Friday, December 12, 2014

Race in Cyprus - 4 Day challenge for every runner

If you enjoy running (no matter if recreational or elite), warm weather and like the idea to take your post-race recovery nap on the beach then the Four Day Cyprus Challenge might be just perfect for you!

Cyprus is located South of Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea

Being very new to running, I decided what better way to get great workouts in than heading into the sun in middle of November for a 4 day running event.

The four days were compromised of very different running races.

It all started of with a 6km flat, paved time trial, each runner starting 10 seconds apart. Sounds easy, right?

Well, right from day one tactics are played because the winner would be the one with the fastest time of all four races combined. 

So do you run those six kilometers hard and hope you have enough left at day 4 or play it safe but potentially losing valuable seconds? 
Either way, day 2 would test your physical and mental limits with a 11km off road race with an 600m elevation gain. If it's not your quads that scream for oxygen, your lungs will! The race strategy on this day is pretty clear: survive!

Even in November, Cyprus can offer temperatures around 20°C (68F)
If hills are not your strength, you can shine on day three at the off-road half marathon with a 8km descent. But not so fast. You need to work for this treat by climbing up 10km beforehand.
Although the idea of running downhill sounds fantastic on day 3, day 4 might be a different story, especially if your legs are not used to descending.

The “fast” 10km on day 4 through the near-by town Paphos will make sure to remind you of the past three days. Setting a new personal record seems to be out of question, but how much slower the time will be depends on the tactics you played the last three days.

Fantastic views from the mountains
All these intense moments are shared with a great, welcoming, friendly community of about 200 runners of every age and ability. At every finish volunteers and runners cheering for other runners. You share the stories of glory and pain. 
And if you happened to wake up and forgot what you signed up for, you will remember at breakfast when watching your fellow runners hobbling back and forth to the buffet. But dont be mischievous because you will too!

Either way, it’s all good fun. The fantastic, upbeat atmosphere of the runners, the top-notch organization, the beautiful scenery combined with the welcoming Cypriot mentality make this a perfect vacation in November (and since it is off-season, no tourist crowds anywhere!)

Monday, August 25, 2014

How to succeed at tough races

Two months ago I signed up for one of the harder races in Switzerland: the Alpenbrevet, a 276km race with over 7000m of elevation. However, with a new job I have less time for riding and only two months ago I hopped on my bike maybe once a week. 

Still, I signed up for the longest and hardest distance of the three racing options. 

Finishing a race of that magnitude is not an easy goal, especially if your training capacity is mediocre at best. 

However, although physical fitness is very important, what gets you really up the mountain, through nasty weather conditions and across the finish line is your mind!

Here are a few suggestions that help me get through tough challenges, even with less training:

Never doubt your success. You gotta be on the start line thinking that you will succeed. Any doubt will later, in tough times, knock on your mental door and question your sanity. During the first climb of the Alpenbrevet, all the different distance groups (Silver, Gold, Platinum) rode together. I asked a few riders what distance they will ride. A lot said `I will see. I was thinking of Platinum but if I do not feel well, I will go for the Gold distance`. All of them set themselves up for not completing the highest goal they could achieve. 

Don’t focus on the pain. If you do it will only get worse. It`s the same with feeling sick. If you think about getting sick, you will. Distract yourself. Especially on long challenges, try to distract yourself with something else than your current activity. Sooner or later, you will find yourself thinking about it all the time anyway. Now, when it is easy to entertain yourself with other things, like chatting (if possible) with other riders, enjoying the nature, counting the white stripes of the middle lane, will make the latter and tougher part of the race mentally easier. 

Tell as many people as possible about your goal. Because you would have to tell all of them you had to quit. Then try to imagine what you would tell them. If it sounds like an excuse, keep going.

Play worse-case scenario. If you are getting tired climbing up a mountain, ask yourself: How could it be worse? The grade could be steeper. It could rain. There could be headwind. It could be a cobble way. All of a sudden, your current condition does not seem too bad anymore.

