Saturday 19 November 2022

A Slow Journey towards becoming an International Super Randonneur

As I was never into competitive cycling, I needed a charity event to motivate me to ride in something organised. Inspired by the then upcoming London Olympics, participants of this charity challenge were encouraged to try themselves out in different sports: I did running (the only thing I am o.k. in), swimming, rowing and taekwondo. For the cycling part, I researched local events and the easiest way would be taking part in the 2011 Emitremmus Desrever 100k, organised by the CTC Stevenage. The spirit of amateurism was extended to the bike, a hybrid more concerned with all-weather-commuting (in flat country), shopping and pulling children’s trailers, and theft-proofed by its outward appearance. Having used it in these different activities for 15 years now, it has become so imprinted into my body memory that I get slightly dizzy on another bike for the first moments. And this ensures stability: I can only remember falling off three times: once I slipped on ice, once it was partially run over by a London Taxi, and once I was trying to mount it (at a very public spot; no alcohol was involved). Experienced on London’s glass-studded streets, it is also equipped with no-flat-tyres - for me, the peace of mind is worth the cost in speed. 

At the Emitremmus Brevet, the hills of Hertfordshire turned out to be a challenge indeed in the original configuration. In the following year, and equipped with a new gearing, the time had come for my first randonnee, the Cambridge 200. But I was still a shift-lazy fenland rider, and this showed when, on a sudden uphill turn, the chain jumped and got stuck between cassette and hub - impossible to see how it could get out (or how it could have got in) without a chain tool, which I didn’t carry. Fortunately it was less than 10 km to the next control in Olney, so I rode there in the traditional dandy horse mode to deal with this problem in a more comfortable atmosphere. And over a coffee, with a bit of patience and a Swiss army knife, the chain and the bike were put back on track. In this spirit of dilettantism I set out on the road of continual improvisations. Long rides and associated mental freewheeling led to such “inventions"; like a Baguette holder, an “energy drink” powder (whey, maltodextrin, instant coffee, salts; vitamins) or a tria-bar mounted headlight which can be turned around into a map reading lamp - I like to navigate by route sheet, because mental maths how long it will take to the next turn help me stay awake. To keep me motivated, I was now looking for a challenge that would not take too much time (let alone effort) at once, but also involved interesting planning, so I set out for the International Super Randonneur. To qualify for this, one has to do BRM brevets in four countries (at least one of each 200/300/400/600k or longer- check out Granbrevetto Europe Challenge Randonnée if these look too short for you). 

For the International Super Randonneur I rode:
 -October 2017: Dying Light 200k starting in Dublin. A great season-closer and the social event of the Irish randonneur community, after battling strong autumn headwinds on Irish roads that were so rough that my backlight cover jumped the ship.

 -May 2018: Green and Yellow Fields 300k starting in Manningtree and organised by Audax Mid- Essex. East Anglian cycling experience was not of disadvantage in this smooth ride, and the weather was so fine that I learned where sunscreen needs to be applied on a cyclist. 

 -June 2019: 400k starting in Dunkerque, France - most French brevets don’t have individual names. Riding in impromptu groups (and having regular breaks together, also for flats) is the norm here also outside Euraudax, compared to British rides that build more on the local tradition of time trials. Instead, club-managed controls are not so much of a social hub in France, since most events are self-supported. On the other hand, some riders are able to organise support on the spot, for example by persuading the mayor of a village to let a small pub open for refreshments in the middle of the night. Also, French hotel porters also don’t seem to be surprised about being asked to stamp brevet cards in the small hours: Everybody expects a French validation. And baguette vending machines exist.

