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June 6, 2004

Mental note re: cycling, freckles and cameras.

Next time I go bicycling with Sidsel, I should take a camera and document the changes to her appearance during the day. I do actually carry a digital camera with me at all times nowadays, but I still haven't got into the habit of taking it out and taking pictures. Too bad, because yesterday, when we went cycling on a fairly sunny day, it was fascinating to look at my Sidsel's face. She doesn't just tan, she sprouts freckles all over her face, and in the space of a few hours her hair went from dark blond to red. Except for the tips, which had been bleached a few months ago - these faded to nearly white as if the bleach had been reactivated. It'll be interesting to see how she changes when the sun is blazing at full strength; it was partially clouded most of the time.

Our trip was supposed to take us to Oudeschip in the Northwest of Groningen (where we would check if Pick Fokkens of the comic store Modern Papier was home, and hit him up for coffee if he was), but we ran out of time and went back after taking a break at Uithuizermeeden. I think we did about 50 kilometers.

A few weeks ago we went to the port town of Lauwersoog and back, which was a round trip of about 100 kilometers. I'd say that area was a lot nicer, but this shorter and not entirely succesful trip was still time well spent. I need a new saddle on the second bike though.

July 2, 2004

The loneliness of the ultra-short distance hobbler

I was never much into sports as a kid, but I took to it more as an adult. I think it's being able to decide the time, occasion, pace and the actual branch of sport myself that does it. However, my lack of training in childhood has left my adult body ill-prepared for any real activity.

One sport I took to a few years ago was running. As it turned out, I had quite a bit of energy, lung power and even leg muscle in my late twenties, so when I joined a running club for group training, I found myself keeping up a pretty good speed. And so it only took me weeks to wreck my left knee. My last real training session with the group ended with me feeling an excruciating pain in the back of the knee, and when I returned to training a few weeks later, the pain came back faster even though I was much more careful.
I've now given it several years worth of rest. I'm not sure that there's anything medically wrong with the knee (the doctor couldn't find anything), but the pain still comes back so rest isn't helping.
Plan B is for me to carefully build up strength and resilience by running very short distances at a slowish pace, stretching often and stopping before the pain starts. The problem is that the knee will start hurting long before I even break a sweat, so I feel like a bit of an idiot for going out and jogging 700 meters at an octogenarian's pace. That's been stopping me in the past two years, but I do intend to keep it up. If I get up early in the morning and do a quick hobble without there being any people in the streets to notice that I'm taking only a few minutes before being back in my apartment, I may be able to make a habit of it this time. Assuming that the problem doesn't get worse.

If it does, I'll just have to switch to cycling. That's also nice, but it doesn't even feel like a sport if I cover less than 40 kilometers, so it will be very time-consuming.

July 5, 2004

Tour de France

I don't know why listening to the Tour de France broadcasts on the radio makes me happy, but it does. Maybe it's because a lot of the music between reports is fresh and different to me. A lot of it stinks, but we don't hear a lot of French music the rest of the year. You never know when you may hear something that's really good, or takes you back to that French vacation in 1984. Or maybe it's because Radio Tour de France being on the air means that it's summer, a fact of which we've had scant evidence otherwise around these parts.
Most likely, though, it's because the Tour de France is a sports event that actually matters. I mean, football, even when played well, is just an entertaining game. Tennis is fun to play but I don't find contemporary tennis interesting to watch. The Tour de France, though, is a gladiatorial gruelfest in which the strongest of the strong suffer, and occasionally die. It's one of the hardest tests of the human body and mind, especially when the caravan enters the Alps or the Pyrennees.

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July 17, 2004

Along the edges of the map

I spent a day cycling with Sidsel. We started off at 10.30 from her place in the south of the city, in the direction of Roden and Leek, keeping an eye on the weather to see if we might have to turn around early to avoid the thunderstorms that we'd been warned for. In Leek, the clouds were still scattered, so we carried on to Zevenhuizen and then Ureterp, a Frisian town right at the bottom left of my cycling map. When we arrived there it was still mostly sunny and in fact pretty hot, so we stopped for ice cream (lots of ice cream, in my case. Enough to go into a caloric coma. When I start doing some serious speed-oriented cycling I'll observe dietary discipline but when I'm just touring I'll eat ice cream when I damned well please) and plotted our journey back. Distance covered at that point: some 36 kilometers, which is nice enough for a trip we'd planned at short notice with a dramatic change in the weather later in the day in mind.

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July 24, 2004

Cycling/henge-climbing biathlon

Another Saturday, another endless trek through the verdant countryside with Sidsel. This time we went south, through the northern and middle parts of Drente, where the dominant species is the potato. I spent 3 years working for a software company supplying database and decision support systems to potato farmers, during which I learned more about potatos than any non-farmer should. They have interesting mating rituals.
Seriously, Drente consists mostly of arable land with spuds, sugar beets, wheat and maize being common crops. There are many winding little paths to cycle on, and some sights to see. Our destination today was Borger, where we'd look at some henges and enjoy the forests.

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July 31, 2004

Saturday biking: Groningen - Eastermar Houtigehage

Adrift in darkest Fryslân

This Saturday's bicycling trip took Sidsel and me into Fryslân/Friesland again, with our intended destination being Eastermar/Oostermeer where her aunt and uncle have recently moved. Things became a bit of a shambles as far as reaching that destination was concerned, but I am liking this cycling thing, and what it's doing to me, more and more.

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August 4, 2004

Wednesday cycling extravaganza: Groningen-Schiermonnikoog

Today was dedicated to an extra day of cycling, from Groningen to the island of Schiermonnikoog. Originally, this day was penciled into the schedule as an attempt to compensate for me being away for the next three Saturdays, but it only became a certainty after my sailing trip was canceled. Another reason why I was personally keen to add a day to the schedule was that I'm also doing this to get fit, and once a week didn't seem to be enough anymore. We'll most likely be off again on Saturday.

