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Event Reviews

The English Lake District – Great Dodds to Helvelyn (18km Walk and Swim)

Hiking, Runs Posted on Wed, December 04, 2019 07:59PM

This is a full day walk or run up to the summit ridge that links the Dodds peaks and Helvelyn, and then down again to Thirlmere reservoir, offering excellent views and the chance to swim in several places. It would be a great walk for those with dogs, they’ll be off the lead almost all the way. I used the Ordnance Survey Map 0L5 (The English Lakes, North Eastern Area), and its best to take that map; I think it might be frustrating to try to find your way without it.

First of all, here is a short film of the central part of this walk, shows you what to expect up there on the summit ridge.

You can see the summit of Clough Head and Great Dodds from the CCC campsite at Troutbeck. It dominates the horizon to the west. Below is the view from my tent. Clough Head is the peak on the right, you’ll be walking from that to the peak on the left, which is Great Dodds, and beyond. It’s possible to walk to the path that leads up to the summit ridge from the campsite, but it’s a very long slog, and I was told the ground is often very boggy, so I did it another way.

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I drove along the A66 for 5 minutes until I got to the B5322 road on my left, turned down that and drove on for 10 more minutes until I reached the small hamlet of Legburthwaite, marked on the map. It’s on your left, and just before you join the main A591 road. There’s a church hall here, and free parking for about 5 cars. The path up to the ridge leaves from here, so if you can get a space, perfect. After you park, walk up the small road which peters out when you see this stile. Go over the stile and head upwards.

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The views as you head ever upwards will look like this. On the map, you are heading for Sticks Pass Cairn.

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The photo above shows the scene about 10 minutes before you reach Sticks Pass. As you can see, the path is well trodden and easy to follow. When you reach the pass, look left, the broad red earth path you see will take you all the way to Clough Head, and then you’ll retrace your steps and pass Sticks Pass on the way to Helvelyn. The paths are very easy to follow, as long as you have the map for reference, the gradients are mostly slight now you are up high, the views are supurb on both sides and there’s no steep edges to fear. Here are some views.

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The view from Clough Head, looking down onto the plain that the Troutbeck Campsite is located on, is above. From here, you’re just going to retrace your steps along to Sticks Pass. When you get back to the pass, the view looks like this.

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As you can see, the ridge is wide, and the path easy to see. You’ll have no issues following it. And the views just keep on appearing…

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The view above is from the peak known as Lower Man, looking at the route on to Helvelyn. To get here from Clough Head took me about 2 hours. You’ll have to descend from this point as well, so head up to Helvelyn peak if you wish, enjoy the great views, its an easy wide path, as you can see, no chance of getting lost, and then come back down to this Lower Man peak from where, if you look down, the view will be like this.

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The path here is well trodden, you’ll have no problem following it, and it leads straight down to the A591 road in about half an hour. It’s not that steep, just a long plod, and when you near the bottom you’ll have Helvelyn Gill on your right, a small stream which forms into a waterfall just above the wooden footbridge that your path will take you across. You can bathe here. It’s a small pool, only room for 2 or 3 at most, and not deep, but not too cold either, and very refreshing after that very long hike.

The path ends at a public carpark next to Highpark Wood. Cross the main road, then turn right, walk along the grassy verge to the layby on the opposite side of the road and find a noticeboard, which tells of a path from here leading down to Thirlmere Reservoir. Now, you’re not meant to swim in reservoirs, there may be underwater obstructions, but faced with a scene like the one below, I must say, it was so enticing that I did indeed go for a dip. It was extremely cold so I kept near the shore for safety, in case I cramped up. The water is very clear. I kept an eye out for any outflow pipes, which I never saw, which might have caused me trouble. I saw a few other people taking a dip too.

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The path onwards, along the shoreline, is marked on the ordnance survey map in red. You go as far as the hill of Great How, then skirt it on its right hand side, and eventually, after about 20 minutes, you reach the main road again, from where you can cross and double back about 500 metres along the verge to where you parked your car. The views as you go will be like this.

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The English Lake District – The Mosedale Horseshoe (17km Walk and Wild Swim)

Canoeing & Swimming, Hiking Posted on Wed, December 04, 2019 07:55PM

This is a circular route, and some would say one of the very best in the Lake District. I used the Ordnance Survey Map 0L6 (The English Lakes, South Western Area) to guide me, it only shows the start and finish points of the walk but once you’re up there, the route is very clear.

I set off from the Ravenglass Camping and Caravanning Club campsite where I was staying for a week and drove to Wastwater, and the free car park at Overbeck Bridge. It was a 20 minute drive at most. From here the path begins, and climbs immediately up the steep slopes of Yewbarrow. As you near the top of Yewbarrow there is some lively scrambling to be done, not for those a little scared of heights or unsure of their ability on rock. It’s not full on climbing, not at all, but the path is unclear in many places and there is no choice but to go up, and once you’re up you look back and wonder how on earth you made it. Here are some photos of the lake, and the initial climb.

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Above is the view of Sca Fell (right) and Sca Fell Pike (left) from the top of Yewbarrow. From this point you are going to head north, the path is easy to follow, once you get down from Yewbarrow, which entails another difficult scramble. At the bottom I had another one of those moments when I looked back and thought, how on earth did I get down that?

Basically, your route from Yewbarrow takes you on a very well trodden path to Dore Head, then Red Pike (826 mts), Black Crag (828 mts) and Pillar (892 mts), all on the same path that curls around to your right.

Below are some snaps of views en route to Pillar.

