Life as an expatriot living and running in the beautiful town of Zwolle, the Netherlands.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

One Leg Shorter

First a little history: as you may recall, I went to a physiotherapist a few months back for help with a backache. I also explained to him that I often get pain in the Achilles area. He massaged me, cracked some bones, and examined my posture. He told me something I know: I have a massive sway back. He also told me something I didn't know: that my left leg was, by his eyesight, 8 millimeters shorter than my right. The next day, I added a 5m lift to my left shoe. And for the 1st time in my life, I could stand straight. Like a minor miracle. So I knew he was onto something.

Delving Further

Knowing that I could use new orthodics, I decided to go to a podiatrist. I wanted to get the leg accurately measured and to see if I could get the height difference added straight onto the new orthodic. To make a long story short, the difference in my left leg is unbelievable. 17 millimeters/ .67 inches! We measured twice, and when my left foot was on a 17m lift, my hips were finally level. It explains a lot. My whole life, my body compensated for the difference with a massive sway back and a slight lean. That affects my left calf, gives me occasional backaches, and may even be the cause of my nerve issues in my left foot.

So now I await my new orthodics. I get them in mid-January. I guess it's gonna take some getting used to. I will have to learn to walk in them and run in them. So no marathons for me in the near future. But all in all, I am completely stoked that my problem has been discovered. It feels like a revelation. I look forward to standing straight and running tall!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Training in the Forest

Had a pretty awesome 18k/11mile run today. It was our last long run before the Ameland Half Marathon next Saturday.

The day was sooo beautiful: cold, clear, frost covering the shrubs and leaves. I was picked up by my friend Roelof and met the others at the carpool place. From there we drove out to someplace in Hattem (I never pay attention) and began our run. It's hard to decide just what wear on these days. I hate being too warm. Nothing sucks away my energy like being too warm. And yet, being too cold can be equally uncomfortable and can lead to injury. Today I had it just right. On the bottom I wore tight knee-high running socks and my new CSX power half tights. On top I wore a sports long underwear top, gloves, and cap that rolls down over the ears. I began a little cold, but wasn't uncomfortable. It's amazing how quickly you warm up.

It took my about half an hour to really settle into my run. Up until that point, I felt fine, but had some resistance in me. I almost always have that. Sometimes it goes away in 5 minutes... sometimes it can be with me the whole time, like at my last race the Sintloop. Anyway, at 30 minutes, I felt really zenned out. During this run, I also really concentrated on my form. I think about a couple of things. Like landing lightly on my feet. Or the angle that I hold my arms. My coach Nico has been trying to help me have better form with my arms. I think today I might have gotten better with that.

I also had a good experience towards the end. The last part of our run was really a series of last parts. After each turn, when I was expecting to see the car park, I would just see more path, and... looking at my watch realized we still had about 10 minutes to go. A couple of us had upped the pace and I started wanting to fall back. My mind wanted to retreat from the pace. But I did something. I checked in with my body. And my body was actually feeling quite good. No pain in the legs, back, or arms. I was breathing at a good clip, but not too hard or spazzy. So clearly the issue was in my head. And that was confirmed in the last 500 meters. I saw the car park and was like "I'm gonna kill this thing". And I just sorta sprinted those 500 meters (which is actually a long time to sprint.) I had a lot of energy left in the old tank.

So next time, when I'm feeling out of gas, I might just be able to get over it. Also, I just checked out our pace: 1 hour 33 minutes for 11 miles is an 8 minute per mile pace. If I can hold that in a half marathon, that would give me a time of 1 hour 50 minutes - precisely the time we were headed for at Ter Schelling before my leg cramps.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Running Is Better Than A Diet

OK... Want to see the old Debbie and the new? I dug around in the ole photo albums, online and off, and have a few good ones.

The top photo is my first race ever. It was a 10K in July of 2003 (I think), in Las Vegas, called Fun In The Sun. Let's just say I nearly died in the sun. My weight was 165 pounds/75 kilograms.

The middle photo is selected as a comparison. It was at the Lauwersoog Half Marathon, 2 weeks after I moved to the Netherlands, September 2005. My weight then and now: 129 pounds/58 kilograms.

The last picture is around 1999. You can see just how happy I am... My weight was 185 pounds/85 kilograms. I don't have any pictures from my highest weight of 200 pounds/91 kilograms. Hmmm... wonder why?

Some people asked how I did it. Well, something happened in my life that was very difficult. After trying to have another child, I had a miscarriage and found out that it ws very unlikely I could have more children. It completely changed my dreams and my future. After wallowing in self pity for awhile, I decided to get off my ass and live. I wanted to be strong, healthy, and happy. I wanted to have courage and determination. I wanted to set goals and achieve them. I wanted to be a role model for my daughter. I wanted to be an athlete. So in one moment, without running, I became a runner. Once my mind was changed, and with the support of my husband, the rest took care of itself.

