Month: July 2015

Marathon #2: race report

If there is one thing that I’ve learned after just two marathons is that there will be last minute changes to the course no matter how much in advance you plan it. It was like that in the first one and it happened again. My original plan was to run from Gungahlin to the Lake Burley Griffin climbing Black Mountain and Mount Ainslie. However, to make it easier for the runners who wanted to join me at different points of the marathon,聽I changed the map to the one shown on the left of the figure below.


Left: Map made to replace the original plan. Right: What actually happened on race day. Bottom: Elevation profile of the marathon. You can check the stats of the run here.

With course updated and uploaded to my watch (after struggling for the third time, I promised to myself that I’ll write a detailed post on the tricks to make this uploading process work, wait and see…), it was just a matter of a good night of sleep before the second 42.2 km. “Frost then sunny”, said the forecast for Sunday in Canberra. Apart from the expected negative temperature in the early morning, a sunny day with a predicted maximum 12oC was looking perfect for the marathon.

It came race day and even though I had arranged for a 9:00 start, I was up at 6:30 for the pre-race ritual: anti-chaffing cream, first aid tape, filling camel back, energy gels and bars, camera, watch… On top of that there was feeding the cats, the dog, and waking up my daughter. The night before, Clara seemed excited to come along to take photos but changed her mind. I couldn’t compete with the combination of adolescence tiredness, the sub-zero temperature outside, and the cosy and warm bed. So from the original group of four (myself, wife, daughter and dog), only two of us ended up going to the meeting point at Yerrabi Pond.

The temperature was still below zero when Marcele and I met Luiz, a friend of ours, at the neighbouring lake for the first 4 km of the marathon. Just before we started, I turned the RoadID app on my phone to let people track my run. As you’ll see, this step turned out to be very useful for those joining me later. Marcele, Luiz and I began our 4 km loop around the lake under freezing conditions and lots of ice still on the bike path. They deserve especial thanks for braving the Canberra cold to run with me.


Winter sunny days in Canberra always deceive: it doesn’t look that cold but it is! Luiz, myself and Marcele braving the sub-zero temperatures. Bottom: I still don’t know whether my wife was happy or if the cold had frozen that smile on her face 馃槈

After completing the loop, they wished me good luck and I headed to the least interesting part of the marathon: a solo run along the bike path from Gungahlin to Mitchell and then going along the roads to reach the base of Mount Majura. Not even the kangaroos came to say good morning, so I won’t even bother putting up photos of this part.

I reached the base of Mount Majura at kilometer 14. There I met Kylie, a friend from the Bilbys triathlon club that had promised to run about 20 km with me. She had brought with her Guy Jones, another amazing triathlete to run with us. I was definitely in good company. Another Bilby, Petra Lean, was also there to take a few pictures and wish me good luck. What a lovely friend! I should have stopped to hug you, Petra!


From top left to bottom right: (i) Kylie, Guy and Petra waiting for me with Mount Majura at the back. (ii) Thanks for the support Petra! (iii) Up Mount Majura. (iv) I didn’t quite recognise these two but they shouted “Go Bilbys!” and talked to Kylie and Guy. I think I should return to the club’s rides…

On our way to the top of Mount Majura, I missed a left turn and instead of going up, we made an unplanned loop just to come back to the same point. The first of a few mistakes along the course (compare the planned and actual courses in the first figure). Later that day, I learned from my friend Renee that she was following me on the map when she noticed our mistake: “No Andre! Wrong way, wrong way!”, she even thought of texting me, but I guess that in the end she just decided to enjoy my path getting off the original plan.


Does it need a caption?

I was feeling quite strong at this stage and ran almost comfortably to the top of Mount Majura. We got cheered by a couple of runners that recognised Kylie and Guy and shouted “Go Bilbys!”. I still don’t know if I never met them or if I simply didn’t recognise them. If the later is true, I’ll blame my focus on the run for that. Mount Majura conquered! Quick stop for photos, energy bar, and changing my GoPro battery.


At the highest point in Canberra!

We went down, again following a slightly different course from the original plan, and reached the more flat part along the base of Mount Ainslie. We decided to take this path to be closer to the place where Guy had parked his car. At this stage Guy and Kylie looked pretty comfortable and it was my turn to match their pace. Guy left us a bit before the Mount Ainslie climb. Another goodbye, another thankful handshake, and from then on was just me following Kylie.


From top left to bottom right: (i) Kylie and Guy looking good on the road at the base of Mount Ainslie. (ii) Kylie leading the way up. (iii) Here they are again! (iv) Happy to finish the last climb. It is all downhill from here!

