Oranj You Glad You’re Here?

The French are Les Bleus; the Brazilians samba to green and yellow; the Swedes were designed in blue and yellow; the Americans bleed red, white and blue; the Kiwis are All-Black; the Irish are an ode to kerry green; and the Chinese are red.

Graffiti makes light of gravity in Amsterdam, making its mark in orange. © Desiree Koh

The Dutch are orange, a nod to William the Silent, Prince of Orange, leader of the Protestant revolt in the Eighty Years’ War that led to independence from Spain in 1648. The feisty flamboyance of this hue that plays on the bright side flares on in Amsterdam, bringing along happy friends red, blue, yellow, pink, and green to the party that is murals, graffiti, art, and public design. The Dutch keep it inside, too – walk along any of the historical townhouses lining the canals and peek into the windows at decorations so vivid in color they overwhelm the pallor of the darker seasons – the Manhattanites and Parisians can have their black and the British their brown sauce, but the Hollanders levitate their spirits with tones on the higher end of the spectrum. Put it this way – Van Gogh painted “Sunflowers”, not “Lilies”.

The autumn leaves don their national colors. © Desiree Koh

This élan is everywhere in Amsterdam.

In the Dam, the medieval womb of the city where Amsterdam sprouted from a cluster of fishing boats in 1275, these waffles add fun to a fair on the square.

Rainbow bright. © Desiree Koh

Even Nieuwe Kerk – the New Church, only because it was built in the 15th century as opposed to Oude Kerk in 1306 – pops up in pink.

An Andy Warhol exhibit pretties Nieuwe Kerk up in pink. © Desiree Koh

Down in De Pijp, the city’s first 19th-century slum that is now its lively pipe dream of working class laborers, dreaming artists, new immigrants, old intellectuals, burgeoning bobos, and little cafes, Taart van m’n Tante puts Willy Wonka to shame with its princess-pleasing decor pumped with plum gobs of crazy pastels, its pastry case of pies, tarts and cakes so comforting that the most chiseled Stanley Kowalskis would flaunt his inner Barbie – and no one would bat an eyelash.

Everything you’d expect your favorite aunt’s kitchen to look like, filled with your favorite pies. © Desiree Koh

At the famous Bloemenmarkt, the “floating” flower market, a floral florescence surges down the arc of this part of the Singel canal, as you tip-toe through tulip bulbs that promise to bloom amid any doom and gloom. Here, budding gardeners can kick-start Versailles-worthy lawns with seed money – 50 different flowers with just 10 euros – and fingers seasoned with green can Mother Nurture flowers that look like anything from purple astroids to magenta starfish.

Flower power at Amsterdam’s Bloemenmarkt. © Desiree Koh

Even at night, rather than conceding to the darkening sky and shadows lurking in the alleys, luminous glows cut their ways across canals and bridges, lingering in the trail of boats and bicycles with an authoritative aura. It’s funny – it could be a starless night, but everything is glittering in the water, which seems less murky in dusk than during the day.

Moonlight serenade in Amsterdam’s canals. © Desiree Koh

And at Olympic Stadium, the start and end of the Amsterdam Marathon, everyone will be walking on sunshine once they cross that 26.2-mile (42.195-kilometer) line. There will be people from 85 countries making the final victory lap to a glossy finish – no matter how much the Dutch love their oranj, a single color can only go solo for so far. It will be a United Nations indeed, and these colors will run.

We can’t all be Olympians, but anyone can be a marathon runner. © Desiree Koh

This post is courtesy of CheapTickets.sg. All editorial views remain mine and unbiased.

My Days Are Numbered

I am so bad at math that when I’m doing a particularly hard run workout or longer long run, I start doing race pace calculations in my head to detonate brain explosions, which hurt way more than any of my muscle fibers tearing or heart rate raising the roof. Sometimes, I have difficulty adding up interval distances and laps, and always end up doing more so as not to short-change my training. Math can kill you.

And although I have always been more comfortable with Roman alphabets than Arabic numerals, I’ll admit that ever since I started training for my first marathon in 2007, some aspects of my life have actually been easier to review Fibonaccially, as opposed to Wordsworthily. At the very least, I now know how to count up to 26.2, sometimes 42.2, an endeavor that takes a little under four hours if I’m lucky. Herewith, the sum of my marathon parts.