 -August 2021: 600k. Gießen, Hessen, Germany. Now living in Germany again, plans for a 600k in 2020 were put on hold due to Covid. Permanents in Germany mainly narrow down to Superrandonnées, but the lines to calendar events become blurred in pandemic times: For 2021, the ACP allowed for homologated events the starting in groups of two, within a window of two weeks. The geographically closest one for me was the “Großenwiedener Antizykel”, named after its opposite point from the start and the fact it had historically an anti-brevet running the other way round at the same time. Early on Saturday, 14. August, two riders started at the pedestrian overpass in Gießen they call the “elephant’s toilet” for its big round opening.01 I used the smartphone app “Digital Brevet Card” for contact-free validation by uploading timestamped and geolocated images at checkpoints. Unfortunately, even on a summer night the airstream can cool an uncovered phone so much that no electrons would want to come out of the battery - shut down plaintively and the charger cable was far away. So I relied on snapshots with my emergency camera and on cashier receipts. Shop opening times on weekends are short (even compared with France), but gas stations are plenty and they often open around the clock. Since central Germany is full of mid- to small- sized mountain ranges, a brevet through this region should be expected to involve a lot of up and down between towns unless you follow a river. But in the prevalent Sunday afternoon mood, no motorist took care to honk at a cyclist on an uphill struggle, turning increasingly into an involuntary pedestrian. As I wanted to make it home in time, I took no time to doss and finished by taking a photo of my bike in front of the elephant’s toilet on Sunday evening before taking the train home.
After riding a 600k almost entirely on my own (I gave my starting companion was a go ahead soon after the start), some more social riding was most welcome, so I signed up for one of many brevets that globally celebrated the centenary of free-paced randonneuring in September 2021. On Sunday, 11th September 1921, 77 cyclists started from the Porte Maillot in Paris for the first free-paced 200 km brevet. Apparently, all of them, including a married couple and a one-armed veteran, completed the course within the 16-hour time limit, the fastest being Messieurs Lavenarde and Girardot in 10:19 h (Source: L’écho des Sports, 13.9.1921). The biggest number of jubilee riders turned up in India, where 400 of them celebrated the anniversary in Bengaluru alone. For me, it would be the easiest to get to the one in Munich: If I departed from Heidelberg in the small hours and took the high-speed train to Munich, I would arrive at the main station twenty-five minutes before the start at 8 o’clock. Although my train ran 80 minutes late, this problem had miraculously resolved after a brief nap, and I could ride the few kilometers to the start comfortably through the quiet and wide roads of Munich. 

In a gentle drizzle, the starting area was well visible by the fluorescent colour of jackets and vests of more than a hundred starters. Corona-related social distance measures had been partially relaxed, making this event probably the biggest brevet in Germany on this side of Covid so far. Starting in groups, we rode the first kilometers out of the city, first along the gravelly banks of the Isar and then continued southwards through the Perlacher forest. Sheltered from sun, wind, rain and hills this cycleway is ideal for cycle-based conversations. Soon the drizzle gave way to a clear sky and the Alps became visible, and the ascent was so steady it was barely noticeable. After the much-needed coffee and cake at the first control in Lenggries, it was now time to go into the mountains (but especially the valleys), and at the end of a tunnel we were received with a stunning panorama, with the blue waters of the Sylvenstein reservoir below us. We followed the Ache, the inlet feeding the reservoir, upstream into a narrowing valley and the road changed into a gravelly forest track winding uphill. It ended at a sign telling us that we were now in Austria.
However, this sign was for cars only. On our bikes, we had already crossed into Austria via a bridge over a tiny mountain stream a bit earlier. I wonder which brevet crosses most countries, Belgium might be a good place to look for it. Within slightly more than 600k, iIt should be possible to ride through eight countries: Beginning in the southernmost corner of the Netherlands, crossing into Germany with brief excursions into Belgium and Luxembourg, crossing the Rhine and touching the French border, then towards Bregenz at the Austrian end of Lake Constance, from there briefly over the Rhine (because the left bank is Switzerland), and back again onto the right bank into Liechtenstein. The first five of these countries would not even take 200k to cycle. From the border on the mountain pass, we rode on well-groomed roads up the Ache river until arriving at the lake out of which it flows. Among other leisure activities, the blue-green waters of the Achensee are an excellent cruising ground for Pedalos. These pedaled watercraft were developed not far from here, and did their first rounds on Bavarian lakes in 1810, a handful of years before Baron von Drais first rode on two wheels. I don’t know if it is possible to homologate a Randonnee on water, as the current record for a Pedalo stands at 194 km in 24h, but it might be possible with a pedaled hydrofoil, which can go as fast as 35 km/h. Soon after passing the end of the lake, the ride reached its highest (and halfway) point at about 968 m above zero - we were riding in the Alps now, but still without much uphill struggle. But the descent was moderate as well - trailing a livestock transporter limited the speed to an adrenaline-saving 51 km/h, but much faster than a traditional cattle drive down from the summer pastures would have been, albeit that would have had cowbells. At the bottom we reached the valley of the Inn river, and followed the Inn cyclepath through a well-developed tourist region towards the next checkpoint in Wörgl (133 km). I validated there with a traditional stamp, as the digital brevet card did not seem to work (expected if one travels abroad without turning on international roaming). We stayed close to the Inn (also a good mountain-grinder according to its gravel deposits) past the border fortress of Kufstein 07 and crossed another unnoticeable border back into Germany, and the horizon opened again. After a cake stop at the 175 km checkpoint at Brannenburg, we left the Inn cycle path - it would finally merge into the Danube cycle path downstream in Passau. Instead, our small group followed its tributary the Mangfall upstream, and cycled past tiny cascades, towards the beer garden finish, into the sunset.

