running log #18

A few years ago, around the time I moved to Switzerland, I went on a hike with some friends. We started off in Montreux and hiked up to Les Rochers de Naye. At the time, it took us all morning and the beginning of the afternoon to hike the 13km (1700m uphill). At one point, we were overtook by a guy that was – get this – running up. I remember we all commented on how crazy that was. It seemed worlds away from what we would ever be able to do.

Well. Today, I was that person.

But it was not easy. No. The mythical Montreux-Les-Rochers-de-Naye race was the hardest race I have ever done.

It started off quite leisurely at Montreux train station. We started running flat and about 800m in we started running uphill. I was feeling quite fresh even though I haven’t been training much. We soon got onto a little forest path that follows the Chauderon river. People in front of me were slowing down on uphill sections and it made me control my pace. It was fresh, there were magnificent waterfalls and leafy, lush vegetation.

Out of the forest, we hit the road and carried on uphill until the first aid station. By now, it was getting warm (yesterday was the hottest day of the year in this region and I don’t even need to check the statistics because hot days have been rare). Some sections were so steep or just so long that we had already begun to alternate running and walking. So had everyone else.

After the first aid station we started running downhill. This was the fast section of the run. I was feeling light and with energy. We began to have views over the lake. Everything was beautiful. There was an accordion player in one of the aid stations. I danced to its music. People laughed and cheered. It was magic.

Then, we started climbing again. We were on the road, but it was steep and long enough to make it difficult to run all the way. I gave up running and decided to walk, keeping up a fast, regular pace. It was the best decision. Thank you to all the years of hiking with scouts in the August sun in the roads and plains of Portugal. I event taught my friends the “passo escuta” (you run for 20 steps, you walk for another 20, and so on).

After a few km on this road, we went into a forest again. It was a soft faux-plat (this means that it is a very gentle climb) that we could run, so we did. My thighs started feeling tight from the effort. At this point, we were about 9 or 10km into the run.

We soldiered on, running when we could, walking when we couldn’t. Spirits were high. We were a team of four. Normally each one runs their own race, but for some reason, the four of us stuck together today and helped each other out during any difficulty. It was a good thing we did, because at 5km to the end of the race, things began to get hard. Really hard.

After an aid station where two of our mates got a kiss from their husbands, we started climbing again. Really climbing. In the sun which was now high up in the sky (it was around 11h30). One of our mates began to get discouraged, saying she’d had enough. It was taking us much longer to reach the km signposts by this point. 4. I tried to distract her by talking about whatever silly thing I could think of.

Then, a forest path that was quite steep. It was fresh, but the climb was making my thighs and lower back yell. I drank some isotonic drink at one of the aid stations that didn’t go down well. Or maybe I was just getting too tired, I felt a little nauseous.

3. I started lagging behind. I can’t remember what happened between 3 and 2. I remember just thinking of putting one foot in front of the other. I breathed. I accelerated when I could. I slowed down when it was too much. Walking, always walking. We were beyond running at this point.

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2. A little bit of flat. I tried to run a little. My body seemed to say “really”?

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Then we reached the last aid station, 1 km before the finishing line. Normally, 1 km is a relief. You speed up. You get your last bout of energy and you just hammer it down. Well, not on this race. On the last km, 17.8 km after you’ve been hiking and running uphill and you just want it to be over, because it was good but now you’re tired and you could just lie down right there and then, you still have the hardest climb ahead of you.

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Which also has the most beautiful views over the Lac Léman, the French Alps and the surrounding peaks of the Alpes Vaudoises.

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The last few meters were just… painful. I felt sick. I was tired. I was hot. I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. We crossed many people on this last bit. Hikers, people from the shorter race who were still coming up as well, people who had reached the top and were running down, families who were just visiting the beautiful Rochers de Naye. Every single one of them encouraged the runners who were still struggling up and when you are on your last bout of energy, every word of encouragement counts.

Then, the climbing stopped and there were a few meters of flat. We turned the corner, and there it was, in all its glory, the finish line. And my mates, waiting for the last two of us to arrive so that we could cross the finish line together.

  • Pain: 10/10
  • Pleasure: 10/10
  • Scenery: 10/10
  • Challenge: 10/10
  • Will I do this again? You bet I will! 10/10

*My polar marked 17.81km, but the official race distance is 18.8km. I think that during the time we spent in the forest I might have lost GPS signal and the automatic calculations are incorrect.

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quince cheese

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Quince cheese is one of my first memories of being lost in translation.

First things first: quince cheese is a paste made of quince, which has been previously stewed with sugar on low heat for a while. It is then processed and, once cool, becomes firm. You can then slice it like a cheese and eat it on toast, in sandwiches with butter, or as tradition calls, with a slice of cheese. This last pairing is so perfect and so meant to be, that where I come from, it is called “Romeu e Julieta”.

In Portugal, my mother land, quince cheese is named with just one word – marmelada. It is something mothers and grandmothers cook to preserve quince that falls abundantly from the trees. My grandmother always got her quince from the neighbours who had much more than they could manage and left them in plastic bags at her door.

As a kid, I lived in England for a couple of years. Once, my mum made marmelada and I was eager to take it to school and share my favourite portuguese lanche with my friends. It didn’t go down quite as I expected. First, I had no idea what marmelos were called in English and found myself mumbling explanations and that it didn’t matter because it was so good. It was pointless. My friends took a look at that red paste sitting in a Tupperware and, to my dismay, very quickly declared it as “weird”.

