Cruise Running

For years, I’ve resisted going on a cruise. My old travelling days were built around a knapsack and hitchhiking or very cheap buses, and it’s been hard to see myself as a member of the cruise set. Times change, though, and I figured I could too. Two things nudged me to try this cruise. One was the route – Dubai to Muscat to Abu Dubai to Dubai. The other was that the ship had a running track.

Bingo, I was in!

Costa Serena

The ship was the Costa Serena. (Yes, it’s a sister ship of the Costa Concordia. Remember? The one that ran aground off the coast of Italy when its captain decided to get really close to shore without using a harbour?) The Serena’s one big puppy, carrying 3,800 passengers and 1,000 crew. It also features the most obnoxious decor I’ve ever seen – kind of “Disneyland meets Hieronymus Bosch.” It was, needless to say, a long way from a knapsack and a hippy bus.

Running track

But the Serena has a running track. It’s near the stern of the boat, and it goes around the ship’s funnel. It’s not a big track (150m, to be precise), it’s not banked, it’s often wet (it was at 5:30 AM, anyway, when I ran on it, because it had just been swabbed down for the day), and each lap involves running past two huge vents that bring the smells of the ship’s kitchen up close and personal. Very up close. Very personal.

There were some surprises. I ran when the Serena was going through the Strait of Hormuz. Because it’s an important transport corridor and a hugely important military location, the Strait is always busy, with immense freighters, oil rigs, cruise ships, and dhows always in sight. One morning I saw a submarine surface-cruising about 500 meters off the Serena’s flank. I also saw warships – from the UK, Australia, and the US – both in the open water and in the harbours of Muscat and Abu Dhabi. They were nasty-looking – flat grey paint, heavily armoured, and bristling with weapons.

But I ran on a ship, in the Strait of Hormuz, under the open sky, and on my lonesome. There’s a lot to be said for that.

Of course, there’s cruising and there’s cruising. Dhows like the one in the photo below, taken in Muscat’s harbour, have been cruising the Gulf for 2,000 years or so. A long time ago, they carried spices. Now, their cargo is more mundane stuff, like air conditioners and television sets. But, as far as I know, not one of them has a running track.

Dhow

Dubai

Burj Khalifa

Dubai’s kind of a weird place.

It’s one of the richest cities in the world, home to the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa, at 830m/2200 feet) and the biggest mall in the world (the Dubai Mall, with 1,200 shops, an aquarium, and an Olympic-sized skating rink). It’s one immense construction site, but at the cost of serious human rights abuses among those who are doing the building. Before 1970, it was just a small – and poor – fishing and pearl-diving village. Now it’s one of the planet’s “world cities.”

Never mind. Even weird places offer opportunities to run.

Like Amsterdam, this was a stopover – just a couple of days before setting out on a cruise. So, of necessity, my run started and ended at our hotel. The hotel (a Holiday Inn Express, no less) was between the “old” city and the “new” downtown, along a busy stretch of road on the way to Jumeirah Beach.

Jumeirah Road

It was an interesting piece of road. I passed a big construction site in the first 500m (for the upcoming Etihad Museum, designed by Canadian architects Moriyama & Teshima), then moved into a mixed retail and residential neighbourhood. On the way, I passed the elegant Jumeirah Mosque, where, the following day, we attended an “Open Hearts, Open Minds” presentation. As I approached the mosque, I heard the call to prayer, which I’ve always found a lovely experience when visiting Muslim countries.

Jumeirah Grand Mosque

My turnaround point for the run was just passed the Dubai Zoo, with its pungent smells and sounds of animals large and small behind its walls. Then it was back along the same route to the hotel. The run, which I did in my Bedrock Syncline 1.0 sandals, took about an hour. Temperature was about 18C (it was, after all, winter in Dubai).

Amsterdam

In 1970, when I first visited Europe, I missed going to Amsterdam. Not that it wasn’t a desirable location – very much to the contrary, in fact – but, as a 22 year-old hippie on his way to India, I had other priorities in mind. As if that weren’t bad enough, I missed it the next time around, in 1971, when I returned, once again on my way to India.