Thursday 9 September 2021

A Century of Cycling Brevets

On the 11th September 2021, the cycling community will have the opportunity to mark the centenary of riding Brevets. Brevet, which is the French word for test, describes a ride with individual pacing, while this style is better known as “Randonneuring” in its motherland and several other countries. Following the first Audax-titled ride from Rome to Naples in 1897, group rides had already been flourishing whenever peacetime allowed it and by 1921, over 4500 French cyclists had earned their Audax. In 1920, due to a split between Henri Desgrange, who had set up the Audax rules (and also the Tour de France) and the Audax Club Parisien (ACP), the ACP developed their own rules, which allowed for individual pacing. The first event organised in the new allure libre or free pacing style was a 200 km ride on Sunday, 11th September 1921 in Paris. The peloton group started at 5 in the morning at the Porte Maillot and the final control closed at 9 in the evening. Of the 77 registered cyclists, apparently all managed to complete the course within the 16 hour time limit, including a married couple and a one-armed veteran. The fastest finishers were Messieurs Lavenarde and Girardot in 10:19 h (Source: L’écho des Sports, 13.9.1921). Originally limited to 200 km, the first 300 km Brevet was introduced in the next year, followed by increasingly longer distances in the years to come. From 1927, club sections in different parts of France were beginning to organise local brevets as well, and in 1976 international brevets were homologised by the ACP. The mandatory group riding style remains popular in France and other countries, where it is known as Audax or Euraudax, and is organised by the Union des Audax Francais (UAF), which also supervises other endurance sports. As British cycling tends to lean stronger towards individual time trials than the more group-ride oriented French tradition, the free-pacing style caught on in the UK, where it has become synonymous with Audax since. In 2019, over 3500 events were homologised worldwide in 2019, before COVID struck. However, in order to celebrate the centenary of the first brevets, more than 200 low-risk outdoor rides will be (hopefully) started in the weekend of the 11th September and an arrivee rewarded with a special medal.

Saturday 1 February 2020

A roll of honour for marathoning in all EU countries

Just read that Eddie Izzard is planning to run 28 Marathons in 28 Countries in 28 Days for peace and unity in Europe. We completely agree with these goals, so let's form a Complete EU Marathon Club!
Among the EU countries, I have so far run marathons in:

  • Germany (2000)
  • Poland (2001)
  • Slovenia (2001)
  • Czechia (2002)
  • Finland (2002)
  • Italy (2003)
  • Belgium (2003)
  • Luxembourg (2003)
  • France (2004)
  • The Netherlands (2004)
  • Austria (2004)
  • Spain (2005)
  • Denmark (2005)
  • Slovakia (2005)
  • Sweden (2006)
  • The United Kingdom (2006)
  • Ireland (2007)
  • Croatia (2008)
  • Hungary (2010)
So there are at least nine more countries to be explored! But of course there are already several people who have completed them all, most of them in the Marathon 30 Country Club:

Please let me know if you have completed them all, and I will put you on the list!

Saturday 13 April 2019

Cycling through five countries in one day (April 2016)

Article from the Camcycle Newsletter 130, Feb. 2017. Der deutscheText ist hier zu finden.