Today's trip took Sidsel and me to the familiar destination of Lauwersoog, where we'd been before back in May, and from there on the ferry to Schiermonnikoog, where we rode to the beach and went for a swim. "Oog", by the way, is a Germanic suffix meaning Island. You see it in islands' names all the way up to Scandinavia.

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August 8, 2004

Saturday cycling: Groningen-Spijk

I've noticed that this cycling stuff has become contagious (I've got some evidence for this from my mailbox and phone conversations as well). I'l start posting some non-cycling stuff here soon, to prevent it from becoming Reinder's cycling diary, but before then, here's a bit about Saturdays' trip to Spijk, in the north-east of the province.

This was a shorter than usual trip, but it was harder than we anticipated for three reasons:

1. The heat. It was a tropical day, meaning we sweated a lot and were even more loaded up than usual with bottles of water. Sidsel had had the foresight to put a few plastic bottles in the freezer beforehand and take them in an insulation bag, so we had cold water all day. By the way, during all of our trips we were loaded up like mules, carrying at least 3 kg of provisions with us, plus, in my case, camera and sketchbook.
2. The wind. The northeastern area is flat and wide-open. It's like a steppe. It's pretty but going upwind is no fun.
3. Our, uhm, hangovers. We'd been partying the night before and Sidsel had been partying the night before that. So we were even more dehydrated than we would otherwise have been. In the old days, I would have stayed in bed all morning and tried fatuously to work later in the day. Getting some exercise instead was a good idea but it wasn't easy at all.

Why Spijk? Well, we thought we were running out of destinations, and didn't feel like going due east to the German border because that area looks a bit boring on the map. However, at the end of our trip we had a talk with a woman in a bar in Winneweer, who pointed out some interesting destinations near the border, so we may go there some time. Spijk, in any case, was simply a place to aim at.

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August 11, 2004

Top of the world

I'm an adrenalin based person, I guess. I hardly get any work done if there isn't a deadline looming over my shoulder. I think this neither good nor bad.
I've tried to change to no avail so have in stead decided to learn to live with it. I expect this is rather frustrating for people working with me (sorry Adam), but attempts to change this have miserably failed, and only lead to me not enjoying my work.

In general I don't consider myself a thrill seeker. Though this maybe because I never much realised how much fun it can be. Yesterday I went climbing for the first time in my life. I long suspected I'd probably enjoy it, but just never seemed to get around to actually do it.
I did enjoy it. I loved the thrill of having your life hangin by a thread
(ok, a really strong rope) in the hands of someone you've never had to trust in this way. I loved the sense of achievement of picking a difficult route and actually making it to the top. Hanging by the tips of your fingers and switching the positions of your feet 30 ft above the ground.
What I was somewhat surprised by, though, was that of the 4 persons whom I went climbing with, I seemed to be the only one experiencing this thrill. The others enjoyed it, but seemed surprised by the adrenalin rush it gave me. Reinder actually was rather blasť about the experience ("Oh well, I went climbing before").
I'm not sure what to make of this. Maybe they're less competative then I am, maybe my imagination runs wild, or maybe my sense of an adrenaline rush is somewhat askew.
It nags, though...

August 16, 2004

No one came from miles around, to say "Who's he"?

What if you held Olympic Games and no one came?

In the Olympic tennis stadium, Venus Williams' grunts echoed loudly off several thousand empty seats.

There were so few people at the gymnastics preliminaries that it looked like a high school meet.

Across Athens, on the opening weekend of the Olympics, the scene was the same: Wrestlers grappled in front of only a few hundred fans, archers had the old Olympic stadium nearly to themselves and softball was played before a backdrop of empty stands.

"I watched it on TV and when you looked in the background, you were like, `Wow, it's the Olympics and nobody is there,"' former gymnast Bart Conner said.

Athens organizers, in their rush to finish building some of the sparkling new venues, apparently didn't work as hard trying to fill them. And Greeks are proving to be selective about what they'll pay money to watch, despite ticket prices of as little as $11 a seat for some preliminary competitions.

That's led to some embarrassing scenes, such as Sunday when Williams played in front of only about 500 fans on center court in the Olympic tennis complex. It was so quiet that the first shout of "Come on, Venus!" from the stands -- a constant cry when she plays at big tournaments -- came in the next-to-last game of the match.


At gymnastics, huge sections of seats had no one in them while the women competed, a fact Greek state television duly noted.

"This must be the first time there is an Olympic gymnastics event that didn't have a full arena," a commentator said.

August 18, 2004

Olympic link policy idiocy

I was going to write something here about Leontien van Moorsel's gold medal in the woman's cycling time trial event (as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, which beats CNN.com's US-centered coverage hands down):

Three days after a horrific crash in the women's road race, Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel of the Netherlands came back to win her first gold of the Athens Games in the road time trial today, easily defending her title in her favourite event.

The triple gold medallist in the Sydney Games was racing with bruises over most of her body but still finished first over the 24-kilometre coastal course in 31 minutes 11.53 seconds.

Heroic, huh?

But then I read about the games' organisers' link policy, and that sort of took the will to write about the Olympics at all out of me:

For your protection and ours we have established a procedure for parties wishing to introduce a link to the ATHENS 2004 website on their site. By introducing a link to the ATHENS 2004 official Website on your site you are agreeing to comply with the ATHENS 2004 Website General Terms and Conditions. In order to place a link embedded in copy interested parties should:

a) Use the term ATHENS 2004 only, and no other term as the text referent

b) Not associate the link with any image, esp. the ATHENS 2004 Emblem (see paragraph below)

c) Send a request letter to the Internet Department stating:

Short description of site
Reason for linking
Unique URL containing the link (if no unique URL than just the main URL)
Publishing period
Contact point (e-mail address)

Once the request has been mailed, interested parties can proceed to include the link and will only receive a response if ATHENS 2004 does not accept the link. All requests should be sent to:

The Internet Department
Iolkou 8 and Filikis Eterias str.
GR-142 34 N. Ionia, Athens
Tel: +30 210 2004 000
Fax: +30 210 2004 800
e-mail: (All information submitted using this e-mail address is governed by the ATHENS 2004 Privacy Policy)
terms@athens2004.gr

The above policy applies for links embedded in copy only and not to links using the official ATHENS 2004 Emblem.