After all it all boils down to:
Pain is temporary but failure lasts forever.

Plus, crossing the finish line after a very tough challenge is an indescribable addicting feeling.

What gets you through a tough race?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How a dating service gets you through a 1000km race

Three weeks before the race

I got a strange email question from a still unknown person : Would I want to join a four person team for the Tortour? Ahemmm YES!.

I knew about the Tortour too well. It`s a 1000km race around Switzerland with 14,500m elevation gain that not only requires some serious physical fitness but, if not more importantly, a well organized support team, a similar format as the Race Across America.

So from one day to the next I was on the team to join them only three weeks later.

I would learn soon I had the fortune to be on a fantastic team that not only was organizational top notch but funny that would even make the most serious German smile.

And here goes the story in pictures and videos:

Thursday, 14 August: Morning

Everyone was excited on the way to the race (f.l.: me, Stefan (racer), Isa (racer), Ariella (support))

A lot of gear is required with the hope you can find it when you need it.

Every racer got a box which should minimize chaos. I successfully created chaos anyway.
Thursday 12pm 

At the race briefing. Being surrounded by 500+ other excited racers and supporters made for an incredible atmosphere. If you werent excited before this briefing, you are definitely now! The anticipation was rising!
Thursday 15:30

Then, the prolog in the afternoon. Merely a kilometer or so of high intensity to place the teams into an order for the next day.

We won the prolog in our category. That meant we start first at 2:33AM, a minute ahead of the second placed team.

Friday 2:30AM Start

The starting formation. The team to the right and the follow vehicle behind.

Just imagine about 130 vehicles with `Caution Bicycle ahead` driving around in Switzerland....Bikes rule the next 48 hours
No idea why we were waving to the follow vehicle. I (pink arm warmers in the front) was occupied with other things apparently.
And then the countdown. 1000km ahead

Ariella and Mirco...let the fun get started

Friday 10:30AM: 8 Hours - 233km

There were three team stages (first, middle and last). The other ~850km were split between the four racers.
We had highly concentrated drivers. Not only the cyclist had to ride 1000km, our support crew had to drive those too!
I wasnt aware that we had a mountain goat on the team. This woman can climb!

The views were two ways.

Friday 14:30 PM - 12 hours - 340km
As hard as we were working, we had at least the same amount of fun (here on the way up the 14km climb, Flüela pass.)

Friday 18:30 - 16 hours - 480km

Not a lot of rest time between the individual stages: Transfer to next check point, eating and getting clothes ready for next stage do not give a lot of time to relax
The weather couldnt decide. It was sunny. 10 minutes late it poured down.

Saturday 4:00 AM - 26 hours - 770km
After some 30 hours of having fun and riding, the energy was slowly draining and I got tired. My last shift (before the team stage) was about to start. It was 4am. 26 hours on the road. 50km to ride to the next check point.

It was dark. It was wet. I was tired.

10km into my stage, I was falling asleep on the bike and swerving around the lane.I needed some entertainment. I asked our support team to tell me a story.
Of all the stories Barbara could tell me she chose to give me the pros and cons to date her two brothers. After a 30 minutes very entertaining monologue she decided herself, it might not be a good idea to date either of them.

And all of a sudden I was at the checkpoint.

Saturday 13:29 34 hours: 1000km

After the last team stage and 34 hours of being on the road we crossed the finish line. 

We made it! From left: Max, me, Isa, Stefan

Then, the entry into the arena onto the stage with our song. No matter how often I watch this video I am still getting wet eyes. It brought all the fantastic memories into one moment.