That is not to say there were no difficult times. Let me tell you, it takes a lot of courage to wear running clothes at that weight and waddle out in public. I was sore in places I didn't even know I had muscles. And at first, even though I was exercising, the fat just seemed to stay, which was discouraging. Then it started to happen. I set a goal to finish a marathon, which compelled me to get out and run when I didn't feel like it. And I wouldn't eat bad food because I didn't want to have to carry it with me for 26 miles/42 kilometers. I hit my goal in October 2003, finishing the Nike San Francisco Marathon in 5:30 hours. I wasn't going to the Olympics but I felt pretty damn good.

After that, I became interested in weight lifting, and began to do that more than running. I was my thinnest then and very muscular. But I missed the feeling of ability one gets with running distances. So again my focus is running... with the help and companionship of the best running group in the world, the Zwolle Railrunners.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

This picture is from my 1st race with the Railrunners: Sintloop 2005

Sintloop 2006

Well, let's see. As I write this, I'm a little down actually. Is it alright to admit that? I just went to the website for this race and saw my race time from last year: 59 minutes 11 seconds. Today I ran 1 hour 45 seconds. I had actually forgot my time from last year. Somehow remembered it as 1 hour 5 minutes. Today I didn't feel great, but had consoled myself thinking that at least I had improved. By 4 minutes! Oh well. I am officially taking the next 2 minutes for a little self pity. Then I'm gonna get over it.

2 Minutes Later

Ok, I'm back. Look... I had a great time today with my team. I was tired and it was windy as hell, but I still felt happy and did the best I could. I wanted to go faster, but had some fear that my left leg would cramp again... so I held back.

Also, there is another difference between this year and last year. Last year, I felt I had something to prove. It was my first run with the team. I wanted to show them I could run. My race was fast and slow... the pace uncontrolled. Over the course of the year, I've learned something different. I've learned to have more control, have a steady pace, and run within myself. Is it better? To be honest, I don't know. Maybe it's a little like learning music. It's great to just play notes, but you become better when you really learn the basics and practice your scales. But I'm wondering... have I become too controlled... too safe?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

PARTY TIME: Fun with Runners - without Running

Last night The Railrunners celebrated the 25th wedding anniversary of Coach Nico. It was a big party: there were family and friends, Railrunners old and new, active and not so active. My friend Marc, who is recovering from back surgery, was there. It was great to see him. For just having major surgery, he looked fantastic. And speaking of fantastic... my other coach, Jan, was enjoying this party after having completed yet another marathon that very morning.

For once, my husband accompanied me. Which was good. I think my running group was beginning to think I had just made him up.

Anyway, one of the things that struck me, as an American in Holland, was the way in which the Dutch celebrate. They are really into humor and being sorta wacky. First off, it's sorta a tradition with the runners to give a little bit of money to whomever is celebrating. This time, money was collected and frozen into buckets of water. Can't let Nico and Maria have their money without a little work! And next came the parody songs. (Gert's relatives also did this at our wedding...) The singers change the lyrics of popular Dutch songs to reflect the situation. Of course, I didn't understand anything, but the crowd were laughing their asses off. Later, Nico and Maria's relatives did something really cool. Sorta like a play. The idea was that we were seeing a "slide show" of their 25 years together. Two people held up a sheet, behind which the "actors" would get into position. A narrator told the story and then said "click". The sheet would drop and we would see the actors frozen into some funny position. There was one of Nico when he was in the army and of him and his kids when he coached soccer. And the last was of Nico and Maria, played by themselves, dressed as old folk, living out their lives together. It was funny and sweet. So fun-loving and creative.

There was also lots of dancing to Dutch favorites and some newer music. To the old stuff, there was some great couples-type dancing that no one under 40 knows how to do. When the DJ's flowed the newer stuff... well let's just say you've never seen such great white guy spastic dancing in your entire life.

All of this just makes me love my Railrunners even more, if that's possible.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

1. Andre, Debbie, and Jurrie

2. Cheering on Coach Jan as he finishes the full Marathon

3. Overview of the island

4. Click on the blue field to see us at the train station... don't know why it doesn't show on this page

5. Railrunner Terschelling group shot

Read the following 2 entries for the full Terschelling rundown...

The Race

Sorry for taking so long to post this. Anyway, the half marathon was pretty awesome. I woke up that morning feeling about 90% healthy and the excitement of running a race put me over the top. I tend to get pretty giddy once I safety pin my number to my chest. I just love that feeling.

The nice thing about the start of the day was realizing that the race did not begin until 1 pm. We had a leisurely breakfast and rode out bikes the 40 minutes from our Slaap Boederij (our dorm) to the race start. We sat down in an indoor staging area, double checking our stuff and eating last minute calories.

