Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Death Penalty

Monday: gym, 2 hrs
Tuesday: biking, 62K, 630 height meters, 2:44 hrs

My legs felt very weak today, especially at the start when I always have to bike up a short but very steep hill. Warmed up it got a little better but I had to struggle at every hill. Obviously my muscles have not yet recovered from the hard run on Sunday. Today is the 12th consecutive day of training, so some tiredness might be evident. I always regard gym days as rest days because I don't do anything wearisome. But probably it delays the recovery.

With all the World Cup enthusiasm Germany is proud to show its modern way of life to the visiting world. And the media had only a short line about the re-establishment of death penalty: The first free living bear since 1870 roaming through Bavaria did not behave according to human law. He was born in Slovenia and came to Germany without entry visa. Even worse he ate German sheep and honey without paying. He was shot dead yesterday by a huntsman (or should I say "killer") ordered by the Bavarian Government.

Sunday, 25 June 2006

Clear Targets

Saturday: gym, 1:30 hrs (abandoned due to World Cup match)
Sunday: hilly run, 20.5K, 350 height meters, 1:54 hrs

It looks like I am really back into proper training now. This was a rather challenging lap today, I felt much more powerful than last Sunday and - most important - my foot did not complain.

Happy about this, I officially entered the Zugspitzlauf and booked accommodation for the trip. We are a group of 11 runners of my home town Witten, who all will shoulder the journey of 750K to take part in this exceptional race.

My plans are to run the Swiss Alpine Marathon one week later, too. I am not sure if I will get strong enough in time, we'll see. I should run at least one or two 30K workouts before it. I think I will decide after the Zugspitzlauf if I am ready for a mountainous marathon.

Saturday, 24 June 2006

World Cup 74 - Sweden, too

Friday: biking 69K, 3:07 hrs

Months before the World Cup 74 I bought some tickets assuming that West Germany (FRG) would win their group. Then they lost vs East Germany (GDR) and I had the wrong tickets. So we - my father and me - watched Netherlands vs. GDR in the afternonn in Gelsenkirchen, then we made our way to Düsseldorf, bought tickets on the black market in front of the stadium and supported West Germany vs Sweden. I don't have clear memories of these matches but I still remember that I saw 5 matches of the Dutch team and became a fan of their team. In 74 there were no quarrels between German and Dutch supporters. They both were just happy to have the two world's best players, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff.

Friday, 23 June 2006

A happy Year

By the way - it is now one year ago that I retired from work. I simply can say this year was the happiest time I had since I was a student. Opting for very early retirement was one the few right decisions I made during my life. I often ask myself why work was such a nightmare. It is always a matter of people (including yourself of course). There was a fair number of nice and friendly colleagues who I was happy to work with. But there were also some who were more difficult to get along with. And even the friendlier ones have to aim for targets which often interfere with a relaxed cooperation. Perhaps that is one reason I love running and hill walking and computer work. You can do it on your own and neither the countryside nor the computer has an idea of you.

Other decisions I did not rue: Quitting catholic church, refusing military duty, stop smoking, turning vegetarian, start running.
However, there were the wrong decisions which were more important. But I better stay silent about these.

Thursday, 22 June 2006

Strong Legs

Wednesday: gym, 2hrs
Thursday: hill intervals, 10.5K, 1:00 hrs (7 laps = 350m)

Enjoyed the hilly workout today and did one lap more than planned. My legs just felt so strong I could have done more but thought it would be better to hold my horses.

It is a short lap with a height difference of 50 meters and it takes about 8 minutes to complete. The ascent is on a steep path in the wood, the descent via a tarmaced serpentine road which is less steep. During the next 3 weeks I hope to extend this workout to 12 laps.

My predominant reason to do this kind of strength training is to prepare for the hill race up the Zugspitze. But hill runs are recommended for every runner preparing for any race. According to most experts the scholastic order of a training season building up to one's main race is: endurance (~ 8 weeks), strength (3 weeks), speed (4 weeks). That's the theory. I have to admit I never made it to stick to any schedule for more than a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Back into Training

The first week back home from the Azores holiday has seen me back into regular training.

Thursday: easy flat jog, 10K, 1:09 hrs
Friday: biking, hilly route, 56K, 2:25 hrs
Saturday: gym 2hrs
Sunday: slow hilly run, 16K, 1:32 hrs
Monday: gym 2 hrs
Tuesday: slow hilly run, 9.5K, 0:54hrs

I would love to do more biking. Biking is the kind of sports I love most of all on sunny and warm days like we have now. You can do it for hours and enjoy the countryside. But on my first tour last Friday I developed a light pain in my right knee. Obviously I pedalled with too much pressure right from the start - I enjoyed it so much - and after only 20K the knee began to hurt.