The moderator asked me three questions back-to-back. Sleep deprived, I forgot all of them and answered my own.
Thanks to a fantastic team: Stefan, Max, Isa, Ariella, Barbara, Betty and Mirco!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Preparing for a new level of EPIC

There is no shortage of tough rides in the Alps, especially considering the endless possibilities of climbing up passes without a lot of flats between them. This ride was a preparation for the highly respected Alpenbrevet race. I was pretty exhausted after this ride of 147km and 4,300m elevation. The Alpenbrevet with an additional 130km and 2,700m elevation gain will ask for a new level of toughness in two weeks.

 The route:

The elevation:
Barely any flats, climbing from 500m up to 2,400m

On the way down from Grimsel with the view towards Furka Pass

But before testing my climbing legs, the non-stop 1000km Tortour around Switzerland will challenge the endurance of my team and I. With a highly organized five person support crew, a camper, a follow vehicle and a loooooot of food, we are ready for the challenge starting this Friday EARLY morning. We hope to cross the finish line 39 hours later, Saturday evening!

You can follow us via live tracker. Link will follow.

Oh, this race will be so epic!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A new challenge and number game: Cycling all Swiss passes

When I learned about the infinite cycling possibilities here in Switzerland I thought it would be quite appropriate to add another challenge (in addition to surviving all the races) to my to-do list: Riding all Swiss passes (above 1200m).

According to Wikipedia:
There are 105 passes that need to be conquered with a total of 137,000m (449,475ft) of elevation gain.
 (That`s more than 1/3 on the way to the moon or 15 times up Mt Everest)


That means for me another 81 climbs to go and 94,496 m to climb.

Any interest in joining me for a few kilometers of elevation gain?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tour du Mont Blanc - 330km with 8000m elevation

This weekend`s cycling tour led through Switzerland, Italy and France hitting climbs like 

  • Col de Champex (9.3k, 560m elevation), 
  • St Grand Bernard (45km, 2000m elevation), 
  • Petit St. Bernard (28km, 1287m elevation), 
  • Cormet de Roselend (20km, 1100m elevation) and 
  • Col de Montets (11.5km, 420m elevation)

....all around Mt. Blanc.

We had every kind of weather. From cool Spring-like temperatures while crawling up Grand St. Bernard to Mediterranean heat in Aosta, Italy having lunch in a park to damp and rainy weather in Ugine, France to clear sunshine in Chamonix. 

It`s fun cycling through three different countries with different food options, weather and terrain. We stayed in small ski resort towns that offered cute hotel rooms with a homelike character. 
Here is the route with some pics:

The route

The pain measured in elevation

Fantastic weather

A glimpse to the Mt. Blanc

Tunnels - sometimes so dark you have no clue where you are riding

St petit Bernard....Not so petit though with 1,300m of climbing!

Since we just crossed into Italy, a crostata had to be on the re-fuel menu

What a view!

Sunshine on the ascent, mystic fog on the descent

Cycling in the clouds

View to Martigny, our start and end point

Turquoise lakes

Another view to the Mt Blanc
On next weekend`s agenda will be Italy with climbs like Stelvio Joch, Gavia und den Mortirolo.

Picture source: 
Photo Credit: Paul Boerner

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mountains + Lakes + Cow bells = Cycling in the Alps

If there are routes from the Giro d`Italia, Tour de France, Tour de Suisse, Tour de Romandie basically at your foot steps (or an hour train ride away) it was clear it would be only a matter of time that I start racing again here in Europe.

Having moved to Zurich seven weeks ago was a surprise. But an awesome surprise. Just looking at the riding possibilities it is like a cyclist playground. Last week I rode through the Black Forest in Germany, this weekend, I am heading to the famous climb to Chamonix, France. And next weekend I am staying in Bormio, Italia to ride the 21km climb (13mi) up the Stilfzer Joch....partly for fun and partly for training because all of a sudden weekends are filled up with races.

The Alps region has incredible and TOUGH races to offer. In fact every weekend if desired.