It’s hard to believe I once preferred swimming to running.

12,744 Days Ago – My mother is the victim of me constantly running in her womb, my legs striking blips all over her stomach. However, I was not born to run – although I started walking before my first birthday, I absolutely abhorred running for many years, the only sport you had to threaten me with arsenic or else if you wanted me to slouch around a track. When I was a junior in college, I made a calculated decision to start jogging in order to regain the physical fitness higher education had deteriorated. By 2002, I said no to post-work beers and went for a run instead, for the first time in my life.

You are, Bruce – to the tune of one-third of my running playlist. © Desiree Koh

Pytha-go-run Theorem – [(Bruce Springsteen mix tape on Walkman) x (wow, it’s not so bad)] ÷ [(bad knees from softball) x (two doctors who said I would never run more than 10K)] + post-run pancakes + pre-race pizzas + finish line beers + Runner’s World subscription + eating as much key lime π as I like – everything that sucks in life within five minutes on any run = ƒƒƒƒ {this hurts, but I love it}

Last fall, was astounded by the Berlin Wall, hit the marathon wall early at 28K the next day, but still eked out a P.R. Relieved. © Desiree Koh

3:54:26 – After two hometown marathons, I yearned for cooler pastures to race, for renewed motivation and new running landscapes, which led to Melbourne Marathon (2009), Dublin Marathon (2010) and Berlin Marathon (2011), at which I set my current P.R.

Runner’s high at the Gravity Bar in Dublin. © Desiree Koh

40 Pints – the amount of Guinness I drank after Dublin Marathon.

The Great Wall Marathon is one of the most ridiculous and insane things I’ve ever done in my life. I highly recommended it.

5,164 Steps, 4,000 Meters of Elevation – Going from destination to devastation race, I completed my first off-road marathon in May this year at Great Wall Marathon, considered one of the world’s five toughest marathons.

While on assignment last month, I had to put in a long run that took me from France (left) to Germany (right) across the Rhine in a matter of 12 miles. I know, it’s tough. © Desiree Koh

747.93 Kilometers In 108 Days – I’ve spent this long training for Amsterdam Marathon, clocking this distance. The best way to enter a race is to not think about it: signing up is pretty much signing in blood, and your next best bet is to draft your training plan and stick to it 95 percent of the time. If motivation to train is flagging, I recommend committing other vital body fluids to the cause, too – aqueous humor always helps keep the bile down. Beyond dedication to training, there are lots to consider as well, and the sooner your race plans are concrete, the more spring in getting out of bed in each morning to train, and in your step once you’re out on the path or track.

For me, it’s squaring away my travel plans, and this year, I used CheapTickets.sg to suss out the possibility of country-hopping from Amsterdam to Scotland or even Scandinavia, finally letting my Luddite self out of that closet where one is trapped with 20 web sites open trying to make the lowest cost flight connections by oneself, and not a single window to leap out of. I learned that with 15 CheapTickets offices around the world from a base in Singapore, I could mix and max carriers (from low-cost to mainstream) to get the best deal from one portal, especially with multi-stop itineraries. After you’ve plugged destinations and dates in, you get a whole menu of options with varieties in schedules and airlines – it’s like super-sizing your savings while asking for more curry ketchup, fried onions and relish with your hot dog (but no mayo, please). Staying in the same spot, I took care of my hotel reservations – all this was completed quicker than what it took to sign up for the marathon (I lost a lot of time at the T-shirt size selection page, possibly the most challenging part of a race – nobody ever gets their race shirt size right). Meeting close to 20 people in Amsterdam for the race, CheapTicket.sg‘s “My Trip” function told everyone where I would and when in just one click. I can run, but I can’t hide.

The most important item in my kit: my Timex Ironman watch, a Christmas gift from my brother in 2008. I have P.R.’d in every marathon since. © Desiree Koh

10,492 Kilometers – Tonight, I’ll be flying this distance to go the distance at the Amsterdam Marathon on Sunday. This above swag(ger?) will be the most important items in my luggage.

2,954 Calories I’ll be filing this energy expense report to run that marathon.

☑ Why I run. (Post-Great Wall Marathon treat.) © Desiree Koh

Cloud 9 – Is the only way I can describe the feeling of crossing the finish line of a marathon.

∞ – And forever. The number of pannekoekens (Dutch pancakes) I’m consuming after the race.