Consequently I will do more gym sessions instead of biking for a while. The most common reason for knee pain is the weakness of musculus vastus medialis. A disbalance of this muscle compared to the other bigger ones at the front thigh - rectus femoris and vastus lateralis - affects the movement of the kneecap. Due to the holiday I missed the gym for 3 weeks which always puts me in danger to suffer problems with my lower back and my knees.

My usual gym session consists of a 10 mins warm-up, 10 exercises with light weights - for back, belly and thigh muscles - and a lot of stretching at the end. I don't like going to gym, lifting weights is boring and one always feels being observed. I changed the gym 3 years ago. I don't really like the place, it is a bit too posh, but I stick to it as it is conveniently close to my home.

I now look forward to increasing my training for the Zugspitzlauf on July 23. Sadly the Härdlerlauf in Schmallenberg had to be cancelled due to financing problems. It would have been the perfect race to prepare for the Zugspitze. Therefore I will not race for the coming 5 weeks. I published a report about last year's run up Germany's highest mountain. I regret it is in German, but perhaps you like to see the photos: Zugspitzlauf.

Friday, 16 June 2006

Running Update

Perhaps you should have reminded me that this blog originally was intended to be a blog about running. With all my excitement about the Azores holiday I nearly forgot about this. I owe you an update.

There are two good news. First is the look of my ankle. This is what it looked like when I got the cortisol injection 5 weeks ago:

Now it's like this:

Much better, isn't it? I would not yet call it 100% fit. But I could run six times in between without any problems. As the doctor predicted it sometimes still hurts slightly. But I put fairly big strains on it especially by walking over rough Lava grounds for hours. This was even more stress for the ankle than a usual run.

Plans are now to build up to a level of 3 runs a week, one very easy jog, one hilly workout and one long run ( 16K at first, increasing to 30K). Adding to this I hope to go out by bike twice, completed by 2 gym sessions. This programme should make me fit to run the Zugspitzlauf on July 23, a hill run finishing on Germany's highest mountain at 2.960 meters - weather permitting.

Want to know the second good news? My application for the New York City Marathon 2006 has been accepted! My number is 33171. I would have got an entry anyway as I again will work as a travel guide for the German travel agency interAir. The good thing is that someone placed on interAir's waiting list now will be able to get in.

Thursday, 15 June 2006

Top of Portugal

The highest mountain of the Azores is situated on the island of Pico. The mountain dominates the island and therefore it is also called Pico. It is not said which name came first, probably they both were named at the same time: The island is the mountain and the mountain is the island. Its peak is at 2351 meter what makes it also the highest point of Portugal. As all the Azores islands are volcanic, Mount Pico is a volcano and it is believed that it will erupt within the next 10000 years.

A view back on the way up with the island of Fajal in the background.

The route is marked by posts but there is no proper path. Without the markers it would be impossible to find any way up. It took me 2:45 hrs to get to the very top, not counted 90 minutes I spent straying around after starting my tour from a wrong car park. Finally I turned back (luckily no one else was on the wrong route to hear my swears) and had a new and more successful start. There are no maps available and I would urgently advise not to try the climb in uncertain weather. Hillfog is quite normal and would soon cause problems to keep to the path. The ascend itself is not technically difficult, it is just tough, very tough indeed. The whole trip (up and down) is said to take between 7 and 9 hours for the average fit walker.

This is what landing on the moon might look, but in fact I am on the ground of Mount Pico's crater looking up to the top which can only be reached after descending into the crater. The scientific device is a seismographic meter I guess.

I climbed to the top along the ridge to the right which ended up as an airy scramble. Nothing too difficult but when alone on a mountain at 2300 meters you should not start thinking too much. Scared to take the same way down I chose the scree slope right in the middle to descend back to the crater. No scrambling needed now, but sort of tricky, too.

A view from the top to the North, with the island of Sao Jorge in the background. The device in the crater can be spotted to the right.

Crossing the ground of the crater is easy and worth the effort. Bizarre Lava formations can be admired and there are even some caves which are frequently used for overnight accommodation by walkers who want to see the sunrise next morning.

Pico is the sort of island I can easily get in love with. We are now already back home but I can't resist to come back to you with a few photos of this wonderful place.

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Whales Watched

This is what the boats look like. 10 people can be seated and the seats are built like saddles, you are sitting like on a horse which makes you feel quite safe. We went out with two boats, so this is the other one I photographed when starting our trip. The boats are directed from a lookout post on the cliff edge, increasing the chance to meet the whales.

And here we are. You will not see more than something grey in the water, but believe me this is a whale. In detail we were told it is a Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus).

It was not easy to find the whales. The trip lasted 3 hours, and we only spotted the whales for about 10 minutes over all. But it was great fun to look out and move around quickly to follow them.

