Thursday, 26 April 2012

A nice hike up the Uetliberg

If you want a really nice hiking route up the Uetliberg, start from the train station called Schweighof then head up past all the allotments towards the shooting range just at the edge of the forest.  After a hundred metres of gravel or so, there is a series of steps leading up the hill and this is the route I took today.

The route is fairly steep and is for able bodied people only, owing to all the tree roots you need to step over as you ascend.  There are a few places where it is quite muddy and at the same time steep, so you need to grab hold of something to pull yourself up, like a small tree.  It is not at all scary though, and even if you have a fear of heights I cannot imagine you would have any problem on this path.  The path goes alongside the large meadow leading up to the antenna that you can see when you look up at the Uetliberg from Zurich city.

There were a few points when Negrita looked at me as if she wanted me to pick her up, but I decided to continue and see if she followed.  Sure enough she found a way to get to the top without any help.  For a larger dog it would be quite easy, but with her short legs some of the natural steps are very high for her.  She loves a challenge though, and once she finds a way over the obstacles her little tail wags like crazy.

I was wearing my VFFs and it was really nice to feel the branches, tree roots and squishy mud beneath my feet.  I have done the same route a couple of times in the past wearing normal trainers and I did not enjoy it half as much as I did today.

On arriving at the antenna, we went to the viewpoint at the top for a couple of minutes to take in the stunning panorama, and then we took the train back to Zurich HB.  Below are some photos from today's hike.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Initial impression of the VFFs

I just came back from a long walk in the Zurichberg woods and I wanted to give my initial impression of how I found the VFFs or Vibram FiveFingers.  As I have already mentioned, looks wise they are strange and I don't think they will ever look sexy regardless of how popular they become.

Me in my VFFs

It didn't take me that long to get them on.  Contrary to some other reviews that I was reading, I managed to put each shoe on correctly in about 1 minute.  I am not sure why it took some people as long as 10 or 15 minutes.  Maybe the model that I chose is easier to put on.

As I walked out of the door I was already able to notice the texture of the pavement.  It is not the same as walking barefoot but you can easily tell what kind of surface you are walking on.  The other thing that I instantly liked was the fact that I could feel a breeze blowing through the glove.  I can imagine that in winter they would be a bit cold though, and that Injinji toesocks (the socks I used in the MDS where your toes are separated) would come in useful.

My feet started to sweat almost immediately in the VFFs and it will be interesting to see how long it takes before they start to smell.  The label says they are machine washable so at least it should be easy enough to clean them when needed.

For my 2 hour walk the shoes felt very comfortable - more comfortable than normal shoes in fact.  I cannot feel any pressure points and the only slight discomfort is the sweatiness of my feet due to the material, but this I can live with.

I walked over various surfaces in the forest, and there were only 2 times when I felt a little discomfort.  Both times this was when I stepped on a sharp stone, and it would have been much worse had I not been wearing the VFFs.  I think the balance between being able to sense the terrain beneath your feet and protecting your feet is very good.  I assume that after a lot of walking in the VFFs my feet would start to toughen up and small sharp stones would no longer be an issue.  Probably wearing the VFFs regularly off road would have been a great way to toughen my feet up for the Marathon des Sables.

Now that I am back in the house, my feet feel as though they have been massaged and they feel stimulated. It is almost as though someone woke them up from a long sleep.  Running in the VFFs is going to be very interesting as I can imagine I will have to be a lot more careful where I step with the extra impact of running compared to walking.  I will start running in the VFFs step by step and at first only for very short distances and for short times.  I will keep you updated on how that goes.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

My new experiment - VFFs

I just went out and bought my first pair of VFFs (Vibram FiveFingers) and I am eager to try them out.  After reading lots of reviews I decided to go with the Bikila LS model.  My usual shoe size is 42 but it seemed 41 was a better fit with the VFFs.  Even with a 41 my big toe and the toe next to it fit perfectly, but there is a little extra length at the end of the other 3 toes.  However I couldn't really go any smaller without squashing my big toe.

Below is a picture of the Bikila LS model.  Mine are green not grey though, and it makes me look a bit like a frog.

I think I will test them out tomorrow and go for a walk in the woods on the Zurichberg with Negrita.  I can't wait.  My Newton Sir Isaac Guidance Trainers should be arriving shortly too.  It is a bit like Christmas all over again.