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From the summit of Pillar, the route heads back in the direction of Sca Fell. It’s steep here, you keep the metal chain/railing on your left. Actually, no chance of getting lost here, the path is very well trodden and if you go too far left you’ll fall off the edge! The path will take you down, eventually, to a saddle, from where another path goes on straight up to Kirk Fell, whilst the one I took goes down to Wasdale Head. Here are some snaps of the route…

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From Wasdale Head its a half hour walk along the road to the Overbeck Bridge car park. No hassle, the views are nice and the road isn’t that busy. Some people park at Wasdale Head and do the walk the other way round, but I think my way is better as there is a nice beach at Overbeck so you can have a decent swim at the end of this very long, and strenuous (at least, the scramble up Yewbarrow is) walk. The water of Wastwater is very cold, but also very soothing for achey muscles.

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The English Lake District – Loughrigg Fell (9km Walk and Grassmere Swim)

Canoeing & Swimming, Hiking Posted on Wed, December 04, 2019 07:49PM

This is a full day walk or run, offering excellent views of Rydal Water and Grassmere, and the chance to swim safely in both the lakes. I used the Ordnance Survey Map 0L7 (The English Lakes, South Eastern Area), and its best to take that map; I think it might be frustrating to try to find your way without it.

Leave the Windermere Marina Village and drive up the main A591 to Ambleside. Pass through the village and head on towards Rydal, but just before you turn the bend into the village, look for the old stone bridge on your left. This is marked up as Pelter Bridge on your map. If you drive over this bridge, then take the right turn, you’ll come to a car park.

It used to be free to park here but in 2013 the local toerags, sorry, council, put a pay and display machine in. Shame.

The car park gets full quickly, so arrive early in the day to be sure of a space. It’s an ideal place to park though, just 10 minutes walk from your car and you’ll start getting views of Rydal Water.

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When you first see the lake, you’ll have the choice of 2 pathways, the upper path and the lower. I chose to take the upper path on the way in, and the lower path on the way out, later in the day, after my swims. I came to a cave after about 15 minutes walk and then the path led on, always very clear and easy to follow all the way to Grassmere, which was a further 15 minutes walk.

If you walk this path on a clear day, as I did, you’ll be rewarded with one of the finest views, anywhere. That’s my opinion, anyway, Grassmere is a beautiful lake, no doubt about it. The path keeps level here, it’s known as the Loughrigg Terrace; you can walk for a while longer, enjoying the lake as it reveals more and more of itself.

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As you approach the forest, a path climbs up on your left, if you follow it, this will take you to the summit of Loughrigg. It’s a stiff climb, always on a clear to follow path though.

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The view above from the summit of Loughrigg. It’s a large summit, and from the central, highest point, marked with a cairn, you can see Lake Windermere very clearly.

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From the peak I headed back down towards the shore of Grassmere, to a point on the map that is marked ‘Landing Stages’ between ‘Dale End’ and ‘The Lea’. It took me about half hour to descend.

Grassmere is a warm lake, it’s shallow so the sun can heat the water quickly. I could splash about in it for a good 10 minutes before I felt cold enough to get out. It really was lovely swimming, although not secluded. On any clear day, this route is packed with hikers, and for good reason, the scenery is terrific.

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After the swim I walked back along the lakeshore, towards Rydal. This time I was taking the lower path.

Rydal Water beach is shingle, and easy to walk on. Rydal is warmer than Grassmere, and a real delight to swim in. The entry and exit point was firm and easy to walk on (no sharp stones here). The spot I liked was the bit of beach nearest to Little Isle, which is the island shown below, shrouded with trees. Out of all the lakes and rivers I swam in during my 6 weeks in the Lake District, I’d say that Rydal was definitely the warmest lake, and the easiest to swim in.

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And then you’re back on the path, heading away from Rydal, stopping one last time perhaps for a final look at this magnificent scenery, before descending to Pelter Bridge car park.

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A Tale of Tallinn – Part Three

Runs Posted on Sat, November 23, 2019 12:11PM

Sunday, 08th of September. It’s Marathon Day!!!!! 😃💥

As usual, I did not have a quiet night of sleep, I felt a bit nervous and not enough motivated to get up and run. Luckily, the Sokos Hotel Viru is located just 100 m away from the start line, so I had more time than usual to clear my mind and focus on the next goal. Ok it’s 8am already, time to get up and get equipped!

On the way to the start line there is still time for some pictures to take.. what’s the hurry anyway? 😁

The atmosphere at the start line was energetic, people were warming up or chatting with each other. 

3..2..1.. goooo!!! Let’s conquer the streets of Tallinn!! 😊

The first kilometers went by quickly, since we were all fresh, energetic and cheered up by thousands of supporters along the streets. Running with the selfie-stick and actioncam in one hand did not make it a ‘walk in the park’, but taking pictures and filming was worth all the effort! 

After 4 km, we had the first encounter with the sea and greeted the ships of the Seaplane Harbour Maritime museum.

The route took us through the city streets and parks, on long roads with happy running people. At the 16th kilometer mark we reached the highlight of the whole marathon: the Zoo!!! I was really looking forward to this moment, as it never happened to me in my running career to visit a Zoo during a race!

I was greeted at the entrance of the Zoo by some cheerful volunteers. One of them even looked at the Romanian flag on my BIB and cheered for me: “Go Belgium!!” – No Belgium! Romania! I had to reply to him 😄

The Zoo was awesome!! I took the chance to stop, make pictures and film the animals + some runners dressed like them!

More footage from the Zoo crossing is waiting for you in the video at the end of this story 😉

Afterwards, we went through a forest, where the air was fresh and welcoming and I could take the time to reflect about our journey in life and how running a marathon compares to it.

My philosophical thread of thoughts stopped when reaching a city park at km 28 surrounded by music and happy supporters. Not to mention the batteries of my actioncam were going empty. The device had to be reconfigured and so now I was that tech-addicted guy running in the park ‘playing’ on his device instead of enjoying the atmosphere. 📷🙈

…’cause there is no hurry 😄
Once again.. the sea!