The whale watching company Espaco Talassa is world famous for its successful tours and more important they strictly follow the ethic rules for watching the ocean's wildlife. They only approach the whales in certain distances and angles to make sure the animals are not disturbed. The team consists of biologists but not touristic managers.
for more see Espaco Talassa
Our sperm whale is now diving deep and saying Good Bye.

Maria, our pilot and guide, explained that once the whale is gone for deep diving it would take a long time until it comes back to the surface. So we made our way home.

On the 10-mile-journey back home we came across dolphins. This is a Risso's Dolphin (Grampus griseus) . The guide nicknamed it "Michael Jackson" because they are born coloured and get white during life.

For the first time we could see Pico mountain free of clouds today. Weatherforecast for tomorrow is not bad but it is better for Monday (mostly sunny). So I think I will leave the climb for the very last day we spend on Pico.

Saturday, 10 June 2006

More from the Azores

As promised I now come with some typical views of the Azores, here still exemplified by the island of Sao Miguel (sorry, I tried to post yesterday but blogger.com didn't work, not a rare problem I am afraid).

This is the traditional way of cooking a meal in the village of Furnas - still being practised today as you see. Dig a deep hole in the ground near one of the hot water sources, put in your pot, close the hole and your meal will be ready after about 3 to 4 hours. It is well done by the hot steam produced by the sources.

The water is coming out of the ground really piping hot. Walking around the source you get nice warm feet. But the ground is too hot to dig a hole by hand.

Me - exploring the Azorean djungle. Quite common are laurel trees, rubber plants and farn trees.

The island is dotted with picknick places. The Azoreans seem to love to go out into nature for their Sunday lunch (people work six days a week). Very often these picknick places are beautifully done up like landscaped gardens and most are situated at viewing points high on the cliffs. Note that they are not made for tourists but for the islands inhabitants.

These are just the remnants of a former village nesting on the cliff edge. Some of the houses are still used as holiday homes which can only be reached by a half-hour-walk. Our path was said to lead us to one of the few little beaches of the island. But this beach turned out to be washed away by winter storms. Even parts of the changing facilities were changed into kindlings, and the sandy beach was displaced by big cobbles.

The most famous landmark of Sao Miguel and all the Azores are the crater lakes of Sete Cidades (twin lakes). They are called the green and the blue lake, and this is exactly what they look like. The path along the crater rim is around 25K long and can be walked on a very long day. Along the southern half the track is suitable for normal cars, but the Northern stretch can only be driven by a jeep (we tried it with our rented normal car and had to turn back when nearly at the other end - it was a nightmare, especially for Angelika ...).

The skyline of Ponta Delgada, capital of Sao Miguel and - some say - of the Azores.
Usually not shown on postcards.

A typical village street, this one found in Ribeira Grande, the biggest town on the North coast of Sao Miguel. Note that the street can't be stated really clean but it is decorated with coloured flags in preparation for the whitsun festivities. Pentecost is celebrated with processions - often in the middle of the night - and with 24-hour-fireworks.

The village of Ribeira Grande under a skye which was not rare during our holiday. Beginning of June seems to be too early for a sunny and warm holiday on the Azores.

More photos from our second island - Pico - later. For tomorrow morning we are booked in for whale watching. I look forward to this. Although we will go out on the Atlantic in a speedy rubber dinghy. I had to sign that I am a good swimmer - which was an out-and-out lie. Don't worry we will get life vests.

Thursday, 8 June 2006

Holiday Greetings

a view of the village of Furnas on the island Sao Miguel (Azores)

Finally I have managed to get Internet access to my own laptop and can offer you a first update including photos. We are already staying on the second island as scheduled, which is Pico the one with Portugal's highest mountain. We could only see its peak for some seconds this evening for the first time. The weather is very changable with the clouds usually gathering around the hills at 500 meters. Sunshine at the coastline every day but daily showers, temperature at around 20°c.

The island of Sao Miguel turned out to be quite different to my own expectations. The landscape is not as spectactular as you find it on Madeira or La Palma. Angelika called it "Bavaria in the Atlantic". It's a cultivated, green and rolling countryside, dotted with thousands of cows. There are 130.000 inhabitants on Sao Miguel, and on average every tenth inhabitant owns a cow.

Arriving at the airport and renting your car you wonder about all the paragraphs of assurance one has to sign. After driving the first couple of kilometers you don't wonder any more. People are driving like hell. Once they have left their car they seem to have a really relaxed life but inside their car they are always in a rush.

You can actually state that Europe has arrived on the Azores. They have got every technical equipment, alongside the motorway there are big adverts built up, even for what they call a "Gentlemen's Club". At least thankfully there is not yet McDonalds present but I am sure it will not take long.

"Fumaroles" at Furnas, hot sources of sulfurous water

I will come back to you tomorrow evening with more photos.