Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Aalto likely to win 3100 Mile Race on Thursday

According to 
"Leader Ashprihanal Aalto needs only 175 more laps to reach the promised land. He passed the 3000 mile mark in 44 days+16:48:27, and will finish Thursday afternoon. Amazing."
Looks like Finnish Wave (Aalto = Wave in Finnish) will beat the NYC heatwave after 7.5 weeks of struggling. When he had to take the 25th day off and then failed to cover even 50 miles on day 27, many thought we might see a new winner emerge this year.

However Aalto managed to beat all other runners from day 33 to 43, and has now a comfortable enough margin to enjoy the final miles.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How to deal with heavy metals in protein supplements

In Drinking Heavy Metals Slowtwitch Science Editor Jonathan Toker discusses the fact that several protein supplements have been analyzed to contain heavy metals.

I have the simplest solution to the problem: never consume any protein supplements at all.

And while you're at it, quit taking other supplements as well! It's a popular marketing myth that we need these expensive "natural" products for health and peak performance. Actually the opposite is closer to the truth. Spend your money on whole fresh fruits and vegetables instead - they are the real health food.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

ST4: my secret weapon for Swiss Alpine K78

Brooks Racer ST4 racing flats are my secret weapon for Swiss Alpine K78 next Saturday. Don't tell this to my competitors, but these shoes can provide a huge competitive advantage in a fairly untechnical ultra trail race like K78.

As my course preview reveals, K78 is not normally anything like some extreme mountain races, where heavier trail shoes are preferred by most runners. As a rule of thumb for European races, if poles aren't allowed, then flats like ST4 should be ok.

Few racing flats are flat, and ST4 is not an exception:
  • midsole height: heel 22 mm, forefoot 10 mm, ie.
  • heel-to-toe offset 12 mm.
Although ST4 is marketed as a minimal shoe, it's really not. It contains a Hydroflow unit in the rearfoot area and the Diagonal Rollbar technology for pronation control. Therefore it's a bit heavier than really minimal shoes. Still, I like this shoe a lot and my feet seem to love it - or actually it's predecessor ST3.

I've done the K78 a couple of times before with Racer ST3. Scott Jurek, who is sponsored by Brooks (unlike me), had won the 246 km Spartathlon ultra marathon in 2006 wearing a pair of ST3's. He was actually able to do that for three years in a row.

So in 2007 I ran my first K78 with ST3's. Finished in under ten hours as planned (9:43), I was happy with that.

In 2008 I made several mistakes and DNF'd. That was the year when I covered an ultramarathon distance once every week. I managed to run 47 km before they stopped me, so I had my ultra for that week done. The main reason for my pitiful pace was my Salomon trail shoes. My feet had been hurting a lot that year, because that's when I got the crazy idea of running with trail shoes. I also had a pair of The North Face Rucky Chuckys, but they were not much as far as my feet were concerned. It took me months to realize that my injuries were directly caused by wearing robust stability/motion control/trail shoes.

In 2009 I was back with vengeance and a new pair of ST3's. I was rewarded with a course PR (8:56).

So I've ordered a brand new pair of ST4's, which should be the same as ST3, except some minor modifications in the upper of the shoe. I hope they have changed the laces as well - I hate the laces in ST3. I don't know why, but they they don't work well for me. [Edit: Yes ST4 sports improved laces and lacing system. Well done, Brooks!]

By the way the latest blog by Anton Krupicka is interesting. It's about his training run in the high altitude of Rocky Mountain National Park with Scott Jurek. The photos (by Jenny Uehisa) show Scott wearing ST4's! Jurek is training for UTMB next month, and who knows may be brave enough to consider racing it with them. I think he has been wearing Brooks Cascadia trail shoes in his previous attempts, which have more or less failed. Wouldn't it be fantastic if Scott beat Kilian Jornet and Geoff Roes wearing ST4's!

