A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon



Mar 24, 2017

Running Heaven Beats Migraine Hell

Frauke Poeschmann had chronic migraine when she found a safe haven.


Adelina Storkaas

Running. Her attacks dropped from 20 a month to 5 and she felt free, stronger and hopeful, when two years of darkness dissolved.

“Pain is inevitable, suffering optional,” says marathon runner Frauke Poeschmann, summing up her attitude towards her chronic migraine and running passion with a quote.

Speaking with The Outdoor Journal, she says, “It’s so true to my migraine. It will never go away, so I have to live with it. But if I give up, that’s my choice. And it’s the same with running a long distance run. It’s going to be painful. Running 42K is definitely something that you’ll feel in your legs and muscles, but it doesn’t make me suffer, it makes me happy,” she says, adding “Running makes me feel stronger than a stupid chronic sickness.”

When she was 19-years-old, the migraine attacks began. Hitting her 2-3 times a month. She got on prophylactic, but the treatment that prevented the attacks also brought on a depression after a couple of years. In the end of 2012, she quit the medication.

“And that’s when the migraine really hit me,” she says “It’s a headache, but not really a headache like when you haven’t had a lot of liquid or are hung over. It’s actually a really severe pain and when it doesn’t go away when I take painkillers, I feel like taking a knife and stabbing it in my leg, just to feel something else apart from the pain in my head.”

For two years, she had migraine more than every second day, 15-20 times a month. Painkillers kept her functioning at work as a Consumer Insights Manager, but her personal life was badly affected.

Hamburg Marathon 2015
Frauke running the Berlin Marathon. Photography courtesy of Frauke Poeschmann

“I didn’t go out. My relationship ended. I almost lost friends because I couldn’t connect to anyone so I couldn’t really participate in anything anymore. Couldn’t drink alcohol, couldn’t eat certain things,” she says “So basically I started cocooning in my safe place, which was my couch. It was not really a life worth living.”

Migraine affects people differently. While some people get sick to their stomach, she describes how she gets emotional, very short fused and has problems concentrating or handling people when the attacks kick in. Sometimes she can’t grasp her surroundings: “Even in my own flat, I end up running into my own door,” she says.

But when she turned 30-years-old, she decided that she didn’t just want to run into doors. She wanted to get active and the only thing that she used to enjoy was running. She quit her sedimentary life and hit the 2-3 km tracks outside her flat in the mornings before heading to work. Even though she hated it at first and walked like John Wayne because of aching muscles, her new habit soon turned into a passion that she can’t live without.

“It’s the best idea, I have ever had. To start running and to start running marathons,” she says ”Migraine might not sound that bad, but for those who actually suffer from it, it is quite a pain in the ass. And it is just not there when I run.”

Medals from races. Photography courtesy of Frauke Poeschmann

Running is her safe haven where she feels free and clears her mind of worries.

“Migraine works a bit like a computer without spam filter,” she says “I’m genetically missing the spam filter and take everything in. And when I get too stressed, it explodes in my brain. Running is a bit like replacing the spam filter because it unwinds me and relaxes my thoughts and my brain.”

Her migraine attacks also dropped to 5-7 a month when she picked up running and a new treatment: “Botox is doing one part of the job, but I think that running is doing the other one,” she says.

Dr. Katy Munro at the National Migraine Centre has not personally seen a case with such a drastic improvement, but adds: “We do see some amazing results when we have helped patients to find a personalised plan for managing their migraine. Simply eating regularly, not skipping meals and having a bedtime snack can make a huge difference to some people. The regularity is important as the brain of migraine sufferers is very sensitive to changes in their internal and external environments.”

Researchers have also found evidence that supports Frauke’s experience that running can have a positive effect on her disease. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins and enkephalins that can tackle pain and depression. As a result, some people with migraines notice a decline in the number and severity of the attacks. The Migraine Trust recommends people do 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week for six weeks to see eventual benefits. 

Headache specialist Munro also emphasises that eating and drinking before and after a workout is important to dodge the attacks. Uneven blood glucose levels can aggravate or precipitate a migraine attack.

Frauke usually runs around a lake in Hamburg which is roughly 8 km, four times a week. When she prepares for marathons, she adds another day of running, increases the number of laps around the lake and adds a core stability workout to the weekly schedule.

“Sometimes when I feel a migraine is coming up, I just go running and it doesn’t come,” she says “And sometimes when I’m running it comes, and I have to stop.”

Hamburg Marathon. Photo © Hamburg Marathon

In 2014, when the migraines got really bad, she went to a special clinic for four weeks where she got off her painkillers and started the botox treatment. She told the neurologists that she would try any treatment they had, as long as it wouldn’t compromise her running.

