Friday, December 30, 2011

Identify your running style before its too late

Does your running style look a bit like any of these five guys in the video below?

The most common basic types have been conveniently named:

  • The Geezer
  • The Dandy
  • The T-1000
  • The Flightless Bird
  • The Stiffy.

If you could identify with one or more of these styles, congratulations for your honesty. Promise right now to do something about it as the New Year begins.

If you answered no, you are possibly kidding yourself. Maybe you should ask for other people's views right now.

In any case, Happy Trails and Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kilian on Canal+

I don't waste my time watching the garbage on mainstream TV, but I'm happy to make an exception this time. Kilian Jornet was featured on Canal+, the premium French pay TV channel. Ultra trail running is definitely big in Europe now. 'Seul au Monde' means 'Alone in the World', I guess.

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Chase

The Chase is a short film about chasing who you want to become by Gretchen Powers.

The CHASE. from Gretchen Powers on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

TNF Trans Gran Canaria promo

The latest promo video for The North Face Trans Gran Canaria. Only 66 days! Training is going very well, last week alone I ran 100 miles.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Mental preparation for next ultrarunning season

In this interesting video about mental preparation for ultrarunning, Mental Coach Dominique Simoncini presents his "3Cs for CCC" (Competence, Consciousness, Confidence for Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix).

For example, you can learn how to deal with the negative emotions after a disappointing or frustrating race experience. Although you may temporarily feel like the world has falled apart, it's possible and essential to renew your 3Cs for the next season. You may feel you are no longer competent and therefore lose your confidence. So you have to get back to adequate level of competence, validate it in order to become fully conscious of your capabilities and thus regain extra confidence.

1. The first step is to define your goals: clarify your specific aims and ensure that those objectives match your physical capabilities.

2. The second step is to define what sort of emotions you feel in relation to your ambitions: are they a source of happiness or stress for you?

3. The third step is trying to manage your emotions during your training and the race itself, so that you will achieve your goal. Simoncini mentions various methods for this purpose: relaxation, mental imaging, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), and even a form of light hypnosis.

If all this is well done, it should give a sense of immediate meaning to your every action. When you plan your next season, you have to be careful to make it work as a whole. You should never feel overworked by training too much without recovery, but there shouldn't be too long inactive gaps either. The mental preparation should be closely linked with physical training. It is important to be always well organized - especially before your main event - so that you can look forward to it and avoid feeling burnout.

Finally Simoncini presents his "ici et maintenant" (here and now) philosophy: living for the present. When you are running in an challenging ultra race, always keep in mind that what you are feeling in a particular situation is only a temporary state of mind. Don't let your mind wander to what difficulties there may be ahead, or you might start doubting whether you're going to make it. Tell yourself that you are here and now, concentrate on the present, and things will get better. If you put this into practice, things will work out - even in your everyday life.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hoka talks, lesser shoe walks

Hoka One One made a brilliant strategic decision to focus on marketing a unique product: a thick'n'wide-soled all-terrain running shoe that's relatively light-weight. As painful injuries due to the current minimal shoe craze skyrocket, more runners are forced to look for creative solutions.  

In the video below, ultrarunner Karl Meltzer talks about his love affair with Hoka shoes. It seems they are married for life now.


I hardly go out for a run without my Bondi B's these days. I've logged over a thousand kilometers in them, and they are still as good as new, if not better. A lesser shoe would be finished by now, but I expect to squeeze another 1000K out of them. Hokas may seem expensive, but they will be good value for money in the long run.

I completely agree with the Bondi B review below, but I'd add one more thing: if you have plantar fasciitis, some runners (myself included) have gotten rid of it with a little help from Hoka. The new colors look great for sure, but the shoe design has stayed essentially the same.

Especially if you're planning to run any ultras, keep an open mind and give Hokas a fair chance. By the way, now would be a perfect time to buy new shoes, as shops are clearing their shelves for new 2012 spring models. For example all current Hokas are on sale at the in Chamonix. If you choose Bondi B, I'd size up a half. I have no experience with the other models yet, but a pair of Mafates is already on its way to me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Yoga Xmas Survival Kit

I hardly ever do yoga or even stretch. Having said that, it might be a good idea to try some of this during holidays. Happy trails 2012!


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Left in the Dark - book review

I finished reading 'Left in the Dark' by Graham Gynn and Tony Wright today. It presents an interesting new left/right brain theory, that seems better and different than all the others I've heard so far. I think it's an important book, although the writing style is somewhat dry, academic and perhaps a bit too British in style. However the thinking is spectacularly brilliant in this idea-rich 200-page investigation into the evolution of the human brain. Some say it's "the most revolutionary theory since Darwin" - and they are probably right.

The authors present strong evidence that shows our human ancestors were forest-dwelling fruit-eaters and not animal hunters - contrary to what is widely believed today. They also propose that although the right hemisphere of our brains is actually much more functional than the left, the right hemisphere has abilities that can only emerge when the left hemisphere dominance is lifted. We are mostly lost in the illusion created by our limited - but extremely dominant - left-hemisphere self.

Many human mysteries that you may have wondered about are explained in the book. For example:
  • why we are so different from our animal relatives (and not always in a good way),
  • how our brains became so large, but then started to shrink (yes we are getting stupider, not smarter),
  • why the two sides of our brains have different functions (and how for instance we tend to forget our dreams immediately upon waking up), and
  • how the human system has suffered a stall in its development, which has obviously affected our health and behaviour.
What I found particularly interesting from athletes's perspective was the powerful effect of steroids and hormones on our biology. They also investigate athletes (including a few runners) who have been able to shift to a 'second self' with enhanced abilities. Steroids -  even the natural ones produced in our bodies - seem to be surprisingly harmful in many ways.

It appears that in successful race performances the left hemisphere control in the brains of those athletes has been overridden. Accessing this second system is the secret that lies at the heart of enhanced sporting performance. In those rare instances perception of time and space is usually somewhat altered, and a heightened sense of alertness is commonplace.  

Finally the extreme sleep deprivation experiments (up to 11 days and nights!) performed by Tony Wright in a scientific setting were quite interesting to read about from ultrarunning point of view, as many ultra distance races require sleep deprivation. It seems that when we feel tired and think we must stop, it's only our left brain that's tired. If we can avoid fear and confusion, we can keep going for a long time with our right brain.

Occasionally a theory will blow your mind. This theory will tell you why your mind is already blown.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Transgrancanaria 2012 training camp video

I missed this training camp for Transgrancanaria 2012. Well-trained or not, I'm going to attempt the 123 km ultra option in March - only 79 days left. This will be my longest trail running race next year.


Here's a video from this year's race to get some idea how it will be. Almost everyone seems to have taped plastic bags over their shoes for sand protection for the first few kilometers that goes over the dunes of Playa del Ingles.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gore-Tex Transalpine-Run 2012 registration open

Registration for Gore-Tex Transalpine-Run 2012 (1.-8. September) has started. It's an Alpine stage trail run. They have two alternating routes: East and West. In 2012 it will be the East from Ruthpolding in Germany to Sexten in Italy. There will be eight stages.

They take only 250 pairs of runners (you are not allowed to participate without a teammate). The race will probably sell out quickly, so hurry.

I plan to run CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix) at the end of August, so I'll pass this one.

You'll find a 42-minute video of Gore-Tex Transalpine-Run 2011 and other trail running races at Massive SportsTV.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nicki Rehn presents Tor des Géants

You don't often hear an Aussie-Canuck raving about European ultratrails. You should check out Nicki Rehn presenting Tor des Géants at FEAT Canada. Don't worry,  the video below is short and funny - not at all like those grueling ultra races.

