Race Report | Hamburg Marathon

The #HaspaMarathon in Hamburg yesterday started and ended at the convention center. Despite being very distracted, I still managed to take a few photos! ?

Hey guys, can you believe it? I ran the Hamburg Marathon last weekend! And not just any marathon, my first marathon ever. I can actually hardly believe it myself — although the training (since Christmas) seemed to last forever, the race itself was over in a flash. And it was so much fun! I have lots of thoughts and feelings to share about the whole experience, so get settled in for a long post…

Before the race

My parents happened to be in town for a special event on Friday night, so we traveled together the next morning to Hamburg and headed straight to the convention center to pick up my start number. It was absolute chaos and I wasn’t thrilled about having to navigate through it, especially since all I wanted to be doing on Saturday was staying off my feet and relaxing, but there wasn’t really any alternative. Afterwards we found our way to our Airbnb apartment in Eppendorf, did a bit a grocery shopping, and then I took a nap for a couple hours. Actually, I was a bit too nervous to fall asleep, but it was nice to doze for awhile. We ate delicious homemade pasta at engelke, making a last minute reservation after discovering that our Airbnb didn’t have a kitchen (oops, how could I have overlooked that?). After dinner I nervously putzed around with my race bag and discussed spectating strategies with my parents before heading to bed around 9:30pm.

During the days leading up to the race, I began to doubt my abilities to run a full marathon. I mean, my last long run was three weeks prior and it was only 20 miles! I definitely worried that I had lost all of my fitness during my taper. But the morning of the race I decided to let go of all of my worry and just have fun and get caught up in all the pre-race excitement.

One major advantage of having the start and end of the marathon at the Hamburg convention center is that we had a warm place to get ready and wait around before the race. I found myself a clear spot, changed into my race outfit, slid my energy gels into my pockets and ate half a banana. I also must have used the port-a-potties at least four times before the race — thanks to plenty of hydrating and lots of nerves! Finally I dropped off my bag at bag check and left the warmth of the convention center to brave the winds and cool temperatures in the starting block.

Hamburg Marathon

During the race

Since I really had no idea of what to expect of my body for those 26.2 miles, I told myself to think of the marathon as three different races — the first 13 miles, the next 7 miles, and then the final 6.2 miles — and this really helped keep me from getting too overwhelmed by all the miles in front of me.

My plan was to take it easy for the first half, enjoy the sights and sounds, and then reevaluate. And honestly, the first half was fantastic! I was relaxed and feeling good.  I carried a small water bottle with me for the first few miles until the water stations appeared along the course, and after that I made sure to drink at most of the water stations. I walked through them in order to make sure I could hydrate properly (drinking out of a cup while running is not so efficient) and I took my energy gels at miles 4, 8, and 12.  Really, the first 13 miles couldn’t have been smoother and I was hanging on to my goal paces pretty solidly and without too much effort. While my mile paces varied between 10:28 and 11:16, my 5K splits were pretty steady (33:43, 33:37, 33:18, 33:26).

I also saw my parents around the halfway mark, which was a nice boost of energy and really helped me mentally break up the race. Up until that point I had been debating back and forth about whether I should give my folks the light jacket that I had been running in. When the sun was shining and the air was still, it was a bit too warm. But then there would be these stretches where the sun would disappear and the wind would howl and I would need to zip my jacket up all the way. So I ended up keeping it, and spent the whole race zipping it up and down thanks to the crazy Hamburg spring weather.

While the first half was physically and mentally a breeze, I told myself to make sure to keep focused during the miles leading up to the 20-mile mark. I wanted to run strong, but I also wanted to avoid “hitting the wall”, which is common at around 20 miles if you don’t pace yourself properly. I kept my pace steady without too much effort, switched over to a sports drink at the water stations, and had two more energy gels at miles 16 and 20. I also used a port-a-potty for the first time during a race. It wasn’t urgent, but when I saw an empty one with no line at mile 16, I dashed in and out as fast as I could. My mile paces stayed in the same range as during the first half (10:23 to 10:46), and my 5K splits stayed as steady as ever (33:16, 33:34).

Once I finally hit 20 miles, I did a little happy dance to celebrate the fact that every mile after this point would be a new distance record for me and totally uncharted territory!  I continued with the sports drinks at the water stations and at around mile 22 I grabbed a bit of banana that they were offering on the course because I was getting hungry. At about mile 23 I saw my parents again, not too far from our our Airbnb apartment, which gave me another great boost of energy!