I enjoy long cycle rides, and last year I found myself looking for a challenge combining technology (route planning and bike tech), sport and local culture. I am a keen traveller and was attracted by the thought of demonstrating what is possible with lower-impact transport, plus my love of languages and geography made crossing natural and national borders very appealing. So, I thought, why not set a cycling record in this context?

When browsing cycle-touring records in the Guinness World Records database, I found that at the time the record for the number of countries visited by bike in one day, held by Glen Burmeister from Leicester, stood at four. A look at the map of Europe indicated that it would not be impossible to cycle through five countries in a day. But that would be more than just a record that, the challenge would also be a test of the virtual and physical cycling infrastructure, such as cycle-paths, maps, and route-planning applications.

I decided to make my attempt on 22nd April 2016, which would also be Earth Day, the annual global day of support for environmental protection, and would also be the day of the signing of the Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emission limitation.


Since the tour would only take one day, it would be possible to travel light. I would ride my lightweight hybrid bike, which over the last ten years had been used for commuting, shopping, distributing Camcycle newsletters and pulling bike trailers. It had been tested previously in the Cambridge Touring Club Cambridge 200 km Audax. It was fitted with a luggage carrier, mudguards, and puncture-proof tyres. It also had a triathlon bar, something that I had learnt to appreciate on my longer commutes outside Cambridge, and which would protect against 'pinky numbing' (or Guyon’s Canal Syndrome). Generations of parts that had nearly worn out (or been damaged when a minicab crossed my path in London) were replaced, wheels, brakes, chains, gears and saddle. My front derailleur had been faulty for years, reducing the powertrain to a seven speed and preventing the option of shifting between the three front sprockets with the fingers. With regard to tools and replacement parts, I took only those necessary for very basic repairs/adjustments, such as fixing a flat tyre.

To track the route, I planned to use a GPS receiver, and a tri-bar mounted camera for photos (and occasionally films) of the road.  Originally I had planned to produce a time-lapse of the whole tour, but this was far beyond capacity of the camera’s battery life, so instead I decided that I would take photos manually every few minutes.

During my planning stage I also tested Cycle Tracks GPS, a free Strava-like tracking app for my smartphone, but this wasn’t suitable as it drained the phone’s battery within three hours. I also took with me a small portable power bank and a hand-cranked charger to recharge my gadgets if necessary.

Route planning

The starting point of the journey was clear from the beginning, it would be the 'Three Countries Point' on the Vaalserberg near Vaals, where the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet. After a few optimisation steps with Google Maps, I selected Évrange as my finishing point, somewhere not too far from Vaals, with overnight accommodation available and acceptable railway connections close to the French/Luxembourg border. I then added the local centres of Vaals, Aachen, Eupen, St Vith and Luxembourg City onto the map for food, shops, bike repair (if necessary), and people to witness my tour, e.g. in town halls and tourist information. All of these places are more or less connected with the motorway called European Route E421.

The detailed planning of my cycling route used the web-based applications and the cycling mode of Google Maps. On, the ‘fastest route’ included roads designated as ‘hostile’ to cyclists. Both the ‘quietest’ and ‘balanced’ routes, as well as Google Maps, favoured unpaved forest tracks over quieter roads, but these would add too much time to the overall ride: over 15 hours versus 11-12 hours for the fast route. Fortunately both apps were also able to find the car-free paths of the RAVeL network. The RAVel (Réseau Autonome de Voies Lentes) is a Wallonian long-distance path network similar to Sustrans that converts disused railway lines to car-free travel paths. It connects with other cycling networks, such as the LF(Landelijke Fietsroutes) in the Netherlands and Flanders, and EuroVelo (especially routes 3 and 5). My planned route was about 180 km long and would lead over Belgium’s highest point, but I also planned a second, less exposed but slightly longer route through the Ruhr valley in case of bad weather. Altogether, I used a combination of Google maps and, for the most part, the ‘fastest route’ of Cyclestreets as a guideline, since I would be using the ‘hostile’ roads out of peak hours.

The Trip starts

To get to the Netherlands, I used the 'Dutch Flyer' offer, which covered train travel from Cambridge via the overnight ferry from Harwich to Hoek van Holland, to Heerlen, the railway station at the other end of the Netherlands closest to the tri-countries point. My bike also a £4 ticket for the ferry, where there were about a dozen or so fellow cyclists, and for the Dutch (and Belgian and German) trains, where the bike storage areas provide a nice meeting space for cyclists.