TDG is a 330 km single-stage trail run in September. You can eat, sleep or whatever, but the clock keeps ticking all the time. You just somehow have to run the 200+ miles with 24000 meters of climbing in 150 hours.

And naturally you are always welcomed to Hotel DNF.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

TNF Endurance Challenge 2011 50 miles San Francisco

The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 2011, a 50-mile trail race near San Francisco. Mike Wolfe battles with Dakota Jones, and wins in the end by a couple of minutes. Results.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Brooks Pure preview

The four models in the new Brooks Pure Project shoe line seemed interesting when I had a chance to check them out in Switzerland last July. Unfortunately they were not allowed to sell any of them yet.

I'd surely be interested in trying Pure Flow for short training and racing, perhaps even for marathons. Also Pure Grit might be useful. The other two I'm not that interested in.

I'm afraid the Pures might be too minimal for ultras, unless you can run like Krupicka - I certainly can't. We'll see when they become available in Europe.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sylvain Perret's 42 summits around the world

Sylvain Perret climbed 42 interesting summits (cumulative elevation 102,000 m) in 25 countries while he traveled around the world in 2007-8. His book 'Aux Sommets du Monde' is out.

There are many peaks in his list that I have thought about climbing, some that I have attempted to climb, but only one that I have actually climbed: Gunung Tahan in Malaysia. With 2.187 meters it's the highest peak in the Peninsular Malaysia. The trail running/hiking distance was well under 100 km, but it was through the oldest rainforests of the world and it took me almost a week. If you are a tough trail person, definitely go for it - just avoid sleeping where the elephants roam. And man do those leeches suck (pun intended). In the video below Perret's Malaysian adventure is between 14:16-16:50.

"Aux sommets du monde". Entretien avec Sylvain Perret from Yannick Michelat on Vimeo.
42 sommets gravis – de 600 à 7000 m. d’altitude - 25 pays traversés, 102000 m. de dénivelé franchis. 11000€ récoltés au profit de la lutte contre le cancer.

Alors qu’il occupe un poste de cadre supérieur dans un grand groupe automobile, Sylvain Perret fait le choix de quitter travail, carrière, maison, amis, famille, petite amie, pour partir autour du monde, gravissant au passage le point culminant de chacun des pays traversés.

La découverte d'un cancer chez son père l'amène à imaginer un système de collecte au profit de la lutte contre cette maladie qui va prendre une importance grandissante dans cette expédition.
Pour se procurer le livre "Aux sommets du monde" :

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jonas Colting @ Ultraman 2011 (Day 3)

The top three most feared things in ultra circles: D, N and F. Jonas Colting did not finish due to an injury that has been troubling him lately. Running a double marathon was simply not possible in that condition. You can read his day 3 report here. Jonas is only 38, so he'll be back. Alexandre Ribeiro (46) of Brazil is the 2011 Ultraman world champion.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jonas Colting @ Ultraman 2011 (Day 2)

Stage 2 of Ultraman was tougher on the bike than usual due to windy weather, as Jonas Colting reports. He leads the race with 15:24:17, but Michael Coughlin is only 7 minutes behind.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Jonas Colting @ Ultraman 2011 (Day 1)

2-time Ultraman champion Jonas Colting of Sweden is fighting for a third win right now on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Yesterday he had a good 10K (6.2 miles) swim, despite hitting his head in his lead kayak, coming in second one minute behind Rich Roll. Then the rolling 90-mile (145 km) bike leg put Colting in solid lead after day one.

Today's Stage II consists of a 171-mile (276 km) bike ride with tons of climbing.

The final stage III tomorrow will be a gruelling double marathon (84 km, 52 miles).

Ultraman World Championship is a 3-day, 320-mile (515 km) individual ultra event. Entry is limited to 40 participants and is by invitation only. Each competitor is required to have a support crew.

By the way, check out the cool Recovery Pump boots that Jonas is wearing in the video below.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Burzynski the movie

Burzynski is an interesting documentary film about the inventor of non-toxic cancer treatment, who found out that cancer is serious business. If antineoplastons would be approved for public worldwide use, Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski would hold exclusive rights for these medicines. Those who make big money from current mainstream toxic treatments wouldn't like that to happen anytime soon. Spoiler: the movie ends with "to be continued..."

Burzynski: Cancer Is Serious Business from BurzynskiMovie on Vimeo.
For more information:
Go here to get the DVD:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Frosty trail run down by the river

The temperature is already below zero (-3 C). We will probably get some snow soon. This time last year we already had plenty.

So, I ran my favorite trail down by the river once again, before it's too difficult. This time it was about 20 km and took a couple of hours. Very nice and frosty.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

NYC Marathon with GoPro Hero2

French trail runner Bruno Poulenard ran ING New York City Marathon 2011 the hard way: carrying a 400-gram GoPro HD Hero2 camera. You might also want to check out his race report (in French of course, but with many photos). Shopping for the camera in NYC before the race was apparently a marathon in itself. His finish time was 3:20 - good job!


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Team PI @ UTMB 2011

A pretty good video of Pearl Izumi Ultrarunning Team at UTMB 2011. Darcy Africa (28:30, 31st overall, 3rd woman), Scott Jaime (29:17, 40.) and Richard Cunningham (29:46, 47.) were able to finish the superchallenging race. Only 1133 finished, less than half of starters. I like the clips shot in miniature mode (featured in some Canon cameras).


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yucon Arctic Ultra documentary

A one-hour documentary film about the world's coldest ultra race: Yucon Arctic Ultra. The trail length is marathon, 100 or 300 miles, and 430 miles every other year (next time in 2013). You can mountain bike or xc-ski it if you like, but most choose running - not counting those who prefer to just watch it on Vimeo! The next race will start on February 4th, 2012.

The Yukon Arctic Ultra from Yukon Arctic Ultra on Vimeo.
Documentary covering the world's coldest and toughest ultra race.

Monday, November 14, 2011

TraiLisOn 2011 videos

France seems to be full of nice little trail runs nobody knows about. For example Le Trail de la Source du Lison, or simply TraiLisOn, on October 23, 2011. Lison is the local river. Even the longest course available is only 45 km, but it comes with a respectable 2000 meters D+.

TraiLisOn 2011, le clip from on Vimeo.
le clip du "trail de la source du lison" 2011 par

Unfortunately there are a couple of things that usually prevent me from taking part in races like this.

First, the start is located in the middle of nowhere - not easy to reach with public transportation. Like in this instance, you would have to travel to a small village called Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne (from there the organizers provide a bus to starting area). If could fly to Geneva in there hours without any problems, but I'm not sure I could ever find the race location!

Second, all races in France (and other Mediterranean countries like Italy and Spain) require participants to have a recently written permission from their doctor. In Northern Europe we do not really understand bureaucracy like this at all. Hmm, maybe that's why the European Union is falling apart. We go to the doctor only if we have some issues they can help with, not to get a useless piece of paper. But rules are rules, I guess.

Anyway, Arthurbaldur managed to run this race, and here is his video documentary. Beautiful scenery!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Anton Krupicka in Brazil

Anton Krupicka had a chance to visit Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro last week to help launch NB Minimus in Brazil.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kilian's Mt Kinabalu Climbathon video

Team Salomon's latest video shows how Kilian Jornet won 25th Mt. Kinabalu International Climbathon 2011 in October. Italian Marco De Gasperi, who won last year, was 3 minutes 39 seconds ahead of Kilian at the summit. On the way down Kilian passed Marco and beat him by 44 seconds.