For these last 6.2 miles, I never let myself think about all six miles at once — I forced myself to stay completely in the mile I was in and give that mile everything I had. Since I was still feeling good and strong, I dropped my guard a bit and finally let my paces get a little faster in order to burn off all my nervous energy. I completely surprised myself with paces ranging from 9:39 to 10:07, and 5K splits of 32:05 and 31:27. Although I was certainly tired, I never felt like I was running on empty. Instead, I enjoyed passing just about every other runner around me for those last six miles and I crossed the finish line in 4:38:12 — elated to have completed my first marathon and totally satisfied with my time.

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After the race

Wow, I was so happy to cross that finish line! I could hardly believe that I had done it — and that I had actually enjoyed it! I spent the rest of the day eating just about everything I could get my hands on, walking at the same pace as my 72-year-old father, wincing while I was going down stairs (if you haven’t seen it already, check out this hilarious video), and traveling back to Bremen with my folks. All in all, a perfect day!

That was exactly one week ago. It took just a few days for the soreness to subside, but I gave myself the whole week off from running for both my mental and physical recovery. I’m already contemplating my next marathon — although it won’t be before next year — and thinking about what I would do differently. Now that I have gotten over the mental hurdle of knowing I can conquer the distance, I know I could definitely improve my time. I think my race day strategy worked perfectly, but I could kick my training paces up a notch. But there’s plenty of time to figure that out. For now, I’m just enjoying the fact that I can finally call myself a marathoner!

What do you guys think — marathons are awesome, or marathons are for crazy people? Would you run one (again)? What was your first marathon like?

April Love | Dear Books

April Love: Dear Books |No Apathy Allowed

As a child, one of my favorite places in the world was the local library. I loved selecting a stack of books and taking them up to the librarian to be checked out with my own library card — watching her stamp the due date in each and every one and then sliding them back to me to take home. I even dreamed of working at the library, re-shelving books (my little brother actually snagged that job for awhile in high school). I read every single book I could find by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume and Lois Lowry, then worked my way through the Baby-Sitters Club and all of Christopher Pike’s books, and sometimes started it all from the beginning again. Back in the days before Goodreads and Amazon and everyone on the internet telling you what you should read, all you had was the card catalog and your favorite, trusted authors to read over and over again.

These days, books are still my happy place, my escape, and where I go to discover new ideas and realize just how small and just how large the world really is. Whether novels or non-fiction, the common stories and narratives that everyone carries around within them inspire me to search for connections I didn’t even know existed.

My heart skips a bit every time I think about the whole universe of books out there I haven’t read yet, and I hope this love affair never changes.

What do books mean to you? Is it a love story or a bit of a struggle?

This post is part of Susannah Conway’s April Love, a series of love letters spanning the month of April.

April Love | Dear Home

I’ve been lucky enough in my life to have been able to live in many places. Whether it be Seattle, New York, Kampala, Hamburg, Berlin, or Bremen — all hold a special place in my heart. No matter where I am, I settle in and create a home — it is simply part of what I do. But if I’m honest, it’s been a long time coming for Bremen. Although I’ve lived here at least part-time since 2010 and full-time starting in 2013, it wasn’t until last summer that I really gave myself over to the thoughts of settling in. Probably not forever and maybe not even for long, but for *now*.

For each and every day I can enjoy here, I am extremely grateful.

From Instagram @noapathyallowed
From Instagram @noapathyallowed
A little green from my kitchen on a gray Saturday morning. #urbanjunglebloggers #plantshelfie
Recovering on the couch from a 19 mile run and enjoying the shadows cast by such a sunny afternoon!

This post is part of Susannah Conway’s April Love, a series of love letters written over the month of April.

Where is home for you? How do you go about creating a sense of home?

Training | Taper Time

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[Title of this post should sound like this.]

And just like that, the longest run of my marathon training is now behind me: 20 miles on a sunny Saturday before Easter. I combined two of my favorite Bremen routes into one long run — first a long 10-mile loop around the Bürgerpark, Stadtwald, and Unisee, then a quick stop at home to pick up a new water bottle and more fuel, and finally another 10-mile loop along the Weser river, Werdersee, and Osterdeich before making my way home. Anytime I felt overwhelmed by the distance ahead of me, I forced myself only to think of the miles until my next intake of fuel, so that I never had more than four miles on my mind at a time. For some strange reason, my body always falls for that trick and before I knew it, I was done with three-and-a-half hours of running!

I can actually hardly believe that I’ve made it this far in my training. If you remember, I had some serious doubts — which is why I avoided the marathon distance for so long even though I have more than a dozen half marathons to my name. And I kind of don’t want to jinx it by talking about how smoothly everything has gone so far. (I’m still reminded of a friend who got appendicitis the week before the NYC Marathon — really, anything can happen!)