They were positive about her training, but not very fond of her facing a marathon. According Dr. Munro, most people with chronic migraine would be unlikely to embark on the training for a marathon. But adds: “If they have good prevention and acute rescue treatments there is no reason why they shouldn’t try a marathon.”

Frauke’s mother, who also suffers from migraines, was worried about her health before the first marathon in 2014 and thought she put too much pressure on herself.

“Then when she saw me, because she was there supporting me, she was like ‘Okay, I’m not going to tell you not to run marathons, because you were the only person I saw who smiled the whole run’,” Frauke says and adds “I just smile all the time, I have the time of my life when I run.”

She started off with half marathons before going over to the full marathons: “It felt so good. To have a goal and reach it. So I thought, why not try a marathon?” she recalls.

“In April, I had 21 days of migraine. And when I think about that month, the only thing I think about is the marathon. Because it was the only day that I wasn’t worried about anything,” she says.

In four weeks, she sets off on her sixth marathon on home soil in Hamburg. Although she is not as prepared as usual, she says, “I don’t really care. I’m not looking to achieve a certain time. I actually enjoy 42km of running,” and is already planning a South African 56km ultramarathon for next year.

“Just reading about it gave me goose bumps. It must feel amazing to finish this run,” she says.

Meeting other people that are as enthusiastic about running and marathons as she is, running and seeing her family and friends supporting her, gets her spirit up. She doesn’t think she will ever quit running.

“I don’t even go on a business trip without running shoes,” she says and would rather get up at 5:30 than “compromise a run for an early morning meeting.”

“I’m stronger than my sickness,” she says “Pain is inevitable, suffering optional.”


Feature image courtesy of Frauke Poeschmann

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Sep 21, 2018

Suru Fest: India’s Growing Climbing Festival

Two weeks of sending in the remote Suru Valley: From 300 boulder problems to alpine rock climbing in the uncharted Himalayan giants.


I don’t usually attend festivals, but the Suru Fest had been on my list for as long as I had heard of it. So in late August this year, I spent a week and a half in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, climbing and bouldering with some of India’s best climbers, as well as a host of international adventurers. This year’s event was the third, and possibly most successful instalment since its inception in 2016.

The festival is the brainchild of Suhail Kakpori and Jamyang “Jammy” Tenzing, ‘Indian Climbing’s Exploring Boulderer’ previously covered by The Outdoor Journal. Jammy organized the first Suru Fest with a small crew of dedicated and passionate Ladakh-based rock climbers, which has now grown into a sustainable, sponsored event attracting climbers from all over the world.

While the idea is to unite the climbers from all across the globe, it is a festival premised on celebrating the power of youth and adventure. It’s held annually from late August until the first week of September and is a force that brings both athletes and creatives together to create inspiring content.

This year’s festival was sponsored by Tata Motors, an Indian multinational conglomerate with hundreds of well-known brands and properties, including Jaguar Land Rover. Eight 2018 Tata Hexa SUVs were made available to move climbers around from place to place, in this remote and wild part of the world. One of the Hexas also waited for us in Leh, but we were waiting for our dog Maurice – we’d flown in, but Maurice was being driven up to Leh from Delhi (about 48 hours by road). We had to wait for him and delay our early morning departure, and eventually get one of the many shared cabs that ply these mountain roads – pretty much the de facto method of getting around in Ladakh.

It was late in the day by the time Maurice arrived in Leh, and Tenzing got us a shared cab for Suru, near Kargil, several hours west of Leh. We then drove through one of the most picturesque landscapes in India. The road is very well paved for the most part of the journey, which isn’t usually the case in and around the Himalayas. The thought of being at the Suru Fest hadn’t quite settled in yet – perhaps I simply didn’t know what to expect. This was my first climbing festival and all I knew was that I was going to spend a week climbing and exploring the valley.

Unlike Leh and its location on the trans-Himalayan plateau, which comprises of high altitude arid desert, Suru is green, with agricultural activity. We reached Barsoo, a small village in Suru close to midnight. Upon entering the campsite, I was shown my way to a 3-man GIPFEL tent – a new, Indian outdoor gear make and the 2018 Suru Fest’s climbing equipment partner. In the morning I woke up to a sweeping view of the scenic valley that surrounded our campground. We had a pre-bouldering yoga session scheduled first thing in the morning, before breakfast… Talk about a flying start to the adventure! Following the session, we had breakfast and went exploring the climbing areas. “Most of the rocks here have been climbed, graded and documented. The topography to this area is also well underway” Jamyang told us. There are about 6 dedicated climbing areas in Suru and 300 problems with grades varying from 5C to 8A+.  The Suru tribe has and is fully invested in expanding the scope of climbing in Ladakh and also across India.

