Thursday, July 31, 2008

Postman delivers his fifth 3100 mile victory

Pekka 'Asprihanal' Aalto, who works as a postman in Helsinki, won the 3100 Mile Race (4989K) for the fifth time in 44 days, 2 hours and 42 minutes. He ran 5649 laps on the 883-meter concrete course in Queens, New York, averaging 113K per day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

31 down, 21 to go

My self-supported ultramarathon training run for week 31 took place today in sunny weather. The temperature rose to 21 degrees C. I covered 43.4K in 6:03. 

31 weekly ultramarathons done, 21 to go.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Swissalpine Alphafotos

Alphafoto has already their professional swissalpine photos online. 

This one is in Monstein (17K, 1625 meters above sea level).

The next one is a place called Zugenschlucht (I think).

This is Viadukt in Wiesen (26K, 1195 masl). 

This is in the town of Bergun (39K, 1365 masl). 

This one is taken near Val Tuors (45K, 1704 masl).

I also found a video - it's shot in Scalettapass (60K, 2606 masl).

I'll post a link to my own photos as soon as I have them online.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Swissalpine cutoff incident

To make a long story short: I missed the 47.3K cutoff (14:05, ie. 6:05 after start). So I was not allowed to finish swissalpine K78. I officially finished K31 only.

Ok, here's a longer story. There was this nice aid station at Chants, which is at 47.2K point (1825 meters above sea level). I stopped there to stuff myself with bouillon and alpine bread. I was part of a small group of runners with a smart (or that's what we thought) strategy: start slow and finish strong. 

After all, we had about six hours left. That's plenty of time to run the remaining 31K. What's more, I knew most of that was downhill. I prefer to walk the steepest uphills and then blast down all the downhills. I was sure to be able to finish the race well before 8PM, the official race cutoff time. 

What I (and others running with me) did not know that while we were chatting at the aid station, they were already closing the road ahead. Unknown to us, there was a cutoff point just around the corner - only 100 meters away. 

No one informed us about this cutoff. We believed we were doing fine. And rightly so - I was feeling strong. The cutoff disaster struck us like a lightning from a clear blue sky. 

I saw a couple of guys leaving the aid station just before me and they were cleared through. Then a couple of minutes later, they told me to take the minibus back to Davos. It was unreal, I couldn't believe this was happening to me. 

I had finished this race the year before in 9:43, and now they were telling me that there was no way I could finish the race in 12 hours. They claimed it was impossible for me to reach the next cutoff point at Kesch in less than 90 minutes. 

Ok, we were aware that it would be steep uphill all the way to Kesch (2632 meters above sea level). We also knew that it was only 5.6K away.     

Rules are rules, and finally we figured there was nothing we could do about this incident. The cutoff didn't make much sense to us, but we had to accept it. For some reason, the organisers have chosen to set unusually challenging cutoff times, and we must respect their judgment. 

There's only one thing I'd like to point out. We had already covered over 60 per cent of the race distance in almost half the allowed time. Because we chose to start slower, we suffered most when the single trails began and the long line of runners came to a full stop.
Had we been allowed to try to reach the highest point by 3:30PM, the remaining 25K would have been mostly downhill. Anyone can do the math - the fact is that most of us would probably have been able to accomplish that comfortably in under 4.5 hours. 

The current rules force runners to start aggressively with a fast pace. For an ordinary endurance runner, who has not been able to train at high altitudes, that may not be the most desirable or healthiest way to race.

Here's a little video I shot at the cutoff point.

Anyway, counting the warm up and down, I ran 48.3K - 30 miles for my ultramarathon of week 30. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ray Zahab: 'Running for my life'

Ray Zahab is known for running the Sahara - all of it. That's what it says on the back cover of his book Running For My Life

Also highlights this achievement above others in its Product Description: "Zahab, a thirty-eight-year-old reformed pack-a-day smoker from Chelsea, Quebec, successfully completed that test in February 2007 when he dipped his hands into the Red Sea. It marked the end of 111-day, 7.000-kilometer marathon across the searing North African desert, from Senegal to Egypt."

Without further ado I got the book. I was dying to learn more about this amazing achievement. But not so fast - ultrarunning requires patience. Let's start the story from the beginning.

The first 65 pages of the book described his childhood, school years and boring life filled with smoking and drinking. 