With the change in course, we started the climb to Mount Ainslie at the 27 km mark from the south part, behind the War Memorial. The original plan was to climb from the west around kilometer 21. At least we didn’t do the whole loop around the base before climbing. It would have been a lot harder going up with more than 30 km on my legs. Kylie led the way up to Mount Ainslie and there we met the two runners again. We were not the only ones doing long runs up the hills! Quick stop for photos and down we went again.

Having changed the course after a few missed turns, we ended up doing a couple of extra kilometers. At km 33, we met Elton, a Brazilian friend that followed my path from the app and decided to meet us a couple of kilometers before the meeting point at the War Memorial. We were again three.


Left: Elton joining us at km 33. Right: Time for Kylie to go. It was a good run!

Behind the War Memorial another goodbye, now to Kylie. It was a pleasure running with you Kylie! I enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with her pace in our last 5 km together. It was at this point that my camera ran out of battery. No photos after that until the finish line! Grrrrrr!

It was now just me and Elton, but not for long. At the front of the War Memorial Alex was waiting to join us. When we reached the Lake Burley Griffin we met Kate, a Can Too runner that trained with me for the Sydney Half Marathon in May. Again, point for the ecrumbs app! Shortly after that and we were joined by Massao and Lucas, two other Brazilian friends. “This is looking like Forrest Gump”, said Kate. Well, there were two more to join: Heather, close to the National Gallery, and Renee at the Commonwealth bridge, With the two Can Tooers joining us, the group was complete!

We ran down the bridge back to the north part of the Lake where a few others were waiting at the finish line: Louise, Luiz, Paty, Nina and Marcele. We passed by them, ran a little more to make the right distance, and came back to celebrate the end of my second marathon.


Back row: Renee, Alex, Elton, Lucas, Heather. Front row: Kate, me and Massao. Thank you all for running with me!

During my stretching I learned that I had reached my fundraising goal for the second marathon while running. What a feeling! Again, a big thank you for all who ran with me on the day and for those who donated for cancer research!

To finish, the link to a one minute video with the group running at the 41 km mark.


And thirteen years after her cancer surgery, she turned 92! Happy birthday Grandma!

If my grandmother could read in English, she would be very angry at me just by reading the title of this post.

Last Saturday she turned 92, and this is the first reason for the presumed anger. My memories from her birthdays are all filled with the mystery surrounding her age: “Don’t you know that it is not polite to ask a woman her age?” – she would say refusing to give us any number. I would then throw my child inquiring look at my father just to hear him whispering: “I’ll tell you later”. I don’t remember getting answers later, so all I knew about her age came only when I was old enough to make my own estimates: “My father is X years old, my grandmother must have been between 18 and 26 when he was born, so she must be between X+18 and x+26 years old. In summary, I roughly knew when she was in her sixties, seventies, or eighties. She never lied about her age, she would just let you guessing.


Dad and grandma: cancer survivors!


Angela (mum), V贸 Lal谩 (grandma), and Debbie (sister). 92? Who?

The second reason that would certainly provoke indignation from her part is the use of “cancer surgery” in the title. I can almost hear her saying: “Are you crazy? I’ve never had that disease!” She never mentioned the word cancer before or after the surgery. For her, cancer is the Voldemort of the diseases, the “You-Know-Who”, the “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”. After the surgery, the doctors decided that she was too old to go through an intense chemotherapy and opted for a lighter follow-through treatment. Point for her! Without chemo, who could argue that she indeed had “that disease”?

But the issues with revealing her age and of admitting having had cancer go beyond vanity or stubborn denial. I think they are attached to her willing to live… forever. Yes, she is that kind of person that wants to go on and on.

I’ll finish the post with the best post-surgery story that I know. We were all there to visit Grandma Lal谩 (her nickname) that was still in the hospital recovering from the surgery that had just removed about 15 cm of her intestine (could have been 10 or 20 but I don’t quite remember and I don’t think I should call her to ask 馃槈 ). At some point she started to complain about the surgery to my wife. Marcele began to comfort her by saying that the surgery had been a success and that all would be fine just to be interrupted by the determined 80 year-old (plus or minus 4 馃檪 ): “I know all will be fine, darling. The problem is this huge scar on my belly! Will I ever be able to use my bikinis to go to the beach again? I hate using those one-piece swimsuits!” That says a lot about her.


Sa煤de! Dudu (brother), V贸 Lal谩 and Gerson (grandpa) in another family celebration that I only take part via Skype and if the time difference allows… (sigh)

So, tomorrow I’ll be running the July marathon inspired by her, a brave survival of a disease that can be named and that can be fought against. Feliz anivers谩rio v贸zinha!