Small cramps on my thighs were starting to appear but luckily, at the 32nd km there was a kid with Icepower spray. He saved my muscles! My feet cooled down and I did not feel any cramps for the rest of the marathon! I was overall slow but without hitting any ‘Wall’, the last kilometers were a delight! There is no enjoyment for me without dancing, cheering with the supporters or encouraging other runners!! 

Experiencing the marathon like this is more meaningful than shaving off a few seconds or minutes from some targeted time after suffering for 42km and then not being able to walk normally over the next days. The Marathon has to become a race to bring joy and happiness. Being competitive is nice but at my current level I don’t feel that it will bring me a better experience. 

Having that in mind, there was time to exchange a few words with the 4h30min pace-makers at the 40th kilometer. One of them was pleasantly surprised when he say my BIB: “Oh Belgium, very well!” No, it’s Romania!! 😄

I understand their confusion because the flags of Romania and Belgium are similar in colors and seeing a Romanian flag on a BIB was a very very rare opportunity during the whole weekend. As a matter of fact, there was only one runner representing Romania at all events:

The last 2 kilometers took us back to the city centre with the finish at the Viru Gates, where we started. The whole area was a big party with dancers dressed in traditional costumes, people walking around with medals around their neck and many supporters waiting for their favorites to cross the finish line.🏁🏆🎈

Hurray!!
It cannot end without a traditional non-alcoholic beer 🍺

Running a marathon should not be about pain and suffering. I did all my best to prove that and it worked out very well 🙂

Thank you, Tallinn! 🙌

Watch the whole marathon experience from a video reporter’s perspective 🎬 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDj2kSp-Sz8&feature=emb_logo

A Big Thank You to the organizers of Tallinn Marathon for inviting me to take part in this whole experience and for showing me their beautiful city!

Congratulations for receiving the World Athletics Bronze Label, you deserved it!! 👏

More info on http://www.jooks.ee/en/tallinn-marathon/



Canoeing the River Medway, in Kent, England.

Canoeing & Swimming Posted on Sat, November 16, 2019 06:57PM

A 3 part canoe journey up the River Medway in Kent, England.

Part 1 – At the estuary mouth.
Part 2 – From the estuary mouth to Maidstone, via Darnet Island.
Part 3 – From Maidstone to Tonbridge, via Oak Weir Island.


The Milan Marathon

Runs Posted on Fri, November 15, 2019 10:20PM

To check out our full account of the Milan Marathon complete with restaurant review and a great many photos, see our ‘Issue 7, Summer 2019’ edition of our magazine which you can download for free from here – https://trekandrun.com/publications.html

Below is a short film that will give you a brief idea of the race day experience.

For further info about the race check their website here – https://www.generalimilanomarathon.it/en/



The Happy Trails Racing ‘The Beav’ 25k and 50k

Runs Posted on Tue, November 12, 2019 10:20AM

(All photos featuring the race logo are by Sue Sitki – https://suesitkiphoto.shotsee.com/)

The Happy Trails ‘The Beav’ event took place at Hilton Falls Conservation Area, near to Milton, Ontario, Canada. Jenn and Dave from our team took on the 25km and the 50km events; there were also a 10k event going on.

Before we go into our usual 7 point review, here’s a short film showing the course. If you’re viewing on a mobile and can’t play flash, you might try going straight to Youtube to view it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1C4w4nnxok

1 – Pre-event info

Jenn – In addition to the detailed information available on the event registration page, participants received two pre-race emails; the first one encouraged participants to carpool to make sure parking was available for everyone, and the second email included race details and a very thorough participant guide that was like a mini magazine, complete with some great info for those new to trail running, such as trail running terms that you might not understand unless you’d been on the scene for a while. On race morning, the race director Jeff gathered us all for the standard (Happy Trails Racing standard, which is very high!) pre-race meetings before each of the different start times to go over course details and reiterate how the trails are marked and possible issues the runners should watch out for.

2 – Event location

Jenn – This is my second time participating in this race and I find the Hilton Falls area very scenic laced with extremely fun and challenging trails. It’s a little less than one hour from Toronto city centre, is easy to locate and has a good amount of parking. Additionally Happy Trails Racing encouraged participants to carpool to ensure parking for all, and even offered a prize draw as an extra incentive for all of us that did carpool. Porta-potties were available as well as one conservation area washroom. There was a constant line for the bathrooms, as is often the case, but nothing unusually long and frankly the bathroom line at trail races offers up a nice opportunity to chat with fellow participants.

Not a photo of the bathrooms because we thought you’d rather see a nice shot of a view you get from about the 18km point of the course!
And here’s a shot of the waterfall that you see when you do the 10km event.

3 – Aid Stations

Jenn – There were three aid stations to help participants fuel their way through the event. ‘Tanker’s Canteen’ was at the start/finish (and mid-point for the 50k), the ‘S’more’s Station’ was at the 5k/20k mark and then ‘Russell’s Roost’ was at the 8k/17k mark. The S’more’s Station offered water and electrolytes, the delicious vegan energy balls from ‘Mes Amis Catering’, and of course, S’mores. This aid station was located at a large fire pit too! The other two aid stations were fully stocked with lots of goodies; water, electrolyte drink, sodas, fruit, chips, pickles, boiled potatoes, sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, quesadilla, and even apple and pecan pie was available!

The ‘S’mores’ Aid Station.

It’s hard to leave any of these stations hungry or thirsty. As always at Happy trails event the volunteers were nothing short of amazing. They always make sure their visitors are taken care of, even when they themselves have been standing there in minus temperatures for hours on end. We salute them!!!