Last weekend`s 230km (142mi) Engadiner Radmarathon with 3,800m (12,500 ft) of racing was just the tip of the iceberg. On 23. August, there is a true climbing test: the famous 280km Alpenbrevet with an entire 7,000m (23,000ft) of climbing. Just a few days beforehand, the Swiss version of Race-Across-America (RAAM), the Tortour challenges the racers with 1000km through Switzerland.

Oh yea, and then there is a race in Mallorca in September and a training weekend at Alpe d`Huez.
With the very centric location, Switzerland not only offer national but international cycling experience: Whether you want to enjoy a crêpe two hours West in France or a home-made pizza two hours South in Italy or a Linzer Torte two hours East in Austria or Black Forest cake two hours North in the Black Forest, Germany. Destinations are infinite and the variety for cycling unbelievable.

I will be posting all my rides on twitter (@MonikaSattler) for those who are visiting the heart of Europe and need some riding routes.

Here are some pictures from some of my cycling tours and two amateur videos.

View from the train towards where we are heading

Arrival at the train station

On top of the Furka Pass

More Furka

In the distance: Grimsel Pass

Along the river back to the train station

The video is turned to the side but it`s the sound that counts.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I love riding in Minnesota - 100mi Fulton Gran Fondo

I forgot about the pain.

I forgot about how loooooong 100 mi could feel.

I forgot about the wind!

But four months away from Minnesota did not make me forget how awesome its cycling community is. 

Today at the Fulton Gran Fondo I was able to be part of it again. There is this energy in the air; that anticipation to have fun that gets me excited to ride my bike. 

It’s easy to fit in. Only rule is to be nice. 
It doesn’t matter what kit you wear or how fast you ride. Enjoying the ride is the motto. 

The Minnesotan cycling community rocks! Thank you for a wonderful day!

Thanks to the Fulton Brewery for a great race! And huge thanks to Foundry for putting me on a great bike!

Only 156 hours to the Royal 162! Oh man, I cant wait to race gravel again!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Have I found the cycling paradise?

What can I say about Australia? "Wow” comes into mind. “Unreal”, “Heaven”….something along those lines.

Before I start writing an entire dissertation about my first impression about Brisbane, I will keep it in bullet points:

  • Holy cow! Everywhere mango trees (my favorite fruit) Delicious, juicy and for free! 
  • Weather! It is always T-Shirt or less weather. Rain? Well, let it rain, it is still so warm that it doesn’t matter if it is pouring.
  • Cycling scene – Overwhelming! If I would do every group ride in town, it might take me a year or two to do all of them. At 5:30am when I ride 20 minutes to a group ride meet up point, I see 10 other cycling groups on their rides, no kidding!
  • Every group ride ends in a café. And oh my god, they make amazing strong coffee!!!
  • The terrain is great here in Brisbane. Mostly undulating terrain... those short little 10-20 seconds pitches everywhere make every ride more or less to an interval training.
  • Scenery – love it. Very varied. You got the ocean with some beautiful beaches in riding distance, the river through the city, the subtropical vegetation and colorful fauna everywhere. In fact, this morning at breakfast, rainbow colored parrots argued over the nectar of a pink tree flower. Seeing kangaroos on a ride is not unusual either. 
  • Atmosphere – relaaaaaxed. The best indicator how relaxed a region is the time in the coffee shop after a group ride. I might have spent a solid 1.5-2 hours there. Of course, with a coffee shop and bakery on every corner combined with the amazing weather makes it hard to be stressed out.
Yep, I think I will stick around here for a while. J 

Monday, January 20, 2014

An epic hike - How to get dropped right out of the parking lot

Last weekend I joined a few Kiwis for a tramping trip in the Fjordland – at least that was the plan.

Reality was far away from it.

A month ago, I was invited for a 50km+ hiking trip by Andrew – my current roommate. Sounded epic, adventurous and tough. Oh I was totally game!

Well, the closer the time came to prepare for this hiking trip, the more I thought about its meaning. 50k on my feet, walking, not turning pedals, but walking.
When exactly did I do that the last time? No memory!

