Annual marathon walk, Saturday 4 May 2024

Actual walking time 6:44:06, total elapsed time 7:44:01 because I was generous with my breaks. (Last year: 6:32 and 6:59 respectively. I was in better physical shape last year.) I stopped in the centre of Weesp at the half-way mark for about 25 minutes to have some breakfast, then a 20 minute stop at the Gamma DIY store near ‘s Graveland for a toilet stop and a cold drink (about 32 km), and finally a 15 minute rest just outside of an Albert Heijn in Hilversum (about 37km) for another drink and a snack. Finished up at the Theehuis ‘t Hooge Erf in the Lage Vuursche forest, which is just under 42km door-to-door, so I walked past it by about 500m to complete the full marathon distance, and then doubled back.

Abi met me for a mid-afternoon lunch. I had their “Little Italy” sandwich, which was amazing, although I was in a mood to appreciate any food by that point. Slices of fried aubergine fried in a crispy breadcrumb coating, rocket leaves, resting on toasted bread that had been topped with marinara sauce and melted pecorino and mozzarella cheese.

I usually do these marathon walks in April or early May, when the weather can be pleasant, but not too hot. A nice dry day around 15° is just about perfect. In April of this year all my free weekends were very rainy. Earlier this week it started to get hot (25°), and I felt that I needed to get the walk in before it was too late. The weather forecast for yesterday was decent, but there was a chance of rain by 14:00, so I made sure to get out early, about 06:45, just after sunrise.

It was a lovely clear morning, and it stayed that way all the way to Weesp. I stopped once to re-tie my laces and tape up my heels, because there was a bit of friction. Last year I stepped up my walking shoe game from Asics Patriots to Asics Gel-Pulse 13s. (They were good shoes, but the upper wore out quite badly.) This year I’m walking on the Asics Gel-Pulse 15, which have a very different sole than the 13. They’re nice.

Last year I used to make myself playlists of music of specific tempos, to help me keep a good and constant pace while walking. When I tried to use that tool this year, however, it wouldn’t save playlists to my Spotify account any more. (I don’t think the tool is actively maintained, and the Spotify API keeps moving on.) Instead of tempo playlists, I ended up listening to the selection of albums I happened to have downloaded to my phone. Last month I accidentally left my Airpods Pro behind in Scotland. I’m using my backup/sleep buds now, a set of Soundcore Liberty 4 NCs. They’re OK. But Apple Music opens up whenever I connect them. I decided to just roll with it, and listen alphabetically by artist. Here’s what came up:

  • Couple of songs by Aerosmith
  • Blood Moon by Apes & Androids
  • Couple of songs by Arctic Monkeys (I hadn’t noticed before that in “Fake Tales of San Francisco” the tempo increases at points throughout the song…)
  • All The Lights in the Sky and Modern Synthesis by Area 11
  • “Monster” by The Automatic
  • Grinning Streak by Barenaked Ladies
  • Bad Blood by Bastille
  • Hello Nasty by Beastie Boys
  • 18 Months by Calvin Harris
  • “Word Up” by Cameo
  • In a Tidal Wave of Mystery by Capital Cities
  • The Lady Killer by CeeLo Green

(This is far from all my music library in the first three letters of the alphabet… it’s just whatever I must have had synced to my old phone, and then got copied across when I moved to my new phone last year?) Anyway: BANGERS and I was quite happy to walk to them, and not worry too much about tempo. I had a bunch of podcasts ready to go, last year and this year I found that listening to music gave my mind more space to wander more easily.

Last year I had just recently bought an Apple Watch (series 8), and was still (mostly) enjoying it – although reading back I can see that I did recognize the niggles. Over time those niggles became full-blown annoyances, and I sold it a couple of months ago to someone who would enjoy it for what it is. Just as I want my TV to be a dumb screen without smart features, I want the thing on my wrist to be a simple sensor package. The Apple Watch is a very needy and greedy device. It tries its best to grab your attention in any way it can, starting with how it claims a spot in your daily routine for charging it, and then carries on with never-ending notifications. It felt like every time I would explicitly turn off some kind of alert, another feature I neither needed not wanted would start reminding me of its existence.