Marathon #2: preview

It hasn’t even been a week since I wrote a post about my recovery from the first marathon, and here I am writing marathon #2 preview. It finally sunk in, it is one marathon every month!

The second one is here in Canberra on 19 July. Running in your city makes it much easier to prepare a course: You know the trails, the roads, the climbs, and the distances. The problem is that I know and enjoy much more than I can fit in 42 km, so I had to select what I want to put in. I made five different maps before reaching the one below, so let me take you through the process.


Planned course for marathon #2: From Yerrabi Pond to Lake Burley Griffin. Couldn’t resist to add two steep climbs: Black Mountain and Mount Ainslie. You may be interested in looking at the original interactive course.

First, as you certainly noticed, there are climbs. I really enjoyed the climbs in my first marathon in Benasque, especially along the trails, and I wanted to include some of the local peaks in my Canberra run.

The second thing that I had to take into account was the logistic. Leaving from home and finishing at home would be the most self-sufficient option: no car, no need to bother friends or family to pick me up, no stress. On the other hand, counting the almost 34 km to get to the city and back, there would be not much distance left to run in the city with the friends that want to join me.

Talking about running friends, this was the third factor. Some told me that they would like to join me for 5 km, another friend would be happy to do from 10 to 12 km, and my wife is keen to run 4 km. But with that many people joining, we could even celebrate in the end. So, an extra factor to consider was the end point. Finishing close to cafes would open the possibility of going for a breakfast afterwards (or lunch depending on the time).

So, that’s how I ended up with the map above. I will start at the lake close to my place (Yerrabi pond) and run 4 km with my wife, probably with the dog as well, and we’ll try to drag our teenager daughter from bed on a Sunday morning to be the photographer. The friends that live in the neighbourhood are more than welcome to join us. It will be a very easy start.

From there I’ll head south following the gentle downhill from Gungahlin to Belconnen. I’ve done this segment many times and it should be the easiest part of the whole run. I should reach the east side of the lake after 12 km and from there I’ll go through the University of Canberra campus, up to Gossan Hill Nature Reserve and then Aranda before reaching the base of Black Mountain. This is the only part of the course that I’ve never run before. I bet I’ll miss some crucial turns somewhere but I have my Garmin to put me back on track. It should be fun.

Running up Black Mountain has always been one of my favourites lunchtime runs but I’ve never done it from the west side. It is going to be interesting to hit the stairs with 20 km on the legs. At the 24 km mark I should be in front of the CSIRO and back to a flat surface. I believe there will be some friends interested in joining at this point. It should be a nice flat run along the Lake Burley Griffin, past the National Museum of Australia, Acton terminal, and Ronds Terrace, before turning left towards the War Memorial.

After this nice flat 8 km stretch, the second steep climb: Mount Ainslie. Maybe some of my friends from the Bilbys triathlon club will join me at this point, who knows? If anyone indeed shows up, I’ll be praying they have sore legs from the Saturday bike ride because I’ll be at my 32nd km at this point!

I should be back at the War Memorial by the 37th km. With 5km to go, this would be the last chance for those wanting to do a shorter course to run with me to the finish line at Acton Terminal.

Don’t forget why I’m doing this. So, please, donate to cancer research.

A BIG Thank You!

When I first set my fundraising target on my Can Too webpage I had no idea how much money I would raise. It is very hard to guess, especially for a fundraising that will last a whole year. It could start strong with the contribution of friends and then die down with time, or it could start slow and then pick up. Hard to tell. In the end I decided to set a goal of $500 for the first marathon and then update as I move to the next one. On Thursday, a bit less than two weeks after the first marathon, I reached my goal! Yaaaaaayyyy! In the post about the reasons why I’m running the marathons I’ve mentioned my difficulties with fundraising, so this was a big achievement for me. And for that I have to say an gigantic THANK YOU to all the generous people that donated: family members, known friends, and the anonymous ones. My target for the second marathon has moved to $1000 and I’m excited to see the contributions coming. Every single donation motivates me even more. I want to run harder courses, write interesting posts, come up with fundraising ideas, all to get more people involved and raise as much as possible for cancer research. fundraising Again, THANK YOU!