The next three weeks before the marathon are all about the taper — meaning that I keep on training, but my mileage gets gradually reduced in order to give my body some time to recover before the big race. This time is known to induce the “taper crazies” among some runners — What do I do with all my time now? What if I lose all my fitness before the race? Did I train enough? — but I *live* for the taper. It’s finally a chance to feel good about all the miles I stored up in my training bank, get some rest, and get my body ready to push itself to the limits. I hope that’s the case this time around too!

Of course I’m a bit anxious about discovering just how much harder 26.2 miles is than 20, but I’m glad I’ve finally reached a point where I *know* I’m capable of pulling myself over that finish line on April 17th.

Until then, wish me luck with staying calm and if you have any tips or tricks for a successful marathon, please send them my way!

Travel | Visiting Bishkek

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed

Kyrgyzstan first appeared on my radar in a real and concrete way last summer as I learned I would be consulting on a research project in this Central Asian country. Having very little idea about Kyrgyzstan, I tried to orient myself by reading books and manuscripts about its cultural history and talking to friends from Kyrgyzstan and others who have spent time in that part of the world. And then after a lot of work, at the end of February I was able to travel to Bishkek — the capital city — for a handful of days to give a talk at a workshop. I didn’t have a huge amount of spare time, but thanks to posts like this one and advice from other bloggers (thanks Christie!), I put what time I did have to good use!

Traveling to Kyrgyzstan couldn’t have been more straightforward — Turkish Airlines took me from Bremen to Istanbul and then directly to Bishkek. Less pleasant was the fact that most flights seem to arrive and depart in the painfully early hours of the morning, so I arrived at 6:30am — and departed several days later at 4:30am — and had a half-an-hour cab ride into the city before the sun came up. When I did get to wander around during daylight hours, it felt like a super interesting mish-mash of old Soviet architecture, Kyrgyz buildings, and luxury hotels and shopping centers.

Ala-Too Square

On my first free afternoon, I walked to Ala-Too Square in the center of the city, which required a bit of concentration thanks to the extremely varying quality of the sidewalks and the general lack of crosswalk signals for pedestrians. But I made it, and got to enjoy the unseasonal 70-degree F (21 C) weather too! Built in the mid-1980s to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic, Ala-Too Square is quite a sight to behold.  It probably goes without saying, but the scale of these Soviet buildings are absolutely massive! Thanks to living in the former East Berlin, I had some idea of this, but have to admit I was blown away by Bishkek. These buildings were very successful at making me feel very small. Incidentally, Ala-Too Square is also where the 2005 anti-government protest known as the Tulip Revolution took place.

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed
A statue of the national hero, Manas, with the State History Museum in the background

State History Museum

The massive block-like building in Ala-Too Square is the State History Museum (or National Historical Museum), which I highly recommend for a visit. Unless you read Russian, you won’t understand a thing about the exhibitions (which have seen better days), but the architecture and the Soviet-propaganda ceiling murals alone are worth the visit! FYI, I wasn’t allowed to take photos with my DSLR, but they didn’t have a problem with iPhone photography.

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed
A beautiful ceiling mural depicting a wedding party attended by the melting pot of nationalities in the USSR

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed
The back of the State History Museum

Also in the neighborhood

Hidden behind the museum is the statue of Lenin that used to be located in the center of Ala-Too Square. While many former Soviet republics got rid of reminders of the USSR after independence, Kyrgyzstan was satisfied with simply moving Lenin to a less central location. :)  Also worth checking out nearby is Panfilov Park, a small amusement park in the middle of the city. It is exactly what I imagine that Berlin’s Spreepark would look like if it was still functioning! On my way back to the hotel, I caught the changing of the guard in Ala-Too Square (on the hour), which is certainly worth trying to make happen if you can.

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel : Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed

Ala Archa National Park

On my one full free day in Bishkek, my hosts arranged to take me to Ala Archa National Park, which is about 40 kilometers south of the city. Bishkek itself is already 800 meters (half a mile) above sea level, which you only really notice if you get on the hotel treadmill to try to keep up with your marathon training and then feel super sluggish and wonder where your fitness has disappeared to before realizing that the altitude actually might play a role — ahem. Anyway, this huge mountain range provides a gorgeous backdrop to the city and I was quite excited to get to visit it in person.