With the approach of action time, I learned the small but significant details: We would start the track at around 10pm and run to a hut up the mountains, “but don’t worry, Monika, we are walking the uphills and run the flats and downhills”. The run would take 2-3 hours if we are fast. Then sleep until sunrise (6am) and run/hike to the end of the trail and hike back.

After some intense discussion with my ligaments, joints and muscles waist down, I decided not to be a sissy and go for it. Getting ready for the hike meant packing for all weather conditions New Zealand has to offer aka snow,hail,sun,rain,showers,and everything between.
I think by the time I tested my backpack I had four times as much clothes with me on this 24h adventure than for my eight day bike ride the week prior.

11pm in the parking lot we were finally ready for the adventure. While I was packed in three layers, everyone was half-naked. I naively ignored this more than obvious warning.

When I was still adjusting the straps on my backpack my fellow hikers started running towards the trail. I lurched my heavy legs into forward shuffling mode when I realized that was not enough to catch up.

The flat terrain was not exactly flat as it rose to 3-4% and my quads gave me the distinct and clear “above lactate threshold alert”. The Kiwis kept going. I, confused, what this all meant for the next 49.5k. After a few kilometers they notived my absence, stopped and waited for me. Me, huffing and puffing approaching them, “no need to wait for me!”.”No worries, we are just getting rid of clothes.” (Uhm, which clothes?)

Well, we planned that game for another three times when they stopped waiting for me “No worries, we are stretching” “No worries, we need to eat something”. But eventually they ran out of excuses to stop for me and I ran totally out of gas – lactate has fully invaded my lower extremities. Battle was lost!

And I got really tired – that feeling when you do a really high intensity workout and all of a sudden you could just lay down and fall asleep – that kind of tired! Fortunately enough, after an eternity and a half (around midnight) we stopped at a hut, and Andrew said I could sleep on the cushion surface in the main room of that hut. A nod later I was knocked out on a narrow padded bench in a kitchen of an isolated hut in the middle of a forested mountain while they ran for another two hours up the mountain.

And that was the end of my planned hike with the Kiwis. In the morning I carried on alone and decided after another eight hours of hiking up and down mountain that a proper nap in the car would be justified while waiting for the crazy Kiwis to return.

Lesson learned: Don’t underestimate the fitness of a Kiwi with their incredible natural playground in their backyard!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A backpack and a bike and the horizon as the destination

When I left Dunedin 3.5 weeks ago with a small bag to explore the South Island of New Zealand, I did not anticipate that this would lead to an epic eight day cycling trip with an even smaller backpack. Only a few clothes, sun lotion, rain jacket, a bike,  a map and a friend from the US (Patrick) - enough to make this an unforgettable adventure.

Our plan? Well, heading in one direction in the morning and finding a place to sleep in the evening and do it again the next day. The uncertainty of sleep arrangement, terrain, weather and other unknown factors made this quite an adventure.

The sudden change of weather and wind made us change our destinations very spontaneously. It started right at the beginning when our Christchurch host, Rori, told us we could ride to Arthur’s Pass that day --150 km, mostly uphill, into a 50mph headwind, with heavy rain and temperatures in the 40’s -- but it really would not be very pleasant.  (Gotta love summer in NZ!). We changed direction and ended up with this route in eight days including two hiking days:

I learned quickly that mileage does not mean anything in New Zealand. Wind (as in 60mph gusts) and terrain (like a 3k 16% Arthurs pass) are the deciding factors.

Kaikoura - our start location (nope, the picture is not color-enhanced)
Our sleep arrangements were the adventure on its own. On the first day, we decided to put signs with "Need bed in Blenheim" on our backpacks to find a place to stay for free. 