Do you want a sneaky peak at the MDS 2013 course before the race starts?

I had already seen the MDS 2012 course before the official road book was given out on the bus.  I already knew that the race was going to end in Merzouga.  I had already been driven along most of the route and had stayed overnight at the Riad Nomad hotel right next to where the route passed on day 3.  How did I manage that you may ask when the route is meant to be a secret.

I booked my trip with Cap Dunes travel and the owner Lahcen Ouyahia is very well connected in the region.  He seemed to have all the inside information.  I was not 100% sure that the route he was showing me was the actual one we would follow, but once I checked the road book, everything that he had showed me was in there down to a T.

I am very thankful to Lahcen because there was a problem with my online money transfer and he only actually got the money after he had provided all the promised services.  He paid for the hotel and fuel from his own pocket without actually having seen a penny of my money.  The problem was the fault of the Moroccan bank and luckily it has now been resolved, but it caused both Lahcen and I a lot of worry and stress.  A lot of travel agents would have refused to provide any services until the money was actually in their account, and not just having seen a confirmation from an overseas bank that the money had been sent.

So if you want to go out to Morocco next year before the MDS starts for some heat acclimatisation, maybe considering booking your trip with Cap dunes travel

Monday, 23 April 2012

How does one feel mentally and physically 9 days after the end of one of the world's toughest footraces?

Obviously the question of how one feels mentally and physically nine days after the end of one of the world's toughest footraces depends on the individual, and their previous multi stage ultra experience.  I can only talk from my own experience as an ultra novice.  Nine days on I can walk fine without any hint of a limp, the blisters are pretty much healed and the toenail that I lost will take some time to grow back but the skin that was underneath it has toughened up and it does not cause me any pain.  So you could say that the superficial injuries have healed.

But in terms of energy I feel pretty tired despite going to sleep at a decent time.  My sleep is also disturbed and I seem to be moving a lot during the night.  My muscles seem to twitch randomly and I often wake up with my calves threatening to cramp up.  My groin is still aching slightly and my quads feel very tight and in need of a good stretch.  A couple of days ago I had zero appetite but that has now come back, and I was really craving a pizza today.  My cold seems to be getting much better and my immune system seems to be getting stronger again.  That just about covers the physical state that my body is in.

In terms of how I feel mentally, until yesterday I was just enjoying the time off and having a chance to organise the apartment and do all the little tasks that need doing.  Today though I had a couple of feelings of emptiness without having an immediate challenge to look forward to.  I also noticed that my short term memory is not as good as it usually is.  Normally I have no need for lists and tend to just remember everything in my head until that list becomes overwhelming.  Today though I had to write down a list with 3 points on it because I couldn't seem to remember the 3 points simultaneously.  I also booked an appointment with someone, and then 5 minutes later I had already forgotten when I had booked the appointment for.  Luckily I found the appointment card in my pocket.

I read quite a few articles that talk about people having post race blues after the MDS.  The advise is not to be fooled into thinking that once the initial pain is gone you can just jump straight back into training to get over those post races blues.  It talks about just enjoying a few weeks of relaxing and focussing on non running activities.  I have signed myself up for the Lucerne marathon but luckily I have 27 weeks to train for that.  I can afford to ease very gently back into the running and still have plenty of time to follow an advanced marathon training plan later on.

As I will be easing gently back into running I am going to take the opportunity to experiment with minimalistic footwear.  Tomorrow I am going to go out and buy a pair of Vibram FiveFingers or VFFs as they are also known.  I have also ordered a pair of Newton Sir Isaac Guidance Trainers, which are meant to help people transition from a heel or midfoot strike to a more efficient forefoot strike.  It is going to be a lot of fun trying both of those out, as I am always one for new experiments.

I am also returning to work next week after having had an 8 month sabbatical.  That will keep my mind extremely occupied as I try to remember how all the UBS systems work and get back the knowledge that I used to have.  I will probably have no time for post race blues until I have settled back in at work.  I do strangely miss that week in the desert though, where all I needed to focus on was putting one foot in front of the other.  I also miss the camaraderie that existed between the occupants of tent 72, between the Mencap extreme team members, between the British contingent and between the MDS participants in general.  We all shared a truly unique experience together.  Unless you take part you will never really appreciate just how tough the race is and just how much it tests your personal limits.  If you are even remotely tempted to try it I urge you to go ahead and sign up.  You will not regret it I guarantee you.