4 General atmosphere of the Event HQ 

Dave – I always see many familiar faces at Happy Trails events, which makes for a nice day out even without the running. The race series is known for it’s unique events, well thought out swag and genuine feeling of community. I’m certain this draws people back time and time again, and also attracts new faces who are looking for an authentic trail running community and have heard that they’ll find it here. There are a few people who are fast so if you’re looking for a race and to test yourself you won’t be disappointed. There are also a great many people dipping their toes into trail or ultra territory for the first time because the cut off times are generous, the course well marked out and the aid stations really well stocked. There is also always a fun atmosphere at the event HQ start/finish line, so friends and family who want to come along to support runners have a place where they can hang out. Admittedly, on colder days like we had (expected for November), they might retreat to their cars whilst they’re waiting for much of the time, but at least there are bathrooms, hot drinks and good company available if needed. The race directors Jeff and Heather are very visible around event HQ and are happy to talk, and the volunteers I met there and at the other aid stations all seem to be bottomless sources of encouragement.

Obviously each race is different but on this course, if spectators want to cheer runners on from an aid station, it was possible to walk about 5km along the track to get to the ‘S’mores’ aid station where there was a bonfire and a washroom. It was also in a beautiful location, by a stream (it’s the last inhabited place you see in my race video before I hit the finish line). A lovely place to hang out I’d say!

Beautiful section of rolling trail at the 15km point.

5 – Course

Dave – If you are racing this then you’ve got sections of technical trail joined by very runnable track. If you’re out to enjoy the scenery and vibe, though, and are going slower, as I did, then the trail doesn’t seem so technical because you’ve much more time to find stable footing among the rocks and roots. The near constant up and down nature of the technical parts of the course makes sure it’s a good quad and glute workout though, however you take it on. Mostly the trail led through forest, with occasional openings onto marsh and river. Here are a few snaps I took as I ran.

The first couple of kms is mainly single track; if you’re racing make sure you start off quick so you have a clear run ahead of you.
If you’re not racing then no problem, chill out and enjoy the scenery! It’s especially nice when you pass a waterfall and look out onto the reservoir. See my video for a better look at both waterfall and view, I stopped here for quite a while!

Jenn – The race course was marked with a combination of orange ground flags, orange ties, and the occasional sign warning to slow down where the course turns into rocky outcroppings with a few gaps and even a crevasse to jump over, or where an arrow was needed to ensure we made the correct turn. The hand-drawn directional sign pictured below was definitely a fun highlight for me!

With the exception of the extremely technical (and fun) sections of the trail, the remainder of the course is made up of groomed double track trails weaving through the Halton Region Tract System of forest. As the race registration page notes “This course is primarily made up of fast, groomed trails with some short but tougher and more technical sections thrown into the mix.” Here are some photos I took on the way round.

A rocky climb.
Groomed trail.
A tricky route forward!
Crevasse Crossing!

Shoe choice: I wore my Hoke One One Speedgoat trail shoes and I’m glad I did; the technical bits on this trail were very rocky and the extra cushion this shoe offers was greatly appreciated by the 20km mark.

6 – Race kit, medals and awards

Dave – I love that there are Wolf and Bear Patches awarded to runners at all Happy Trails events. These are public shout outs that allow runners to recognize the kindness shown by other runners by nominating them for an award, like this;

As a 50k runner I got a brilliant hoodie – which I’m still wearing a few days later to prolong the vibe of the race and because it’s really very cold now and the hoodie is snug – and a wooden medal. Winners in various categories also got wooden plaques.

7 Post-event info (photography, films)

The photographer was once again the brilliant Sue Sitki (https://suesitkiphoto.shotsee.com/) and she was as good as ever. Sue is always very encouraging and fun, a perfect race photographer doubling as an enthusiastic supporter. The photos were online within a day and they were all free to download and of great quality. 

Jenn captured by Sue during the 25km event.
Dave captured by Sue during the 50km event.

To discover more about Happy Trails and their events see their website
https://www.happytrailsracing.com/



The Rügenbrücken Marathon

Runs Posted on Sun, November 10, 2019 06:33AM

A city race with a trail perfume

Saturday 19th October 2019 – 6:30 am

“Why do you run another marathon, if you finished one already?”
The day is young and the sun is barely showing up over the horizon, filling up the sky with a gradient of dark blue layers. We left Berlin a half hour ago. The car is doing 150 km/h on the highway and I’m sipping on my coffee thermos, waiting for it to kick in and dissipates the clouds in my head. Why do I always feel exhausted on every race day? Well, this time at least I have a good reason: I just got a second star on my daddy’s Jersey and the last month has been pretty full, with busy days and short nights!

“I mean, didn’t you run like 3 or 4 already?”

Sitting next to me, my mom is insisting. I can’t see her in the dark but I feel some apprehension and mostly bewilderment in her voice.

“5, mom. This will be my 6th one!”

Coffee is doing its job and her initial question finally reaches me… Why am I running another marathon? I don’t know what to say. I guess a lot of runners pushed themselves painfully through these 42 km, to cross it once and for all from their bucket list or simply because “everyone does it today”. Then they move on to something else. For a non-runner (you know, that annoying colleague who asks you every Monday how many marathons you ran this weekend!), there is no reason why someone would do that again!

I’m lost in my thoughts and I just mumble:
“Why do you go skying every winter, since you’ve been once already?”
I don’t think she got it, but it’s fine. You have to cross that finish line at least once to understand.

8:30 – Stralsund

We enter the narrow streets of Stralsund, after a quiet 2.5 hour drive. We leave the car in a parking lot close to the start and get out in the cold morning. I changed in the car and a penetrating wind bites my bare legs. I put on my running jacket. I kind of expected this. After all, we drove North of Berlin until we hit the shores of the Baltic Sea, which is finally here, in front of our eyes. On the other side, a strip of land stretches on both sides of the horizon: Rügen Island (sometimes called Rugia), our final destination.