Alright that's enough speculation, more to come after some real results.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Fruitarian runs Vermont 100

The Fruitarian got the 100 mile monkey off his back last weekend, when he succesfully finished Vermont 100 mile run. 17:12 earned him 5th place on the results list.

The video about his race may not be as perfect as his race performance, but it's fun to watch. Few runners fancy mountain climbing the day after a 100 miler.

It's interesting to note that The Fruitarian consumed the following foods during the race:

  • 6 lbs Medjool dates
  • 3 Cantaloupe melons
  • 1.5 watermelons
  • 8 bananas
  • 2 oranges
  • 60-64 16 oz water bottles (about 30 l = average 1.75 l/h)
  • 50-55 salt pills (average 3 pills/h).
That's a lot of fruits and water for one race! Well done.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Math of Salt Loss

I suspect the hypothermia that lead to a DNF in my recent extreme ultra trail race, was actually to a large degree caused by hyponatremia. I certainly didn't get enough sodium, and way too few calories in general.

Anyway I've been studying The Math of Salt Loss by Jonathan Toker, who is an elite runner/triathlete, has a Phd In organic chemistry, and is the inventor of Saltstick.

However please note that natural sodium (as in celery juice and so on) is usually the healthiest option - just make sure to get organic. I'm a celery stick man!

Sorry about the dumb video - back to replacing salt loss. In summary:
  • if your race is likely to last longer than 3-4 hours, 
  • the weather is hot and humid, ie. you'll be sweating considerably, and 
  • you plan to avoid dehydration by replacing most of the lost fluids, 
  • then you'd better take some sodium during the race, but
  • aim for just the right amount, as excessive sodium intake is harmful.  

Monday, July 19, 2010

Swiss Alpine K78 preview

To celebrate my 48th birthday, I'd like to run 48 miles. Conveniently there will be a 78 km race on July 31 in Davos, Switzerland: Swiss Alpine K78.

They are celebrating their 25th anniversary and are throwing a party for everyone after the race. As a special gift they will also give us a running jacket this year instead of the usual T-shirt.

This will be my fifth start there, so I know the course well already. They claim to be the ultimate challenge, but compared to extreme ultra trail races like UTMB (166 km) or TVSB (110 km) it's going to be a lot easier.

There's basically only one big mountain to get over with. The cumulative ascent and descent is 2,260 meters. The start/finish is 1,560 meters and the highest point 2,632 meters above sea level.

The trail is usually in good condition and there's nothing too technical, just some short snowy and wet patches. In Davos and couple of other larger towns the route follows some asphalt roads as well.

The course is relatively fast, and everyone is expected to take full advantage of that in order to finish in 12 hours. There will be a few cutoff points to be cleared as well. This race is for runners as there won't be time to walk too much. Poles are not allowed.

Every time I've been there the weather has always been warm and sunny, with a thunderstorm up in the mountains during the afternoon. I'll expect the same once again, although you can never be sure of course.

The winner will probably be Jonas Buud of Sweden again, as he has won the three previous races. It will take him around 6 hours. My goal is to have fun and beat my course PR 8:56.

There will be over 1,500 competitors in K78 alone and there will also be a marathon along the last 42 km of the course with about a thousand participants. With a few other races in the same area on the same day, it's a fairly large event.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chrissie Wellington improves her Ironman WR with 8:19:13

Triple Ironman Hawaii Champion Chrissie Wellington improved her own Ironman-distance triathlon World Record today at Challenge Roth 2010 with 8:19:13.

She set the previous record 8:31:59 at Challenge Roth 2009. At the time that was already thought to be an incredible achievement.

The new WR is simply stunning, although the event is one of the fastest in the world. With over 3,100 competitors this is the largest triathlon in the world. Although drafting is strongly discouraged during cycling, with so many people on the course it will inevitably happen here and there.

The swim course consists of one 3,800-meter loop in the Main-Danube Canal, which feels pretty much like swimming in a big pool. The water quality is monitored and ship traffic is stopped during the race. Wetsuits are allowed.

