Runner’s greeting?

When I first started running, I thought that runners were an intimate, close-knit community. My respect for their awe-inspiring achievements had me intimidated from the start.

As I then gingerly threaded the asphalt of Tempelhof Airport, I avoided eye-contact with other runners. Surely, I thought, they can see right through me. All real runners would be able to accurately gauge the extent of my rookiness at first glance. It might have something to do with the way my arms were flailing all over the place, the uneven steps, the ridiculous body posture or the constant look of extreme exertion on my face while I plodded along the runways at barely quicker than walking.

Then, as I got my confident at my ability to perform my “impression of a runner”, I started greeting other runners that I met. The ones I met came the other way, I never overtook any other runners, so I didn’t have to worry about greeting those. I also didn’t have to worry about those that overtook me because they typically flew past at lightning speed without paying any attention to me.

The ones I came across, though, were puzzling. As I enthusiastically greeted each and every one of them most didn’t notice. Worse, I had the impression that they pretended not to notice. eye-contact with these runners rarely, if ever, happened. Only a very few runners smiled and greeted back?

Why would that be? I had thought that us runners are an elite group, bound by our habit, aspirations and lifestyle? As a motorcyclist, I couldn’t understand why not every runner I came across dropped everything to greet me. Among motorcyclists, we have always got time to lift a couple of fingers in greeting to a fellow enthusiast. No matter how tricky our corner is and no matter how crappy, beat up or noisy the other’s motorcycle (and as long as the other isn’t actually riding a scooter), we’ll go out of our way to greet each other. Like runners, motorcyclists share a secret knowledge of a joy that most people will never discover.

I ran on, and, over time, discovered two main reasons why runners might not greet each other, although (and I am sure that all of you utterly agree) they damn well should.

Firstly, there is insecurity. Similar to myself on my very first outings, there is a part within many runners shouting that they aren’t real runners and that, surely every real runners will get wise to their rookiness at first glance. I have found that this might be even more the case with women runners (although I don’t know the reason). Insecure runners avoid seeing (and greeting) others for fear of being “found-out”.

Secondly, some runners are entirely absorbed in their activity. The running takes up 100% of their capacity that they are unable to see in real time, anything that happens outside their own bodies. They notice that landscape and others are passing by outside, but the very concept of the world is deeply abstract to them and seems miles away. This has happened to me on occasions were I ran really hard during training, but also when I had zoned out during running.

I took me some time to realize that running is much more fun, if you actually take in what is going on around you. My first marathon, where I ran through one of the most beautiful cities in the world and hardly saw a thing served me as a great eye-opener in that regard.

This leads me to the following conclusions.

  1. If you are out there, running, you are a runner. Experience and grace don’t matter, only activity does. That is why you have to earn the label runner all over again every week. But if you run, don’t be silly, wear your head up high and smile and wave at fellow runners.
  2. If you run, but can’t see what’s going on around you, slow down and open your eyes. Running isn’t about getting there first, but about enjoying the journey and seeing the world from other perspectives.
  3. Greet each and every runner that you come across, no matter how lean, chubby, tall, old, fit or slow. It doesn’t matter if they wear the latest, top of the line running gear or old shoes. Lift your hand and smile and do it all over again, until all runners the world over always greet each other like the friends they are.
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A Pedestrian life

In case I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now: I love riding my motorcycle. I love it more than eating and sleeping and breathing. Well, maybe not that much, but it is very important to me.

Last week on my way to work, my clutch cable broke. So I was stuck in gear 2 and I didn’t have neutral. I also couldn’t stop, because without neutral, I wouldn’t be able to start the engine and then get in gear. I managed to get there, on time and without stopping and without killing anybody. More importantly I had gotten the bike where I knew it was safe for a few days while I considered my options.

I called the shop and they said, sure, get the bike here and we’ll fix it inside of half an hour. Only there was no way to get there. Getting anywhere would have required to start the engine in neutral (which I managed without a clutch) and then shifting into first without the slow release (which I could have managed, but not without killing anyone, possibly myself).

