Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Elf 100 km Xmas fun run

I haven't finished a 100K in 2013. I just had to do something about that. That's how Elf 100 km Xmas fun run was born out of the blue.

There were no other runners in this event. Most convenient for me was to run a nice and easy 25 km loop around my neighbourhood four times. There would be 200m ascent per loop.

I started to run 8:00AM on Monday, December 23th. It was still dark, but I knew there would be streetlights along the way.

Almost all of the route was on dirt paths in a delightful natural setting. Less than 10% was covered with asphalt. Bicycles were the only traffic to look out for.

The weather was balmy 5˚C with lots of showers. Air humidity was around 80-90%. We haven't seen a snow-free Christmas like this for years.

The sunrise around 10AM was most welcome, but already after 3PM it got dark again. It's the darkest time of the year. Only during loop #2 I was able to enjoy full daylight.

I finished at 00:27AM on Tuesday, December 24th. Total time 16h27min. My loop times were 2:52, 3:17. 3:40 and 3:49. Total running time 13h38min. The breaks at home between loops took me 2h49min. Like a good elf, I made sure to take plenty of time stuffing my face.

After finishing I felt good, but a bit tired. Merry Christmas and happy trails 2014!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Golden Ratio Triathlon

In trying to find the sweet spot between half and full 'Ironman' triathlons, I came up with the idea of Golden Ratio Triathlon (GRT):
  • swim 2.4 km (1.5 miles)
  • bike 111.2 km (69.1 miles)
  • run 26.1 km (16.2 miles).

This new 139.7 km (86.8 miles) distance is more challenging than a half, but not as devastating as a full.

With a goal of finishing in 12 hours, I started the first GRT ever this morning at 7:45AM. I finished 7:45PM - perhaps not surprisingly in exactly 12:00 hours!

The swim was nice and relaxed. I did a couple of extra laps just in case I had miscalculated the distance. As usual, I spent some time in the sauna after the swim.

I did most of the cycling indoors on my Taxc Bushido trainer, so I had the opportunity to watch Ironman Hawaii 2013 on TV. It brought back pleasant memories from my own race in Kona 25 years ago.

My run consisted of one big loop on familiar dirt roads. It was dark but relatively warm, and almost all the snow and ice had melted away. The air was very humid with occasional rainy moments thrown in. Recent storms had caused some damage in the forests, and the streetlights were off in many places. It wasn't a problem, as I had my head torch with me. The run went smoothly, but I only carried two gels, so I was pretty hungry towards the end. 

It was a nice day, and I will probably do another GRT in the future.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Independence Day

I celebrated Finland's Independence Day today by running around Seurasaari island.

Crushed ice on the beach.
It was a balmy +1˚C day with some rain/snow falling from the sky.

The lakes on the island were covered with ice.
I spotted lots of birds, including a swan couple.

The sea and shore is still mostly ice-free.
There were some slippery places with ice, but not too many.

A swan couple feeding themselves in the sea.
I even saw the President passing by in a motorcade towards his nearby home.

The archipelago looks pretty nice even in winter.
My feet were wet when I returned home, but it sure was a nice outdoors training session!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Purple kale rocks!

Please let me introduce you to one of the healthiest vegetables, purple kale.

It's about the same as green kale or other cabbages, only kooler.

How do I cook it? Well I don't really. I just throw it in a blender or salad with other foods.

I bet Jimi would have loved this rock fuel!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

RaidLight OverMitts review

My notoriously cold hands can be a big problem, especially in the high mountains during storms. Sometimes my fingers feel like ice sticks. RaidLight OverMitts are the best solution I've discovered so far. They were designed to meet the gear requirements of some ultra trail running races, demanding completely waterproof gloves.

As these über-gloves weigh only 24 grams/pair (0.9 oz) and take very little space in your pocket or backpack, there's no reason to leave home without them. I simply wear whatever comfy old gloves I fancy wearing in good weather, and then quickly add the mitts over them if the weather turns bad. Of course it's also possible to wear the mitts alone without any undergloves in hot weather. The mitts are not warm at all by themselves, so all the warmth has to come from the undergloves and your hands.