The race is only a half-marathon in length, but it's a steep course up and down Kinabalu. The highest point is Low's Point at 4095 meters. The lowest point is the finish at Kinabalu Park HQ (1564 m). Kinabalu is located in Borneo, the world's third largest island. The rain forest there is older than Amazon.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Test everything before a race

Everyone knows that you should test everything before a race - especially if it's an ultra. However it may challenging or impossible to simulate all the race conditions exactly during training. Even if you try the same race again, it might be quite different the next time due to weather and so on.

You should study everything about the race course and probable weather conditions. You should try your shoes, socks and other clothing and gear during long training runs. You should make a list what you need on race day, including your drop bags, and then double-check and triple-check everything.

Still, people do make mistakes in races due to nervousness. Like when I once forgot some unprotected salt caps in the back pocket of my shirt in the bike leg of Ironman Hawaii triathlon, but that's another story.

Race nutrition is certainly one of the most difficult things to get right. Some people like Geoff Roes try to keep it simple and take only gels, salt and water all day. That sounds like a good starting point for experiments, although most people would prefer to eat some sort of 'real food' at some point.

The video below shows how Michael Arnstein prepared for Western States 100 Mile Run in 2011. The Fruitarian had DNF'ed in 2010, so he wanted to prepare really well and get everything right this time. He thought it would be a good idea to eat avocados and dates, since had used both successfully before. Unfortunately he had never tested them together...


Saturday, November 5, 2011

A gorgeous autumn day outdoors at Cherry Park

A gorgeous autumn day (October 1st, 2011) at Cherry Park. It's our favorite location for outdoor activities. It's not too big an area, but it's close.

This is an experimental film project directed & shot handheld by Jon on October 1, 2011 (except the beginning and end, which were shot by me). We have a tripod, but decided to leave it home. There's a trade-off between stability and fun.

Jon says he is going to become a movie director when he grows up. Or possibly sooner, if his dad can get him a better cam than this cheap Canon Legria.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

World's steepest run?

Well I'm not sure if this is the world's steepest run or not, but it's definitely done in Hokas. MattInTheWild says it's 2134 meters D+. Well done.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Online European trail magazines

Trail Magazin 5/2011 (German) and Generation-Trail Magazine 10/2011 (French) both have articles with great photography about UTMB, Tor des Geants, as well as other trail running stuff. Both are available free online.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dr. Szilvia Lubics, an ordinary ultramarathon champion

Szilvia Lubics of Hungary won Spartahlon 246 km ultramarathon in September 2011 in Greece with an outstanding time 29h7min. She was 14th overall, and only half a minute away from 13th spot. The second woman would finish well over three hours later, followed by 11 other female competitors.

Dr. Lubics is a dentist and mother of three. Last year she was the last woman (5th) to finish within the 36-hour time limit, so she has definitely improved. She was recently featured in Hungarian TV-show DIGI Sport.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Running High trailer

Lisa Tamati finished La Ultra The High 2011 second woman, fourth overall in 53h 5min. The 222 km course goes up to 5400 m in altitude in the foothills of the Himalayas. There were six participants.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Reunion 100 video

Reunion 100 miles 2011. I love island and trails, but this one might be too tough. Just look at all that mud. With 9656 meters of D+, this has about the same amount of climbing as UTMB, but the terrain and trails seem quite different. Anyway a nice video, thanks for the uploader!

GRAND RAID DIAGONALE DES FOUS 13-16.10.2011 PARTIE 1 from teten on Vimeo.
161,8km et 9656m de dénivelé sur l'île de la Réunion

Sunday, October 23, 2011

vertical hoKa

I suddenly realized this morning that I've never done a 'vertical K' training run. Without further ado, I got out and ran until my watch showed 1000 meters of elevation gain.

While running, I shot this video with iPod nano (5G). BG-music is my own song 'Tadatan'.

trail plodder presents: vertical hoKa from J8N Productions on Vimeo.
Trail Plodder's training run in Hoka One One Bondi B shoes - with comfy Lock Laces.

Elevation gain and loss were both a little over 1,000 meters (measured by Suunto Core). Distance was about 18 km and moving time 2:26 (measured by Garmin Forerunner 110).

Funny thing about the Lock Laces, I kept an unused pair of them quite near to my Hokas for months, but I never had the idea to try them on until today. That's what I call slow creativity. Anyway they make the shoes feel different and better, especially on steep hills.

I also tested the RaidLight Olmo 20L backpack for the first time today, although I bought it a while ago. It worked very well for carrying some clothing, two telescopic sticks, a few SiS Go gels, and two water bottles filled with nuun Kona Cola. I've used the Olmo 5L so far, but it's too small to carry enough warm clothing. I've been forced to DNF for a couple of times for that reason, and that's enough even for me to get a larger pack for my gear. This one is roomy and practical, but very simple and lightweight. Bravo, Marco Olmo!

The best thing is that I'm gradually getting better at hill running. I can jog even the steepest hills up quite smoothly, and I can descent the downhills like a rock.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dave Mackey's Hoka One One Stinson Evo

Dave Mackey testing the new Hoka One One Stinson Evo shoes, which are to be released by spring 2012. Wish I could somehow grab a pair of these for my Trans Gran Canaria 123K race in March!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fruitarian's Leadville and other 100 mile trail runs 2011

Michael Arnstein aka The Fruitarian has had a pretty solid ultra trail year 2011. The little guy who eats big fruity/veggie meals seems to have found what works for him.

Leadville 100 trail run is called Race Across The Sky for a reason: it's lowest point of altitude is 2800 meters - that's higher than the highest point of most races!

Here's a list of Fruitarians 100 milers in 2011:

The Fruitarian even could spare the energy to organize the first Woodstock Fruit Festival 2011. Here's his lecture on ultra running.

Well done - oops I meant raw!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chorier wins Reunion island 100 mile race

Julien Chorier wins La Diagonale Des Fous, the big trail race 2011 on Reunion island. 162 km (100 miles) with 9600 m D+ in under 24 hours (23:56).


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lizzy Hawker's Sky Dance in Nepal

Lizzy Hawker is in Kathmandu Nepal right now.  You can spot her here and follow her when she will start running along the Great Himalayan Trail (GHT) tomorrow.

She has also written a PDF with all the information about her adventure: Sky Dance - running the Nepalese Himalaya.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Marathon of Dangers

What, a trail running event worth two UTMB points in Finland? Yes, Vaarojen Maraton (Marathon of Dangers) is a hilly 43K loop, that is done twice in the ultra category.

Unfortunately I was busy this weekend. Naturally it was sold out, as all the good races tend to be these days. Anyway, congrats to the 56 ultra 86K finishers! The weather seemed to be nice. Maybe next time...


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Impérial Trail de Fontainebleau en GoPro

This video by Bruno Poulenard is about the 2nd edition of Imperial Trail de Fontainebleau in France on September 24, 2011. Imperial Trail solo was 63.5 km and 1,487 m D+.

Impérial Trail de Fontainebleau en GoPro from Bruno Poulenard on Vimeo.
Impérial Trail de Fontainebleau le 24 Septembre 2011.
Filmé avec une caméra GoPro.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bone Games

At the end of his interview with Christopher McDougall, the author of my and the world's favorite running book Born To Run, Shawn Donley - like Columbo - asks for one more thing.