So I ordered a new cable on Amazon and it came to work 2 weekdays later. I exchanged the cable, which made me feel like a real man, fixing the bike, making it work again. I couldn’t believe that I fixed it with my own rookie hands and it was good to go afterwards. Granted, I had the instructions from a book, but still. Pretty pleased.

While I waited for that cable though, I led a miserable life. I took the underground to work like a normal person and even rode a bicycle on two occasions. I couldn’t get anywhere fast, let alone pleasantly.

Unfortunately, there was a weekend between those two workdays of my wait. During that time, I realized that life without a motorcycle in summer is worse than wasted. It’s pointless. Places that aren’t so very far away suddenly might as well be on another continent. There is no cruising and no playing. There isn’t any reason to go outside at all.

Now, though, I am back to life at last.

Isn't she pretty?
Isn’t she pretty?

My favourite place to run – Tempelhof Airport, Berlin

There is a place just across the street from me that I am very fond of. It has become the biggest reason for living in this part of Berlin. I am miles away from the energetic bustle of Mitte-Nord and Prenzlauer Berg. There are no trendy street cafes filled with artsy types and starter-uppers anywhere close to my flat. Instead, I am looking out on four lanes of perpetual traffic jam. The nearest shopping options are two run-down supermarkets and a burger king.

Buuut:

Right across the street (yes the one with the traffic jam) there is the old city airport Tempelhof. It’s a massive chunk of open space with two runways and an airport building, which was among the largest buildings in the world for a very long time. Entire books have been filled about the history of the airport, which was an actual live airport as recently as 2008 but right now, the area has become a playground for residents and Berliners and it is glorious!

People come here for all kinds of activity: kiting, kite surfing, kite buggying, running, inlining, kite inlining, biking, picnicking and plain hanging out are amongst them.

Only after I had moved here in 2012, did I even start to consider running as a pastime. And I considered it for a long time. I wasn’t into sports much at that point, but knowing that there is this huge, flat and legendary “track” right outside slowly chipped away at me and my lack of resolve. In late 2013, I remember running there for the first time.

It was hard. I remember being so proud of completing the first 5k laps along the runways. This became something I did, partly because it was supposed to be good for me and partly because out there on the field, I felt more connected to the elements and the season that almost anywhere else in Berlin. Just being out there provided some much needed context on time passing and the earth in general. Now I don’t mean to go metaphysical on you, but when you live in a large city, you somehow live your life on a different level, you notice the length of days, the cold and hot, the rain and the shine, but you are weirdly disassociated from it all. It’s the urban life. But not out on the Tempelhof Airport it isn’t, or as I like to call it, the field.

I was out there. I wasn’t fast, or graceful , or effortless, but I managed to go out and do my little lap more days than not. Most other runners overtook me, some of them were children, the elderly or very chubby. Once I was passed by a fat man pushing a pram. At that time, though, I really began to appreciate the powerful habit that gradually forms when you run the same lap very often. I started noticing the little things about the field. I liked how the light turned all soft in the evening, just before the sun set on my side of the field. In the morning, the sun is on the far side, greeting me and trying to entice me out of the house. I met some of the people more frequently and most started greeting me back. There was a little tree at just before halfway, which isn’t so little anymore now. I can measure my progress agains the Fernsehturm looming in the distance and several other Berlin landmarks.

Wind is always a factor on the field, too. It’s mostly tailwind on the way out and headwind back in. the wind can be veeery strong or a light light, but it’s always there. There is a giant chimney visible across and as I enter the field, I can precisely gauge the situation. Then there is the cookie factory., just outside the field. On a standard lap, I’ll be close to it at around k3. When they are baking a new batch, you can always smell it. You can also smell if there is chocolate on the cookies.

In the beginning, a good day on the field was, when I hadn’t been overtaken by other runners. After a few months, I started to overtake inline skaters and even bicyclists (mostly against the wind).