My mom is smiling next to me, so happy to see something else than Berlin, despite the early wake up at 5 am this morning. It’s the first time she comes to cheer me up on race day and it’s nice to have a friendly face around. We head to the Ozeaneum (Aquarium) to get my bib and finisher shirt. I couldn’t eat anything this morning and I force myself to chew on a sandwich, while runners are gathering at the starting line, in front of the Ozeaneum. Quiet ships are gauging us, amused. I can see the bridge on the horizon, our first stage.

The clock is ticking… Finally, the countdown echoes on the red brick buildings and the 200 runners move ahead, in a burst of flames topping the staying line. A quick wave to my mom and I’m on my way to my 6th marathon.

9:30 – Ozeaneum, 0 km

We circle around the block and head towards the bridge. I’m doing my usual pre-race check up, now that it’s too late to quit! In all fairness, I feel okay, better than I expected. Two things bother me though: I had two rough last days at work moving around a lot and my legs are aching. But most concerning, I haven’t trained or slept properly for a month, after my baby champ decided to do an early show up! Therefore, no expectations, let’s see how my body puts up with the distance. Still, for once I would like to run a marathon not worrying if I’ll be able to finish it!

9:45 – Rügenbrücken, 2.5 km

We  cover the first kilometers when the Rügenbrücken (the Rügen bridge) appears on our left and stretches over our head like a Chinese dragon. I’m impressed, it looks way bigger than on the photos. We follow the road to catch it where it’s reaching the land. Finally, after taking an access road, we find ourselves on the monster’s back, snailing towards the horizon.

I’m speechless. The bridge is blocked to the cars for a few hours and we are all alone, no more than ten runners on the three lanes around me. With a length approaching 3 km, the Rügenbrücken is one of the longest bridge in Europe.

I feel lost in the vastness of the asphalt, crushed under the two columns raising towards the sky, 125 m above my head, in a spider web of cables, like two wings of a sleeping dragon. I know it’s not the Golden Gate, but the experience is like nothing I ever experienced before: a strange sensation that I don’t belong here, running a path made for vehicles far bigger and faster than me. It’s like climbing Mount Olympus to meet the Goods…

Okay, I’m losing myself here, let’s just say it was a pretty cool segment and definitely one of the  marathon highlights! The bridge raises up quickly and after crossing the pillars, the road smoothly goes down towards the Rügen island, over the little Dänholm strip of land. Stralsund disappear behind us, as we slowly approach the island, each step counting twice on this never-ending road.

10:10 – Rügen Island, 6 km

I reach the island about 40 min after the start. I’m sorry I forget to do the presentations: Rügen is Germany’s largest island, located North in the Baltic Sea, at equal distance from Danemark, Sweden and Poland. With 900 km² and 42 km from East to West, this “Jewel of the Baltic Coast” was definitely made to host marathons! With 60 km of unspoiled sandy beaches, crystal-blue seas bordered by lush greenery, up to the Jasmund National Park with its heritage forests and sheer white cliffs, the island is a Paradise for swimmers, hikers, bikers and… Runners! The vast choice of luxury hotels, beach-side villas and relaxing spas makes Rügen one of German’s most praised vacation destination.

Unfortunately, we’re not here for the sauna and I still got 36 km to cover! First aid station: no coffee, croissant and fresh juice but sweat tea, bananas and ISO drink. That’ll do. I do a quick break to put on my ankle pads as a prevention, still hoping that my legs will hold on all the way. After a sharp turn left, we follow an alley of brown and yellow-leaves trees. Autumn is finally here, although we can’t complain as it’s not raining today. I even spot a shy sun fighting its way through the thick clouds.

10:25 – Altefähr, 8 km

The narrow path leads us to what I consider the second highlight of the race: the small village of Altefähr. I do a quick break, taken by surprise. The houses alongside the main street are beautiful. White walls, exposed beans, little balconies and English gardens thoroughly looked after, they offer a perfect mix of tradition and modernity. Their dark roof remind me of Romanian countryside houses.

We cross the small village in a few strides. People are out in their garden, cheering us up. “First one?” yell an old lady to me. I smile and show her six of my fingers. We pass the St. Nikolai church on our left, which looks magnificent, and reach the Bergener street, bordered by trees and exiting the village. No sidewalks, but cars are passing us slowly with friendly encouraging signs.

10:45 –  Poppelvitz, 11 km

We enter now a 6 km loop North, before heading to the coastline, and I’m really disappointed. When I saw it on the marathon map, I thought it was intended to bring us to interesting highlights inside the island. But like that little loop at the end of the bridge, its purpose is simply to add kilometers, and quite boring ones I must say. After leaving the road, we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, empty fields up to the horizon with just a few windmills here and there, like sleeping giants. A strong wind makes me shiver, while a group a runners in shorts and singlets overtakes me. Damn vikings…

I stick with two nice ladies, munching on salty crackers (for carbs) and Toblerone (for motivation). A quick check up at my legs, tired but functional, everything’s fine.

11:15 – East coast, 16 km

We finally close the loop and after an aid station offering Coke and energy bars (best breakfast ever!) we take the direction of the coast. After the boring loop, a good surprise is waiting for me: a long sandy trail following the coastline. I was afraid this marathon would be only roads and bicycle lanes, but this is turning into a nice morning trail run. The sun is joining the party, through the disappearing clouds, and I joyfully remove my jacket. This is for sure, like the bridge segment, a highlight of the race.