Then it goes on about 35 pages how in 2000 he turned his life around. Ray quit partying and started to train seriously. Hiking, jogging and mountain biking lead him to ultrarunning.

The rest of the book - about 130 pages - consists of several short stories, mainly about crazy races in exotic places. 

The book ends in August 2006, when he got married with Kathy. 

Now that's a happy ending right there, but I can't help feeling a little disappointed. There is nothing about his epic crossing of Sahara with his buddies Charlie Engle and Kevin Lin. Not even one chapter. 

Come on, Ray!

Fortunately, according to Matt Damon the movie Running The Sahara is finally going to be released this fall.

Meanwhile, Ray has been busy running around Canada - and more recently as a proud father of his baby girl Mia Sahara

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Six Value Medals and quest for the best trail running shoes

Edward de Bono has good news and bad news.

The good news is that we can analyze the past. Fortunately information and technology are becoming commodities. In our competitive world, everyone can now be equally competent.

The bad news is that competence will not be sufficient. We have to learn to design our future. We need to develop a strong sense of values. We have to be able to make wise decisions.

The real bad news is that our perception of the world around us is unconscious. To have control over our perceptions we need to make the intangible values visible. We need a value scanning tool to see what values are driving our perceptions.   

The real good news is that the Six Value Medals provides such a value scanning tool. It's a simple value assessment framework that can be applied for all purposes. 

The Six Value Medals are:
  • GOLD MEDAL: human values, the most important values affecting people but often not noticed unless the value is negative (for example, health).
  • SILVER MEDAL: values related to the purpose of an organisation or individual, and especially values associated with money (for example, cost).
  • STEEL MEDAL: quality values, the values you get to enjoy (for example, durability).
  • GLASS MEDALS: covers creativity, innovation and simplicity - all values that arise from change (for example, a new idea or improvement with potential benefits).
  • WOOD MEDAL: environmental values, impact of our actions - these are often negative values that need to be limited or prevented (for example, local pollution or contribution to global greenhouse gas emission).
  • BRASS MEDAL: perceptual values - people react to their perceptions, not to the true world, so perception is real even when it is not reality and all people are inevitably being fooled all the time (for example, a work of art might allow us to see some aspect of our life in a stronger way, or a celebrity endorsement could make advertised benefits credible).
There is a simple scoring system for the medals, where a 'strong value' is given the number 4, 'sound value' is 3, 'weak value' is 2 and 'remote value' is 1. The same scoring system holds when the value of a medal happens to be negative, so -4 would indicate a strong negative value, and so on.  

Now I'm going to use the Six Value Medals in my quest for the best trail running shoe. My purpose is to do well at swissalpine 78K race on Saturday. I'm going to compare two new interesting trail shoe models I've been test-running lately: The North Face Rucky Chucky (NF/RC) and Salomon XT Wings (S/XTW).

Let's start with the Silver Medal. NF/RC cost me 141€ - had to mail order from Germany. S/XTW were widely available and there was a bargain for 99€ at a local store. Both seemed suitable for my racing and training purposes, except that they were too heavy for alpine running. NF/RC were slightly heavier, actually I believe they are heaviest running shoes I've ever used. I'd say S/XTW wins hands down, let's give them 4. TNF/RC gets 2 points.

Then the Steel Medal. S/XTW were more comfortable when running. NF/RC were not able to provide an equally enjoyable running experience. Downhill performance is important for me, and NF/RC are not quite what I'm looking for in this respect. I see possible blister issues during ultra trail races. They also attracted debris inside them (no, I didn't wear gaiters). Tiny rocks stuck to Tenacious Grip outsole frequently. Little design issues like these may not slow me down, but they tend to drive me crazy. Also the service quality at their local store leaves a lot of room for improvement. At this point it seems like S/XTW is going to hit the jackpot again, but not so fast: they are not very durable. The heel rubber seems to wear out quite quickly. However my main issue is with the special thin lacing system. I've bought two pairs of S/XTW, and in both cases the laces snapped suddenly during training. It's a tough call - I'll give both S/XTW and NF/RC only 1 point.

Gold & Wood Medals - I'll handle both human and environmental values together here. Both shoes are manufactured in some Far East factory - who knows exactly where and in what conditions. All I can say that I haven't heard of any issues related to these companies. The North Face has recently added quite an impressive page about their sustainability journey on their website. I found nothing at Salomon websites. I'll give NF/RC 2+3=5 and S/XTW 1+1=2 points.