Wankers.

BTW, I heard about it from Branko who read it at Retecool. I like their suggestions for alternative link images.

August 22, 2004

All-weather Saturday Cycling: Groningen-Eastermar

Saturday started out a bit on the rainy side, and there was some doubt whether we should actually go. But go we did, Sidsel and me, because we are tough! We both needed a ride, anyway; otherwise we'd have sort of sunk into lethargy, either because of the caffeine withdrawal or simply because it looked like being that sort of a day.
We set out for Eastermar, Fryslân, on 11.30. As you may recall, we had tried to go to Eastermar before, to visit Sidsel's aunt and uncle who have recently moved there. That time, we didn't find it, and in any case Sidsel's relatives weren't home as we found out halfway through, but this time we were better prepared, and found both the lost town of Eastermar and the relatives.

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August 29, 2004

Sunday Cycling and Walking: Friescheveen

Today's cycling was going to be a brief outing, because we had Adam with us for the day. As he wrote below, Adam didn't have much cycling experience, so we wanted to pick a route that was short and safe, but still interesting. The more so after I saw exactly how wobbly he was on my bike. I had penciled in a few destinations, but Sidsel had a much better idea: going around the Paterswoldsemeer to the nature preserve at Friescheveen.

I don't give Sidsel enough credit for both her planning ability and her knowledge of the area. She's only lived here since 1996 whereas I've lived around these parts all my life, but she knew about this place and I didn't. Friescheveen is a recent piece of nature, but unlike many other such places, it's not artificial. It's land that was left over after all the turf had been dug out, which when left to itself became wet and marshy, attracting birds and marsh vegetation. It's not so marshy that you can't walk there though - if you don't mind getting mud on your shoes.
The other part of Sidsel's idea that made it so brilliant is just that - having the short cycling trip supplemented with a one-hour walk through the nature preserve, picking blackberries (as well as sampling an unripe, wild pear) and ending in a birdwatching shack. Walking is something that Adam is a lot more used to, whereas it was a bit more strenuous for me, so things were balanced out a bit more. Sidsel walked up front most of the time, leading us over the treacherous, muddy paths and to new foraging spots like an alpha primate.
We changed bikes after the first kilometer or so, finding that Adam was more stable on Sidsel's bike than either mine or Jeroen's spare bike. Since we started on our journey's, Sidsel has had her old bike tuned up, so it's now a better-balanced bike than mine.
Blackberries are at their best by now, depending on how much sunlight any location has got in the past few months. On our way back, I saw middle-aged a couple filling an old ice cream box with blackberries from a municipality-owned patch, and they were getting quite a few of them. My father's harvest from his secret spot has also been exceptional this year.

By the time we got back, Adam's bicycling skills had got considerably better. You do need practice to ride'em, but not that much of it. He's well-muscled, but we'll still see how his legs feel in the morning.

Next week, we'll probably compensate for the shortness of this trip by going to Emmen - 60 kilometers.

August 31, 2004

I can run! Hallelujah! I can run!

I just went on a 15-minute run through my neighbourhood. As you may know if you read this blog, I have a knee problem which has so far prevented me from doing any serious running, but today I tried a change of approach. For the past couple of years, I have always aborted any attempt at running the moment the knee started giving me any grief. It's not that I can't handle a bit of pain, it's just that I treated any pain as a sign that I was over-straining the knee and that a lot of pain would be forthcoming if I continued.
What caused me to reconsider this was my experience with the cycling trips. On those, my knee would occasionally act up, but the pain wouldn't get to any serious levels, and between trips, it wasn't getting any worse. The knee, evidently, can handle quite a bit more strain than I've put it through while trying to run.
So today, I just decided to accept the level of pain that I could normally tolerate, and see if it got any worse if I went on running. It didn't, so for the first time in years, I ran more than a kilometer (but don't ask me how far I ran - I just zipped through the streets of Groningen towards the Noorderplantsoen, then zig-zagged back over the canal, turning back home a few hundred meters from market square).
I even got a bit sweaty! It's great to be able to do this again. I'll build it up from here.