We follow the little trail weaving inside a canyon of thick bushes. The Baltic Sea appears here and there through the vegetation, half concealed to our eyes, like a treasure you have to discover. I can’t resist to stop a few times to little alcoves of green, offering a bench to sit and rest in front of the sparkling water. Stralsund is still visible on the horizon, its church tower emerging from the clouds. I take a deep breath, full of wild aromas. The show must go on!

11:50 – Rambin, 21 km

The pleasant beach side slowly disappear, as the track bring us back inside the island changing into a bicycle lane. I pass the 21st kilometers after 2:20 h on the way, not so bad for a first half with tired legs, let’s see if I can score my usual negative split.

I cross the first participants, running in the other direction. A quick look behind me and I notice the 31st km mark on their side. Boy, are they fast! The best of them will finish the race in barely more than 3h! But I’m in the 4-5h train, so let’s focus and be happy if we finish 😋

After a few boring kilometers in the middle of nowhere, we run along houses again, visit one or two aid stations held by friendly volunteers and firemen, to finally reach the village of Rambin, our going-back point. 26 km done and another 16 km to cover to make mommy proud (I wrote her, she found a nice little coffee place to chill out). A cup of Coke (which is starting to give me some belly aches, but the caffeine kick is really nice) and it’s time to head back ‘home’.

12:50 – Way back, 30 km

This will be my only disappointment about the Rügen Marathon. Not only do we have to cover a useless loop in the middle of nowhere, but now after 26 km, we have to go back following the exact same path as on our way in. Therefore, from the 42 km, you can only count on 21 km of really enjoyable trail.

On the plus side, my legs are tired but still working fine and painless. I take out my earbuds, start my motivating playlist and switch to autopilot mode. Kilometers are flashing up on my watch.  I pass a few tired runners on the way, everyone is slowly hitting the wall and entering survival mode. I still feel fairly okay. My crackers/Toblerone diet helps a heap! Fortunately, we don’t have to run the extra loop and I’m back in Altefähr in no time. I leave the village towards the bridge, on the silent horizon.

13:45 – Rügendamm, 38 km

As I finally reach the bridge, two new surprises are waiting for me. First of all, we are redirected to the left lane and I realize that we won’t be running on the Rügenbrücken this time but rather on the original road through the Rügendamm, a first bridge built in the 30’s for cars and trains. Why not, I’m just happy to take a different path. Second surprise: a hoard of hysterical runners suddenly bursts on the parallel road and head towards the Rügenbrücken. The start for the 6 km run was just given!

I cross the bridge slowly, each step more painful than the last. But the view of the Rügenbrücken from below is impressive and I even find the strength to take a few selfies. High above my head, the flow of runners is flooding the bridge in a rainbow of colorful outfits.

14:10 – Stralsund Finish, 42.2 km

Finally, we are back on the side street leading to the Ozeaneum. I have imagined a solitary finish, supported by a cheering crowd. But instead I find myself drown in the flock of 6k runners, all raising their head and smiling, full of energy. I hate it! 😭 But to be fair I’m smiling to, as the finish line is 1 km ahead and my legs held tight all the way back.

I cross the finish line at 14:12, after a nice morning stroll of 4:42 min. Yep, that’s 5 min less than the Vienna marathon this April! My mom is here, getting wild on the camera button of her phone. A medal is thrown around my neck. I yelled “marathon!” to the volunteer, showing him my bib, but he answers that all medals are the same. I’m a bit disappointed that all 6k runners around me harbor the same trophy that mine. Oh well, we are all winners after all. A 6k is for some harder than a marathon for others!

After refueling at the aid stations, it’s time for a well deserved warm shower and a proper meal. Mom’s treat, we end up enjoying Italian pasta and fresh fish on the old market place, facing the beautiful Nicolaikirche, with the sun playing hide and seek behind its arcades.

Conclusion

This was a very fun marathon overall. The trail along the coastline came out as a nice surprise and crossing the huge bridge almost alone is an amazing experience I would recommend anyone to add to their bucket list.

To finish on a personal note, this was my 6th marathon and surely the one I prepared the least for: lack of training, sleep deprivation, tired legs before even starting. But my body surprised me again and I’m blown away by its obvious capacity to get stronger and ensure the distance better over time. My muscles seem to have developed some kind of memory and in spite of poor training, they still conserve a good level of fitness. “What does not kill me makes me stronger”, used to say Friedrich Nietzsche, who for sure was a kick-ass marathon runner! 😋

Mom keeps looking at exhausted me, proudly wearing my medal and glowing, a little smile on my face. I think she won’t ask me again why I run next time…

Things to improve

I see only one: Rügen is a very large island, longer than a marathon in both directions. Why adding boring loops in the middle of nowhere and why having us run back 16 km on the same route? The island is big enough! Create a nice loop leaving the bridge and getting back to it through a different path. Show us more from this beautiful island! And if it’s a budget issue, increase the entry fee. I’m sure participants would gladly pay a bit more money to run through another village or a nice area.


Acknowledgements

I would like to thank with all my heart the organizer of the Rügenbrücken Marathon for inviting me to the event and offering me to discover this beautiful island. Thank you to all volunteers too, who have been delightful all along the way.


General Travel Information

Transport:

We took the car from Berlin, which is a 2.5 hour drive. Alternatively, if you don’t have a car, you can take the train from a large city like Berlin or Hamburg. Maybe even from Copenhagen.

Food:

We ate at Göldener Löwe restaurant, on the beautiful Alter Markt place. The restaurant offers a wide choice of meats, fresh fish from the day and for course vegetarian and vegan alternatives. The place is quite touristic and therefore the prices are a bit higher than usual, but you can’t beat the view on the old market place and the Nikolai church.

Tip top:

Before leaving and if you are not too tired, loose yourself among the city medieval streets. Wonders await you at every corner. Don’t forget to visit the Nicolaikirche!