You can secure the mitts around your wrist with the attached velcro/elastic band. The band can be also handy when you want to hang the mitts somewhere or attach them to each other.

None of my vast selection of gloves are quite waterproof or warm enough by itself (including RaidLight/SealSkinz Ultra Grips), but together with these OverMitts my hands stay dry and warm. The MP+ Stretchlite membrane (79% polyamide, 17% polyurithane, 4% elasthane) is extremely wind- and waterproof while somewhat elastic and breathable.

With a price tag of about 40€ these mitts aren't exactly a bargain (whopping 1,662.50€/kg!), but in my experience they are worth every penny. I've experimented enough with various el cheapo rubber gloves in the past to know that they just don't make it for me in serious alpine races.

I bought these OverMitts in Chamonix with my own money, and I'm not in any way affiliated with RaidLight. I just happen to like these gloves, that's all. Highly recommended, especially for UTMB and other euro races with superstrict management. Certainly everyone could use a pair of working hands, even when running!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

November trail

Lots of rain in November. The trails are good to run though. It's still surprisingly warm, no snow yet.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

PTL 2014 - the steepest ever!

UTMB has published the new La Petite Trotte à Léon (PTL) 2014 course. And what a course it is: Chamonix - Champex - Bourg Saint Pierre - Morgex - Petit Saint Bernard - Col du Joly - Chamonix via the most breathtaking climbs!

PTL 2014 course.

According to the time chart below, this course will be 28,272m (92,756 ft) / 307.1km (190 miles), thus earning a steepness factor 92.1! If you check out my August post Steep is the new flat, you will see that this is way steeper than any other ultra trail on my lists.

PTL 2014 official time, distance and altitude chart.

This new epic course looks like an ultra trail runner's dream. It will earn a spot on many bucket lists, but before you can stand on the starting line on August 25th 2014 at 17:30, you still need a team of 2-3 persons, of whom at least one must have finished PTL, Tor des Geants or UTMB. The maximum number of teams is 80. The event will fill up  quickly when the registration period opens on December 19th.

There is plenty of steepness to be climbed around Mont Blanc!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Best Smoothie

The Best Smoothie recipe = a simple blend of 3-4 of your favorite fruits and greens with some water.


Saturday, November 2, 2013


In trail running circles, FKT stands for 'Fastest Known Time' of a route.

In some cases, it could also stand for 'Funniest Known Time'.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Test-running Crivit 2D PRO off-road shoes

I've been looking for waterproof trail running shoes for my fall/winter training.

Crivit 2D PRO off-road shoes.
Crivit 2D PRO waterproof off-road shoes with Carbolite midfoot stabilizer and GripMotion outsole was my first choice for testing. Maybe the 19.99€ price tag had something to do with it.

GripMotion outsole.
I upgraded insoles to a pair from my old Hokas and installed new Lock-Laces as well - not really necessary I guess, but I just happen to love them.

Carbolite midfoot stabilizer is hard plastic of course, not real carbon.
These Crivit shoes seem like pretty good value for only 20€ (a recent bargain by Lidl in Europe). They also sailed through Will's TacoTest™ with flying colors. The outsole may not be the grippiest out there, but it performed well enough on icy rocks.

These shoes really are waterproof - unless you run in too deep waters!
The weight is about the same as my Hokas, 330 grams/shoe (size 44 EUR or 10.5 US) - except my new Rapa Nui's are 15 grams lighter.

Last but not least, check out this cool testing video. Happy trails!

Friday, October 18, 2013

12 photos from a river trail run

Running by the river falls seemed like a neat idea on a great sunny fall day earlier this week.

The autumn or ruska as we call it is still going on strong here in the south of Finland.

The water level in the river Vantaa is low now. Most people in Helsinki have drunk the water from this river, as it's the back up water supply for the Päijänne aqueduct.

In the natural reserve it's necessary to stay on the existing trails.

It was warm-ish (about 3-7°C) so there was not any slippery ice yet.

There were plenty of fallen leaves everywhere, including in the water.