September 5, 2004

Sunday Cycling: A little day trip to the zoo, with a hey, nonny, nonny

Today, Sidsel and I went to Emmen - the longest trip so far. Emmen is 56 kilometers as the crow flies, but a bit further away if you're actually using the bicycle paths. We left at 8 AM, rode the first half of our journey in the morning fog which at some point was even denser than a month ago on our trip to Schiermonnikoog, and arrived in Emmen at noon. After attacking our food supplies with ravenous appetite, we paid a visit to the Noorder Dierenpark where we stayed all afternoon. I don't remember having ever been to any other zoos, so I can't tell how it stacks up against them, but on its own, it was an afternoon well spent. The feature that the zoo prides itself on in its website and brochures is the absense of barred cages and the comparitive freedom that most of the animals enjoy in natural-looking little habitats. Often there is not much more between the visitors and the animals than a low fence and a sign warning visitors not to lean over in case the kodiak bears or crocodiles devour them. Yes, visitors are treated as responsible adults here.
It is a really pretty, well-designed place too, although some displays needed repair. In fact, the only place where I thought there was a real safety problem was in the poison frog display, where the netting over the terrarium was broken. No problem for a responsible adult, but a child might want to pick up a pretty blue froggie and get a hand full of curare.
I liked the fact that one of the first animals visitors are likely to see are the gibbons; those are lively, tree-swinging apes who talk to their mates in sing-song voices and show little aggression between themselves. At any time of the day, many other animals will be asleep (or sleepy - the otters in particular had a very infectious yawn), and quite a few others will be vicious little bastards, so it's a good thing the gibbons set the tone. Also: a Dutch naturalist once said that the only animals that do any real aping are humans, and that was confirmed by the many imitations of the gibbons' call from the audience! By contrast, the zoo's hamadryad baboons are nasty pieces of work, fighting all the time over food and rank. However, if you look more closely, you can see the same belligerent individuals share food with their mates or comfort a baby caught in a fight. How very human.
I could talk about the zoo all day, and there's more to see than you can take in in a single visit, especially on a hot day such as today. We left at 5.30 PM, attacked our remaining supplies with a ravenous appetite, and rode back at six to arrive home at 10, covered in clammy sweat because the evenings are getting damper. The last hour and a half of our trip was in darkness, which was allright in the larger villages, but a bit hairy on some narrow, poorly-lit rural paths.
By the way, I rode a used Koga Myata touring bike which when new must have retailed at a price that competes with a decent used car. My parents bought it from a friend for my birthday; I didn't ask them what they paid for it for fear it would make me feel guilty. It's a great bike too, with perfect balance and a 21-speed gearing system that made it much easier to go fast. Sidsel, on the other hand, was on her old bike, so I had to restrain myself a bit.
Now, Sidsel and I are the sad wreckage of the man and the woman we used to be, which is why this entry is a bit shorter than most cycling entries. But I suspect that that is a good thing, really.

September 13, 2004

Sunday all-weather cycling: Groningen - Pieterburen

A short trip yesterday - only about 25 kilometers to Pieterburen in the north. It took Sidsel and me forever though, because we were hampered by strong winds and nasty cold showers. The trip back took almost 3 hours! Even if that included a stopover for mustard soup at Abraham's Mustard Factory, Restaurant and Museum in Eenrum, that's the slowest we've gone so far. Serves us right for picking a route through nearly completely open space when the weather prophets had been warning of storm for days.
The strong head wind also demonstrated the difference between my Koga Myiata and Sidsel's old single-speed bike. I had a hard time but I could always switch gears; she had no such option, and even the single speed doesn't run as smoothly as mine.
While in Pieterburen, we paid a visit to the Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre which in addition to rescuing and rehabilitating sick or orphaned seals does epidemiological and toxicological research into the reasons why these animals develop so many problems in the first place. The Centre is only partly open to the public - you can see the quarantine units and outdoor basins full of recovering seals, plus a room full of informational displays. It's well worth a visit, if either:

1) you're in the neighbourhood anyway; or
2) you have kids.

Kids are almost invariably smitten with the cuddly-looking, lively creatures, not just the babies but the grown-up animals as well. To us as adults, they're still pretty charming as well. They push all the cuteness buttons known to man, and a few unknown ones. Still I wouldn't go to Pieterburen just to look at the seals. If it had been earlier in the season it might have been fun to take a walking tour of the sand banks (wadden); during low tide, one can walk to one of the islands with an experienced guide, and that's one thing I've been wanting to try for some time.

But back to cycling. The Koga Miyata is a cool bike that's making long trips easier and even more fun than they were on the old bike. I'm not to keen on the racing saddle though, and I may replace it. Because the construction isn't standard, that's a bit more work than it has been with the other saddles I've been trying.
I took the bike out for a short trip on Thursday as well, trying to get used to how it handles, and I think I've ridden 200 kilometers on it since getting it. Not bad for just one week.

September 20, 2004

Sunday International Cycling: Groningen - Wymeer (Germany)

We went into Germany! It looked much the same as the Netherlands, except for the signs in Gothic script and the Lederhosen.

Seriously, on Sunday, Sidsel and I took the advice we were given in early August and went to the Dutch-German border area to look at the old smuggling route through De Lethe. We neglected to bring any butter to smuggle, but we did bring plenty of bananas. Those Germans are starved for them.

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October 3, 2004

Sunday Cycling: Groningen - Westerbork plus a long walk

Today's cycling brought Sidsel and me to Westerbork, in just about the only corner of my battered old map of the province of Groningen that we hadn't explored yet. A 35-kilometer trip to the southwest of the province of Drente, made longer by our unfamiliarity with the terrain. We spend a lot of time and added quite a bit of mileage hovering around and winding our way through Assen, Drente's provincial capital.

We didn't go all the way to Westerbork proper, by the way. Our destination was the Camp Westerbork Memorial Center. It was picked because it was simply a place to go, but having been there one can't help coming away without a strong impression of the horror of what went on there.

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October 10, 2004

Sunday quicky cycling: Groningen - Winsum-Bedum-Ruischerbrug

Not much interesting to say about today's puny 40-kilometer cycling trip except that on a sunny autumn day like today the colors of Groningen's fields are extra pretty.
We basically ran errands today. Sidsel wanted to go back to a sheep farm where she'd bought wool to ask about the breed of the sheep, but the farmer wasn't home. Presumably he was in church. Sidsel will just have to look the sheep up in a catalogue and then check if their wool is suitable for felting. Also, we dropped by at my parents' house so that Sidsel could test my mother's old touring bike. It's been stored in the attic ever since my mother's rheumatism got too bad for cycling, and Sidsel can have it on an indefinite loan until she goes back to Denmark. The bike's been approved so next week she'll be riding a sports bike just like me. Good; people were giving me "buy the girl a decent bike" looks.