So, when I had the opportunity recently for a brief stopover in Amersterdam – this time, on my way to Dubai – I jumped at at the chance. To be sure, it was going to be a very quick visit, and it was going to be in early January, but what the heck…

I wanted to run in Amsterdam. I love tourist running in cities I visit. It affords one of the best ways to see a new place – slow enough to peer into all kinds of places, quick enough to get across some good distances, and, ideally, with lots of opportunities to get creatively lost. (Though, to be fair, I usually do a little bit of pre-run planning.)

In Amersterdam, we stayed in a hotel near the IJ, the city’s northern waterway, just north of the beautiful Centraal Railway Station. From there, an easy crossing of a footbridge and running through an underpass took me quickly to Haarlemmerstraat, a little, mostly traffic-free street of small shops.

Haarlemmerstraat

It was Sunday morning, but it was still busy with bicycle traffic. (Heck, Amesterdam’s always busy with bicycle traffic.) It was cold (about 4C), wet (a fine drizzle was falling), and it was very windy. But I was running in Amsterdam, and I was happy.

After a while, I turned a corner to run along Herrengracht, one of Amsterdam’s hundreds of smal canal-side streets. It was all residential here, with the canal on one side of the narrow street and tall, narrow houses on the other. The houses, dating from the mid-1670s, were topped with the distinctive gable fronts that grace so many of the city’s canal-side buildings.

Herrengracht

Down Herrengracht to a small side canal street, along that, up yet another canal street, and I soon found myself crossing Dam Square, a big, open space in the centre of the old city. From there, it was only a short jog back past Centraal Station, and then back to the hotel.

My Earth Runner Alpha X sandals and Injinji wool socks were perfect for both the weather conditions and the cobblestone streets. I’d run for about an hour.

So, 45 years late, but I’d done it. I’d not only visited Amsterdam, but I’d run in it. And I’m going back. There are other streets I want to run, along the canals and along the waterfront, and there are some beautiful parks to explore as well.

Next time, though, I’ll be there when It’s a little warmer and drier.

Excursions

CON2338

I’m about to go on holiday. A couple of days in Amsterdam, a few days in Dubai, then a cruise through the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, with stops in Abu Dhabi and Muscat. Aside from the delights of visiting places I’ve never been before – not to mention going on my first ever cruise – I’m really looking forward to running in Amsterdam, Dubai, and on the ship (which has a running track on its uppermost deck). I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks.

During that time, my access to the Net will be irregular. I’ll try to post here when I have time and access, as well as to my Twitter feed. (If you’re reading this on my WordPress.com blog site, you’ll see my latest three Twitter posts on the sidebar to the right.) I’ll do my best to include some photos of where I’ve run.

New experiences, interesting places, and some much-needed sunshine and warmth. It’s all good.

Race Report: Run4RKids 8 Hour

image

Above is an image of the indoor track at the Toronto Track and Field Centre at York University. My plan last Saturday was to run that track for eight hours at the Run4RKids 8 Hour Ultra. The reality was that I bailed at about five hours, having completed approximately 38K. I was still feeling good, had no aches or pains, and was pretty much on target pace.

So what happened?

Long story short – Asperger’s.

As I’ve explained in a previous post (“Running and Asperger’s”), I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Two of the primary manifestations of that are social isolation and a sensitivity to sensory overload. That means I don’t function well in groups of people, and that I don’t function well when there’s a lot of sound or movement around me.

Think about that for a minute, and you’ll understand why I always run alone, and almost always without music. And why running in races is somewhat problematic. Sometimes I can manage races, sometimes I can’t. When I can’t, I simply can’t.

Last January, I ran the Run4RKids 6 Hour successfully, and had a wonderful time. I met a number of very friendly and supportive people (ultra runners are like that), and completed a respectable 52K. So I was looking forward to this year’s 8 Hour. In fact, I’d worked out some specific strategies, building on solid feeling, pacing, and psychological learnings gained in the past twelve months.

Some days you’re the bug, some days you’re the windshield. On Saturday, it was my turn to be the bug.

image

Above is a pre-race photo of the full field of runners. About 25 people were in for the 8 Hour, a few for the 6 Hour, and the rest for the 30K, marathon, and half marathon events. That’s yours truly in the back row, wearing a white shirt (and looking as apprehensive as always when in a group of people).

The five hours I ran went according to plan and were smooth sailing. I followed my usual drill for the race. Minimalist sandals and compression clothing, a short breathing exercise/meditation before the race start, an easy pace going out, low-carb high-fat fueling (a couple of handfuls of macadamia nuts, a couple of small pieces of salami, a couple of pieces of 89% cocoa chocolate, and water were enough for the five hours), and a Morton Stretch every two hours. For this race, I also added power-walking breaks of 400m every 90 minutes.