"Shawn: Do you have any favorite running or adventure books you'd like to recommend to our readers?
McDougall: Do you know Bone Games
Shawn: I don't. 
McDougall: I've got it on my shelf. This book was jaw-dropping to me when I read it, and now I've probably given out about 15 copies. I gave it to Scott [Jurek], and Billy, and Jenn. Now whenever I see Scott, he's always quoting from it. It's by Rob Schultheis, and the full title is Bone Games: Extreme Sports, Shamanism, Zen, and the Search for Transcendence." 

I hunted the book down out of curiosity. It didn't disappoint. It's a weird book though. Certainly not a mainstream pageturner-bestseller like Born To Run. It's like comparing Comrades Marathon to Barkley Marathons. However they seem to share various themes in common, like a keen interest in Indians.
"In 1979, Bernard Fontana hired a an elderly Tarahumara Indian to carry a 65-pound earthenware jar out of a deep canyon in Northern Mexico; the man lugged it out, sixteen miles, by night and was home again by dawn.
What did they have that I didn't have? I think I know, at least part of it. A feeling of oneness with, closeness to, the world around them: running through, with, the landscape is a lot easier than running against it."
They both also feature epic trail running stories.

"Almost always, when you wear your body down to the nub and come to the crux of the ordeal, the spirit soars. Not this time: quite the opposite. I felt let down, disappointed, cheated. The last of the magic from those old, lonesome runs in Virginia was gone; looking inside myself, I couldn't find the slightest trace of it. 14,110 feet up, I wandered aimlessly over the filthy summit screes, a loser.

It reminded me of the infamous Afghan Cobra and Mongoose Trick, which had been pulled on me on my last Asia trip."

In some ways Bone Games reminds me of 127 Hours, but it's perhaps more complex and Zen-like than Aron Ralston's survival story. Let me put it this way: Bone Games is not likely to be turned into a Hollywood movie.

The first sentence of the book is: "In 1964 I fell off a mountain in the Colorado Rockies and came within a few inches of dying". The last sentence is: "It is still out there; and I will be back." What's in between is hard to put into words - you'd better experience it yourself.

"Magic becomes a kind of habit after we do the difficult, the near impossible, over and over and over again; a habit that operates down in those oldest and deepest levels of the brain and the mind. Where pain and fear can be alchemized into blissful, sublime confidence, and stumblebums wake up to find themselves dancing on the business end of pins."

So what are you still waiting for? Roll the bones!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ultra Runner Podcast

Ultra Runner Podcast is fun! Just check out their latest episode with Mike Wardian, who had UROC in the bag, but then took the wrong turn.

URP website is great too, with Daily News Update, The Black Toe Nail Hall Of Fame (featuring Iron Mike mentioned above), etc.

The following Max King video is playing on 'URP TV' now.


Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Table Mountain

And now for something completely different: Table Mountain! Long time ago I spent a week in Cape Town with the local running club. There are plenty of amazing routes available for runners. Unfortunately the crime rate of South Africa means it isn't often comfortably safe there. But the natural sights make taking calculated risks worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Trail Run

I enjoyed a short (6.33 km) but steep (600 m D+ and 600 m D-) trail run yesterday. It was a gorgeous day, but I focused more on running than filming. However I believe something essential of that trail experience has been preserved in the video.


A technical note: D refers to the French word dénivelé, which means altitude. With European trail running races you will often see a number followed by D+, which is short for denivélé positif, ie. elevation gain. D- would be denivélé negatif, ie. elevation loss. The measurements are usually in meters. For example, 600 m D+ would be equivalent of 1,969 ft. elevation gain.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I would like to learn some French

Bonjour! I'm plan to do plenty of trail running in French speaking areas in the future, so I simply must learn some French.

English is not always enough, and it might help you finish a race. Like last summer, when I was running on the Alps in the middle of the night and required some help, a fellow competitor replied: "Sorry, but I'm too tired to speak English!"

Also after this years UTMB, I observed some complaints by English-speaking runners. They seemed to think that the organizers didn't do a good job communicating about the course changes during the race. I wasn't there, but I believe everyone did their best in a difficult situation. It occurred to me that it couldn't hurt to learn some French, if you are going to race in France (or Western Switzerland).

I believe a little French can go a long way to start a friendly conversation. You can always switch to English if your French fails.

It can be funny when a Frenchman tries to speak English, and vice versa. The two languages are quite different, so this will be a huge challenge, but I'll refuse to quit.


It seems one of the best ways for me to learn is to listen to Podcasts like Coffee Break French while training, commuting and shopping.

I've also started to follow some blogs by French trail runners, you can find them on the right margin of this page.

À plus tard!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lozere Trail 2011

Lozere Trail is a 43K race near Chanac in France. Ludovic Pommeret (Hoka) won it in May 2011 with 3:45. I've never been there, but the video sure looks inviting!


PS. As 43 km is a bit too short for many ultra trail runners, the organizers will offer a two-stage Ultra Lozere option in 2012.

The first day (May 26) will be a very technical 40K, starting in the heart of Gorges of Tarn. However the route may have to be changed, if a pair of rare golden eagles will choose to nest there. The first day will finish in the medieval village of Saint-Enimie, where a meal and a camp will be organized.

The second day (May 27) will be a challenging 67K, finishing in Chanac. The price will be very reasonable 70€ for two days of trail racing and one night of camping in the Cevennes National Park, which is an UNESCO World Heritage area.

The number of runners for Ultra Lozere will be limited to 150 and registration starts on November 1, 2011. There will also be shorter race distances (45K, 24K, 14K) available.    

Friday, September 23, 2011

6 useful features of Suunto Core watch

I recently bought for myself Suunto Core ABC (altimeter, barometer, compass) watch (or wrist-top computer) mainly for the following six features:
  1. Altitude change measurer. You can quickly select this tool and simply press start/stop to measure the height of a hill you're training on, for example. Works like a charm and is very easy to use. This is by far the most useful function of the watch for me.
  2. Storm alarm. It's good to know in advance when bad weather is coming your way, so you'll have time to change your clothing or seek shelter. 
  3. Daily sunrise/sunset times. Nice to know when it gets dark/light exactly. For this function to work you have to select the nearest location available in the memory of the watch. 
  4. User-replaceable battery. You can easily open the watch yourself to replace the standard 3-volt lithium cell (CR 2032). Experience shows that the battery will die just before a race, so you'll have to be able to change it quickly.
  5. Temperature. Works ok, especially if you remove the watch from your wrist for a while. Even if not absolutely correct, it helps to assess how cold or hot it is while you're running.
  6. Alarm clock. A basic function, but useful. Bonus points for the snooze option.
The watch is fairly large, but not too heavy considering it has a real mineral glass, instead of one of those cheap plastic ones that get scratched easily. The weight is about 60 grams. I haven't used it for any racing yet, but so far so good.

Core has all the usual functions, like stopwatch, countdown timer, dual time as well as a digital compass and even a depth meter for snorkeling. I don't use most of the features very often. For example, I don't really use the altimeter log that much, because it requires you to constantly input the correct reference data in order to be accurate (as is the case with all ABC watches).

Hope this helps if you are thinking about getting one. I have no affiliation with the manufacturer, although they happen to be based in my home country. Although the watch is designed in Finland, it's made in China.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Last 5 finishers of Tor des Geants

Tor des Geants 2011: 300 out of 473 starters finish the 332 km course within the time limit of 6 days and 6 hours. Here's the last five of them. They are wet because it rained just before the cutoff, just like it rained after the start - but remarkably it didn't rain in between.


Friday, September 16, 2011

TNF UTMB Race Report video

The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® - Race Report video. Even saying that is quite a challenge. Not to speak of participating in the event. The hype around Mt Blanc is almost as incredible as the trail itself.