I set off from Heerlen in my rainproof cycle jacket and jeans (unfortunately the lycra had been forgotten at home; thankfully all parts remained intact). I cycled past deserted border posts to the former Imperial City of Aachen, where I admired Charlemagne’s cathedral and enjoyed the street life and, to a lesser extent, the sulphurous smell of the thermal springs. I then crossed back into the Netherlands and cycled up the highest hill of the country (Vaalserberg, 322 m). It is here the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet (in addition to observation towers, there is also a maze there, but entirely on Dutch territory – imagine a maze crossing multiple borders without knowing!). Before World War I, this would have been a four countries/territory meeting point, as it would have also included the Neutral Territory of Moresnet, for which there were once plans to make Esperanto its official language. It is now part of the German-speaking part of the French-speaking part of Belgium through which the first half of the tour would take me. After a rapid descent of the Vaalser serpentines, I soon arrived at the Grunebempt B&B in Gemmenich, Belgium where I stayed overnight.

The Challenge

At 6.09am, shortly before sunrise, I began my journey from Gemmenich in Belgium. The weather conditions were very good, with 15° C, only a little sun and wind, and no rain expected until the next day. I traced my way back through Vaals and, via some excellent ‘Dutch Roundabouts’, then on to Aachen. Cycling on the verges of a rural road I travelled to Eupen, where I dropped into the town hall and was briefly interviewed by the local newspaper ‘Grenzecho’.

South of Eupen, the route climbed up the Ardennes into the desolate-looking, somewhat Siberian, landscape of the Hohe Venn/Hautes Fagnes (meaning ‘high fen’ in German and French). It is in fact a bog: the granite rocks underlying this plateau prevent rainwater draining away, leading over the millennia to the formation of peat bogs of sphagnum moss. The Ardennes have been a classic cycling region for many decades and a handful of racing bikers were on the road over Belgium’s highest point, the Signal de Botrange (694 m). This has a concrete staircase at its peak, which increases its height to 700 m, but I did not attempt that final climb by bike!

After the rapid descent I crossed the Robertville reservoir, followed a fast and very pleasant ride on the Vennbahn cycle-path, part of the RAVeL (Ligne 48). However, near St Vith, I met a dead end-due to construction work on the RAVeL (in hindsight I should have consulted the RAVeL website which has construction updates).

To make sure that my trip stayed something of an adventure, and to stay aware of the local environment, I had decided not to rely on GPS for navigation outside the towns, but instead followed a map and local signposts. This worked well on country roads, but near Oudler unfortunately led me onto gravelly forest paths instead of the Vennbahn cycle-path. After emerging from the woods, I crossed the unnoticeable border into Luxembourg and cycled up to a field where a half-readable plate identified it as the country’s highest point (Kneiff, 560 m).  Then once again I accidentally chose an alternative route, this time the E421 motorway towards Luxembourg city. Thankfully cyclists were well respected; in fact during the whole journey, I was only honked at twice (and once sprayed with windscreen wash, by a Stag Tour with UK number plates). Finally, near Erpeldange a sign commanded errant cyclists off the motorway and onto the more scenic route through the more densely populated valley of the Alzette towards Luxembourg.

The city of Luxembourg is situated above a dramatic gorge but happily by then the shops were closed and commuters were at home so my crossing of the high bridge over the Pétrusse was rather uneventful. I continued south along already very French-looking avenues, lined with trees in bloom, towards Thionville. When I approached the French border, the dashcam which I had set up to record the final approach ran out of battery. Undeterred I used my hand-cranked charger - it was very rewarding to generate such important electricity with my own hands. (Of course, this method is not as elegant as using bike dynamos for charging mobile phones as has been done in Africa for decades; I may invest in a hub dynamo when I buy my next front wheel).  With the camera once again active I crossed the border into France at Évrange around 8.45pm, just when the sun went down, and stopped for a photoshoot at the church.