The 180 km bike course follows undulating countryside roads. The fanatic Tour-deFrance-like crowds powered by local beer - they even have a 'beer mile' along the course - make the riders climb the hills quickier than planned.

This year being the 950th anniversary of Roth, the marathon run course was modified to lead right through the old town of Roth. A forest section of the run course was respectively shortened.

The weather was favorable: sunny and partially cloudy. The highest temperature of the day was 25 C.

Wellington's record-breaking split times were:
  • 3.8 km swim - 0:50:28
  • T1 - 0:01:56
  • 180 km bike - 4:36:33 (best female bike split ever)
  • T2 - 0:01:25
  • 42.2 km marathon run - 2:48:54 (best female marathon split ever).
This was enough to beat all but six men - she finished 7th overall. Men's winner was Rasmus Henning with 7:52:36. The second woman to finish was Rebekah Keat with 8:52:10.

This was Wellington's first race at this distance since her latest World Championship victory in October. In June she won Ironman Kansas 70.3 (a half-ironman) and was honoured with MBE.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Death Valley Jack - the oldest man to run Badwater ultramarathon

Jack Denness aka Death Valley Jack, retires at age 75 with his 12th finish of 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon across the Death Valley. The first four clips were filmed during his final preparation for the race.

Here's the official Badwater Recap Video, showing Jack's finish at the end in 59:13:02 (the cutoff was 60 hours).

Help Death Valley Jack get more facebook fans than Usain Bolt and share your support for Cerebral Palsy care!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tour de France 2010 crashes

I don't usually watch Tour de France anymore, except the crashes of course!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

TVSB 2010 race report

Trail Verbier St-Bernard (aka TVSB) 110 km ultra trail race started 5 AM on Saturday in semi-darkness. I hadn't slept enough as my hotel was next to the noisy competition center in the heart of Verbier, at 1490 meters above sea level. This is the exact same spot where Alberto Contador won the 15th stage of 2009 Tour de France. Skiing resort Verbier has a great athletic vibe to it also in the summer.

However the long stalls selling booze and crepes under my hotel room balcony as well as the continuous muzak driven through huge loudspeakers mixed with assorted announcements in French had torpedoed all my attempts to go to sleep at 7 PM. As a last resort, I had put my iPod on to cancel all outside sounds, and it worked surprisingly well.  

I was a bit nervous and woke up before my alarm clock rang at 3 AM. I had some bananas and dates for breakfast. I left my room 20 minutes before start, but had to come back for my personal bag with honey, dates and a pair of socks inside. We would have access to those bags at 48 km check point in La Fouly.

With 15 minutes left I came back to the starting area, where they registered electronically the chips behind our bibs. It would be controlled at every CP before you could continue the race. Shockingly I discovered that my chip wasn't there behind my bib - it had fallen off somewhere!  I found it on my hotel room floor and quickly taped it on permanently. What a close call, I could have lost everything right then and there.

With 10 minutes left I went down to the lobby and then instantly came back up to get my squeezable 250 gram container of honey, which I'd forgotten to stuck in the thigh pocket of my Raidlight R-DRY 3/4 tights. Consequently I was probably the last of the 307 La Boucle (The Loop) starters to arrive inside the starting area.

I had divided the course into five parts, allocating about four hours for each:
  • Verbier - Sembrancher (0 - 26.7 km): two peaks above 2000 meters, some easy paths but also some extremely difficult trails.
  • Sembrancher - La Fouly (26.7 - 48.4 km): steady climb to Champex, and then the UTMB trail to La Fouly (where the La Traversee 61 km race would start at 12 noon).
  • La Fouly - Bourg St. Pierre (48.4 - 76.4 km): three highest peaks of the race, lots of snow along the route, a very demanding section.
  • Bourg St. Pierre - Lourtier (76.4 - 98.9 km): three peaks above 2000 m, and probably in darkness, not going to be fast or easy.
  • Lourtier - Verbier (98.9 - 110.5 km): last two of the 10 peaks above 2000 m, it's not a long way and you might get here after the second sunrise of the race for a little mental boost, but you sure are going to feel tired.
Had I been able to follow my dream plan and finish in 20 hours, I would have actually been in the top 40! I reached the first CP on Croix de Coeur (9.7 km) in 1:29, in 46th position. However it soon became obvious to me that I'd be lucky to finish at all, as the trail was much longer and more challenging (+/- 6904 m) than the 78 km race in Davos I had completed several times before. 