So now I’m rocking a simple Garmin Vivosmart 4 – not even the very latest model. It runs for 4-5 days on a single charge, and it has refreshingly few settings to make it stay perfectly quiet. If I want to skip a song, I tap an earbud rather than my wrist. It’s perfectly fine.

Again, I walked without any kind of backpack or attachments – I relied on the fact that this is Noord-Holland, and I’d be walking through towns and villages, where it would be easy to find food and drink. I did bring a stress ball for clenching and trying to reduce the edema in my fingers. It might have helped a bit? At the end of the walk I was definitely more tired and achy than last year – I weigh more than last year, and I haven’t been very good at keeping up my daily walks. My feet were mostly OK throughout the walk, but I developed a blister in the last 5km from Hilversum to the forest, and that had a knock-on effect. My right knee hurt quite a bit for most of the rest of the day, but it seems fine again after some anti-inflammatories and a night’s rest. Reminder for next year: the practice in the month leading up to a big walk does make a difference.

Marathon walk around Amsterdam, Sunday 17 April 2022

Amsterdam RAI, quiet on a Sunday

It’s almost ten years ago that I first accidentally did a marathon walk through London, and looking back on my blog history and walking records in the MapMyWalk app, it’s almost four years since my last one.

It’s been a strange few years. During that walk in 2018 I came across a poster advertising a 100km walk, and I felt enthusiastic about giving that a try. But later in the year I was felled by burnout, and I put more importance on getting enough sleep instead. Between the end of 2018 and the middle of 2019 I was trying to get my head together, and shifting gears at work, to deliberately move more towards a managerial role. This included enrolling in an MSc programme, which has occupied a lot of my spare time in evenings and weekends since October 2019. Oh and family stuff. Oh and pandemic.

My sense of time has become wildly distorted. It was in May 2018 that Fiona and I went to visit the degree show at Duncan of Jordanstone college in Dundee, which feels like it was a turning point for my attitudes towards art school; and now we’re at a point where Fiona is going to be finishing school and moving to Scotland this summer.

I’ve noticed that I’m increasingly relying on tools to anchor my sense of time. I bought my iPhone X at the end of 2017. It was a top-of-the line phone at the time, and it’s still going strong. I had been looking forward to taking more photos with its high-quality camera, and being able to run all kinds of new and fancy apps that were just too slow on my old phone. One of the apps that has stood the test of time is MapMyWalk, which I’ve been using to track my walks, and have stubbornly refused to “go premium” with. All I want is an ad-free thing that will allow me to track my location and distance on a map, and save those tracks. I don’t want challenges or badges or social features. MapMyWalk is still very good at these basics, although over time it has made the premium features more prominent. It’s what I still use as my default tracker, and it’s how I checked when I did my last big walk.

On this walk I decided to pause the app when I took breaks. Inevitably, I sometimes forgot to un-pause when I set off again. The data is missing about 6km between Schellingwoude and Het Schouw.

(Annoyingly, MapMyWalk doesn’t allow for an export of time-series data in GPX format, so I have to use another app, GPX Trail Tracker, to gather data for use in geo-tagging photos from my non-location-enabled camera.)

Early in 2019 I bought a Fitbit Inspire HR with the goal of using it to track my sleep. The heart rate tracking and step tracking were incidental, and I don’t use them much. I would have liked a “smart wake” function that tries to detect “light sleep” up to half an hour or so before your alarm clock is due to go off and then buzzes you awake, but it wasn’t available on the cheap models back then. (It’s on the Charge 5 model now, which makes me wonder about an upgrade…) I occasionally also used the Fitbit app for entering my weight, which has actually been quite useful in hindsight for seeing how I’ve fluctuated over the last tree years.

Photos are a big part of being able to situate my memories in time. I’m all-in on the Apple ecosystem, and the native “Photos” app does a fine job of keeping everything in sync and backed up to the cloud, with the option to do some light editing along the way. HoudahGeo is what I use on my laptop to associate GPX tracks with camera photos, and it looks Houdah Software’s new “Photos Workbench” app is going to be a nice new evolution there. I’m slightly obsessive about keeping my photos properly geo-tagged and organised.