I didn't bother to use a GPS or even a watch, so nobody knows exactly how long my run was, maybe 20 km or so.

I took tons of photos, which slowed me down.

There were some white water, but nowhere near as much as when it has been raining more.

The trails were dry and easy to run.

After the river I ran back home on trails over little hills.

Soon all this landscape might be covered in snow, so I'm glad I got this trail run done now!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Test you pee-H with purple cabbage!

Dr. Greger consistently provides the most interesting science-based health videos on the net. Where else would you get the idea to test your urine pH with purple cabbage juice? This is home chemistry at its best!

I actually blended some water and purple cabbage right away, and got a nice turquoise color as a result! I knew that plant-based diets are alkaline-forming, but I was still positively surprised.

As Dr. Greger mentions, those on modern Western diets tend to get more acidic and lose muscle mass - not to speak of gout, kidney stones, and so on - the list of risks is a long one. Uric acid is very bad stuff indeed.

The main take-away point from this is that to preserve/gain muscle as you age, you need to eat more alkaline-forming foods like fruits and vegetables and avoid acidic "protein sources" such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs.

I really do recommend you subscribe to NutritionFacts.org youtube channel, it's always fun, informative and helpful.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Running with the Mind of Meditation book review

Running with the Mind of Meditation - Lessons for Training Body and Mind is a simple book presenting basic meditation instruction for runners. The author Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche - a Tibetan lama,  leader of Shambhala and runner - shows how anyone can easily learn to combine internal practice with physical movement.

This book is not specifically about trail running, but there is a short chapter about trails, hills and weather:
"In order not to trip or fall, your attention must be focused and, at the same time, you have to remain relaxed. This is a great way of being present."
There is an interesting observation that with the fluidity and freedom of downhills, a runner may not feel self-consciousness.


Here's Sakyong's 5 Tips for Running with the Mind of Meditation, an article about this book.

The meditation taught in this book is simply the process of being mindful of your breathing, being aware that you are thinking, and returning your attention to the breath. When you achieve this, your ability to focus on any other object or endeavor will be strengthened. 

There is much more to learn, of course. Sakyong breaks his training into four phases: 
  • tiger, the careful beginning phase of running and building of the base;
  • lion, the enjoyment of running and nature;
  • garuda, the outrageous phase of ultrarunning where we challenge ourselves;
  • dragon, where we are basing our activity on wisdom and compassion. 
It may sound easy, but combining meditation and running can be a bit tricky in practice. With Running with the Mind of Meditation your chances of success will probably be far better.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Iron War book review

Iron War was published in 2011, but I just got the paperback. What's the hurry I though, this epic race was back in 1989. The title is so bold it's almost comical. After all triathlon was a much smaller sport then than now. This is a story about two talented but totally different endurance athletes running a 2:40-marathon together in scorching heat after a fast 3900m swim and 180km bike.

In those days Dave Scott was the Man. I studied his triathlon training book and video and tried to train like him. It was very tough. Everybody believed that nobody could beat the Man in Kona. Everyone except Mark Allen.

To be honest I didn't expect too much from this book. The author Matt Fitzgerald lacks a bit street cred, as he has never raced in Kona. He has finished another Ironman race, but not in under 10 hours. However he claims to be a huge Kona Ironman fan, having seen the event on TV!

Fortunately the book project was supervised by Bob Babbitt, a pioneer of the sport and 6-time Ironman Hawaii finisher. He was right there when Iron War happened. He has fought the mumuku winds on the lava fields of Kona coast. Actually he coined the phrase 'Iron War' in the first place.

There are tons of precious triathlon trivia I haven't read anywhere before. Maybe there is a reason for that, but I found it all very entertaining at the end of the day. This book certainly seems well researched - all the references are listed at the end.

The starring triathletes sued the publisher for defaming them. This is perhaps understandable considering how intimately personal the narrative gets. It's almost like an unauthorized biography of Dave Scott and Mark Allen. The facts may have been exaggerated slightly, but I don't think the book strays too far from the truth.