BTW I couldn't help laughing when I looked at Kilian's Routes. Most of the courses he has done are labeled 'Level Difficult', but UTMB is 'Level Easy' only. Well, it seems to be too easy for him.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dramatic Tor des Geants 2011

Tor des Geants 2011 had a dramatic finish.

Swiss Marco Gazzola was the first runner to cross the finish line in Courmayeur with a new course record 75 h 58 min. However it was soon discovered that he had taken the wrong path during the last 12 km. The final leg had taken him only 52 minutes. He had also missed the last control point in Bertone. The organizers had to disqualify him.

Eventually young (24) Jules-Henri Gabioud of La Fouly (the town that hosts a great aid station both for UTMB and TVSB) finished in 79 hours and 58 minutes. It was still fast enough to beat last year's winning time of Ulrich Gross, who DNF'd due to foot pain. It's interesting to note that Gross had changed his shoes from Hoka to Tecnica.

Marco Gazzola was the first to congratulate the winner, and had this to say about his personal misfortune: “feeling both euphoric and exhausted for the great effort made up until that moment, I committed the mistake of taking the wrong trail. I am the first to regret it. However, I agree totally with the decision made by the committee.”


Christophe Le Saux came second with 84:09. This 38-year-old French nurse led the race for a long time in the middle stages. Then he fell asleep in a forest due to total exhaustion and kept on dreaming there until woken up by some aid station volunteers who had come to look for him. The Guyane Jaguar - as he has been nicknamed for his love for Amazon rainforest - sure loves his Hokas too, so he decides to hold them up in the air when arriving in Courmayeur.


Stephane Couleaud of Chamonix was expected to take the third place. Unfortunately the night was really cold, and he suffered from severe hypothermia. Spanish fire fighter Pablo Criado Toca catched and was able to give Couleaud first aid. They stayed together for a while, but then also Pablo started to feel the cold weather.

When they heard that a rescue squad was on its way, Pablo decided it was best to continue racing. He wasn't going fast, but took the third spot with 89:43.


Last year's winner Anne-Marie Gross was able to win again women's race with 91:28. Like his brother Ulrich she had changed from Hoka to team Tecnica in 2011. She suffered from stomach pains for a few hours, but she just kept going and beat all the other women by a wide margin in the end. Actually she beat everybody except the above mentioned three gentlemen, as she finished fourth overall!


In case you didn't understand much of the above videos, here's a proper interview in plain English for you: Canadian Running talks to Simon Donato, who dropped out after halfway.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

King S(a)lomo(n)

King Kilian 1000 frames/second! Watch for the goat at 2:30. Not that Mr. Jornet is any less skilled. A-a-a-awesome.


For those who'd like some more, here's another one by Sebastien Montaz-Rosset. It shows various Alpine activities in general, but it does also contain snippets of Kilian.

Summer feelings from sebastien montaz-rosset on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Le film Trail Verbier Saint-Bernard 2011

TVSB 110K is a first-class Alpine trail race with back-of-the-pack-runner friendly atmosphere and brilliant organization.

YouTube makes everything look easy, but it's actually pretty tough with 7K vertical thrown at you. I've DNF'd twice, but I'll be back next year with a better plan.

2011 winner Ludovic Pommeret flew through the course in 14 hours and 8 minutes.
"La suisse était le bon choix donc! Avec des paysages magnifiques que, il faut bien dire, j'ai admiré surtout au début mais plus j'avançais plus mon champs de vision se réduisait jusqu'a ne plus voir que le bout de mes pieds... (This Swiss option turned out to be the right choice! Magnificent scenery, I have to say, which I admired especially in the beginning. Later on my field of vision was reduced to the tips of my feet...)"
Ludo managed to down no less than 30 gels during the race (4 different brands), while traveling comfortably in his Hoka One One shoes... Hey maybe there's a lesson to be learned for me right there?

I wore La Sportiva Crosslites, and I'm not blaming those great shoes for anything - but when I ditched them after the race and started to train and race in Hoka One One Bondi B's, the plantar fasciitis pain that had accompanied me daily for nine months, vanished suddenly and completely.

Please refer to 'Races 2012' on top of this blog for more info on my TVSB plans next year. There's also an article about TVSB 2011 in Generation-Trail Magazine 9/2011.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Tor des Geants 2011: first day

The first day of the second edition of the world's longest trail running race: Tor des Geants 330 km 2011. Follow the race live online here.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Trail Plodder Dirty 30x30

Paloheinä hill (North-East dirt path) 30 x 30 meters = 900 meters of elevation gain & loss.

Total distance is 8.92 km, so the hill must be about 150 meters long (300 m up and down).

Total time 1 h 33 min, so each "lap" took about 3 minutes (I had a couple of short breaks). For warmup/down I cycled 3K there and back.

Here's my Garmin Forerunner 110 data, although the altitude measurement sucks as always, so please ignore that.

Wore Hoka One One Bondi B shoes again, and I'm liking them more and more. Perhaps not loving them yet, but not hating those "foot bricks" anymore either.

A sunny Sunday for a change. Nice!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pat's real bad day

Pat Farmer is doing a great job running Pole to Pole, but he had a "real bad day" in El Salvador. He even got to do some mountain trail running in wet conditions after getting lost.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Trail Plodder 777

Having created a new identity called Trail Plodder, I went on to design a new hill workout: 'Trail Plodder 777'.

This morning I realized that climbing the muddy 37-meter north face of Paloheinä (the biggest hill in my 'hood) up and down 21x totals 777 meters (2,550 ft) of ascending and of course the same amount of descending. This is something I've never attempted. So naturally I had to do it right away.

The distance is only about 5K. The hill is 3K from my home, so it's a good warm up/down away. Today I cycled there and back. The workout took me 75 min (+ warmup/down).

Here's a link to my Garmin data, although it severely underestimates the elevation change. It shows my 'moving time' to be 1:08, probably because I took a couple of short breaks to drink some nuun Kona Cola.

The weather was nice and sunny. The trail was a bit muddy and slippery. I chose to wear Hoka One One Bondi B shoes. They worked well for this.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gore-Tex Transalpine-Run 2011

Gore-Tex Transalpine-Run 2011 started yesterday. It's a 273 km trail running race for 2-person teams. It consists of 8 stages over the Alps and 4 countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. The longest 53 km stage is today.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Run to work feat. Ryan Sandes

Leadville 100 2011 champ Ryan Sandes of South Africa shows how to run to work.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Chamonet's UTMB 2011 video

Another great Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 2011 video by According to the UTMB rules, if the start is delayed for more than two hours, the race will be cancelled (like in 2010). I'm glad they didn't cancel it this time, although the five hour delay must have been a bitter pill to suck up for everyone.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Norseman 2011

Looking for an Ironman-distance triathlon incorporating mountain trail running? Check out Norseman.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rise of The Planet of the Fruits

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' is a great movie, but there is a better, or should I say healthier alternative...

'My Ancestral Health Symposium Presentation' by Don Matesz. This is not about humans vs. chimps anymore, but "the presumed main foods of common ancestors of humans and chimps". Rise of The Planet of the Fruits!

Long story short, we humans and our cousins chimps are genetically 98% the same, and in the course of millions of years we have been adapted to a diet high in fruit (fructose, vitamin C) and low in meat (sodium, fat).

When the ideas are thrilling, the movie does not have to be that special. Watch and think for yourself!

"Ancestral nutrition: An alternative approach" by Don Matesz, MA, MS from Ancestry on Vimeo.