Recently I’ve also been tracking my blood pressure in the Apple Health app. We’ve got a BP monitor here at home, and it’s supposedly bluetooth-enabled, but it requires a dedicated app which doesn’t integrate with Apple Health, and I just don’t feel like putting effort into glueing the two together. I’ll just enter the data manually. I don’t see myself going down the full “quantified self” route, though. The Apple Health app seems like a nice idea for bringing all that health data together. It’s just a pity that none of the tools I actually use for tracking right now integrate with it, and that when I asked my doctor if she could use the data I’d been gathering there she just laughed. I’m not planning to buy an Apple Watch, because I rather enjoy only having to charge my Fitbit once a week.

So, back to the actual walk yesterday. I set out about 08:20, later than usual, because I just don’t enjoy early mornings. The first leg was 5km to the Hempont ferry to cross the Noordzeekanaal from Zaandam to Amsterdam. Then an 11km stretch south the the locks at de Nieuwe Meer. (For future walking reference, there’s a public toilet at the control station for the locks!)

Westhavenweg, heading south
House boats near the locks at Nieuwe Meer

Stopped for a bit at the locks to eat and drink, then struck out east towards the RAI. Passed Fiona’s old school on the way. Beyond the RAI, I skirted the south-east bank of the Amstel (Amstelkwartier & Overamstel), which is lovely, and where I’d never been before.


Onwards past Jaap Eden ice rink, through the Amsterdam University science park (also surprisingly nice), along the Amsterdam-Rijkanaal for a bit, then over the IJ at the Schellingwouderbrug, familiar to me as a walking crossing from the Dam-tot-Dam walk.


I stopped to eat and take care of my feet just after the Schellingwouderbrug. My left heel had blistered up, and my right heel wasn’t feeling too great. Despite taping they got much worse in the following 6km towards the ferry at Het Schouw, and my gait probably changed in response, which made my calves feel like they were constantly on the verge of cramping up. Annoyingly, I’d also forgotten to un-pause the MapMyWalk app, so I lost the fine details of that stretch. On the other hand, all it would have told me was that my pace had gone off a cliff.

Landsmeer-Schouw ferry

The last 7km or so back through Landsmeer to Oostzaan were slow and painful. I had loved the stretches through Amsterdam (I love this city), and the legs through the peaceful countryside felt a “can we just get this over with” in comparison. Very pretty, but also much more familiar, and I was taking fewer photos along the way. I’d deliberately left my good camera at home, to remove the temptation to stop and take lots of photos along the way and lose momentum, but I can’t just not take photos at all, can I?

Got back home just after 17:00. My legs almost immediately froze up, and Abi & Fiona mocked me for not being able to stand up any more.

I see these spontaneous marathon-length walks as a casual test of my own fitness. If I can make it through a 42km walk on a weekend without prior training and planning, then I’m in “good enough” condition. I’m happy to have lost a bit of weight in the last couple of months, and that probably helps.

PS: After my black (2017) and then blue (2018) Asics Patriots shoes, I got a pair of red ones in (I think?) early 2019, and I went through the whole pandemic with them. It helped that I wasn’t spending much time walking, or out of the house in general. I loved their colour! But they were getting quite tired and worn, and I bought another pair in February. Blue again, this time. As with the earlier ones, they give my toes lots of freedom, and they’ve very breathable. The heels seem to be where I consistently end up with trouble.


Earlier this year, at the end of May, Fiona and I took a weekend trip to Scotland to visit the Degree Show of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. Fiona has her eye set on going to art school in Scotland. (Last year we had planned to visit Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, but Fiona was too ill to make it work – Alex and I went to Scotland alone, and did a massive road trip around the west coast instead.) My parents occasionally check out the Scottish art school degree shows, and they always come away impressed. Fiona had a different (or at least, an additional) motive for the trip: it was an opportunity for her to meet her boy C.

We flew to Edinburgh on Friday evening and stayed with Mum & Dad. On Saturday we drove to Dundee in the morning and parked near the college. I didn’t see Fiona’s first encounter with C because I was parking the car. But when I got in the building I got to meet him, and he seemed like a very pleasant young man. Fiona and he went off on their own to explore, while Mum and Dad and I took a look around ourselves.

