a pair of ancient padded shorts). Apart from the hideous cycling shoes that is! Though I did insist on black ones despite the fact that I was told that white was the in-colour. I’ve always had a total aversion to white patent shoes!

But wow, I am totally in love with my new bike! Any other time in my life that I’ve had a new bike I’ve felt really wobbly on it for quite a while. This time I felt like the bike and I melted together from the very first minute.  Where before long bike rides felt like hard work, now they are just total fun!

Does it sound like I’m obsessed? It gets worse. I went on a bike maintenance course (women only!) and I am now able to change the tube should I be unlucky enough to get a puncture (though I’m not entirely sure I’d be able to get the back wheel on again should that be necessary, I need to practice). AND I learned how to wash my bike and oil the chain. Not only did I learn it, but my poor hubbie nearly collapsed when I actually did wash my bike after having it out on a damp morning. Honestly, he’s never even seen me pumping a bike tyre before!

Wait, it gets even worse than that. I also signed up for a few sessions to learn some proper technique for riding a racer properly – and just so you can appreciate how keen I am – these sessions take place at 7.30 am on Sunday mornings!

Yes, I know, this is pretty close to madness!