Now all those paleo businessmen, who squeeze money out of the outdated concept that paleo diet is all about meat and dead stuff like that, are probably going ape s%!t. As they are unlikely to change their minds in the near future, Don's blog Primal Wisdom recently announced his Farewell to 'Paleo':
"I have experimented with eating a so-called “paleo” diet for at least 14 years...

...over this time period I have experienced myself, and seen in others, mostly gradual and sometimes sudden development of disorders that I can directly attribute to attempting to consume a high fat, excessive protein diet...

...I have returned to eating a whole food... plant-based diet, with much smaller amounts of animal products...

...I now believe that reverse engineering from presently observable human biochemistry and physiology suggests that modern humans are adapted to a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet with relatively low or intermittent intake of animal foods."

Monday, August 29, 2011

What it takes to finish UTMB?

1131 of the 2369 competitors in UTMB 2011 were able finish within the time limit of 46 hours. That means only 47.7% were successful and the majority DNFd. As I'd like to participate in this race one day to experience the fantastic atmosphere there, I was wondering why people quit? Is there a pattern to be found for a DNF? What it takes to finish UTMB?

First, it's clear that running speed does not play a major role. The last one to arrive in Chamonix on Sunday 21:14 PM was Dominique Diffine from France. His time was 45 hours and 45 minutes. That averages 16.16 min/km for the distance of 169.9 km. In other words, a comfortable walking pace of 3.7 km/h. One would think that anyone could do this. However since most of these seasoned runners could not accomplish this, there must be other reasons.

By the way, Chamonix Meteo has some fine videos, including some of the last finishers. Age or gender does not seem to play a big role in finishing ability. For example, Roland Poly won the 60-69 year age category with 34 hours 18 minutes - and he placed 125th overall. Daniele Rolland won the same age category for females with 44h 42min.

Probably the answer is a combination of:
  • general health and fitness
  • endurance (it's a long way around Mt. Blanc, even if you walk - tourist hikers take about 10 days for the tour) 
  • gear (there is a list of compulsory gear, but still the quality and quantity of gear varies a lot among competitors - I heard that some extremists carry extra small sizes of clothing just to shave off a few grams!)
  • nutrition (energy), hydration and mineral balance
  • mental/mind/thinking (like many ultra runners have said, it's 90% mental, and the rest depends on your head - most runners have to keep going through 2 nights)
  • weather (it can be freezing/cold and hot/humid and changes can be rapid too) 
Let's look at how many DNFd at various control points/aid stations:
  • DNS : 9 competitors did not start in Chamonix
  • Delevret (14.00 Km cum. distance, 948 m cum. ascent): 4 DNFs
  • Saint Gervais (21.30 Km, 993 m): 41 DNFs
  • Les Contamines (31.10 Km, 1544 m): 109 DNFs (incl. Nicolas 'Hoka' Mermoud, 3rd in UTMB 2007)
  • La Balme (39.20 Km, 2110 m): 3 DNFs
  • Refuge Croix du Bonhomme (44.70 Km, 2897 m): 1 DNF
  • Les Chapieux (50.00 Km, 2909 m): 66 DNFs
  • Col de la Seigne (60.40 Km, 3915 m): 15 DNFs
  • Lac Combal (64.90 Km, 3922 m): 53 DNFs
  • Arête Mont Favre (68.90 Km, 4389 m): the only control point with no DNFs!
  • col Checrouit (73.40 Km, 4406 m): 14 DNFs
  • Courmayeur (77.70 Km, 4406 m): 233 DNFs (Scott Jurek, Geoff Roes - they both happened to have a bad day)
  • refuge Bertone (82.40 Km, 5215 m): 23 DNFs
  • refuge Bonatti (89.60 Km, 5444 m): 9 DNFs (Dakota Jones, Topher Gaylord)
  • Arnuva (94.60 Km, 5564 m): 203 DNFs
  • Grand Col Ferret (98.90 Km, 6332 m): 2 DNFs
  • La Fouly (109.60 Km, 6521 m): 283 DNFs, more than any other point! (Bryon 'iRunFar' Powell)
  • Champex (123.70 Km, 7106 m): 103 DNFs (Bib No. 1 Jez Bragg down)
  • Martigny (137.40 Km, 7831 m): 18 DNFs, this is the aid station that replaced the one that was "destroyed by the storm". Many participants have reported that they were not informed/aware about this course change, however the organizers sent a text message about this during the race, and according to the rules you must carry a mobile phone that is turned on.  
  • Trient (145.20 Km, 7911 m): 17 DNFs (Nick Clark, and Miguel Heras, who incredibly lead the race on four different occasions and stayed in top 6 the whole way, until his wheels came off here big time!) 
  • Catogne (149.90 Km, 8617 m): 4 DNFs
  • Vallorcine (154.90 Km, 8631 m): 15 DNFs
  • Argentière (161.20 Km, 9552 m): 6 DNFs (incl. Fabien Courrier, who still had 4h12min to walk the remaining 8.7 km - he must have hurt really bad)
  • Chamonix (169.90 Km, 9586 m): the previous DNF numbers add up to 1,231, so 7 more must have DNFd along the way to Chamonix to make the total 1,238 DNFs.
In the end it's difficult to say who can finish and who will DNF. For example in the photo below, which is taken 8:20 AM on Saturday morning after 44.7 km of running on Refuge Croix du Bonhomme at an altitude of 2,443 m, there are 10 competitors more or less visible. This is a still from the video with mountain goats (I guess that's what they are watching/photographing), which was featured in my previous post. Can you tell who made it to Chamonix and which one/ones DNFd?

The answer: numbers 3249 (in Arnuva) and 2145 (in Courmayeur) DNF'd (5th and 8th from the left). The others finished in 40-45 hours. It's mind boggling to think that most of these people did ultimately beat a world class ultra trail runner like Miguel Heras - who had passed this mountain top over four hours earlier, and was moving twice the speed of these ordinary runners until he crashed totally.

I think Lizzy Hawker gave one of the most comprehensive answers ever towards explaining 'the magical side of trail' after crossing the finish line first in Chamonix despite an agonizing hip injury:
"My first trail in 2005 was here. Each race is never the same and you have to do them with great humility. You can be betrayed by bad weather conditions, your mental or your organism. And it could have happened to me at la Fouly when my hip was really aching. I took analgesics, but the most relieving was my team support. From that I could feel some alchemy, which gave me strength to go on. That is the magical side of trail. Your first opponent is always yourself. You have to search for the limits. Before the race I thought to myself that I would have to run with passion and courage, and indeed that is what helped me to cross the finish line."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Super challenging and exciting UTMB 2011

Thousands of ultra trail running fans were glued to their screens to follow the super exciting and challenging UTMB 2011.

Long story short, Kilian Jornet and Lizzy Hawker won. That wasn't a surprise, since both have won the tour a couple of times. Hawker also won last year's shorter replacement event.

Kilian had some serious competition, which made the race exciting to follow. Ultimately others could not climb and descend like him. His finish time was 20:36:43. Iker Karrera was 2nd and Sebastien Chaineau 3rd, each about 10 mins apart. Here is a video of the three first men arriving in Chamonix.

Also Lizzy Hawker had her share of fun by catching and beating men in top 20. Interestingly many of them DNFd after getting chicked by her. She was easily the most inspiring star of the race. After 5 hours she fell to 27th place overall, but then she started to rise again. She finished 13th overall in 25:02:00.

The weather turned bad once again just before the start. A heavy storm with snow and all caused an annoying delay of five hours (from 6:30 PM to 11:30 PM) on Friday. Somehow both the organizers and the toughest competitors seem to have pulled it through. However there were no Americans in top 10 (France 4, Spain 2, Japan 2, Portugal 1, Hungary 1). I guess the unpredictable Alpine weather and equally complex French organization broke their spirits eventually.