No problem. Everything felt good physically, and I was well on pace. But the feeling of dissonance was there from the start. And that soon grew into a familiar feeling of disassociation. Too many people, too much interaction, too much sound and movement around me. It’s hard to explain to neurotypical (i.e., “normal”) people, but, if you read though my ““Running and Asperger’s” post, you’ll get a sense of what I was going through.

So I decided to call it a day. I sat down at trackside to think it through, made my decison, and headed for the door. No regrets.

None of that took anything away from my appreciation of the race itself, nor did it diminish my appreciation of the friendliness and support of the other participants. I simply knew I shouldn’t be there.

I’m not sure what to do about my upcoming race calender. I’ve got two ultra races scheduled. One’s a 100K road event in June, and the other’s a 24 hour event in September. For the time being, I’m going to leave the calendar as it is. But I may revise my thinking, opt out of all organized events, and explore long-distance running on my own. I’m still passionate about running, but I need to do it the way that makes most sense to me.

In Review: 2014

Just for fun, here’s the skinny on what happened on this blog in 2104. What traffic was like, where visitors came from, yadda, yadda, yadda..

Check it out!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 26,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Earthing

Earthing

My discovery of earthing came about because I was introduced to a pair of sandals.

A pair of Earth Runner Alpha X sandals, to be exact. Michael Dally of Earth Runners offered me a pair to review, and I took him up on it. I’m glad I did.

In the course of testing the Alpha Xs for my review, I became intrigued about earthing. First, I looked at the earthing section of the Earth Runners website (which I recommend you do too). Then I checked out some earthing-related videos on YouTube, and I did more research.

I’ll admit that at first I was sceptical. The corner was turned when I saw this video of how earthing products were used by the Discovery Channel Tour de France team from 2003 to 2005 and again in 2007:

I then purchased an earthing mat from the earthing.ca website.

Put simply, Earthing means connecting yourself to the Earth’s natural, negative surface charge by being barefoot outside or in bare skin contact with conductive systems indoors while you sleep, relax, or work. It’s a simple concept, but one with profound consequences.

Connecting with the Earth restores a lost electrical signal to the body that seems to stabilize the complicated circuitry of our essentially-electrical body. When you ground to the electron-enriched earth, an improved balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system occurs. Your self-regulating and self-healing mechanisms become more effective. There’s better blood flow. Less pain and inflammation. More energy. Deeper sleep.

Even after a little less than a week of using the mat, the effects were dramatic. For the first time in years, I slept straight through the night (numerous radiation treatments for prostate cancer over the past eight years have played havoc with my sleep and urinary patterns), and also lost some chronic pain in a thumb joint.

I noticed a marked reduction in my stress levels. Shortly before starting to use the earthing mat, we started an extensive house renovation, which meant that we had to empty the house, relocate to a condo, and board our two dogs and four cats. That would have been enough to unhinge anyone, but was especially tough on me. I have Aspergers Syndrome, and, like most Aspies, find any change in routine extremely harrowing. Being earthed made a really big difference in my ability to cope with the changes.

I feel like I’ve begun a whole new chapter in life education as I learn more about earthing.

I recently read Earthing, by Clint Ober, Stephen Sinatra, and Martin Zucker. It’s been a fascinating read, especially the more technical appendices at the end of the book.

I sleep on the earthing mat every night, and I also have it under my feet as much as possible during the day (for at least a couple of hours each day). I’m still sleeping soundly, and I’m still managing stress better. Not just day-to-day stress during the house renovation, but also acute stress – one of our greyhounds died a few weeks ago, and I don’t think I’d have made it through that difficult time very well without the help of earthing.

I also find that my recovery from long or intense runs is much faster and more complete.

I plan to buy a full earthing bed sheet in the near future, and probably also a set of earthing patches. And, when the warmer weather arrives, I’ll order a pair of fully conductive Earth Runner Circadians. Earthing makes so much sense as a way of optimizing my health and well-being that I’d be foolish not to.

I urge you to give earthing serious consideration. It may be one of the best things you’ll ever do.

Note: A slightly different version of this post previously appeared on the Earth Runners blog.