Sources and additional links

Rügenbrücken Marathon event page
Rügen Island tourism information
Wiki page about the bridge
Altefähr tourism information

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A Tale of Tallinn – Part Two

Runs, Tours & Experiences Posted on Mon, November 04, 2019 12:33PM

Saturday, 7th of September. It’s the second day in Tallinn and the best way to start it is with a biiiig breakfast at the Sokos Hotel Viru! It includes food and drinks for all possible preferences and tastes so one could not really get out of there and still be hungry 😄

The day before the marathon is usually one where I have to think carefully about what to eat and do. The meals have to be rich in carbs and veggies and a higher amount of liquids (to be understood as water, tea or similar) is required. All the ‘extra weight’ in my body has to be eliminated before the race, so that I will be able to finish it without stomach problems and not encounter moments where my energy goes down to 0. Activities that cause tiredness should also be reduced to the minimum.

With that in mind, the big healthy breakfast was the best choice to give me energy for the first half of the day and then to let me make better nutrition choices for the other half of it. As for the activities to undertake, well this part is also tricky. On one hand, being the first time ever in Tallinn and having most of the day free is an excellent opportunity to explore the city as much as I can. But Tallinn has many beatiful areas outside the historical city centre and walking around the city to cover them would leave me super tired at the end of the day! 😏

The Solution: the Hop On Hop Off Bus! One 24h ticket was valid for 3 different sightseeing lines through the cities, each line having the color red, blue or green. The buses were equipped with audio guides in 9 languages, where each point of interest was narrated as the bus drove close to it on its route. The visitors could “hop on” and “hop off” as many times as they wanted, during the validity of their ticket. ([1])

Well, that turned out to be really helpful: I could see all the important parts of the city without spending a physical effort to get there!

A self-driving car

The Green Line

Strike a pose!

Chill before the marathon 😎

After so much sightseeing on different lines, it was time to watch the next event of the Tallinn Marathon weekend: the 10K race! With more than 7000 participants, it was actually the most attended event of all. ([2])

Waiting for the runners at the Drama Theatre

After the race, the time came to find a good restaurant with vegan menu, in order to provide my body with a healthy carbo-loading before the big race. The Basiilik restaurant was close to the hotel and offered a menu with many options, so why not giving it a try? 😉 ([3])

Carrot-pumpkin purree soup

Spinach ravioli with vegan cheese  and Marathon map

I also had a pizza among these meals, because something told me that for a proper carbo-loading I should not stop after the super yummy carrot-pumpkin soup and the spinach ravioli… yeah, just looking at the marathon map was enough 🍕😄

The day ended with my usual pre-race routine, before going to sleep: 

  • T-shirt, shorts, shoes, cap, rain jacket, running watch, race bib etc. ✅
  • action-cam, selfie-stick and accessories ✅
  • check the course map and profile one more time ✅
  • arrange the logistics ✅
  • set the alarm to not oversleep ⏰ – it happens rarely, because usually I do not sleep a lot before the big race, but anyway ✅

Everything seems to be prepared for the marathon. 

However, am I really prepared for this?? 😅

External references:

[1] https://citytour.ee/en/

[2] http://www.jooks.ee/en/tallinn-marathon/results

[3] https://basiilik.ee/



The Niagara Falls International Marathon

Runs Posted on Sun, October 27, 2019 08:56PM

This event took place in and around Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada (with the full marathon starting in Buffalo, USA). Jenn and Dave from our team took on the half and the full distance. There were also 5k, 10k, and marathon relay events going on, so something for all the family!

Before we go into our 7 point review here’s a short film showing the marathon course and some of our activities in Niagara over the race weekend. If you’re viewing on a mobile and can’t play flash, you might try going straight to Youtube to view it here

1. Pre-Event Info

Jenn – The race registration, website and pre-event email were very informative. They offered details on the courses, packet pick-up, expo vendors, and most importantly, details on getting to the start via car or shuttle. I didn’t feel the need to overly prepare for this run compared to others, knowing that shuttles would be easy to find and there would be a lot of water/nuun stations on the course. They covered cut-off times very clearly within the race details and in my experience, this event is one of the few Ontario marathons that offer a 7 hr cut-off for us back-of-the pack runners. I think this needs to be noted as it adds an extra level of enjoyment to an event when you know it’s inclusive to both runners and walkers alike with a wide range of paces.

Dave – In addition to the above, for marathon runners it was important to understand how the border crossing was going to work! And the race website made this very clear. Depending on what passport you had, there were different proceedings. I have done this event in 2015 when I had a British passport (and with that I had to get a visa waiver, which was an easy, low cost process that I did the day before the race by walking over the Rainbow bridge from Niagara Falls Canada to the US side and buying it from the border officer for about $6) and this year with a Canadian passport (no visa needed at all). Regardless of the passport, customs did have to be cleared the day before, at the race expo.

This was an easy process. Then on the morning of the race, the buses that were transferring us from Niagara Falls to Buffalo stopped at US customs for a very short while, our passports were checked, then we drove on. After that runners had the option of keeping their passport with them as they ran the marathon or putting it in their kit bag with the rest of the clothes they weren’t taking on the run, and handing it over to race officials who placed it in the baggage bus. It might seem risky to be leaving your passport in a plastic kit bag but the buses are staffed by race officials, and nobody is allowed on them, just the volunteer who will give you back your bag at the finish area of the event.

The expo was useful. There was free yoga all day (and what runner doesn’t need to stretch if they want to stay injury free), nutrition, shoe, clothes and training offerings, and a number of good talks, including Canadian adventurer Ray Zahab and also experts on plant based and keto eating.

Ray Zahab speaking.