The course was slightly changed from last year. It was the longest route in UTMB history: 169.9 km (105.6 miles) with 9,586 meters (31,450 ft) cumulative climbing. From Champex they had to run via the aid station in Martigny, because the storm had destroyed the one in Bovine.

By 9AM Sunday morning - after two cold nights of running - only 113 out of 2,369 registered competitors had finished. And keep in mind that they are all accomplished, well-trained ultra trail runners. There's still 12.5 hours time left, but we might see a big DNF percentage in this year's race, certainly over 50%. Anyone who can finish this race is a hero with unlimited bragging rights.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Ich bin Berchmo"

"Ich bin Berchmo" - I'm the Mountainman, Dieter Ulbricht from can now finally say without any doubt.

Somehow he managed to take lots of pictures while finishing MountainMan Ultra 2011 50-miler in 12:47 - well below the 15-hour cutoff. Maybe it helped that he has already accomplished more difficult challenges like UTMB 2008.

Anyway, check out his 7-page photo reportage (in German) here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

PTL 2011

UTMB will start today, but actually it already started on Monday! They have this little known non-competitive 300 km Bohemian version of the race called Petite Trotte á León.

PTL can be done in teams of two runners only. Basically they just give you the GPS coordinates on Monday and send them off. They can do whatever they like during the week, as long as they go through the control points and finish in 138 hours.

The straightest way will require some steep hard-core climbing, so this event is certainly not for the vertigo-heads like me. There's a team from Finland, but only they know where they are and how they are doing at the moment. I'm sure they will finish in good spirits though, as I met them in Switzerland this summer and they seem like extremely tough guys.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ultra Topher du Mont Blanc

On the eve of UTMB iRunFar interviews Mr. Topher Gaylord, who is in European trail running circles known as Ultra Topher du Mont Blanc. Just kidding, but he really knows the race and the course better than many of us Europeans.

I for one have never been to Chamonix in France or Courmayer in Italy. I've ran through Champex in Switzerland twice, but that's about it. The way my running is going, I might never actually get to do the world's most interesting race. However dreaming is free, so let's dream on!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Kilian Jornet: HOW i PREPARE AN ULTRA. Lots of interesting stuff there.

"My diet consists of mainly pizza and Nutella."

"In the end, the body learns; It's very wise."

"An ultra is not a competition. It's much more."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Learning To Hoka @ MountainMan 2011

Early Saturday morning I found myself standing with a crowd of lunatics who call themselves ultrarunners on a remote Mt. Titlis cable car station in Central Swiss Alps, to the south of Lucerne in Switzerland. The altitude was 1,800 meters.  They call this the MountainMan.
"The Mountainman is a one day race for extreme and endurance sports people who are strong enough to run on single trails around the BergArena of Unterwalden. The unique route starts at the Mt. Titlis and passes on its length of 80.3 kilometers and 5000 meters of ascent deep blue mountain lakes, wild rock faces and breathtaking views into the high peaks of the Berner Alps and the beautiful valleys beneath, before it ends at the peak of Mt. Pilatus."
The sky was almost cloudless with a shining moon. That was appropriate as I was wearing moon boots aka Hoka One One Bondi B. My favorite shoes had finally disintegrated, and I had nothing else to wear on my feet. My left forefoot had developed a weird spot of pain that hurt every step. My right foot had adopted plantar fasciitis last winter, a painful condition that has no easy cure. I just tried to ignore my injuries and think positive. I refuse to take any medication for the pain. If I have to stop, then I will stop.

According to the weather forecast it was going to be a sunny day, possibly one of the hottest ones this summer. However at the moment there still was a gentle but freezing wind that made runners in shorts and singlets shiver. I took my OMM Kamleika suit from Raidlight Olmo 5L backpack and put it on. In addition to rain gear we were required to carry some first aid bandages and bandaids, Swiss francs (which used to be under 70 cents, but might soon be more valuable than €), and a mobile phone. I also had a desert cap, gloves, SiS Go gels, two full water bottles enhanced with nuun Kona Cola, Salt Stick caps, paper tissue, Mountain King Trail Blaze telescopic aluminium sticks, and a drop bag with essential stuff like Red Bull Cola that I could access in the middle of the race.

By the way, I didn't plan any of this. I had noticed the first edition of this 50-mile Alpine trail running challenge last year, when they ran the same course as today, but in opposite direction. I needed the three points to apply for UTMB 2012. A man has to do what a man has to do, and so on.

Down in the valley the train from Lucerne arrived in Engelberg. The passengers would soon join me up here for a 6:30 AM start. I had some time for music: Learning To Fly.
Into the distance, a ribbon of black / Stretched to the point of no turning back / A flight of fancy on a windswept field / Standing alone my senses reeled / A fatal attraction holding me fast, how / Can I escape this irresistible grasp? / Cant keep my eyes from the circling skies / Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I 
I had managed to run 88 of the 110 km at TVSB in July. That included 5,600 meters cumulative climbing. So certainly I could finish a 80 km race with 5,000 meters of climbing, right? Not really. The TVSB effort had taken me well over 20 hours. However, MountainMan Titlis-Hasliberg-Pilatus Alpine Trail Running Challenge had an overall time limit of 15 hours, with three additional cutoffs along the way:
  • Brünig (32.9 km) 14:00 (7h30min from the start),
  • Langis (59.5 km) 18:00 (11h30min from the start), and
  • Lütholdsmatt (74.8 km) 19:30 (13h from the start).  

This race is a complex logistical challenge, as the finish line is located in a totally different place, on top of Mt. Pilatus. The race office is in Alpnachstad, the town with the railway station that is known as the starting point of the steepest cog railway in the world (48%).

Fortunately a friend of mine had agreed to drive me around. First from Zürich Airport to Alpnachstad on Friday afternoon, then to a hotel in Hergiswil by the Lake Vierwaldstätter, and then to Engelberg on Saturday morning. I figured crewing wasn't necessary during the race, as the race organization seemed very efficient and effective, as seems to always be the case in Switzerland.

At the designated starting time 6:30 AM they were still waiting for the last competitors to arrive. The RD announced that the start of the event was going to be delayed by a few minutes. At 6:38 he finally shot his little fireworks rocket up into the dawning sky, and it was time for me to fly across the Alps.
Ice is forming on the tips of my wings / Unheeded warnings, I thought I thought of everything / No navigator to FIND my way home / Unladened, empty and turned to stone / A soul in tension that's learning to fly / Condition grounded, but determined to try / Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies / Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I. 

After the start we began our first steep climb to Jochpass, the highest point of the course at 2,323 meters. The single trail had metal gates that allowed us to pass through slowly one by one. A long queue formed up on the mountainside, and I stopped to drink and eat. I also removed my OMM rain jacket and trousers, as the weather was getting warmer. It was going to be a sunny day with no clouds in sight.

Soon we passed Tannensee and Melchsee lakes, close to a mountain hostel I had been staying for a couple of weeks in 1995 while training for my first Alpine ultra trail race. The wider paths allowed me to start passing people. I felt better than in any race this year. My Hoka shoes seemed to be perfect for the Alpine terrain. At one point there were big yellow signs every 100 meters for a 1K or so, with black skulls and text "DANGER OF FALLING" or something like that. 16 years ago I couldn't dare to take this route, but it wasn't such a big deal anymore.