As I searched for someone to officially witness my arrival in Évrange, I heard music coming from a nearby school. I went in, and was greeted by volunteers who were having a party whilst preparing for a charity event for the next day; a motor bike rally where riders go from door to door selling roses in aid of a local cancer charity. I joined them for a while before retiring for the day at the nearby hotel.
In total, I had taken 14 ½ hours for the journey. I had been in motion for about 8 ½ hours, and spent the rest of the time collecting signatures on the official witness forms, buying and eating food and generally just enjoying looking around and taking photos.

Heading home

Getting out of bed the next morning was easier than I had anticipated! Through the drizzle, which thankfully had held off the day before, I cycled back to Luxembourg railway station.  I dutifully sourced the local drinks and confectionaries that I had promised to export and then caught a train to Brussels, from where I took the Eurostar to London. The Eurostar also transports bikes, but for a price of £25, and they need to be checked in at the station (if you wish to cycle this route then follow the EuroVelo 5 Route). During my challenge I had travelled through regions that had changed hands several times and seen many bloody battles, reminders of which can be found throughout the area. Watching Calais whizzing past made clear that borders can still be a deadly reality.

Back in Cambridge, I overloaded the Guinness World Records website with hundreds of photos, videos and GPS tracks (I used the free GPiSync software to geo-tag photos via their timestamp). When I was checking for updates in June, I found out that my record had already been broken by the audacious Michael Moll who had cycled through six countries in a day, crossing the Alps, which I would not have considered possible – at least not with that powertrain. Not that this mattered when my Guinness World Record Certificate arrived in the post in September, and anyway, what is a record compared to the experience of a day when rider and bike had worked so well together in relation to their environment, so well in fact that despite all the physical effort I really had felt no exhaustion whatsoever.

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Introducing the Multi-Endurance International Award

Cross-training not only benefits the well-rounded sportsperson, but different means of movement help to see the world from different perspectives. It is even more interesting if the course and the mode of transport are determined by the environment, instead of a given distance imposed on the terrain. It is the social being that determines consciousness, not to mention that international challenges should promote international friendship and cooperation.

Therefore I decided to come up with the Multi Endurance International Award (MEIA). It can be awarded to everybody who has (proven) completed international challenges in three or more of the different endurance sports disciplines listed below. As this list of international challenges here is by no means comprehensive, I would be excited to learn more.

1.     Road Running (Marathon Country Club, Marathon Globetrotters, World Marathon Majors Six-Star)
2.     Trail Running (Europa-Cup Ultramarathon, Skyrunner Ultra Series, Ultra-Trail World Tour, 4 Deserts)
3.     Walking (International Marching Federation Master/European Walker, IVV-Cups)
4.     Cycling (International Super Randonneur, Granbrevetto Randonnée Europe Challenge)
5.     Skiing (World-, Euro-Loppet)
6.     Other endurance sports, such as Swimming (Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming), (Ice-)Skating, Kayaking, Snowshoe Running or Rowing
7.     Multisport (e.g. National Sports Badges (or Audax Complet), Triathlon, Pentathlon)

For the different para-sports disciplines, the challenge, if it doesn't exist officially (there is a World Marathon Majors Wheelchair Series for example), can be defined by comparable criteria to the non-para challenge.

The events should be at least as long as a standard long-distance for the respective discipline (e.g. 42.2 km run=Marathon, 200 km cycle=Randonnée).

 At the moment, I do not know of anybody who could qualify for the MEIA, which would make it exclusive enough to be interesting. If you think it would be something for you (or somebody else), please share and contact. The award is free, and the first five finishers will receive a free badge. The challenge is not necessarily sport: it’s not about winning, but trying and ideally finishing (of course, every participant does it on their risk). The route is the goal!

Friday 28 September 2018

A marathon runner's glory is transient (if only medals is what you are looking at)

Over the christmas holidays, I was sorting my race medal collection, neatly stored in a wooden box. To my mild horror, I found that some of my bronze-coloured medals were decaying, being covered with a greenish-white crumbly salt, for which the term patina would be more than flattering. Moreover, something was chewing away tiny pieces from the edges of my tin medals! It’s not only the body that gets older.