2. Event Location (parking, facilities/washrooms, pavilion)

Jenn – Half Marathon: The half marathon, 10k and 5k all started at the same place; the Rapidsview Parking Lot. The lot seemed easy to get to by car, as many participants were taking advantage of the ample parking and drove to the start. Since we stayed at a hotel by the falls, I chose to use the free WeGo shuttle, as the pickup spot was right outside of the hotel (the Sheraton on the Falls). It made a second pick-up stop at the finish area and then took us to the start. The starting area had a couple tents for warmth/shelter. Luckily the weather was amazing and I found these unnecessary. Race kit pick-up was available at the start, as were a lot of porta-potties, several hand washing stations and bag check. The race assigned school buses for bag check, each bus was identified by a range of bib numbers, and the bags stayed on the bus until the finish when the runner went to collect them. I quite like this process. I felt as though the few items I put in my bag were well taken care of, and my belongings were not just laying on a tarp on the ground, as has happened at other city marathons.

Half Marathon start area.
Half Marathon start line.

Dave – Full Marathon: Buses were offered to take runners to Buffalo in the USA. They left from outside our hotel between 7 and 7:30am – so I didn’t have to get up too early which was nice! When we got to Buffalo we could go into the sports arena which was next to the start line. There were washrooms in there, plenty of space to warm up in, and it was heated (not a consideration for us as it was a lovely day but this will be important if your race day is rainy or cold). The baggage buses were just outside.

Inside the Buffalo sports arena.
Looking back at the Marathon corrals from the start line.

3. General atmosphere of the Event HQ (event staff, volunteers, other runners, what’s there for spectators)

Dave – The event staff seemed just as excited to be there as us runners, it was a great vibe from start to finish. Everybody, including all the runners, was respectful during the playing of both National Anthems before we started to run. The aid stations seemed to be staffed by volunteers from different community groups and they each had their own style of cheering, some like cheerleaders, and others playing music. This is not a big city marathon following a circular style course, you go from point to point, country to country, along a rural road so bearing that in mind the route was pretty well supported. I don’t think I ran for more than 10 minutes without getting cheered on, either at an aid station or by people stood outside of their houses.

The other runners were friendly, kind of half way between a trail race and a big city marathon level of friendliness, and whenever one passed me they asked how things were going. That was nice, as I wasn’t going slow – I came in 29th position in the end – and usually the people at the front of marathons are too fixated on running fast to make small talk, but this race was different.

For spectators, it looked like they would be best either waiting at the half marathon aid station (which was fun and lively) or at the finish area, as this was just in front of the mighty falls themselves and there was lots of hustle and bustle there, as well as washrooms and places to get refreshments. Plus they get this view whilst they are waiting for you!

4. Course (length, technicality, scenery)

Jenn – Half Marathon: The half marathon, 10k and 5k courses were all happening along the same ‘mostly’ out and back routes from the same start area. We started a couple of kilometers past the finish, so that we could run to the respective turnaround points and then run all the way back to the falls, which allows for fantastic views during those last few km when the spray from the falls reached high in the sky.

The distances and turn-around spots were very clearly marked for each separate race, and the course itself was very easy to follow. It was a standard road race with lots of paved road and only a couple of very small bumps along the way (they weren’t actually hills so I am referring to them as bumps!). The half marathon course also had very picturesque views of the riverbank and fall colours for most of the route. I snapped some photos along the way and have included these below.

Dave – Full Marathon: We ran around Buffalo for about 5kms – residential streets, quite pretty – then over the Peace Bridge, which is the link and border between the USA and Canada. That was as special as it sounds! I’ve never run over a border before, apart from this one. It was sunny by the time I crossed it, the river on my right and the lake on the left were bright blue, it was pretty exciting to drop down into Canada, pass the border police with a wave and then set off to the left before looping back after another 5km to begin the long push for Niagara Falls.

Leaving the USA, ahead is the Peace Bridge, leading to Canada!

We followed the Niagara Parkway. It really is a beautiful route. It can be prone to headwind but we had fine conditions with no wind to worry about. Always the blue river was on our right whilst on the left were mansions and fields, and often the road was shaded with magnificent trees.

A flotilla of Canada Geese!

The overall elevation of the marathon course was just over 170m; I imagine much of that was going up and over the Peace Bridge, which is so exciting I didn’t really notice it! Is this course a fast one? I’d say yes, it could be, and if the wind is kind to you as it was for us, then it could even be PB territory.

5. On course aid stations (water points, fuel)

Jenn – The aid stations available on course were plentiful. Water and electrolytes were available approximately every 2.5k, and in some cases the volunteers at the aid stations on the ‘out’ portion of the race moved their station across the road to the ‘back’ side of the road and set out more water. There were also Clif blocks available at 10k, 21.1k and 30k.

Dave – I ran self supported (meaning I took my own fuel – dates filled with peanut butter, and coconut water) but I did see that the aid stations were plentiful and well stocked with Nuun, water and Clif nutrition. I did like that the drinks were offered in paper cups, which looked recyclable, as opposed to the plastic cups that are often used at aid stations. There was enough on offer at the aid stations that a runner wouldn’t need to carry any spare fuel unless they had some special fuel strategy.

6. Race kit, medals and awards

Dave – The medals are nice (see below) and every runner got a race/running shirt as well as a couple of Clif bars (which were really useful for the morning of the run as I didn’t have time for breakfast!).

7. Post-event info (photography, films)

Jenn – Race results are available on the race page and easily searchable. The race had photographers posted in the last couple of kilometers and at the finish. They offer the standard post-race packages if participants want to purchase their photos.

If you’d like to discover more about the Niagara Falls International Marathon, or enter for 2020, check out their website – https://niagarafallsmarathon.com/



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