Glass Medals - creativity, innovation, simplicity. NF/RC was a disappointment in this respect. I would have expected better design improvements than hot colors and 'innovative snake plate'. 1 point for them. S/XTW seems slightly better in this category. They have an impressive list of innovations, but talk is cheap. Initially the new weight distribution idea seemed interesting, but I'm not sure if it offers real benefits. In theory the new lacing system seems more convenient, but in practice it's not. Anyway they seem to be trying harder, so let's give them 2 points.

Finally comes the Brass Medal - perceptual values. Both are well-known brands with a respectable image. NF/RC has been able to get perhaps slightly bigger names to endorse their products, but that's been too vague to make any difference. Salomon has a rather lame online competition called XT Wings Challenge. This is the first summer for both of these models so it's still too early to say which will eventually be more succesful. My personal view is that S/XTW look and feel better so I give them 3 points. The hot colors and somewhat clumsy design of NF/RC is worth 2 points.

The total value scores are: S/XTW 12 points, NF/RC 11 points (the maximum value score is 24). So I'll wear Salomon XT Wings on Saturday - pimped with thick and durable traditional laces!                     

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Perception and performance

There's no doubt that perception relates to sports performance in a very important way. Perception is the mechanism in our brain that determines how we experience everything.

Athletes having a good day may experience the same conditions in a different way than athletes having a bad day. However this might be difficult to measure in a reliable way.  

Jessica Witt has been studying perception in athletes for some time. Her latest study shows that good golfers see the hole as larger than bad golfers. Tiger Woods sees a golf course differently than you do.

Naturally the same sort of effect would apply for other sports. A succesful basketball player on a good night might experience the basket as an ocean into which he is simply throwing rocks. 

Similarly, a great runner might not have any problems at all during a race, while a weaker runner might complain of this and that. It could be almost like they didn't run on the same course. 

Most runners have experienced a tough moment when even a tiny hill seems like a steep mountain. That's when we try to think of mental tricks to change the limiting perception. 

Hopefully further research will be able to suggest practical solutions. In the meantime, let's keep on experimenting.      

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tower jumping: new ethical sport

Tired with unethical cheating in old dying sports? This new sport seems to bring back to life what sport should be all about: a brave straightforward attempt to test your personal limits in inspiring natural surroundings.

These honest guys won't hide the fact that they probably couldn't do it without a few pints of beer every now and then. Their ethical attitude alone makes this sport way more interesting than Tour DE (Doping Epo) France, for instance. Tower beats Tour!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Stick or stink

Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck? 

In Made To Stick Chip and Dan Heath isolate the six factors that they think make ideas 'sticky':
  • Simple. "Speed: Die Hard on a bus."
  • Unexpected. "The lead to the story is 'There will be no school next Thursday'."
  • Credible. "I started smoking to look older and I'm sorry to say it worked."
  • Concrete. "Customer-oriented visionary paradigm."
  • Emotional. "Keep the self in self-interest."
  • Stories. "You don't need to make stuff up, you don't need to exaggerate or be as melodramatic as the Chicken Soup tales."
The book is surely a SUCCESs, as it follows its own formula faithfully. The six-point checklist is a practical tool. It will surely stick. 

Made To Stick is one of the best books of the year. Highly recommended for anyone who would like to make their ideas more sticky - or to be able to spot sticky ideas and take advantage of them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Science laughed at Atkins, now they prove his diet healthiest

Once upon a time Henry Ford stated that if you want an affordable automobile, you can have any color you like so long as it's black. Most people, especially businessmen,  thought he was a genius. 

And then there was Robert Atkins, who claimed that if you need to lose weight, you can eat any foods as much as you like so long as you limit carbohydrates. Many people, including scientists, thought he had lost nothing but his mind.

Now a scientific study published in The New England Journal of Medicine proves Atkins was right after all. Not only was a diet that restricted only carbs shown most effective for losing weight, it was actually healthier than diets that restricted total calories, saturated fat and cholesterol.

The study followed three groups of people for two years. The Mediterranean and Low-fat diet groups restricted their total energy, fat and cholesterol intake. The Low-carb diet group could eat unlimited amounts of whatever foods they desired, as long as they restricted their carbohydrate intake to 120 grams per day (20 g/day for the first two months).