October 18, 2004

Sunday Cycling: Groningen-Slochteren

Another shortish trip at 40-odd km. Went to Slochteren to visit the Fraeylemaborg - old, grand estate with lots of portraits, now a museum. Pretty interesting; liked giraffe piano and old servants' quarters. Didn't have time to look at gardens. Trip back very chilly.

Had coffee in hunters' bar. Guns and trophies on wall. Not historical: bar renamed "hunters' lodge" 15 years ago, symbolic of desire to keep rabble out. No rabble in clientele - mostly middle-aged motorcyclists. Good soup served, but Sidsel not happy about portion size. Sidsel always like that.

October 31, 2004

Saturday Cycling: Groningen-Warffum-Noordpolder-muck-Uithuizen

Yesterday's cycling trip could have been a short, easy one, but Sidsel and I went out of our way to make it longer and more arduous. Our goal was the Menkemaborg, another castle in the province, located in the city of Uithuizen. To many people in the Netherlands, the name of that town is a byword for remoteness, but it's actually easy to reach. However, Sidsel suggested we took a more easterly course over Warffum and rode through the northern polders for a bit. We did, and took the idea even further: because we could see the sea dike from where we were riding, we decided to ride a little further north and follow the sea dike. Unfortunately, we couldn't use the northern, outer side of the dike and have the sea to our left, because the paths there were blocked by fences (even though it's technically legal to ride there! Bah!). The southern side of the dike was usable though, although there were two nuisances on our path. One was the tractors of the farmers harvesting winter carrots on the nearby field. Compared to their tamer inland brothers, these have evolved to a much greater size and speed, filling up the narrow path completely. The other was the sheep grazing on the dike. I have never seen as many sheep as I did yesterday. The animals themselves were kind enough to get out of our way, but unlike at Lauwersoog, they roam the paved as well as the grass-covered parts of the dike, and absolutely covered the path in dung. So for five kilometers, we rode through muck (actually for longer - all the roads above Warffum were pretty mucky) which got on our shoes, our pants, our bikes, until we went south again, found Uithuizen and the Menkemaborg and made our entrance looking like 17th century peasants seeking an audience with their Lord.
The Borg itself is excellent. If anything, it's even more opulent than the Fraeylemaborg which we visited two weeks ago. But what fascinates me most about places like that is the kitchens. It seemed the two castles evolved in the same way, with the oldest parts of the compound being converted into kitchens, and going there takes you right back into the late Middle Ages.
Finding the way out of Uithuizen took us some time, but once we did, getting back was easy. I was exhausted by the time I got home though - it would seem that it only takes one skipped week to lose shape.

November 1, 2004

soccer sucker

I'm not much of a sports fan. I like playing sports; watching other people play I find a lot less interesting. It will not come as a surprise then I hadn't been to a soccer match since 1989. Yesterday a friend invited me to a match between local club FC Groningen and ADO Den Haag. She and her husband have season tickets, and as he was away, I could use his. Just as well, because I was rather surprised to find a ticket costs € 14.50. I mean, hey, the average movie lasts just as long as a soccer match and will cost you half that amount. And you're indoors in comfortable seats, instead of in a drafty stadium either standing or in uncomfortable plastic (hooligan proof) seats.
I'm making it sound as if I had a horrible time yesterday. I didn't actually. The atmosphere in the stadium was quite enjoyable and seeing a game live is a lot more interesting than watching it on tv. I enjoyed applauding good ball handling, and boo-ing the referee if he made a bad decision. I enjoyed being part of the mass, rooting for "our" team. It was also fun to finally see my cousin's boyfriend play, him being FC Groningens' team captain.
One thing really surprised me though. The negative reaction of the supporters. When some player made a mistake they made sure to tell him so: calling him names and asking the coach for a substitute. And when our side let in two easy goals by the other side people boo-ed like crazy. Even as we did in fact win the match. And it was only the second victory of the season. This doesn't seem like a very effective way of supporting your team. I would've thought you'd cheer harder when they need it the most, boost morale etc. Apparantly you should feel indignant when your team doesn't perform at their top every single moment. It's beyond me. I do hope they don't treat their kids the same way...

November 8, 2004

Sunday Cycling: Groningen - Ter Apel

For an activity that's supposed to make me fit and healthy, our cycling trips have a way of making me feel like crap the next day. Often, it's my own fault though: yesterday I dictated an unusually brisk pace for our 55-kilometer trip to the monastery museum in Ter Apel, and my terrible map-reading skills were responsible for getting us lost on the way back.

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April 17, 2005

Sunday Cycling: A little shopping trip and tea party, with wildlife spotting thrown in

Today, Sidsel and I resumed Sunday Cycling! We were going to have only a practice trip, but as usual, our actual trajectory bore only a passing resemblance to our "planned" itinerary.

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September 8, 2005

The stride

Thirty minutes into any strenuous exercise, time that had been passing slowly before starts passing quickly, the breathing becomes steady and tackling that next half hour becomes easy. It's the time when the body starts running on fat instead of calling for more sugar to be brought in to fuel all this busywork. What also happens is that the mind suddenly becomes clear and focused – not on keeping those feet moving or whatever it is you're doing, but on the things it wants to think about and now has energy available to do so. It's a great feeling, and it's enabled me to write both Telethon material and Gang of Four easily.

(By the way, the work I did on Monday to write and draw a longer story for the Telethon isn't completely wasted. There is now a finished test page in which I was able to try some new techniques, plus twelve pages of thumbnailed comics which will make a good second draft for the final version, plus some White House in Orbit material that I might want to do something with, plus character designs and better insight into my time budget than I had before I had a try at it. In the long run, these will all come in handy.)

My preferred sport is now swimming again. I use the pool below my workplace every other day. De Papiermolen is a city-owned outdoor pool that had very few visitors for much of the summer, because after an early heatwave it was mostly wet and chilly outside. But since the last week of August, the weather has improved a lot, and the authorities have decided to keep it open until September 31, instead of pumping it out on the fourth as originally planned. The last week of August was also when I decided to start using this facility instead of just spending hot afternoons at the lake as I'd been doing before.