(So how did I feel about letting Fiona off on her own with a young man three years her elder? Well, old, I suppose. On the other hand, when my parents were as old as I am now, they were watching Abi and me get married. So I guess I should consider myself fortunate the Fiona isn’t talking about eloping just yet. Hooking up is normal teenage behaviour, and I’m just glad that Fiona is actually indulging in it now, rather than still being cloaked in depression.)

The works on the ground floor had impressed me a lot already. When we got up to the first floor of the labyrinthine college I stopped to chat with Johanna Tonner, one of the final year students, about the works she was displaying. She had framed prints for sale (I bought one for my office), but her bigger pieces were soft sculptures: torso-sized asymmetric blobs of soft foam core wrapped in colourful hand-printed fabric, mounted on a metal rod at just the right height to walk up and hug. She told me that she had made everything in the exhibit herself: not just the prints on paper and textiles, but she had ground solid metal bases for the sculptures in the college’s metalworking shop, and had made the wooden frames for her larger photos in the woodworking shop. DJCAD. She explained how the first year at DJCAD students get a solid baseline of lots of practical studio and workshop techniques before they decide where to focus their attention in later years.

Print by Johanna Tonner

I guess I just hadn’t thought very much about what “art school” was until then. Although I had been tentatively supportive of Fiona’s desire to go to art school, I had been holding back on enthusiasm and whole-hearted approval. That day changed me. The college teaches a vast range of practical skills. But the imagination, creativity, and artistic vision on display at the degree show was simply staggering. I kept looking around and being blown away by another sculpture, painting, or installation. Animation, architecture, textile and fashion design, gorgeous jewellery, comics and illustration… It just kept on coming.

It filled me with joy: this is what humans are capable of. This is what humans were meant to do. But it also made me sad: many of the amazingly talented students will not be able to make a living from their art. Why not? Why is our society set up to elevate commerce above creativity, banks over beauty? Art and expression are what make us human – not just making art, but experiencing and responding to it as well. I found it a genuinely emotional watershed.

By the time I met up with Mum and Dad again, they had become enchanted by a project on one of the upper floors: Juglares by James Fallan. For his exhibition project he had undertaken a walk from Glasgow to Dundee via Edinburgh, stopping along the way to talk to people and collect their thoughts and expressions on a large canvas he carried with him. After the journey, he turned took parts of the canvas and turned the words and pictures into a 3-D surface that he used as the surface texture for bells cast from bronze, with handles made from sections of the walking stick he used along the way. As part of the exhibit he had a couple of screens showing video of him along the way, and of him making the bells. The bells themselves are gorgeous, and the project captured my imagination just as it had caught Mum and Dad’s.

Juglares by James Fallan – statement
Juglares by James Fallan – statement
Juglares by James Fallan – exhibit
Juglares by James Fallan – canvas
Juglares by James Fallan – map
Juglares by James Fallan – bell
Juglares by James Fallan – bell

Mum and Dad were seriously considering buying one of the bells. It was just coming up to lunchtime, though, so I suggested that we go visit the college café and have sometime to eat and drink before making a decision. While we were getting our food, I sneakily texted Abi and asked her if it would be okay for me to buy the bell for Mum and Dad as a wedding anniversary gift — their 50th anniversary was coming up the following month. Abi agreed, and I broke the news to them that this was going to be their present. They were slightly taken aback (it wasn’t cheap), but very happy.

So after lunch we went back upstairs and waited for James to return from his lunch as well. He was delighted to hear that we’d be buying one of his pieces. In fact, it was his very first sale. And not only that, but this happened to be the day when he has his parents and grandparents over to see his work. They showed up just as we were making the purchase and figuring out how best to send him the money, because I didn’t have enough cash on me. We stood around and chatted with them, and they were proud and delighted to see his work, and to be around when he made his first sale, especially knowing that it was going to be for a memorable gift. Similarly, this added to the story for us, knowing that we had managed to time our presence and the purchase just so perfectly. It was a great moment. It made me happy to buy Mum and Dad such a nice gift, and it made me happy to be supporting the work of a talented young artist.

(Fiona had a lovely day with C. We all met up again in mid-afternoon, but Fiona and C weren’t done having out yet. I drove back to Murthly with Mum and Dad, and Fiona and C stayed on in Dundee for a while and went to the cinema. I drove back to Dundee late in the evening to do the dad taxi run.)

