Friday, July 10, 2015

Urban Trail des Singes: The race that kicked my butt

Amazing…the website said. Beautiful…read the description. Absolute pleasure and sumptuous landscapes…were also in bold. So what was it? It was the Urban Trail des Singes. This is a half marathon that takes runners through one of the wine areas in Switzerland, and naturally with a description like that, I had to try it.

The website also showed these great photos of the route overlooking Lake Geneva. It looked wonderful.  There was just one important thing I didn’t consider and that was, if the route overlooks Lake Geneva and you start at lake level, that means there are some big hills to climb.

Photo from the Urban Trail des Singes website


I’m not exactly a half marathon virgin. I run a few a year and already had run two in the two months I’ve lived in Switzerland. Plus, I run for fun… a lot. But when I showed up at the Urban Trail des Singles, I knew I was in trouble. My first clue was that there were only about 500 people running the event which I thought was strange especially as the route was so scenic and even took you through an UNESCO heritage site. I mean…why wouldn’t you want to run it?

My second clue was the type of runners who did show up. These were not your every day runners. These were serious runners.

I arrived about two hours too early as I didn’t expect the bus to arrive as quickly as it did, which meant that I had a lot of time to study my fellow runners. 

Normally in a half marathon you have a mix of people. Some of them look super fit and you know they will be the elite that finish first. You have normal looking people like me that finish in the middle and you have the first time people or people who are out there to walk it and have fun. They are a little more average looking and usually come with a friend.

This race didn’t have any of the average people at all. This was not a "bring a friend" type of race. In fact, most of them looked like they were in the elite level as they were lean with muscular legs. You can tell they trained for hill running. I, on the other hand, did not train for hills. Mostly because running hills is not fun and I’m a lazy runner.

In other words, I was going to be in trouble.


I’m going to post my disclaimer that I probably should not have run this race. Not because I was not in shape (which I wasn’t), but because I had severe allergies and getting over bronchitis at the time – so even walking would cause me to hack up stuff and left my lungs straining. But I really didn’t want to miss out on the scenery.

There's also something else you might need to know and that is that I never look at the race map in advance.  I figure, "Why bother? I'm not going to be first anyway so I don't need to know the way." Besides, I like to be surprised.

In this case, looking at the map might have prepped me for how many hills there were.  But then maybe I may have chickened out as it was hard.

The race began and within minutes we were already climbing – and by climbing, I mean like 200 meters nearly straight up the hill. Instantly, I was glad that I only signed up for the half and not the full marathon.

The first hill I pushed through but then realizing there was not going to be any “flat” running sections in this race – only steep ups and knee-breaking downs as we wound through the vineyards, I gave up. I was completely out my fitness league so decided to just enjoy it.  I jogged the downs, then walked the ups which seemed to be the strategy most of the other mid-level runners like me had adopted.

I know we sound lame, but really, on many of the hills, even walking the “ups” you had to be bent over as the incline was so intense.

In reality, this was not a race where you would achieve your personal best. Not only were the hills more extreme compared to the average marathon, but the route involved climbing narrow stairs where you were at the mercy of going only as fast as the person in front of you (I didn’t mind the slow climber ahead of me as I used the time to catch my breath) and there were also narrow single-file trails to jog through.

The purpose of this race was to push yourself through the grueling route while enjoying the scenery. And next year, I will do it again – but I will hill train first.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

In and Out of Turkey in 24 hours

entrance to the Grand Bazar

You know what I learned last week? I can get a direct flight from Geneva to Istanbul for really cheap and it only takes couple of hours to get there. You know what that means? It’s Turkey time!!

I mentioned this amazing idea to two of my friends who had also never been to Istanbul and the quest was on.  The only issue was that because I was still on probation at work, I only could go for 24 hours. I would take an early morning Saturday flight and come back on Sunday.  But no worries…I could squeeze a lot in during that time.


While Turkey is in Europe, it’s not the Europe most of us know -- and when I say that, I'm thinking of France or Italy. There is no comparing it to Paris or London or Milan.  Istanbul has its own unique vibe happening.

First of all, while you can get the Euro there out of the bank machine, they don’t use it. They use their own currency (the lira). Secondly, it’s got old buildings like France, but the architectural style is different. The Islamic influence in the buildings, food and colors is still there - but at the same time, it didn't feel like Jeddah or Doha or any of the Middle Eastern cities I had visited.  It's got it's own unique mix, which is kind of cool.

And thirdly, while the rules may be Western, you won't see a lot on women wandering on their own – and you definitely won’t see women in the local bars. It was all men – except me and my girlfriend.

Our little trio.

 Oh...I have to mention this.  You really have to do a Turkish bath (or haman) when there.  I didn’t have time to partake in this, but my two friends who arrived 12 hours earlier than me, swear that it is the best experience ever.


But is it safe? I’m going to say “yes” to that, but only if you are not foolish. The tourist areas felt safe and places like the Grand Bazaar were crowded. Other tourist areas around the Blue Mosque also felt fairly safe – during the daylight hours anyway.

Where things get sketchy is at night if you venture outside the tourist zone and hang out with the locals --   but NYC and parts of Memphis, Miami and London are the same. Every big city has it's safe and not so safe areas.

Again as a woman, you will stand out and be stared at. No one approached us or bothered us, but we turned heads. Keep in mind that I am blonde and tall though so I'm not exactly going to blend.

My girlfriend had to leave early to catch a plane, so on Saturday night, it was just me and my guy friend venturing out on the town. Our plans were to have dinner at a local place, enjoy the food and relax even if was the only woman in the restaurant ---  the only woman anywhere.

 But the food was good and plentiful. And no one bothered harassed us or gave us a hard time. The only issue we had was the taxi driver at night did not take us directly back to the hotel, but on a round-about route that cost triple the money.

So would I go again? Sure...and if I was with a guy friend, I would venture into the local area after sunset again.  But...if I was by myself, I would play it safe and stay in the tourist area where the other Westerners were to try to blend a bit.