So I sat down to think and research what might have happened. Many of my medals were made from bronze, a mixture or alloy of mostly copper (around 90%) with a few percent tin and often small amounts of other metals, mainly zinc. Other medals are made from brass, which is a mixture of copper with zinc only. Anyway, both alloys are mostly made up from copper. Copper is a noble metal, which means that it should normally not rust in air or water like for example iron does. However, when an alloy containing copper comes into contact with chloride (present in common salt) in a wet environment, corrosion will inevitably occur. This is also called bronze disease, and this is what happens:

1) Oxygen from the air oxidises the copper metal (Cu), which means, it takes an electron (e) away from the copper atom and transforms it into a positively charged ion
Cu → Cu++ e

2) The cuprous ion (Cu+) reacts with the chloride ion to form an insoluble white salt, which is called cuprous chloride. 
Cu+ + Cl → CuCl

3) The cuprous chloride reacts with atmospheric moisture and another oxygen molecule to form a green salt (cupric chloride). The fuzzy white/green salt is a mixture of the white cuprous chloride and the green cupric chloride. And some hydrochloric acid is also produced (HCl):

 4 CuCl + 4 H2O + O2 → CuCl2·3 Cu(OH)2 (green salt) + 2 HCl

4) Another copper atom is oxidised by air to the cuprous ion, which reacts with the chloride ion from hydrochloric acid to form even more of the white cuprous chloride.
Cu+ + Cl → CuCl + e

… and the circle of copper oxidation continues repeats from here! We have a chain reaction, helped about or catalysed by the chloride ions, that speeds up the corrosion of copper..
But where does the nasty chloride come from? Now, a medal is what someone hangs around your neck after you have produced quite a bit of sweat. When you exercise and sweat, your body loses salt (mostly sodium chloride) in your sweat, in which there are ample of chloride Ions around.

Now what happened next and why is the tin medal corroded as well? As said before, copper is a "noble" metal that prefers to keep its electrons to itself. And if necessary, it takes them at somebody else's expense, in this case snatching it from a less "noble metal" in direct contact. Like the tin (Sn) medal it was lying on top of (Sorry Tegla!):

Cu2+ +2 e → Cu 
Sn  → Sn2+ +2 e 

This process is called bimetallic corrosion and can happen wherever there are two different metals in direct contact which each other. So basically what I had built involuntarily was a copper-tin battery (though a very expensive one)! If you put together a pint of sweat, a copper and a tin medal, you can easily build your own and generate electricity.

But what could be done next to rescue my medals from decay? Firstly, remove the chlorides (the green-white-fuzzy salt), by giving medals a thorough clean. The same goes for after wearing them. Secondly, take care to keep the metals in a dry environment. My storage in wooden boxes was probably not optimal in the moist North-Western European climate, so now they are in a metal box. Thirdly, take care not to put copper and tin in direct contact. Or in general, don't store treasures where moths eat them and rust destroys them.
Bronze disease of the bronze medal on the right, and corrosion on the tin medal on the left.
Sorry Tegla!

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Zagreb to Čazma Supermaraton

Since I had never run a race in Croatia before, and the race date is quite suitable for an Easter holiday, at some point I thought I would have to take part in the Supermaraton from Zagreb to Čazma. At that time (2008), this run still had the homepage, an impressive domain name (another supermaraton domain leads to a race in Romania)! Nowadays, the contact to the race organisers is made via the homepage of the town of Čazma. You were able to sign up from abroad simply by e-mail, because there were, and still are, no starting fees to be paid (but there is a time limit of seven hours for the 61.35 km of the course, which might deter some). The Supermaraton was first organized in 1976 to celebrate Čazma's 750th anniversary (Tito was still president of Yugoslavia then), and the inaugural event had only three starters (the initiator, Boris Kozar from Varaždin, was the first to reach the finish). As one of the oldest European Ultras, it could already be considered a classic, even in the most recent runs there were virtually no runners from beyond the Karawanks Alps on the starter list of 56 runners (including the mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandić), so it remains relatively unknown abroad. 

Jelačić Square

 The starting point is located in the middle of the Jelačić Square, a central meeting point of the Zagreb near the cathedral, which is easily accessible by tram at any time of the day. The name "Do Kaptola ad Kaptola" probably refers to the two "capitol hills", on which the main churches of Zagreb and Čazma are located. The starters check in at the tourist office and get a starter T-shirt. Starters hailed from Croatia (including the mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandic), and from the neighboring countries Slovenia, Hungary and Bosnia, including the famous transcontinental runner Dusan Mravlje with his daughter Neza. A bus from Čazmatransport stood ready, for the luggage transport to Čazma and the return journey of the runners.