I believe the mystery of how an unlimited diet can be healthier than restricted ones can be explained. 

First, in practice there must be a certain limit of how much fat and protein one can comfortably eat, before feeling absolutely full and satisfied for hours. 

Second, there is an unfortunate misunderstanding that Atkins-type of low-carb diet means eggs, meat, cream and butter only. I guess there could be happy low-carb vegetarians out there, at least theoretically speaking.  

Anyway it's perfectly possible to eat a healthy amount of vegetables and even some fruit without exceeding the 120 g/day limit of carbs. For example, 1.8 kg (4 pounds) of apples would contain about 120 grams of carbs.           

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jamie Donaldson breaks women's Badwater record

Jorge Pacheco of Mexico won 135-mile (217K) Badwater ultramarathon in 23 hours and 20 minutes. 

For a third year in a row, Akos Konya of Hungary finished second. In 2006 he came in second after Scott Jurek. In 2007 Konya set his personal best time 23:47, but Valmir Nunes beat him with a new course record. This year Konya almost matched his last year's performance with a time of 23:49 - finishing less than half an hour after Pacheco.  

There were three strong American runners fighting for the third place.

Dean Karnazes started the strongest of the trio, but gradually faded to fourth place in 27:11 (still a PR, as his victory time in 2004 was 11 minutes slower).

Pam Reed started wisely, but then attacked strongly around half-way point. At 72 miles she was 41 minutes behind Dean. 18 miles later Dean was nine minutes behind her. She ended up finishing fifth in 27:42 - still 14 minutes under her 2002 course record. 

The first American to cross the finish line at the Whitney Portals was Jamie Donaldson. She came in third overall and set a new women's course record 26:51:33 (breaking Pam's 2002 record by more than an hour). 

She ran a smart race tactically. At 90 miles her gap to Dean was 21 minutes and to Pam 30 minutes. At 122 miles she had passed them both, leading Dean by four minutes and Pam by 18 minutes. She kept on going strong and was able to extend the gaps to 20 and 51 minutes at the finish line.

Women did generally well in the heat of Death Valley. At the time of writing this, the results lists 11 finishers: seven female and only four male.

Speaking of weak male performances, I have never seen the name of David Goggins or Charlie Engle associated with the infamous acronym DNF before.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Relatively cool 27 miles

Today I ran to the center of the city, because I wanted to buy a Solio charger.

On my way back home I thought it was pretty hot. It was only 20 degrees C (68F) though. 

Compared to Badwater runners, who had to run through incredible heat - about 44C (111F) - it was relatively cool. I heard David Goggins DNF'd already, so I shouldn't really complain.   

I ran 43.5K (27 miles) in 6:07. 

29 ultramarathons down, 23 to go (in 2008). 

Monday, July 14, 2008

23-year-old wins Hardrock in 23:23

Kyle Skaggs (23) wins Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run by over six hours. It is the first sub-24 hour result ever on the "wild & tough" course in Silverton (CO).

Hardrock is considered by many the hardest 100 mile mountain trail run in the world (Barkley lacks trail). It boasts 10058 meters (33000 feet) total elevation gain. The lowest point is 2341 m (7680') and the highest point 4282 m (14048').

For comparison, here in Europe our premier race The North Face Ultra-Trail Tour du Mont Blanc (UTMB) offers a longer 166.4K (103.4 miles) course with a more modest 9400 m (30840') total elevation gain. The lowest point of UTMB is 807 m (2648') and the highest point 2537 m (8323').   

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dean on EP about Badwater

A brand new Dean Karnazes podcast is now on Endurance Planet.

Dean talks about Badwater and picks up David Goggins as a favourite.

I agree, but we'll see next week how it goes. The race will start on Monday, July 14. I've been told that 217K is a long way to run, especially in Death Valley.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Three tips for a mountain marathon

Travelling to mountain trail marathons can get complicated. All sorts of unexpected things can happen. I thought it would be nice to have a simple framework for the marathon weekend. The aim is to get through all the hassle in a relaxed manner, race well and have fun.  