Amongst the few known Indian athletes and some elite climbers, Suru also hosted three IFMGA guides, two of which were from Georgia and one from the United States. The Georgians rigged their first sports route on a highball near the shore of the boulder-choked Suru river; their first in the himalayas. Sunny Jamshedji was another important addition to the festival whose tryst with trad-climbing has taken him across 20 US states over 22 years. I had heard of him through Prerna, who went climbing with him in Dhauj. The festival certainly couldn’t have asked for more experienced company.

Meanwhile, I lucked out when Luke Smithwick, an IFMGA guide and a prolific American climber with over 50 unclimbed Himalayan six-thousanders to his name, lead me up on my first multi-pitch trad climb. We did three pitches and an FA of a 5.6 route we named, “The Windy Novice”. As an inexperienced climber who is just getting started, I couldn’t have been more stoked. There are inherent risks involved in trad; you often expect your partner to have some kind of real rock experience before taking him out on a big Himalayan slab climb. Nonetheless, this was something I had been looking forward to for some time and I am glad to have made the experience with Luke, who mentored and lead me up the wall.

Luke on top of the Windy Novice. Photo: Siddhartha Chattopadhyay

“Alpine rock climbing (no snow/ice) in the Himalayas is like climbing alpine rock anywhere in the world with just one caveat. Everything is much bigger than you think! The approaches are longer. The areas are mostly virgins, so there is very little to no information on the approach, route or descent. One has to figure things out themselves on the go. Places like Suru and Miyar have thousands of feet of alpine granite to explore, so if you are willing to do this sort of climbing, then this is an alpine paradise…”,  said Sunny when I asked about his thoughts on climbing in Suru.

Suru Fest is the first of its kind in India. While it constitutes of a demographic representing only a fraction of the population, it is a catalyst in that it suggests a much-needed deviation from the norm. We have long awaited the arrival of a culture that collectively underlines individualism and vigorously captures the spirit of the times. Suru does just that and does it with grace.

“I was particularly happy to send two projects which I was not able to execute last time even though I tried really hard. This is a great measure of progress which one doesn’t get in the gym because the routes there are reset frequently. I was also content to push my personal limits on a 7m highball. Besides the superb quality of the rock and the lines as well as the great weather I love that Suru Fest brings together an amazing crowd of people who share the passion for the outdoors and climbing. Honestly, I first and foremost came to see my friends in India.”, said Svenja Von Jan, a climber and a friend from Germany who also attended the festival last year in 2016.

Svenja Von Jan. Photo: Siddhartha Chattopadhyay

Svenja and I had met a few years ago in Himachal Pradesh in this quiet little village called, Kalga. Back then, I was exploring Parvati Valley in the Kullu district and had become obsessed with this particular mountain, which I hope to climb some day. It was also in Kalga, where I had my first hands-on experience while climbing a highball. We had found this high mossy boulder and were able to put up a few lines. She was strong back then and has undeniably grown stronger since then. So watching her try some hard moves in Suru was inspiring to say the least.

The mountain range that I aspire to climb in Parvati Valley. Photo: Siddhartha Chattopadhyay

When you’re surrounded with experienced climbers you will only improve. The novelty of Suru is that it exposed me to some fine climbing along with some fine climbers. I was particularly drawn to this rock with some interesting looking features, referred to as the Green Mamba, a 7C+ problem. It took Adarsh Singh, a professional athlete, two to three attempts before topping out. I also saw Viraj Sose, who’d climbed Ecstasy Tree, a sick bulging 7C highball in Hampi: a boulder high enough to send chills down your spine.

The Slab. Photo: Siddhartha Chattopadhyay

Looking back on that slab, I still remember the ease with which Luke loosened me up for the climb. “You know what this is?”, he asked me, while holding out a nut tool. “Mhm, I have used it once or twice”, I said with every ounce of confidence I could gather. On our first pitch, while sitting on a ledge, I heard him say “Off Belay”. “Belay off,” I said and started paying out the rope. I had well familiarized myself with the jargon before we started off. On the second pitch, we stood leaning back on the rope with the weight of our bodies distributed equally over a three point anchor system. It took me a while to register that. “This can hold the weight of a big truck”, said Luke reassuringly. Now, closer than ever to the last pitch, the wind had picked up a bit and I felt a wave of euphoria sweeping over me. I then turned to look in the other direction and immediately spotted the Georgians glued to a big vertical wall, it was cinematic! Shortly after topping out, I calmed myself down and caught hold of my breath. “So much to celebrate discomfort,” I sighed.

Now, as I write this from the flat, smoggy and hot environs of Delhi, having returned sooner than I had wanted, I’m looking forward to returning to the high mountains, attending the festival next year and further honing my skills.

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