After a long day in the saddle, we were browsing the aisles of a supermarket in Blenheim while an older lady in a wheelchair stopped next to me and checked my sweaty, dirty, worn-out self from top to bottom out. I must have looked still somewhat decent because she invited us to their place. 

A sign on the backpack that got us our first sleep arrangement.
The second stay (via was just as surprising. The description of our free place near Murchison with similar conditions as a rain forest said: "Pass shed garden to the left and you will find our driveway a few hundred meters ahead."

On arrival we learned that the shed was his house. The dwelling consisted of corrugated steel as a roof, plastic walls, no electricity, no heater, an outside toilet, outdoor showers from a hose and the nearby rain forest as the yard.

Corrugated steel as roof and plastic as walls

View from the "bathroom"

Grocery shopping before heading to the host house. 
Food dangling in front of my nose while riding the last few miles – dangerous!

My attire for the supermarket when everything else was getting washed.

Cooking after the ride. Don't need to say how big the portions were.

After a rainy day near Murchison, I found my absolute favorite cycling route: The 100k coastal route from Westport to Greymouth.
Mountains and beach - so much to see.
Near Greymouth, we found a great backpacker place to stay that was surrounded by mountains. We decided to stay there an extra day and go for a hike. The hike was a climb up one of the mountains. It wouldn’t have been an adventure if we didn’t get lost. After walking into one direction with seemingly no end, we had to make the call - the call to our backpacker's host who was so kind and picked us up - my first DNF on a recreational hike.
Surrounded by surreal vegetation 
Next on the agenda was the notorious climb up to Arthur's Pass. 16% grade for 3km. Loved it!

Our final ride from Arthurs Pass back to Christchurch lead us from wet and mountainous terrain to dry and sunny flats. That's New Zealand! Change of scenery, vegetation, weather and terrain within a very short distance.

For those who might be interested in doing a similar trip:
  • I have posted all my road cycling rides in New Zealand on Map My Ride. (Not sure how to share them here)
  • The stuff I had in my backpack: one cycling kit with arm and leg warmers, hiking shoes, one set of normal street clothes, sun lotion, rain jacket, and food. 
  • Weather and wind conditions guided us. We rode against the "northwesterlies" (NW Wind) and it took us a long, long time.
  • Weather reports are an OK indicator but could also change spontaneously. We completely changed our cycling route when we saw it was sunny and not the forecasted rain. 
  • We always had to apply sun lotion, no matter how stormy, rainy and windy it was. One item I wish I had with me was a hat. 
  • Our accommodation was a combination of friend of a friend's places, (cycling hospitality website) and backpackers. My favorites were staying with locals. Kiwis are such warm, welcoming and friendly people with a lot of insight knowledge to share. 
  • The two backpacker places I would recommend though are:
    • Brunnerton Lodge in Taylorville near Greymouth, very scenic, non-touristy with a great hike around the corner.
    • The Sanctuary in Arthur's Pass. Low key, non-touristy, basic backpackers place.

I wanted to thank all the amazing people I met along the way of my NZ-wide adventure:

  • Thanks to Jenny and Kevin in Alexandra for your hospitality, the amazing food and for the insightful conversations.
  • Huge thanks to Reta and Robyn in Christchurch: You are awesome! Robyn, thank you very much for your great hospitality. Reta, es war der Hammer, dich kennenzulernen. Du bist einfach super! Ich hoffe, wir sehen uns bald wieder! Viel Erfolg in Deutschland dieses Jahr.
  • Thank you to Sheila in Washington, DC for connecting me with Rori in Christchurch. Rori, you were not only a wonderful host but also an incredible tour guide. I have never thought I would learn so much about earthquakes (and experience one!) as I did at your place.
  • Thanks to Bob, Gracia and Bill for hosting us in Blenheim and Murchison.
  • Big thanks to Bethy for hosting me in Oamaru, for your inspirational stories and for checking out penguins with me!
  • Last but not least, thanks to Patrick for sharing such an incredible adventure with me!