After a very long and steep downhill, I arrived at the first cutoff in Brünig around 11:30 AM - with 2.5 hours to spare. It was the lowest altitude of the course, at 968 meters. I grabbed some food and drinks and pushed on without any extra delay. I didn't even add any sunscreen, as I thought it would take too long.

There was a huge climb ahead. Actually it was much more challenging than expected. It's certainly not an ideal course for someone with vertigo issues. The climb was only 8 km long, but it seemed to go on forever. It was getting hot, around 32 degrees C (90 F), and everyone was sweating bullets. There were Alpine Rescue Service volunteers once in a while to check us out and cheer us up. They gave us helpful advice as "The next section is a bit dangerous, so make sure not to fall down!"

The views towards Lake Brienz and the magnificent mountain trio of Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch made it all worthwhile. The Swiss call this area Panoramawelt. There were some tourists and locals out there hiking, but they all gave us weirdos with race bibs way politely.

Finally I could see the next aid station at Schönbüel, but there was one more challenge to be crossed: a narrow path with nothing but air on both sides. I didn't dare to look down when I crossed it. I just focused on getting across step by step. Occasionally I'd try to automatically balance myself by hitting the ground with one of my poles, but there was no ground to hit - except much further down below of course.

41K done, less than 40K to go. Now it was time to run as fast as I could, or else face DNF due to strict cutoffs. Unfortunately we would have to cross the largest moorlands of Switzerland: the Glaubenberg. A fellow competitor asked "Can we make it in time?". I made quick calculations in my head and answered diplomatically "Yes, if we run, and do not walk". We decided to go for it, desperately running in a small group of die-hards.

Back home in Finland we have lots of swamp, so I'm very familiar with it - but I just hate to run in that slippery wet muddy stuff. To be honest I had to walk most of it. They had put lots of round tree logs on the path, but it didn't help much and was still very slow going. Sometimes there was a section of relatively easy dirt roads, and we took full advantage of those sections.

After Sattelpass aid station (53.4 km done, 26.9 km to go) the Langis 18:00 cutoff was 6K away. We had over an hour left, so I knew we could make it there on time. What I was really worried about was the 74.8 km cutoff in Lütholdsmatt, and also the final 15 hour time limit on top of Mt. Pilatus. At this speed, we didn't have a chance. We would have to accelerate 30-40% from our current best speed, and that wasn't likely to happen with shot quads, blisters and general exhaustion. And a lot of it would be steep uphill.

At this point I was running with Guido, a Swiss dude who is about the same age as me, ie. the big 5-0 next year. Sometimes he would try to keep up with me, then I'd blow up and try to keep up with him. He had DNF'd in that horrible thunderstorm during TVSB 110K last year like I did. He was apparently in great shape this summer, as he had finished TVSB in July in about 28 hours - despite arriving at the mountain hut at 88 km (where I quit due to freezing weather) 10 minutes after me.

Anyway, Guido seemed to read my thoughts and asked with his dry sense of humor: "Still having fun?". We both knew that the final cutoff times were too strict and we were not going to make it. I just replied "I was thinking the same thing".

Guido's official DNF time at 59.5 km cutoff in Langis was 11:18:52. I arrived there right after him, in 11:19:28. It was one of the saddest moments and hardest decisions of my life. We felt good enough to continue, the weather was fine, we had no reason to quit - except the absurd cutoff time that would require us to run the next 15.3 km in about 100 minutes. That's 6.5 min/km, which would be a piece of cake normally, but impossible for us with these legs. It also made sense to quit here and not elsewhere, because only Langis was along an asphalt road easily accessible by car.

The winner took only 9:06 to finish, but not everyone can be elite. 61 competitors out of 171 (36%) in this ultra race (there was also a marathon and relay races) were brutally forced to DNF, most of them quite experienced and accomplished trail/ultra runners. I guess the organizers had their reasons for doing this, but man, did it hurt not to be able to become a MountainMan after all that effort!

Guido asked "Are those big shoes of yours any good?" and I replied "Yes they look funny, but they're not bad at all - actually I like them now and will use them again". Then his wife Rita picked us up and drove us back to Race HQ in Alpnachstad to grab our drop bags.

I wanted to tell everyone what a fantastically scenic course this was, how incredibly good the weather was, how I'd experienced one of the best adventures of my life, how the friendly & fabulous the volunteers had been, and how proud I felt for being able to overcome my frightening moments of vertigo on the mountains. I went swimming in the huge Alpine lake to cool off my stinking and aching body. A state of bliss of sorts, I guess, nevertheless.
Above the planet on a wing and a prayer / My grubby halo, a vapour trail in the empty air / Across the clouds I see my shadow fly / Out of the corner of my watering eye / A dream unthreatened by the morning light / Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night / There's no sensation to compare with this / Suspended animation, a state of bliss / Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies / Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lizzy in Zermatt

Like Matterhorn, Lizzy Hawker seems to be always there at Zermatt Marathon. I did it 3 years ago, and yes I did see her there at the start. By the time I finished in 6 hours, she was probably already back home.

This year there was also an Ultra option all the way to the top of Gornergrat (3,090 m). I bet that would have been fun to run, but I couldn't recover from TVSB within a week.

Anyway, Lizzy just tweeted:
"after morning training my feet took me high up on a lonely mountain ridge .... solitude, time to reflect, look forward and absorb ...that precious feeling of stillness will carry me through the next days & to the start line of UTMB2011 ...."
Cool. I think no matter how the race goes, she's already a winner.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

MountainMan Ultra Flyover

I'm going to run MountainMan 80.5 km (50 miles) Ultra course on Saturday. There's a 15 hour time limit and three strict cutoffs along the way. It's a 5K cumulative climb (16,404 ft), so there won't be any time to waste.

You can download the KMZ-file for Google Earth from this page (scroll down). If you hit the play button there, it takes about 49 minutes to go through at normal speed. I fast-forwarded the whole thing 4x in 12 mins while recording with Quicktime. Then I speeded it up another 400% in iMovie to almost 3 mins.

The race was organized for the first time last year. They ran the course the other way then. They figured it would be better to run it this way. We'll see. The weather forecast seems typical, very warm and humid, with probably a cooling thunderstorm in the afternoon. In any case, the final climb to Mt. Pilatus at the end will be challenging.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Coach Ken of Running Stupid finishes Headlands 100

To the delight of all Stupidheads out there, Coach Ken of Running Stupid finished Headlands 100. After failing to finish in two previous years, CK wasn't going to let anything stand between him and the 33-hour cutoff - not even the wasp that swam in his coke and stung him in the throat when he drank it. You can download the inspiring race report Stupidcast in iTunes.

By the way, Coach Ken has had tons of success lately: first he helped crew Ellie Greenwood into Western States 100 victory, and now he has been selected for the HURT 100 in January 2012. All Day!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ian Sharman running style

A couple of years ago I found myself standing beside Ian Sharman on the starting line of a 78 km trail running race in Switzerland. I knew he was fast and thought it would be interesting to see for how long I could keep up with him.

I guess something in his running style makes it all look easy and relaxed. He might look like he is just jogging along while chatting with friends.

After the first few hundred meters he was already out of my sight. I sprinted the first 30 km all out in 2:29. Despite him falling down and hurting his leg in a slippery downhill, he was already about 16 minutes ahead of me, in 31st place. Then he went on to pass 16 runners and finish strongly in 6:51, in 15th place. I came in over two hours later, exhausted as always.

In retrospect I remembered that he carried a hydration pack and a big bunch of gels. I never carried any extra weight and also took in very little nutrition at aid stations. I thought that was probably one thing I could learn from Ian Sharman, although my running style will never look as great as his.