Recovery week

If you look to the past, you have just completed a marathon and deserve a good recovery. If you look to the future, you are 3 to 4 weeks away from a marathon and you should be reaching the hardest weeks of training before tapering. See the dilemma here? With one every month these two scenarios are incompatible. But if you think a little bit more, you’ll get convinced that the recovery plan makes more sense. You can’t possibly peak at all 12 marathons. If you were planning something similar, as a coach I would tell you: focus on some key events and face the other marathons as long training runs. In my case, I don’t even know if I want to peak at any of them. I still have my triathlon goals and I’m just trying to fit everything in. My goal with the marathons is to make them special so that people get involved and support cancer research.

I’ve just been through my very first recovery week and I thought it would be worth sharing. It was more interesting than it sounds. Be prepared for lots of photos!

With so little time between consecutive marathons, the recovery needs to be quick and efficient. I can’t afford to have a long break. So, let me start with the plan to then tell what really happened. With the race on Saturday, my plan was to go to the pool on Sunday for a light swim and then go for a walk for a few kilometers. Then a rest day on Monday followed by an easy flat run on Tuesday. Wednesday was still a question mark: either resting again or another light run depending on how I felt. On Thursday I would be taking the early bus to Barcelona to fly back to Australia. My arrival in Sydney was scheduled for 5:00 am on Saturday and I was expecting to do a medium distance easy run on Sunday. This last run was intended to be the point where my mind should switch from “relax, you just finished a marathon” to “get ready for the next one!”

Just after the “finish line” (there wasn’t really one) I did the usual: walk, stretch, drink, eat, repeat. Lots of repeats. This marathon had also lots of talking as the friends wanted to know how it all went. It had beer, something that is not offered after normal races, and also had the special “mountain pack” prepared by Miguel贸n from “El Laminero“, a local bakery from Benasque. The pack included a big “bocata de jam贸n” (should have taken a photo…), some pastries (including a chocolate croissant) and a big bag of cherries. Do I have to say again that this is not offered after official races? 馃檪


A bit out of focus but it is the only one I have with Miguel贸n from “El Laminero“, my daily source of croissants in Benasque!

After enough of the walk/stretch/drink/eat repeats ,we had to walk back to the car that was parked at Hospital de Benasque (if you are a bit lost, check the post on the race). I learned the hard way that keeping your legs moving after a long race is a great way to avoid severe muscle soreness the day after. After my first two marathons I made the mistake to crash on the couch just after the much needed post-marathon shower. The results? I could barely stand on my legs afterwards, let alone walk. This time I had no option, so I walked another 4 km to the car and the restaurant where we had lunch.

Walking back after the race.

Walking back after the race.

For the next day the group had the plan to hike to the Portillon de Banasque and cross to the French side of the Pyrenees. I had done this hike in 2011 and wanted to do it again. So, I told them that, legs allowing, I’d join them. Sunday morning and I was feeling great. No signs that I had completed a tough marathon the day before. I was pleasantly surprised. Let’s go hiking!

We drove to Hospital de Benasque, the starting point for many of the hikes in the region, and there we met Maciej, another physicist from the workshop, and his sons Jan, Patrick, and Julien. The boys were about to start their hike up to peak of Salvaguardia. The Portillon was on the way so we went up together. I’ll let the photos do the talk about our way to the Portillon at 2444 m of altitude.


What you see down there is the road from Hospital de Benasque to La Besurta. Some fresh memories of running along that road 馃槈


Wasn’t expecting that much snow…


Jan, Patrick and Terra.


Panoramic view halfway through.


Someone with the wrong gear?

When you cross to the French side you are rewarded with the impressive view of these lakes. Down there we stopped to eat and have a beer at the Refuge de V茅nasque. Terra and I had our bocatas from Miguel贸n’s mountain pack while Ruynet and Barbara decided to try the local soup.


The view just after crossing the border.


Le refuge.


Nous mangeons!

After that, a quick check on the water temperature. Terra and I had a swim there four years ago but there was much, much less snow. It was tempting to repeat the feat…


Terra displaying his swimming abilities.


Mobile and owner submersed in the freezing water. I don’t think I lasted 10 seconds.


The water was freezing but I somehow managed to smile…

The legs were a bit sore the day after, but not much. On Tuesday, as planned, I went for a light run. 10km and I felt great. On the same day I played (against the recommendations of the physio due to a recurring hip flexor injury) a football match with the other participants in the conference. The 7 pm football is already a tradition in Benasque and I couldn’t leave without scoring a goal! 馃槢

Since nutrition is also crucial to a good recovery, after the game I paid another visit to the restaurant Ansils, my all-time favourite! Bold claim? Maybe, but what can you say of a place where even the scrambled eggs leaves you speechless? I’ll finish the post in the same way I finished my dinner, with the best dessert ever: “la sopa de chocolate blanco” (white chocolate soup).


Simply the best!