The race started at 9:00 in the morning in front of the equestrian statue of a sabre-swinging 19th century national hero Josip Jelačić. It should not be forgotten, however, that at two o'clock in the morning on the last Sunday morning in March, the clock will move forward by on hour, also in Croatia! It helps to remember: In SPRING, the beer benches are put BEFORE the pub to accommodate thirsty revelers, and in AUTUMN, they are put BACK in the shed. The initial third of the run led along the road 41 out of Zagreb, which was constantly busy with cars, but fortunately a track for us runners was kept free. Supply station with water, energy drinks and fruit (sponges and salt were added later) were set up every five kilometers. The first section has a flat profile, but with its mixed residential/commercial areas at the outskirts of Zagreb, is is certainly visually not particularly interesting. 

Out of Zagreb, escorted by the timekeeping vehicle

Then the route branched off to the right after Bojzakovina, now onto a less traveled road along which thinner settlement density, with the runners now facing southeast, which means in the morning, continuously towards the sun. In this area, the route passed mostly fields, and from time to time a wooded area and occasionally a horse-head oil pump. Shepherds moved their herds through the landscape (luckily for the runners not across the street). In the middle of a field, not far from the village of Kloštar Ivanić, a huge stainless steel sculpture gleamed in the sun, presumably having something to do with the nearby train station. Numerous people, especially dark-black-clad old ladies, just left the local church when the marathon mark was passed.

Supermaraton passing through Kloštar Ivanić

The last third of the route had the most beautiful scenery, and offered many diverse viewpoints. Of course, this goes along with an increasingly hilly profile and leading through villages with small farms, where Wartburg Pickup trucks were still in use. Though many local people live in traditional wooden houses, there are also many new homes under construction. Although the kilometers are not individually signposted, one can estimate by waymarks how far it should be to Čazma. The runners were constantly accompanied by organizers, police and supervisors (race marshals moved around in a heavily tuned VW Beetle convertible, sometimes overtaking the runners, then meeting them driving in the opposite direction, coming back again, being overtaken by the runners and vice versa). An ambulance vehicle was also patrolling the course to keep an eye on the runners. When I fell back into walking while climbing a hill, they were getting ready to pick me up (were they happy to finally treat a casualty?). But I signaled by putting all available thumbs up that this was not necessary, whereupon they waved and turned off. At the end of March, of course, all the weather phenomena are possible, but in 2008, spring had just begun in time and created ideal conditions: temperatures of 10-14 ° C, dry and mostly sunny.About six kilometers from the finish, the church of Čazma can be spotted for the first time. The last kilometer, however, is particularly impressive (breathtaking by all means), because Čazma is located on a hill, crowned by the church, where the run finishes. As Čazma is a small town of about 3000 inhabitants, the Supermaraton provides the occasion for a folk festival (there will also be a car rally, fortunately on a different route).

Of 74 participants (including 6 women) in 2008, 56 arrived in Čazma running. Three-time winner Janos Zabari of Hungary won the men's 3:49:52 h ahead of compatriot Ferenc Biri and Aleksey Belosludsev from Russia. For the third time in a row, Marija Vrajic from Croatia became the overall winner (4:33:17 h), ahead of her compatriot Mirjana Kolar and Vanja Nastran from Slovenia. The local hotel provided a number of guest rooms, where the participants could take a shower, and a hearty runner meal was handed out afterwards. At the award ceremony in the beer tent, every finisher was congratulated in person and awarded the medal, not to mention the rich endowment with memorabilia: This included a finisher T-shirt (looks exactly like the starter T-shirt, but in size XL), souvenirs from Zagreb (another T-shirt, a cap, and a small local Gingerbread heart), and a funny stuffed animal (a mixture of beaver and squirrel, of course with a Supermaraton T-shirt on). The Supermaraton is a small, and cosy event in a not that much "discovered" corner of Europe, and organized with great hospitality. On the return trip we could exchange runners with us about the running possibilities in the respective home countries (even if there were some language barriers). And to conclude an ultra-marathon day, a coffee house is an ideal place, and Zagreb has always a lot of them open.