I ran with two of my Railrunners, Andre and Jurrie. And let me tell you, I just love those guys. They are fun to be with and really good runners. They just keep a nice steady pace. We decided with one of our coaches, Nico, that we'd shoot for 1 hour 50 minutes. My best before then was just under 2 hours.

The race felt good. We started off easy and then spent the rest of the time passing others. That's fun. I love running with pacers. I didn't have to think. Didn't have to look at my watch. Didn't have to pysche myself out. Just had to run in line with my buddies.

Everything was going great until we hit the sand. About 3/4's the way throught the race, the route went 2 kilometers through the beach. Half of that is on loose-ish sand. And it's hard to stay at an even pace, because the folks in front of us would go fast and slow through the changing terrain. It was hard and I spent those 2 kilometers running on my toes instead of landing with my whole foot. Plus, it was cold... with a massive head wind. On the hill coming out of the sand and back onto the road, both calves started to cramp.

I had never really experienced that kind of cramping in a race. At one point it literally stopped me in my tracks... to the dismay of the runners behind me. When that happened, Andre helped me to stretch. And we ran slow for the next kilometer. We had 5 kilometers to go and I felt bad for slowing down my teammates. I also felt bad because all the rest of me felt so good... I had energy, my spirits were up... just that my calves were like stone blocks. I told Andre and Jurrie to go ahead. But they did not abandon me, even though that would have been totally fine. We stayed together. And we finished together. And this is so silly, but it just touched my heart.

One time, when I was running the San Francisco Marathon, I left a teammate. We were on the last 3 miles and she just could not run. She, in fact, could barely walk. I, on the otherhand, was wanting to finish strong. I tried to stay with her a little ways, but it actually sorta hurt me to go that slow. So after 23 miles together, I left her to finish alone. Even though I was totally justified and she was happy with her experience, I just felt like a creep. And have a little guilt for that to this day.

Andre and Jurrie could have left me behind to finish their race on time. It would have been no problem and it wouldn't have hurt me... just like my friend wasn't hurt by my actions. But you know what... the fact that they wanted to finish with me and helped me gain my pace again... that was a gift. I used to always run for myself and now I'm learning how to be part of a team.

So we finished with a time of 1 hour 54 minutes... a personal best for me. More than 5 minutes off my last best time. That evening I stayed up drinking, playing cards, talking, and eating until 5 am. And spent the entire following week sick with the flu! Totally worth it!

Monday, November 13, 2006


Had a really great/interesting Half Marathon in Terschelling, a small island of the northern coast of the Netherlands. The story of the race will be in a couple of posts... there's so much to report. Because unlike regular races where you just show up, run, and go home, this was a race that most of my team made a trip out of.

I left from Zwolle on the Friday following my Halloween Blowout. Gert, Alice, my Australian friend Michelle and I had our 1st Halloween party at the house. It was also the first Halloween for all the Dutchies. And of course, we totally went overboard... but that's another story. Anyway, I think all the work it took caused me to be under the weather come Friday. I was like 'Oh Shit...' as I felt the telltale signs of a cold beginning to manifest in my throat.

I traveled Friday to the island with 2 teammates and their wives... the beginning of an entire 4 days of total Dutch immersion. Two train rides, a boat trip, and a bus ride later, we arrived at our vacation place, otherwise known as a Slaap Boerderij or "Sleep Farm". It felt a little like being at camp. Most of my teammates and spouses were there, with a few to arrive the following day. Also staying there were some other teams and their spouses from other parts of Holland. I was wishing Gert were there, but he could not come due to childcare. We ate dinner together and had a small walk, and I realized I had to get to sleep for fear of my cold becoming worse. I was the first in bed. Not much socializing for me.

The next day my teammates went for a morning run while I sat stewing in more sickness. I was getting worried about it because the race was the next day. After breakfast and after getting a rental bike, I went for a long bike ride with 2 others around the sand dunes, to the harbor and back. Later that afternoon, all of us went to the Cranberry Place. Weirdly, cranberries grow really well on this island. In the 1800's a barrel of them floated from the States to Terschelling and were inadvertently scattered by an islander who thought they were crappy tasting but wanted the barrel they were in. And now there is a little industry of cranberries: wine, mustard, gin, spirits, candles, jellies and all sorts of things.

After that little bit of fun, I came back and took a nap. Then ate a pasta dinner and went back to sleep at 8:00. I lay in my sleeping bag, listening to the fun and frivolity in the main room. They were doing some game with pots on their heads and the banging of the pots on the heads with wooden spoons. Something good and Dutch and fun. And me? Laying in my sleeping bag, hoping, praying I would feel good to run in the morning.

Next Post: The Race