Marathon walk to Schoorl, Sunday 20 May 2018

I got up early and left the house a few minutes after 06:00. The weather forecast was fine and sunny, with the temperature expected to hit 22°C in the afternoon, but at 06:00 it was misty and cool. The roads were dead quiet that time in the morning anyway, but the mist made the first few hours of the walk extra still. It wasn’t a pea-souper; just dense enough for towers and pylons to drift in and out of sight, and for wisps to gather and swirl lazily over the glass-flat canals.

Prins Bernhardbrug, Zaandam
Prins Bernhardbrug, Zaandam

View of Cargill Gerkens Cacao factory from the Willem Alexanderbrug in Zaandam
View of Cargill Gerkens Cacao factory from the Willem Alexanderbrug in Zaandam

Ship moored at the Lagedijk, Zaandam
Ship moored at the Lagedijk, Zaandam

Zaan view at Wormerveer
Zaan view at Wormerveer

I walked north-west through Zaandam, Koog aan de Zaan, Wormerveer, along the edge of Markenbinnen, then over the polder to Alkmaar, then finally out to Schoorldam and Schoorl. I hit marathon distance in Schoorldam in 7h 31m, which is a personal best. Apart from wanting to try out my new shoes today, I also wanted to do the walk at a fast pace, just to see what kind of time I could put down. That didn’t quite work out, because I couldn’t stop myself from stopping to take a bunch of pictures along the way. I also spent the first hour stopping a lot to adjust my laces, because I just couldn’t get comfortable with the racer’s loop.

My right foot is slightly smaller than my left. Although my left foot was mostly snug with standard lacing, I could feel my right heel slipping. But when I did tie the right up more tightly, it was painful across the bridge of my foot. I could feel a blister forming on my heel by the end of the first hour, and I regretted taking a new pair of shoes out for a long walk without breaking them in first. I’ll know better next time.

Time-wise, I think I could easily cut off 10 minutes with broken-in shoes and better discipline. With more training, I could probably get my average pace up, too, and take the time down to 7 hours (about 6 km/hour). But that’s not what I’m about. I do big walks to prove to myself that I can do a slow marathon with no preparation beyond bringing enough drinks to stay hydrated; and I really enjoy taking pictures of interesting things along the way. I’m not going to force myself on joyless marches.

Wormerveer panorama
Wormerveer panorama

Periodic reminder that Noord-Holland is really flat…

View of the Alkmaardermeer
…and wet


Crow weathervane Schoorl
Large crow silhouette weathervane in Schoorl, near the N9

I messaged Abi near the end of the walk, and she drove out to Schoorl to meet me for a mid-afternoon coffee. (It was another 2.4km past Schoorldam, giving me a total distance of 44.6km for the day.) I’ve never been to Schoorl before, but maps showed several cafés in the centre. It’s right next to the coastal dunes, and they have the Netherlands’ tallest sand dune (the Klimduin) that runs right down to the village centre, which is pretty cool. A slice of apple pie was a welcome treat to finish the walk.

Martin just after finishing in Schoorl
Obligatory finish line selfie. Look at that puffy face!

Klimduin in Schoorl
Klimduin in Schoorl

apple pie and drinks
Apple pie reward

Amsterdam walk

Abi and I took another long walk today. We set off from Oostzaan in glorious hot sunshine around 08:30 and headed South. Took the ferry across the IJ to Tasmanstraat, and continued to the Vondelpark, where we stopped for a snack at the Vondeltuin. Then onwards to the Amsterdamse Bos where I pondered the mild ridiculousness of having lived within walking distance of Amsterdam for seven years now, and never having set foot there before. It’s really nice. It was like visting Golden Gate Park last year for the first time, after having been a regular visitor to the Bay Area since 1991.

leaning trees of lomanstraat
The Leaning Trees of Lomanstraat

birth of change by Server Verheugen
YAY PUBLIC ART (Birth of Change by Serge Verheugen, just near one of the main entraces to the Bos)

family ties by serve verheugen
Family Ties, also by Serge Verheugen, just a little bit farther into the Bos. AKA the “Mo’ Creatures Mod

The walk came to 22.6km, according to my GPS tracking app. A nice distance.