Since 2013, I have found 3 distinctly different laps that I like to run for different purposes. There is the original runway route at about 5k, which I use for recovery or temp runs. Next, there is an actual lap of the field, which, hugging the inside fence, comes out at precisely 7k. I love this, because it’s perfect for halfmarathon training. This is also the lap that I visualize at the last 7k of a hard race. The last course is a lap of the field with both runways built in, measuring 11k. This lap lets you take in the field from every conceivable angle, which is why I love it so much. The conditions also change, when you are out there for such a long time and your training runs becomes a different one from when you started. On the open field, you can really see weather and light changes happening.

Call me boring, but 95% of my runs are based on those three laps. I don’t like to vary them much at all. I don’t even like to run them clockwise. It just feels wrong. I am happy going out and doing those three (and have been for at least a year now). Coming back to them is like visiting good friends. And doing the same routes over also provides me with plenty of insight about myself. I can measure my form pace for pace against my former pace. I can set goals that actually mean something to me on a deeper level. I love it.

What about you? Do you like to vary your training runs? Or do you prefer familiarity, like me?

An introduction to Snotrocketing for the ambitious rookie

A lot has been said and written about running. The hot topics include training, gear and nutrition. In my opinion all of the above is important but not crucial. There is a far more fundamental skill at play here.

If you are a runner and you have already done some training or even a race or two, you know this to be the unarguable truth. If you want to become a runner, you should start practising the art as you take your first plodding steps. There is no skill as crucial to your running success as “the rocket”.

Popularized by European footballers in the 80s, snotrocketing has snowballed to become a truly global activity. It is held in high regard by runners all over the world. This is true especially in winter, when there is a seemingly endless supply of rocketing material trickling out of every runner’s nose. The Best runners manage to rocket impressively almost all year round, which is not only a tremendous achievement on their part, but it marks them as the clear world elite.

At the beginning, it can be daunting. You see all the other runners out there and they are so good at it. They make it look so easy. They hardly look at their rocket, as it gracefully takes off and lands on the floor after describing a slight arc away from their body. The best of them inherit a precision in their rocketing that is awe-inspiring. They turn their head and flick a snotrocket just barely over their shoulder. I have seen runners doing it repeatedly in a herd of dozens of other runners, without hitting anybody else. This is the champions league of the game.

Don’t be put off. Even the best rocketeers out there have started where you are now. They have had the snot on their chin hundreds of times. Go out, run and do the rocket.

Here are my basic snotrocketing guidelines:

  1. If you have mastered the art of snotrocketing, use as often as you possibly can. Impress people wherever you are and what you are doing. If you are truly good, there is no need to restrict your rockets to running.
  2. If you haven’t, practise. I know, it’s hard. I know, failure means snot running down your face. But the only thing you can do to become a runner of note is to go out there time and again.
  3. Learn from an accomplished snotrocketeer: let them give you a few pointers for your practice.
  4. What makes snotrocketing beautiful is almost (but not quite) hitting other people with your snot. Work on it! This takes your snot rocketing to the next level.
  5. If you hit anybody with your rocket by mistake, just smile, lift your shoulders and run away. If the person you hit is a runner, he will understand, if not he doesn’t matter or can’t keep up anyway.
  6. Use it after you have made a point in conversation. It will lend your argument further gravitas.

As a modest person, I may say that I have almost mastered the art at this point.

Running Bleh and Berlin Marathon training

I spent the last weekends doing some races (3 halves and a 15k). I wasn’t happy with either one of them. There always seemed to be something that stopped me from reaching my potential. I knew I could do a half marathon well under 1:40 (as I have, during the Big 25 in Berlin, 6 weeks ago), but I just couldn’t put it down on the track. My PB remains at 1,41:50 from last year.

Instead, I have found a bunch of shiny new excuses for slacking my way around the races (too hot, too cold, too wet, too uneven, too hungry, too little running during the week, too many races). The truth is, I was just too slow. While I know I can run an entire half marathon faster than 4:40 per k, the prospect of running this fast this long is one thing above all: highly uncomfortable.