I composed this list on my return trip from Zermatt Marathon - better take advantage of all that thinking time while sitting on trains, planes and automobiles!
  • Gear: be prepared for every type of weather. Get good trail running shoes and a light backpack with some sort of hydration system well before the race. Wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing (a cap, shirt, shorts and socks you have tested before the race). Consider taking a light pocket camera with an effective image stabilization system.
  • Accommodation: make reservations with a 4/5 star hotel (the best one you can afford - search for special offers on the net) with a spa (for active recovery after the race), restaurant and comfortable location. Arrive there the day before the race (forget acclimation, unless you can spend weeks on the mountains). Visit the race office just to get the race number and other essentials. Avoid pasta parties, expos and other unnecessary distractions before the race. Make sure you can eat breakfast 2.5-3 hours before the race at the hotel (if they don't serve breakfast early enough, explain to them why it's absolutely necessary).
  • Supermarket: travel with light hand luggage (pack as little stuff as possible). Buy everything you need from a local supermarket. Get enough drinks and snacks for the whole weekend. Don't run around the town shopping (forget souvenirs), use a taxi or hotel transportation if necessary.
It's GAS - easy to remember. Hope it works for you. It does work for me.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Long slow jolk for speedy recovery

It seemed like a super nice day when I woke up. I decided to do a long slow jolk (jog/walk) for speedy recovery. 

The weather stayed favorable the whole day. A few raindrops refreshed the air every now and then.

I travelled 43.2K (26.8 miles) by foot in 6:33.

This was my ultramarathon for the week 28 -  a week dedicated to recovery. 

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Zermatt Marathon 2008

About 1500 runners (a new record by the way) enjoyed wonderful sunny weather during 7th Zermatt Marathon.

My finish time is 6:01. Ok, so it was my slowest marathon ever, but I enjoyed every second of it tremendously. 

Counting the easy warmup and warmdown, my total for Saturday was 43.4K in 6:39.

Runner's World (German site) has already a great online-photogallery of the race.

There also a report (in German) with some photos here.

Stay tuned - I'll be back as soon as I get my photos online.

Friday, July 4, 2008

World Run Part 2

In 2004-5 Jesper Olsen ran around the world in 'East-West' direction (London-Tokyo-Sydney-Perth-LA-NYC-London). 

Now the 36-year-old Dane has decided to try a 'North-South' route (Europe-Africa-South America-North America). World Run Part 2 has already started in northern Norway. 

Jesper plans to run every day until the finish point at St. Johns, Newfoundland is reached. The estimated running distance is 40.000 km (24.855 miles).

Sarah Barnett of Australia will be running the whole way with Jesper. They will be also joined by other runners, who are going to run a certain part of the journey.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Gordo on Endurance Planet

2002 Ultraman champion Gordo Byrn is sharing words of wisdom on Endurance Planet.

I'd recommend also Gordo's chat with John Hellemans at Endurance Corner.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The North Face Rucky Chucky

Peter Lubbers blogged about test driving The North Face Rucky Chucky shoes at the Rucky Chucky 50K here. His review seemed very favorable so I've been eager to try them for some time now.  

The problem is how to get them. There is a North Face Store in Helsinki, but in practice they seem to be into hiking type of stuff only. For example, I placed an order with them for a pair of TNF running shoes four months ago - no luck so far.

Fortunately I was able to get the Rucky Chuckies from Globetrotter in Germany. They provide an effective service with reasonable prices. And what's more, they have The North Face Online Store.

The whole thing (including delivery) cost me 140.72 euros (about 222 USD). That may not be a great bargain, but it feels quite ok, as Finland is generally an extremely expensive place to live in. 

By the way, their 4-seasons TV has some interesting shows for free (mostly in German though).

Anyway, back to my new shoes. I think they look hot. Such a cool design. Everything, including the laces, seems durable.

They do feel very light and comfortable when I wear them. 

However when I actually weighed them, I was in for a big surprise: they are 2 x 440 grams = 880 g (31 ounces, for US size 10.5). In other words, the heaviest running shoes I've ever owned. 

These monsters are  a full 10% heavier than my Salomon XT Wings, which I thought were pretty massive already. But like I said, the Rucky Chuckies magically feel like nothing.

As to the actual running experience, please let me get back to you after I've succesfully completed the Zermatt Marathon on Saturday.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Zermatt Marathon course GPS map

Here is a GPS Google map of the Zermatt Marathon course.

Please note that you can download the KML file and open it in Google Earth, if you wish to study the course there.