Running down the first big descent, I chatted with an English guy. The sunrise greeted us and we thought were moving on pretty fast, while the local trail nuts zoomed by left and right. As the trail marked with red-and-white plastic ribbons got narrower and more technical, we were forced to slow down. On our left side was a steep mountain wall, which logically continued as steeply on our right side. I'm slightly afraid of heights, so I consciously avoided looking down. I heard the familiar sound of thundering water, and sure enough there was a bit larger than usual waterfall behind the next corner, no doubt thanks to previous evening's thunderstorm and all that melting snow. 

We stood there in awe for a while, clueless where to go next. Then I got it, at the same time as the Englishman moaned in disbelief "Oh ****!" The course markings continued on the other side. We were supposed to go through the fall. There was no other way. I forced myself to jump across, hoping the stepping stones wouldn't be too slippery. Although my La Sportiva Crosslite shoes were very good for trail running, I'd already noticed their grip on the wet stones wasn't perfect. I made it, but realised that this course is going to be scary and insanely dangerous for flatlanders like me.

From there on, I took all the difficult spots real slow and easy. In hindsight, I also hoped I would have paid for the mountain helicopter rescue insurance.   

An even more serious issue was that I wasn't getting enough calories. The aid stations were few and far between, I didn't have any crew to assist me, and my Raidlight Olmo 5 backpack was full of mandatory survival gear - not much room for food there. I carried 250 g honey as an emergency reserve, but by Champex 34 km checkpoint it was all gone! In a normal 42K road marathon a similar container of honey had been sufficient for me.

The volunteers at the aid stations were very friendly and I appreciate all their hard work, but I wasn't able to communicate to them what I required. Most people spoke French only, and all I got was a few orange wedges, banana pieces and raisins. Eventually I was desperate enough to try even some diluted Coke. Not surprisingly I didn't like it. Then I demanded to know if their bouillon was vegetarian or not. The volunteer in charge agreed enthusiastically "Yes yes vegetable", showing me the container they prepared it from. It was beef stock, with a little celery, carrot and the usual stuff in it. I thanked them and secretly poured it on the ground behind some bushes.   

I reached Le Levron CP (21.6 km) in 2:45. Things were going pretty well I thought. Soon after I was already in Sembrancher (26.7 km). Only 3:24 had passed, so I was well ahead of my ambitious 4-hour plan. The sun became strong enough to burn, so I put on my white Raidlight Sahara cap, which has a special flap on the back protecting the ears and neck.

I kept on sweating profusely under the scorching sun, probably losing some essential minerals and wrecking my electrolyte balance in the process. I didn't carry any salt or sodium-rich vegetables with me, but I didn't get any muscle cramps or cravings for it either. Interestingly at higher altitudes I noticed salty clear mucus pouring from my nose, probably a residue from my heavy salt intake days during previous decades. I think it was rather due to lack of sugar calories that I bonked pretty badly around Champex (34.0 km), where I arrived at 9:54 AM, 4:54 after the start. It could well be that I was slightly hyponatremic too. Anyway at that point I was moving in almost automatic zombie-style and dreaming of the delicious meal I had left for after-race nutrition at my hotel (see photo below).

I finally arrived in La Fouly 12:30 PM, 7:30 after the start and half an hour after the La Traversee competitors had started from there. I saw the helicopter filming them, but I never saw any of the 61K runners. You can see them in the video below.