I don't count laps – instead I just swim for an hour or so, putting some effort into it. Then I spend some time in the sun with my sketchbook until I get too hot and leave. It's working well: I get a bit tired in the hours after the swim but after that I become more focused again. More physically taut as well - it's too early to expect any visible changes in my muscle tone but I can feel more balanced, as if my stomach muscles are pushing me upright.

Only downside: I get tanlines from wearing a swimsuit regularly for the first time in a decade. The pool water reflects the sunlight causing people to tan twice as fast. One day I observed a gull flying over the pool, and the bird's belly looked sky blue from the light reflecting from the pool! So those tanlines appear quickly, faster than sunbathing unclothed at the lake can remove them again. But the lake environment doesn't encourage hour-long, high-energy swims, and I'm now at the point where the endorphin rush from that becomes addictive. I'm hitting my stride – now let's try very hard to keep up that momentum during the winter.

January 31, 2006

Running clinic

Long term readers of the blog will know that I like to run but have a problem with my knee preventing me from running for any lenght of time. Between my last post on the subject and yesterday evening, I went running less than half a dozen times and never for longer than 15 minutes in one go. I knew that if I built it up I would be able to expand that, but running for such short periods turned out to be frustrating - the muscles and lungs have only just warmed up and I have to quit again to prevent buggering up the knee.
On New Years'Eve, though, I noticed that I could dance (not well, but energetically) for hours on end without it affecting the knee. So obviously the energy and muscle are still there and with the right kind of movement I should be able to train without damage and build this up to much longer training sessions reasonably quickly.
It just so happened that the newsletter from my old running club arrived a few days later with a yellow note attached inviting me to a runninc clinic they were organising. So I signed up, bought some clothes for winter running on Thursday, tested them with another short run that same night, and yesterday evening, I took the first class.
And lo and behold! With a coach telling me how to structure a training session, when to hold back and when to go fast, it turns out I can complete an hour-long training without the knee objecting, and it also turns out that I'm actually pretty fit still. I can run pretty fast, and I'm not even all that sore the next day (not to give the impression that I'm completely free from the after-effects, but I had expected much worse). Actually, the only real complaints (apart from a slight soreness in that knee to remind me that I'm not completely out of the woods yet) come from the muscles in my stomach and sides, which clearly need building up and whipping into shape. As if I didn't know that from looking at my skeleton-with-a-potbelly shape in the mirror.
So now I'm feeling very motivated to bite the bullet and just do those 10-minute runs every other day during the week, in the hope that in two or three weeks I can last longer even when I'm running on my own.

April 25, 2006

Sunday cycling, tuesday swimming

For future reference: today, April 25, was the first day in the season I swam in De Papiermolen, the outdoor pool right next to my workplace. 2006 is also the first year since moving into the studio that I have a season ticket.
I limited myself to twenty laps in the competition-length pool, not because I'm out of practice (I'm not) but because I was still feeling the effect of Sunday's cycling. Sidsel and I went to Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen - no, I hadn't heard of it either. It's on the northwest side of the Lauwersmeer. Our original destination was Lauwersoog, which is only 42 kilometers from Groningen, but we ended up taking a bit of a detour because we rode too far west and didn't go north quickly enough. This meant we got to see quite a few towns we hadn't been through before, as well as long stretches of empty space. The Netherlands has a reputation for being a wee bit crowded, but there are still places where no people live although avoiding tourists is a bit difficult even there. Near Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen, though, there's a nature preserve, two thirds of which is off-limits to people. The other third is largely marshland, with only the bike paths being accessible. It's very nice to suddenly find yourself riding through swamp covered in tall dry grass and reeds as far as the eye can see.

It's really nice to go cycling right now, anyway. You get to see tiny newborn lambs, birds nesting and everything coming to life. The birds in particular are everywhere, twittering and chattering. We stopped to look at a large group of excitable yellow-bellied finches and took pictures of, among other things, a swan in its nest. We spotted it turning over its eggs, but by the time we got our cameras out it had sat down on them again. Interesting though to see it nest out in the open. I suppose swans are badass enough to defend their nests against anything, so they don't need to hide them. (pictures to come later)
The one downside to cycling this early in the season is that it's impossible to dress for. We left in cold, clammy conditions; by the time we took our tea break at Houwerzijl it was sunny and warm; and by our coffee break in Lauwersoog at 5 PM it was cooling down noticeably again. The last hour of our journey we had light rain. In all, we spent about 7 1/2 hours, of a 9-hour journey, in the saddle, covering between 100 and 120 kilometers, most of it upwind. We rode on just about every surface known to man: asphalt, brick, concrete, gravel, sea-shell, dirt and sand. The only surface we missed out on was one made of shit, and trust me, we have ridden on dung-covered roads before in the past two years. The dominant organism along the northern coast is the sheep, remember.
I didn't write about this earlier because I was knackered at the end, and still didn't feel my best on Monday. I even skipped running on Monday evening. By 9 PM, though, my energy was returning and I started tinkering with the website. I expect to have manic levels of energy later today.

May 8, 2006

Showing the horses how it's done (not)

One of the best things about running is going out in the fields and having the core part of your training somewhere where horses graze. Horses, while not exactly bright, are very interested in what goes on around them, so they'll have a look and then when they see running going on, they'll also start running. It's a fantastic thing to look at, very different from watching them run while they have riders. They always look like they're having a great time with it, and their movements are graceful and effortless, unlike those of most human runners.
Lambs will also get in on the fun and games. Fully-grown sheep always look like they haaaaate being sheep, but the ones that are only a few days old know how to have a good time. So you'll get horses running gracefully in one field, lambs dashing to and fro in little groups in another, mature sheep looking at the lambs worrying if they'll catch scrapie, maybe a few frogs croaking in the ditches - perfect. Absolutely perfect.

