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Now all those paleo businessmen, who squeeze money out of the outdated concept that paleo diet is all about meat and dead stuff like that, are probably going ape s%!t. As they are unlikely to change their minds in the near future,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.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Trail Magazin 4/2011 online

Trail Magazin 4/2011 is now online. It's available only in German language, but the photos alone are worth checking out. Like for instance this one from Trail Verbier St-Bernard 110 km ultra trail, which was attended by yours truly as well.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

La Sportiva Vertical K trail running shoes

I've done almost all of my trail runs since a couple of years with La Sportiva Crosslite. That pair of shoes is pretty much done now.

While looking for a replacement, I found this: La Sportiva Vertical K. Very interesting. Seems to be lightweight, but possibly enough protection for ultra trails as well. Available in 2012.