Friday, September 1, 2017

Ghost finisher

Triathlon Long Distance European Champioship will take place again in Almere (Amsterdam, Holland) next week. Let's hope the weather will be less stormy than on 17th August 1991, when I took part in this Europe's oldest 'ironman'-distance race.

The whole week had been calm and sunny. The course was advertised as fast and flat. I was ready to set a new PR in under ten hours.

The race morning appeared stormy as hell. The waves in the sea looked like big hills. The 3800-meter swim was a blurred struggle for survival.

On the 180-km bike course the wind blew gravel on the wet roads. Both of my tubular tires were punctured. I carried two spare tubes, which I managed to install with cold hands. On the last lap both of my spare tires blew off as well. I had to cycle the last 40km with an empty back tube and the last 20km with a flat front tire as well. They were right, 'flat' described the course well.

The rain stopped during the run, but it was still windy. I ran a great marathon, finishing in 11 hours and change. It wasn't a new PR, but it was certainly a strong performance I could feel proud of forever.

Today I checked the website of Challenge Almere. They have all the old results online, so I searched for my name from the 1991 list. It wasn't there! Nothing about my lifetime achievement. I had always assumed I was a finisher, but I had never actually checked the results before. I have absolutely no idea why my result was omitted 26 years ago.

A philosophical question: Did I really finish, or was it just a dream?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Story of a Trophy

I found an old trophy with a plate: "Laulajan lenkki 64km 1995 IIIp Miehet".
Singer's Loop 40 miles 1995 3rd place men.

I was able to scan two photos of me running in this race. The cross-country skiing type large front & back bib was number 14. My minimalist gear included shabby shorts, worn-out shirt, huge sunglassed, white tube socks and thin-soled running shoes.

My 'Flock of Seagulls' hair was blowing in the wind. That style may have been fashionable back in the day.

I wondered what is the story behind this cheap trophy? Why had I kept it all these years? I've never been much of a materialist, so I tend to throw everything away.

Luckily I managed to download the Finnish ultrarunning magazine 'Ultrajuoksija' 2/1995. Editor Tero Töyrylä had published a few pages about the event with interviews and results.

This road race had been organized in Vammala (a former town in South-Western Finland, now a city called Sastamala) since 1990. The singer was one of the competitors: Mauno Lampimäki. He had recorded countless songs with his dance band. The start and finish was at Myllymaa sports centre. In 1995 there were thirty runners in the race, which was a big increase from previous years. Ultrarunning was definitely booming.

On Saturday, May 13th the weather was clear, cool and windy. After eight years of ironman-distance triathlons, this was my first ultrarunning race ever. In October 1994 I had ran my marathon PR 2:55. In 1995 I had increased my running mileage from 70 to 100 km/week. Two weeks before I had ran a 53km test training run with promising results.

I gave it my best shot. In those days I didn't eat carbs, so there was no energy supplementation whatsoever. I may have received a cup of tap water during the race, but that's all. The course was pretty tough. My marathon split was 3:20. The route was marked, but I wasn't quite sure where to go on two occasions. In both cases I was able to confirm the right direction with someone.

I finished strong in 5:04.08 in 3rd place. I don't recall feeling tired at all. Petri Orava won with 4:25.28 and Alf Granvik came second in 4:58. Maria Tähkävuori was the first woman.

I was happy with my ultrarunning debut. It had been fantastic to run with legends like the Montela twins (Kalevi and Olavi) and Kalevi Saukkonen (who has run over 2100 marathons). Mauno the singer finished as well. He probably sang too, but I had to head back to Helsinki.

I ran Laulajan lenkki again the next year, finishing 5th with 5:37:37, over 30 minutes slower time. I have never been able to run a faster 40-miler than on that windy Saturday in 1995.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

MIN:D OVER MALOJA - Swiss Irontrail 2017

It's Friday night at busy Murtel cable car station in Swiss Alps. The doors open and a zombie drags his feet inside. His corpse collapses on a bench. He lies down on his back eyes closed while liquids slowly spread from a soft flask on the floor. Onlookers shake their head: another one bites the dust.

That zombie is me. I'm at the highest point of Swiss Irontrail 214km (133 miles), but not even halfway through. We had started 4am in Davos. We would have to run a counterclockwise loop with over eleven thousand meters of elevation gain to finish in the same place before 6pm on Sunday.

Quitting is not an option. You have to suck it up and design a way forward. I would have to descend down to Maloja by the big lake. There would be a house with a warm meal and a place to nap there.
I would regroup there and finish my longest race ever.

After eating and sleeping in Maloja I kept on going relentlessly. There were uphills and downhills. It was hot and cold. There were easy roads and technical trails. My feet sensed the terrain instinctively and adjusted automatically.

After another day and night I crawled up the final steep slope before Davos. It was extremely hot and I kept on cooling myself off in streams. Three figures stood on the cliff high above watching my struggle up.

It was Andrea Tuffli, who has directed Swiss Alpine events since 1986. I ran my first ultra-trail in Davos back in 1995 and returned many times for various races. He and the other two guys cheered excitedly, high-fived me and grabbed my arms.

"Congratulations! Do you always finish every race you start?", they asked. "No, but if you let go my arm I might finish this one", I joked and laughed. I kept on laughing the whole 5km downhill to Davos with people clapping and shouting everywhere, and tears of happiness pouring from my eyes.