May 17, 2006

It's not always a good high

Running this evening has really messed me up. Almost two hours past the end of the training, I'm still not experiencing any of the euphoria I felt after the trainings of the past few weeks. In fact, I'm not even particularly hungry, which is unusual. Normally I spend the rest of the evening wolfing down food.

I overdid it. I was still somewhat sore from Monday's rather extensive uphill/downhill exercises (carried out on the footpath at Zernike Science Park), and I'd eaten a little more than I should have beforehand. It didn't help that we got another uphill/downhill training again on the same footpath, albeit one that prioritised endurance a little more than Monday's exercise. I got continuing pain in the calves, intestinal cramps, and quite a bit of nausea towards the end of the training, although that's alright now.

A couple days' rest should do me good. Actually, now that I'm writing this, I'm becoming a bit more coherent and focused, signs that I'm less knackered. But the fact that I'm still not very hungry is not good at all.

June 30, 2006

For God's sake, just cancel it already

After this, with Ullrich and Basso out of the running, a dramatically reduced number of contestants on prologue day, and confidence in cycling's integrity presumably at an all-time low, is there any point in even having the Tour de France at all this year?

October 8, 2006

Cool runnings

Despite arriving at the start with a whole range of body parts feeling sore or intractably painful, I finished the 4 Mijl van Groningen, my first, in what will probably turn out to be about 35 minutes. I'll know the exact time by this time tomorrow. I started a little too fast and it took me a little while to find the appropriate tempo for me - I'll need to work on that.

The most problematic of my injuries is probably my left knee, which started really playing up after 4 or so kilometers. However, I have learned that by concentrating strongly on technique, making sure I lift that leg probably and keeping a bit of tension in my foot, I can make the knee behave, and I don't think I was even significantly slowed down by it. Good.

I'll skip the next training or two to give all the sore bits time to recover. But once I get back, I'll want to do more events.

Update: 34:39.7. Not bad for a first time, I think.

March 13, 2007

Aargh, ow, ow

Yesterday, I went running again after a month's sick leave due to 'flu and bronchitis. Before that, I'd been training only sporadically, due to a series of injuries, including one case where I spilled boiling water on my foot. Burns on the foot, I can now tell you, are proportionally more painful than similar burns elsewhere, and heal very slowly.

There are currently three subgroups in my running class. I was going to join the light subgroup again, as I had during the period when I was only training sporadically, and queued up with the trainer who handles that group. There were some new faces, but that didn't mean much. People switch groups all the time. Little did I know that it was the trainer who had switched groups and was now training the medium group... but once I realised, I decided to see how well I did.

And I made it through the training all right. I could really give it some welly and keep up with the rest of the group. For a guy with such a bad attendence record, and someone who was still recovering from bronchitis, I was in pretty good shape.

Or so I thought when I came back from the training. A day later, not so much. It turns out that not only can't I hold my liquour anymore, I can't hold my lactic acid either. Ow. Also aargh, moan, groan and woe is me.

March 19, 2007

Running in parking lots

In the weeks before I got my last bout of 'flu, I didn't do much running. I told people that it was because I disliked running in dark, wet conditions, which was partly true; one evening, I got rather badly spooked running up a slope into pitch darkness. But a bigger part of the reason was that the joy had gone out of running for me.
Well, the joy is back. But conditions did have something to do with the lack of joy: it turns out that I enjoy running in Zernike Science Park a lot more than running in the Noorderplantsoen. This may seem strange, because the Noorderplantsoen is quite a nice park whereas the ZSP is a collection of parking lots encircled by streets that lead through a rather ghastly post-industrial business waste land. But for me as a runner, those mostly-flat, paved streets allow me to get a decent tempo going, and the trainer isn't tempted to make me do Fartlek-style interval training*) (up a slope, down another, 10 meters of running at top speed over gravel, and up another slope). While running uphill can be fun, I don't think Fartlek is on the whole my thing. Let me get some mileage under my feet and I'm happy as a pig in shit. So the next few trainings, I'm going to pick my group based on where they're going.
Of course, this only applies to running in the evening, with my club. It's different when I'm running alone, in the day - then, a quick dash into the Noorderplantsoen is convenient and fun.

*) What we do on those occasions isn't technically Fartlek, which as I read in the Wikipedia article actually does contain quite a bit of steady running. Maybe I should refer to those in-park interval exercises as Mini-Fartleks?

April 25, 2007

Wednesday running: heat, flies, frogs and more heat.

First Wednesday training in months. The Wednesday trainings at my club are more strenuous than the Monday ones, so being able to do one again and finish it without pain is a big step in the right direction.

I'm paying more attention to figuring out what I do and don't like. I think I mostly like running:
On asphalt;
In cold weather; and
Steadily over a middle-to-long distance.

I dislike running with poor visibility. I don't mind dynamic exercises in moderation, such as a quick dash up a slope, but I don't like spending the entire training doing that. And I think I don't like running in hot weather, such as what I had to endure today.

But apart from the heat, I got what I wanted. Mostly paved, flat track, and we did a middle-distance exercise, running along the Reitdiep from bridge to bridge, in a group, with either a single runner or a pair of runners taking turns to lead the group. I think dynamic exercises would have been a pretty bad idea in the heat anyway, so I pretty much expected that distance running would be on the menu.

Running along a canal is pretty nice right now. There's a lot to see if you have the energy to look around you. Lots of people enjoying the evening air, migratory birds coming back from their winter residences, and towards the end I took an opportunity to stop for a bit to take a look at the frogs that were making a big racket in the ditches. There were a lot of them, and they were quite big, and randy enough not to care that people could see them.