I seem to have settled in my comfort zone, which I find a very hard place to leave right now. I am happily plodding away at a bit above 5:05 per k, which leaves me moving slowly, without much effort or pleasure, towards the finish. And yet I struggle with the last kilometres. But I know this is all in my head. It is weakness of the mind.

The end of September brings around Berlin Marathon, arguably the greatest, flattest, straightest and fastest city marathon in the world. The world record is broken here every other year by incredible people. There are 40000 athletes from all over the world who travel here to participate and millions who would like to.

This coming Berlin Marathon has one big new feature for me: I am in it. How do I feel about it? Well, I am strangely unexcited at this point. Bordering on indifferent, really.

When I won my place at the start in the lottery, I was ecstatic. I remember thinking that I would really show the world what I was made of. I dreamt of achieving a low 3:something. Running through the Brandenburg Gate, turning into the last 400m stretch with my head held high and a smile on my face.

I can run a marathon (and I have done it twice this year), but how can I run it well?

I have got a very good training plan. But I am struggling to get out of bed to follow it right now.

Please let me know if any of you have any ideas on how to beat the comfort zone and to show at least a sliver of my true potential come race day.

A greyhound in the city, a fox overland and a sloth on the Autobahn

Summer is here. It hasn’t decided whether to stay or go yet, but the hints of sunshine and warm air are getting stronger every day.

My pony and I are taking full advantage of the weather. We go out cruising all the time. I love the streets of the city at night. Empty, yet pulsing with a strange kind of energy. People are out and about, but they rarely drive. At night, I share the streets with taxis and the occasional police car. But the energy of the city, while dormant is a constant presence.

By day, the city streets are less inviting: clogged with angry car- and van drivers, nobody moves very fast at all. Except we, my pony and I. We find space, where there is none. Changing lanes like lightning, we are always moving. We find the flow and we go with it, we lead it, we are constantly at the flow’s helm and traffic follows us smoothly wherever we venture. In daytime traffic in Berlin, we are at our most concentrated, most alert and we outmove everyone. It is a glorious effort, we are not quick, we never leave 4th gear, but we are quicker and safer than anyone else. I am aware of every move, every gear change, the state of all traffic lights and everyone around me.

When we go overland on a less busy road, the experience is different altogether: my pony becomes less of a precision instrument and more of an extension of my body. In the city, we are together, overland, it is just me. I love exploring small roads that I haven’t previously seen. I won’t know the way. The way doesn’t matter. I cruise whichever way seems more inviting or sunnier or more interesting. Often, I come across gravel roads or cobblestones, I end up in beautiful places and find hidden lakes. I really love these outings, because I can get thoroughly lost. The roads close to my grandmother’s house are ideal for that.

Problem is, my grandmother’s house is several hundred kilometres away and the only way to get there is via a tortuous 3 hour drive over the Autobahn. On a motorcycle, at least on my little pony, this is not a fun place to be.

The pony’s got 6 gears, but the gearing is designed for speeds between 80 and 110 kph. On the Autobahn, where you have to keep at between 130 and 140 kph to even swim with traffic, you are sat in an uncomfortably high rev range. This means engine noise . You can’t hear any of that, though, because the wind that is tearing at your helmet and body is much, much, much louder. But there is also engine vibration which is passed on to me through my arms. About wind, my motorcycle is equipped with a frame that it meant to divert the wind away from the driver. The model is even dubbed ‘diversion’ in reference to what the frame is meant to do with the wind. In addition to that, my pony’s previous owner fitted an extra high wind screen. At 140 kph, none of that is any good. Which is why the wind is tearing at you.

Picture sitting there, holding on, vibration and cold are creeping into each and any part of your body. You keep up the tension of your body, because on the Autobahn, anything can happen at any time. Cars are wheezing past all the time, you can’t and don’t want to go any faster. And then it starts raining…

Mind you, I am not complaining. I made that choice and love riding my motorcycle no matter what route and weather condition. There are time and places that are much more pleasant than others, but you can’t have one without the other.