I sat down and cleaned my feet from debris and needles, then changed into clean dry socks. Preventing blisters and other foot issues is first priority in races like this. For ultras I choose bigger shoes to make sure that they have enough extra room to accommodate my swelling feet. Maybe that's why I don't lose toenails, like some runners do, or get any other serious foot issues either. 

I also grabbed two full 250 g containers of honey from my gear bag. The Organic Blueberry Food Bar that I had slipped in the bag as an experiment caught my attention, and I ran away happily while munching half of it. I didn't like it too much though, and threw the other half away. Distracted by the bar, I completely forgot to take the dates. Those sweet little things were supposed to be the first thing in my mind. How I  managed to completely forget them is beyond me. I planned to get a major part of my calories during the race from delicious Medjools, and ended up with having none. Now how did that happen?  

I climbed towards Col de Fenêtre in a good mood, as I had decided to use the Mountain King Trail Blaze Aluminium Alloy trail poles. Folded into four sections, they had been strapped on my backpack all the time. Although 120 cm long when assembled, they weigh only 115 g each. They made climbing up and down the steep hills considerably easier for my legs. My quads and calves were screaming already, but my arms and upper body had unused power reserves.

It started to rain for a couple of hours, so I had to pull out my Inov-8 Mistlite 210 shell jacket and waterproof gloves for the first time. By the time I reached a higher lake area called Lacs de Fenêtre it was sunny and hot again. The scenery there was absolutely fantastic all over. The trail navigated through turquoise lakes and waterfalls. It was like being in a lost world. If you have ever experienced an amazing silence like that you know what I'm talking about.

This was my favourite part of the course and it certainly made every painful step of the climb up there worthwhile. I guess this is what I came here for, and I considered it as a first-class experience already a huge success.

I conquered the top at 2698 meters (59.3 km) in 10:34, 15:34 PM. There was a volunteer with binoculars looking over the climbers, making sure everyone was doing fine.

Without further ado I descented to Col du Grand St. Bernard (2469 m, 62.5 km) in 48 minutes. At the aid station there I met some Finnish volunteers who have lived in Switzerland for a long time. I was not in hurry - as I was unconcerned of the danger ahead - so I chat with them in Finnish for some time, snacking oranges like on a leisurely stroll. A Finnish lady kindly described the route to the big resting place, Bourg St. Pierre 13.9 km away: "You go on from here and climb Col des Chevaux and then it's a few km's downhill from there."

Things are often more easily said than done, and this case was not going to be an exception. They say that a mountain is not a safe place to be during a storm. I was congratulating myself on the highest peak of the course, Col des Chevaux (2714 m, 64.7 km), when a thunderstorm arrived out of the blue. It started gradually with hail, and I thought it wasn't a big deal. Just in case, I put on my jacket an gloves.    

Soon it started to rain really hard, and I pulled the hood over my head. The raindrops were big and icy cold. Soon I was soaking wet. There were a few other competitors up there, and we all knew without saying a word that we ought to get down to the valley asap. The steep slope where the trail leading down should have been was covered with deep wet snow. That wasn't an unsurmountable problem, but it slowed our descent just enough to allow the rain to double the volume of each stream we were about to cross.

We were uncontrollably slipping and sliding down the mountain without always managing to stay in upright position. My light jacket clearly wasn't made for this kind of weather. I felt cold already with all that icy rain and snow inside my clothes, but when we crossed the first icy mountain stream I knew we were really in trouble. All the stepping stones that would normally allow a trekker to go across were now underwater. Also all the trails had turned into muddy flowing canals.      

Although we felt dead tired before this happened, the adrenaline rush gave us super strength for a while. We instinctively realised that the only chance for a happy ending was to sprint towards the safety of Bourg St. Pierre about a 10K down the valley. Despite running faster than at any previous point in this race, I only felt more and more frozen.

About halfway through a huge herd of cows blocked our way. They seemed as panicked as we were. A local guy who knew how to handle a situation like this told us to step back. Then he said something to the cows while walking carefully forwards, and the herd divided into two, letting us through peacefully.