Unfortunately, the club is closed next Monday because of Queen's Day, April 30. I might go for a run on my own, and I'll definitely be back next Wednesday for hopefully more of this.

June 4, 2007

Sweet endorphin rush

Man, if anyone had told me fifteen years ago that even a mild runner's high was better than being drunk, I'd have come out of University a superhuman athlete, asthma or not. Recently I've been using short solo runs (I mean really short - 15 minutes will do the trick) as an anti-depressant and it's really making a difference to how I feel through the rest of the day after running and the day after.

Right now, I do have some performance problems. A month ago, I went on a cycling trip that did some damage to the calf muscles in both legs. It wasn't even a long cycling trip, but the conditions were pretty bad, with strong wind and some demanding uphill stretches putting too much strain on those muscles. The next time I went running, after skipping one group training, my legs didn't cooperate at all, and they're unreliable even now. Tonight's training wasn't too bad - my legs were sore but at least they worked, and I'm almost back to the level I was at before last year's foot problem.

Yes, you could say I break easily.

I am making more of an effort to pace myself, though. One thing that's turned out to be useful is that list I made a while ago of things that I do and don't like about running. When I posted it, I didn't mention two things that I added in the "dislike" column a week or so later: warming up and stretching. Hate them. Necessary evil, but evil nonetheless.

What I do with that list is use it to make sure I don't avoid those things or skimp on them. I need to warm up even though I just want to get some mileage behind me; I need to stretch afterwards. I need to do dynamic exercise and strength training, and I need to get used to running in hot weather.

Last weak, trainer Marzena mentioned that it's quite possible to be sweating from the outside temperature and not have warmed-up muscles, so I'm also paying more attention to that. I'm going to train in long trousers until it really becomes unbearable, just to make sure the legs are properly warm. I'll sweat more, but once I'm adjusted to it, it'll make more of a difference on those really hot summer days when I do switch to shorts.

I got a starting number for the 4 Mijl van Groningen. It's one of the very highest, meaning I won't be allowed to start until just before sunset, probably. My aim this year will be to keep myself from seriously hurting myself throughout the summer and run the distance in less than 30 minutes. I may take part in some other events in the run-up, but the 4 Mijl will be the year-to-year comparison event for me.

July 25, 2007

Quick life updates

- The two best-match vacancies I wanted to apply for evaporated on closer inspection. One had expired in June, one was run through an intermediary who was under strict instruction not to pass on resumes from people who didn't have a University diploma in English/Dutch Translation. I might still send an open application to the first firm though.

- Lifestyle-wise, I'm still moving towards more of a normal worker's schedule. I'm working on my habitual procrastination. I found out that not having music on over breakfast gives me more of a desire to get out of the house - today, I managed to cut half an hour's worth of dawdling that way. Dawdling in the morning is my biggest time sink - all the other distractions during the day are minor compared to that.

- I'm also looking more closely at my own assumptions on how I go through the day. I've always thought of myself as "not a morning person" but this only really holds true for my writing and drawing. Anything else, from dentist appointments to swimming to photoshop work on my art can and should be scheduled early in the day. I think. Maybe. Possibly.

- I did a bit of teaching work today. Fun. Well-payed too, and the contact who got me this gig may be able to get me more.

- I still haven't read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I really should get started on it as the spoiler policies in the various Livejournal communities are more laxly enforced by the day. Even the HMS_STFU community on Journalfen, which is run with an iron fist and sarcasm, had a partial spoiler above the cut in one post.

- After today's training, I think I may be able to run a half-marathon in not-embarrassing time and without arriving at the finish limping and puking. I'll see how my bad knee feels tomorrow and then, if it's not killing me, start looking for a suitable event in September or October to train towards.

October 14, 2007

Four-mile run results

I ran the 4 Mijl van Groningen in 30minutes 32.9 seconds today, which was a whole 4 minutes off last year's result. It was also quite a bit faster than I expected to run on the basis of Wednesday's training or my result in the four-mile event at the Thaisner Dörpsrun two weeks ago, when I ran 34:05. On the other hand, that last run was done on a trajectory riddled with potholes and covered in cowpats, in windy, rainy, chilly conditions. And it was a couple hundred meters longer than 4 miles. On the third hand, today's summery heat wasn't exactly ideal for running either.

To be honest, the village event in Thesinge was more fun than the 4 Mijl van Groningen. Fewer people, and the village atmosphere was just too good to be true. The start/finish line ran between the school and the church, and pretty much the entire population turned up to cheer. The people guarding the route came out looking like absolute troopers, staying at their posts to guide everyone in the right direction in the cold rain. Oh, and there was even a guess-the-weight-of-the-pumpkin competition run by the schoolkids.

The 4 Mijl van Groningen is more of a real sporting event, with some top athletes on the roster running it in 18 minutes or thereabouts. Still, for the non-competitive part, it's also a celebration of running and of people's individual health and fitness goals.

One thing I did this year that I'm never going to do again is go to the starting area in my day clothes, change on location and hand over my stuff to the clothes trucks that the organisation provides. While all this is handled reasonably professionally, it's still a pain in the arse to have to deal with. My goal was to have a little more flexibility in picking out what outfit to wear, but as I arrived very late, I had to change in a hurry, then rush to the truck to hand my stuff over. So next year, I'm going back to paying attention to the satellite weather forecast, traveling to the start in my running clothes carrying my keys and maybe a few euros for emergencies, like I did last year. It's a lot less stressful.

30:33 is just a little slower than the last result accomplished by my boss at work, so I guess I'll never hear the end of it when I show up there tomorrow morning.

By the way, my start number was 17721, in case you want to check on my claim/look at embarrassing photographs when they're published.

See also: Jeroen's experiences. Seems he has the same problem that used to bugged me as late as last year (but which has since cleared up for me through careful training).

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