Buy shit, quickly or Running Consumerism

I once read that in order to run, all you need is a pair of shoes and an hour of time. Well, surely that was before running turned into a global multi-billion dollar market.

Now, everybody is running. The elderly are running marathons and children are running little races. There are races for women, races for sprinters, races for show-offs and races for rookies, making sure that there is a niche for everyone.

That also goes for equipment. It seems now that everybody is running, the industry tries to make sure that all runners are properly milked along each step of the way.

Running Shoes

Sports companies have dozens of different pairs, each costing 100€ (very low end of the market) to 200€ (regular end). The pair you need is determined by how serious you are about running. The more you want to achieve, the more expensive your pair. See what they are doing? Clever, hey? This is a nice trick that unfortunately works for most people.

Sports companies also put out a new generation of most of their shoes every year or two. These new iterations rarely offer any real new value but are mostly new colour patterns. If there are any real new features, remember that research and development reports to the marketing department in most sports companies. The new iterations serve an important purpose: they justify paying 200€ all over again for an almost identical pair of shoes that is in fact several years old.

Did I mention that you are recommended to change your pair of running shoes every 800 to 1200k? This goes especially for the 200€ pairs!

Equipment

Running socks, Running tights, shirts, hats, scarfs, and tank tops are available for any season, in any size and any colour. They are also shockingly expensive.

As with shoes, most of the cost of these items actually pays for the brand’s marketing.

GPS

You call yourself a runner and haven’t got one? I just don’t believe you.

Races

These are the reason a lot of people run. At the very least, races are a strong motivation for a lot of runners to run regularly. These days, there are different races at any distance on any weekend and most weekdays of the weekend for any runner to choose from. This means that if you’re willing to travel, you can run two marathons each weekend of the year.

Some races are legendary. I am talking about the Berlin, Tokio or New York Marathons. Then there is Boston. Should you spend outrageous amounts of money to register and travel for those events? Yes, you definitely should and do it without hesitation or second thoughts, if you win the ballot or qualify or both.

On the other hand, there are races that are just better value than others. From my experience, the general rule of thumb is: the smaller a race is, the less desirable and the cheaper it is. There are quite a lot of exceptions to this, but generally this holds true.

My take on running consumerism is the following:

I am thrilled to be part of a huge global community that takes joy in something that I enjoy, too. I refuse, however, to be played like a marionette by the big players in this market. I run shoes way longer than I should. I have one pair of short trousers, which I regularly run races in, which my mom bought for me at the age of 15. I don’t buy stuff in most running shops. I fully realize that this post may make me sound cheap and maybe I am.

Of course I understand that I will have to pay more money for better shoes, equipment or races, but I hate the idea of paying somebody’s marketing department. Brands are not of value to me beyond their physical products. These products mostly aren’t better than no-name products and most are probably made in the same sweatshop in China or Bangladesh.

My dilemma is that there may well be a high quality, good value running shoe out there (which I am desperately looking for), but I don’t know about it because their marketing doesn’t spend enough to reach me.

I have a few brief tips on saving money on your running passion:

– Buy your shoes and equipment online. There are great deals out there, 30-45% cheaper than retail. They have all sizes, whereas most retailers don’t. They deliver within a couple of days.

– For cheaper shoes and equipment, you might also try discount stores such as TJ Maxx, which offer discounts on otherwise expensive brands. A problem here is, you have to get there early to get anything in your size. Another (bigger) problem is that you still get branded products, which were way too expensive to start with.

– Stores like Decathlon offer a great and good value range of equipment for all kinds of sporting situations. I just cannot find any shoes for me over there.

– For races: join a running club that has some free spots at some running events. Also, you can save good money by signing up as early as possible.

– Very often, you will find great value races at the expo before another race. There are race organizers out there who realize that their events aren’t going to fill out. Sometimes they are even giving away races, as happened with the Lissabon Marathon at the Race fair for the Big 25 Berlin.

What are your tips? How can I find high quality shoes and equipment that aren’t affected by an expensive brand name? I am grateful for each and any tip of yours!