The drive there took about an hour, and although the temperatures in the city were in the upper 60s F (20 C), it was considerably cooler in the mountains and the trails were still covered in snow. I didn’t have the proper shoes along for trudging through the snow, so we didn’t hike for too long, but it was enough to enjoy the mountain air and breathtaking views. I was told that in the summer, the trails are swarming with hikers and backpackers. The park apparently also plays hosts to high level foreign guests and visiting government officials, showcasing Kyrgyzstan’s natural treasures.

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed

Travel: Visiting Bishkek | No Apathy Allowed

Eating in Bishkek

I also tried lots of wonderful food — meat-filled pastries, noodles, dumplings, and rice dishes that I really don’t remember the names of — and would highly recommend trying them all if you visit! Sorry for the lack of photographic evidence, but I mostly ate out with colleagues that I don’t know very well and felt a bit awkward being that person taking pictures of every meal. (I’m clearly not cut out to be a food blogger.) I really enjoyed Navat, which is a gorgeous, upscale (but affordable) restaurant, and made use of the free wifi (and their chocolate milkshakes) a couple of times at Sierra Coffee.

Would I go back?

So my friends, that was my trip to Bishkek in a nutshell. (For more photos, here is my full Flickr album.) I definitely would have liked to have spent more time there and seen more of the country, so I hope that it’s not my last visit to Kyrgyzstan! Perhaps next time I would do some real hiking, or visit the lake resort of Issyk-Kul, or take a trip to the south of the country…

Do you have any favorite places to explore in Central Asia? What’s on your to-see list in Kyrgyzstan?

InstaFriday: Finding My Rhythm

Bremen welcomes me back after a long night and day of travel. #lovebremen
Via Instagram

Hey guys! Do you know that I think of you and this blog nearly every day? Even though (or maybe, especially because) I haven’t been able to spend more time posting. So I decided to stop waiting for that magical combination of enough energy, time, and muse — and just post for heaven’s sake! My life is overflowing right now with deadlines and commitments  and all sorts of great things that I can’t seem to say no too. That means rushing through each day, trying to accomplish as much as humanly possible. Sound familiar? I know I’m not the only one! But I’m worried that it’s going to catch up with me, so whenever possible I’m trying to be aware of building in enough down time.

I can’t say I’m doing a great job at that, but at least marathon training is forcing me to eat well, get enough sleep, and stretch a lot. Only five weeks until the big day! Honestly, I can hardly believe I’ve made it this far. There are just two more big long runs left — 19 miles this weekend and 20 miles on Easter Sunday. I don’t want to jinx it, but so far, so good. I have lot of thoughts about this whole process to share with you, but I’ll write a dedicated post closer to the end of my training.

In the meantime, I’m doing my best to settle into my blogging rhythm again. It might take a bit of patience, but I think it will be worth it.

What have you been up to lately? Any advice for how to slow down once in awhile?

A Little Update

A winter morning
A winter morning in Bremen

It feels like ages since I last spent time in this space and I’ve really missed sharing here! Since I last posted, it’s been both a winter wonderland here in Bremen and flowers and trees already began blooming in early February. The pace of life since returning to Germany after the holidays (photos and tales from Seattle are still to come) has been completely unrelenting, but in very good ways…

I’m all set to travel next week to Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek for work and am very much looking forward to discovering a new (to me) part of the world. Any tips you might have would be more than welcome! Even though I’m only spending a few days there, I will definitely be sharing more about my trip with you after I return. (If you can’t wait, I’ll be posting photos throughout my travels on Instagram.)

Also, I’ve hinted at it here before, but haven’t made an official announcement: I’m training for the Hamburg Marathon taking place in mid-April. Yes, that’s a big deal! The last time I attempted to train for a marathon was for NYC  in 2004, which unfortunately resulted in me having to drop out midway through training due to IT-band syndrome. I have to admit that that experience pretty much scared me off from marathons for quite awhile, but thank goodness it didn’t turn me off from running completely! Rather, I happily devoted myself to the half marathon and 10K distances.

But after cheering a friend on at the Berlin Marathon last fall, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted to give the full marathon distance one more try. Even though I’m older, I think I’m a smarter and fitter runner than I was 12 years ago. So I quietly began training for Hamburg shortly before Christmas, a little reluctant to make a big deal out of it “just in case”. But with 10 weeks of successful training behind me, and only 8 more weeks to go, I’ve gotten a bit more optimistic since I’ve started hitting brand new personal distance records every week. My body seems to be responding well so far to the mileage and it is very likely that you will hear more from me on that front.

Thanks for your patience while this space remained silent and I can’t wait to start spending more time with you here!


What have you been up to in January and February? Has winter been especially strange where you are too?