The cowboy mumbled to no-one in particular: "I'm going to quit." You are not supposed to give in too easily, so I asked him "What are you talking about?" He replied "When we get there, I'm going to quit. Just look at this weather, it's too much, it's impossible keep on running like this!" I couldn't help agreeing with the cowboy.

Ironically the rain stopped completely on our arrival. The birds sang again. But too late, the damage was done. I was surely in hypothermic condition.

Just outside the long-awaited shelter, I met an English-speaking man who was going to the other direction, but nevertheless asked if I was ok. I said I'm frozen all over and definitely going to quit. He asked me to reconsider my decision and offered to show me around the shelter, which was actually a large community building with a restaurant.

He guided me to a large room with a few other runners covered with blankets. A lady volunteer, possibly a doctor or nurse, asked how I feel. At this point I was shivering like crazy and I noticed that words didn't come out of my mouth properly. It must have appeared just a blurred mumble to others as I couldn't say certain letters at all. She got me a couple of cups of some kind of hot herbal tea and told me that I'd be fine.

After about half an hour my condition wasn't getting much better. I didn't feel like trekking the remaining 34 km to the finish, likely all alone and certainly in darkness, on slippery slopes and without any crew to call for help if something happened. Theoretically I had the time to do it, as I had used only 14 hours and change. But the wheels had come off big time, and I honestly didn't have the drive anymore.

They tried their best to persuade me to sleep a while on one of their cozy army beds, and offered to get me a free warm meal of spaghetti, but I turned them down politely. I inquired about immediate transportation to my hotel in Verbier - I knew where my favorite food would be waiting.

Finally they nodded in agreement, and the English-speaking man lead me to the other side of the building. There was a bus just about to leave for Verbier. To my astonishment, the bus was full of runners like me, with or without blankets around them. Not a word was spoken during the 45-minute trip.

Throughout the night I would wake up to the enthusiastic and loud announcements of yet other successful finisher arriving. This would continue until 1 PM on Sunday. It was a weird feeling to relax on the balcony and enjoy delicious food, and watch runners coming in as much as 30 hours after the start - some of them up to 17 hours after I had DNF'd. Altogether there were 159 finishers of the complete La Boucle, meaning 148 of those who started DNF'd.

Actually DNF (Did Not Finish) sounds too limited and negative from my point of view, considering all the positive aspects. TVSB wasn't just another ultra trail marathon to test your fitness and endurance. It was a life-changing adventure through some of the most amazing natural scenery in the world, and with some of the happiest people I've ever met. Wherever you looked, there was a stunning view. Every person I encountered, offered spontaneously a friendly greeting or word of encouragement.

I'd like to conclude with a word I often heard people of Valais say to me: bravo!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

TVSB live online tracking

Trail Verbier St-Bernard will have live online tracking starting 5:00 AM (local Swiss time) on Saturday.

The website seems to be in French only, but no worries! You only need to be remotely familiar with a few simple terms in order to follow the race:

  • Accueil = Welcome page, no info here.
  • La Boucle = the whole 110 km loop (357 runners, including yours truly).
  • La Traversée = the last 61 km of the course (693 runners).
  • Tableau passages = charts with columns for ranking, bib, name, category, and all the control points.
  • Fiches Coureurs = Search for a competitor.
  • Classement =  Ranking by category etc.
  • Tête Course = Race leaders.
  • Infos pts contrôles = Checkpoint information.
There are a few important cutoffs to be cleared along La Boucle (all times are Swiss):
  • Sembrancher (26.65 km) by 11:30 (AM) Saturday - 6:30 h from start.
  • La Fouly (48.38 km) by 17:00 (5 PM) Saturday - 12:00 h from start.
  • Bourg St Pierre (76.41 km) by 2:00 (AM) Sunday - 21:00 h from start.
  • Lourtier (98.85 km) by 9:00 (AM) Sunday - 28:00 h from start.
  • Finish in Verbier (110.54 km) by 13:00 (1 PM) Sunday - 32:00 h from start.
Bon courage!