Weird as it may have been to my childhood friends, still oblivious to the deliciousness of intercultural discoveries, I was faithful to marmelada and might have even promised said marmelada that I wouldn’t ever stop liking it or eating it, with bread and butter, cheese or by the slice.

The thing is, marmelada is not just a very delicious, familiar, comforting thing you put in your mouth.

It is the smell of lanche in the playground and in the lunchroom at school.

It is feeling that you are becoming independent when someone gives you your very own quince, instead of giving them to your grandma or to your mum, because you now live alone and have your own kitchen to play in.

It is not really knowing what to do with abovementioned quince and calling grandma for guidance on a recipe with only two ingredients and water, gradually interweaving the steps of making marmelada with catching up with her. This week we went to a yoga class and your grandfather didn’t really like it,… now you put a layer of sugar, a layer of quince, a layer of sugar,… you know, I tried a new bread recipe, it works very well in the bread machine! Now you put the lid on the pan and let it simmer very gently.

It is never being able to nail quince jelly, even with grandma’s guidance, and knowing that hers was the best forever and ever, amen.

It is making marmelada and realizing that now I am on my own and I can’t call her just to check if the quantity of sugar is right.

It is also making marmelada and giving away bowls full of it to my friends, sometimes getting theirs in return and exchanging ideas, and finding generosity and sharing and a sense of community while living in a new place, where neighbours are new, good friends hard to find, everything is apparenty unfamiliar and sometimes you miss home. When you give away a bowl of marmelada and and get cabbage, cherries, sprigs of mint from the garden or thankful smiles in return, you get the feeling that something is falling into place and everything will be just fine.

Marmelada é uma das minhas primeiras memórias de me ver perdida na tradução e nas diferenças culturais.

É difícil encontrar alguém de língua materna Portuguesa que não saiba o que é marmelada. Mas, frequentemente, a marmelada exige uma explicação para pessoas de outras línguas e de outras culturas. A tradução quince cheese, mostra o quanto a marmelada não é algo inerente à cultura inglesa. Na verdade, a palavra Inglesa marmelade tem origem na palavra Portuguesa (marmelada), originalmente feita com marmelos, mas é mais frequentemente utilizada na língua inglesa para designar uma compota de citrinos, ficando os marmelos relegados para segundo plano.

No entanto, para nós, marmelada é no pão com manteiga do recreio, é com queijo, é às fatias, é como calhar. É a fruta abundante que vem dos vizinhos, das tias e das amigas, que a mãe e a avó cozinham em grandes quantidades para guardar para o resto do ano.

Quando era criança, vivi em Inglaterra durante um par de anos. Uma vez, a minha mãe fez marmelada e eu estava em pulgas para levá-la para a escola para partilhar com os meus amigos durante o lanche. O meu orgulho inchado levou, num instante, com um balde de água fria. Para começar, não fazia ideia de como se dizia marmelos em inglês. Comecei a contornar a situação com demasiadas explicações sobre o quanto isso era irrelevante porque era mesmo muito boa. Não me serviu de muito. Os meus amigos olharam para o Tupperware onde estava alojada aquela massa cor de rubi e decidiram, muito rapidamente, que era “esquisita”. Eu fiquei triste e envergonhada.

Mas: por muito esquisita que possa ter parecido para os meus amigos de infância, ainda desconhecedores das experiências deliciosas que a interculturalidade pode proporcionar, eu era fiel à minha marmelada. Posso até ter prometido à dita marmelada que iria sempre gostar dela, quer fosse com pão e manteiga, queijo ou sozinha.

É que a marmelada não é apenas aquela coisa deliciosa, familiar e reconfortante que comes.

É o sentimento de ser independente quando alguém te oferece marmelos pela primeira vez, e não à mãe ou à avó, porque agora tens a tua casa e uma cozinha em que és tu que mandas.

É não ter bem a certeza do que fazer com os marmelos e ligar à avó para ela te orientar numa receita que só tem dois ingredientes e água, pondo a conversa e fazendo as coisas à medida que ela te vai dando as dicas. Esta semana fomos ao yoga, mas o teu avô não gostou lá muito… agora deitas ora uma camada de açúcar, ora uma camada de água… olha! Experimentei uma nova receita na máquina do pão e ficou deliciosa! Agora pões o testo e deixas cozinhar em lume brando…

É nunca conseguir fazer geleia como deve ser, mesmo com a orientação da avó, sabendo que, de toda a maneira, a dela é a melhor para todo o sempre.

É cair na realidade de que agora, quando fizeres marmelada, já não lhe podes ligar só para ter a certeza de que a quantidade do açúcar está bem.

Mas também é fazer taças e taças de marmelada, e distribuí-la aos amigos, por vezes recebendo a deles de volta, trocando ideias sobre o processo. É encontrar a generosidade, a partilha e um sentimento de comunidade numa vida nova, onde os vizinhos são novos, os bons amigos são difíceis de encontrar, e onde às vezes tens saudades de casa. Quando ofereces uma taça de marmelada e recebes couves, cerejas, raminhos de menta do jardim ou um sorriso de volta, ficas com a sensação de que as coisas estão a cair no seu lugar e de que tudo vai correr bem.