Monday, August 19, 2019

Sandis Trail 9K 2019

I've lived in Helsinki forever. I have never set my foot on Santahamina island in District 51, a military restricted zone without civilian access. Until I had a welcome chance to run Sandis Trail 9K this weekend.

My son Jon joined me. They checked our passports at the mail gate. Only Finnish citizens, whose  name was on the registration list, were allowed to enter. With 430 starters, we saw many friends, like Juha and Juupek. 

Taking photos during the race wasn't allowed. Some parts of the course were really beautiful. Fortunately they had some official photographers. Running over smooth boulders and rocks by the seaside offered amazing scenery. We weren't far away from the city centre, which was visible from the highest points.

I've never before participated in a race with big signs by the course warning "DANGER - SHOOTING". This worried me a bit, as I heard firearms shooting nearby. The organizers had assured that we'd be totally safe, as long as we stayed on the course. They even made us run through an easy obstacle course.

The course was well marked, but there wasn't a trail at all in some technical sections. I took a wrong turn in a dense forest. I noticed pretty quickly that the markings stopped, so we turned back found the route again.

After finishing in a little over an hour we were served an army style meal. We enjoyed Sandis Trail!

Monday, August 12, 2019


Jättäri100 is our private event involving running 100 times up and down the highest hill in Helsinki. The elevation gain/loss using the steepest and shortest path called Fasaaninousu is 66m x 100 = 6,600 meters. The distance is about 36km.

Yours truly was the sole finisher in the first edition five years ago, on May 31-June 1, 2014. It took me 12:12. I did 101 ascents, because I wasn't sure if I had done 100. Later on, MP beat my time with 8:54 FKT.

The start was scheduled at 14:00 on Saturday, August 10. The day dawned clear and sunny. I couldn't resist riding my bike to the hill after breakfast. My solo false start at 9am felt great. Soon some friends arrived and joined me. It was fun, but relatively hot for Finland, and we were sweating like pigs. 

My son came to photograph the official 2pm start. I had about 2,000 meters of elevation gain, and kept going. I decided not to attempt to finish all 100 climbs on the official course, and showed some other interesting trails around the hill with my son.

Most competitors dropped out. Antti kept on logging sub-5-minute laps. I stopped around 9pm with over 4,000m ascent in the bag. Antti set the new gorgeous 7:57:15 FKT. It was getting dark so I cycled back home. Juha and Juupek continued and did finish in 10:50 and 12:02.

I've never been happy with a DNF before this event. Running about 35km in almost 12 hours with friends was slow 3 km/h, but so much fun. The weather and people stayed fabulous all day long. This provided good training for Tor des Geants 359km (222 miles) on September 8-14. See you in Aosta Valley in four weeks! 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Book review: The Rise of the Ultra Runners

A British journalist and ultrarunner Adharanand Finn has hit the jackpot with his new book The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance. It's obviously every bit as good as my favorites in the genre: Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and North by Scott Jurek. Later on it became clear to me that it's actually in some ways considerably better.

What sets Finn's masterpiece apart is that instead of just focusing on the current challenge of the main character, it somehow manages to add much more comprehensive content, covering all the major ultrarunning events and people globally. Still, it also tells the interesting story of the author's personal evolution powered by innocent inspiration ignited by Karnazes' first book, and then spiralling through various crazy challenges from Oman to UTMB.

Finn has published running books about Kenya and Japan before, but TROTUR rises to totally another level. That's largely because tha author has been able to learn from the biggest ultra stars, while talking honestly about his own challenges and issues, possibly offering plenty of insights and solutions for the attentive reader along the way. His self-effacing Englishness creates a winning combination with professional British journalism, which remains quite broadly respected in Europe despite the unfortunate Brexit episode.

The book has a lot to offer both to the absolute neophyte and more experienced ultrarunning enthusiast. He touches many relevant current topics like training, racing, cheating, dieting, recovering, healing, and paincaving. The whole ultra spectrum from shorter FKT stints to the 3,100-mile self-transcendence race is discussed. He writes about the history of the sport, as well as the thriving global industry it has transformed itself with growing media coverage and bigger sponsors.

Finn describes the intriguing aspects of ultrarunning culture and its fascinating community values. I found it all entertaining, rewarding and pleasurable reading, perhaps hallucinations being the most hilarious accounts of all, just because they appear to be so real, while at the same time you may be well aware they aren't.

Finn even patiently attempts introducing Kenyan marathon runners to the modestly paying world of ultra racing. He also explores Gary Ward's Anatomy in Motion, which was featured in BBC's popular Doctor in the House TV show and follows a Neuro Kinetic Therapy lead all the way to California. Conflicts like the Hardrock 100 vs. ITRA controversy and other assorted dramas in various events are touched upon to add some spice.

Some typos and factual errors caught my attention, like for instance Jim Walmsley was in the Air Force, not Army. Some small unknown English events were perhaps covered in too much detail, while some events like American 200-milers didn't seem to fall on Finn's radar too much. However tiny mistakes couldn't bother me - I guess we ultrarunners aren't really nitpickers by nature, are we?

Finally, this book provides the best answer to the question why we run ultras. Why keep on pushing close to the edge, deep in the pain cave, when you could be comfortably laying on the sofa, watching reruns on the TV, or interacting with social media?  Why do we seem to long for tough and wild aspects of life?

Finn concludes this rising ultrarunning phenomenon is not simply about running a long distance, or running at all. It has something to do with exhausting the mind, the body, the ego, until something fills the empty space. This something, the marathon monks of Japan once told Finn, "is the vast consciousness that lies below the surface of our lives, beyond the limits of our everyday experience."