Iron War deserves to become a bestseller. It's Born To Run for triathletes. It can be recommended for everyone, not just hardcore ironman triathletes. I had a good time reading it and found it inspirational.


Friday, August 23, 2013

The Sports Gene book preview

The Sports Gene - Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein seems to be an interesting new book.

More so because it features two great Finnish athletes: cross-country ski champion Eero Mäntyranta (whose performance was boosted by a rare gene mutation) and ultrarunner/triathlete Pam Reed (whose father is of Finnish origin). Check out an extract from the book with Pam Reed.

I know there's no such a thing as "the sports gene", but I'll put it on my long 'To Read' list anyway. Meanwhile, it's well worth reading this brief summary of the book.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Steep is the new flat

This is BS. The world is steep.
We have been lead to believe that the world is flat. That's bullshit. The world does not have to be flat, at least not if you are a trail runner.

Nice view to Lauterbrunnen valley, a mecca of Tolkien fans and basejumpers.

In my road marathon running and triathlon racing days, I was always looking for a flat course. "Is it flat and fast?", was always the first question when deciding where to race next.

Icy water from melting glaciers runs down the slopes of Eiger.

In those days, a PR was always the main goal. The second aim was to go under a certain time limit, like running a marathon in three hours and finishing an ironman-distance triathlon in ten hours.

Eiger Trail.

Those days are long gone. Times have changed completely. A hundred-km trail run is the new marathon. Steep is the new flat.

Melting snow at Eiger Trail.

The first thing I check out now is le dénivelé positif  or D+, the cumulative elevation gain of the race course. A race has to be relatively steep and high to be considered worth attempting. Time doesn't really matter anymore, except the cutoff time(s) set by the organizer.

Eiger is steep.

Fortunately we in Europe have plenty of fantastic mountain trails. The Alps are my favorite destination, as they are only about a 2.5-hour flight away from my home. And they certainly seem steep enough. Even the prices are pretty steep there!

The dark North Face of Eiger.

I thought it would be interesting to determine the steepest ultra trail running courses in the world. I ranked them by elevation gain/course length ratio (D+/km). I had to rely on information available online, so I cannot guarantee that everything is 100% correct. Measuring mountain courses is not easy and every measurement produces a different result.

Eiger Trail and the shadow of Eiger.

Starting from 50-milers (~80.5km), Top 9:
  1. 80km du Mont Blanc, 6040m / 80km = 75.5 (I finished this in 2013.)
  2. Sardona Ultra Trail, 6100m / 82km = 74.4
  3. Ultra Trail du Barlatay, 5849m / 81.9km = 71.4
  4. Trans D'Havet, 5000m / 80km = 68.8 (Euro SkyRunning Champs 2013)
  5. Grand Raid des Pyrenees - GRP80 Grand Trail, 5036m / 79.5km = 63.3
  6. The Mountainman Ultra, 5000m / 80.3km = 62.3 (Failed a cutoff there in 2011.)
  7. Andorra Ultra Trail - Celestrail, 5000m / 83km = 60.2
  8. Gran Trail Courmayeur 80km, 4500m / 80km = 56.3
  9. Transvulcania, 4415m / 83.3km = 53.0

This part of Eiger Trail is good for watching climbers on the wall.

Moving up to the popular ~100 km category, Top 10:
  1. Andorra Ultra Trail - Ultra Mitic, 9700m / 112 km = 86.6
  2. La Montagn' Hard, 8800m / 107km = 82.2
  3. Ultra Trail di Corsica, 7600m / 105km = 72.4
  4. Ultra Cavalls Del Vent, 6668m / 100km = 66.7
  5. Eiger Ultra Trail, 6700m / 101km = 66.3 (DNF for me there in 2013.)
  6. Verdon Canyon Challenge, 6330m / 100km = 63.3
  7. Trail Verbier St-Bernard, 7015m / 110km = 63.2 (Finished this in 2012.)
  8. UTAT, 6500m / 105km = 61.9
  9. TDS, 7250m / 119km = 60.9
  10. CCC, 5950m / 100km = 59.5 (Finished this in 2012 but it was 88km.)
[Edit: Trail Verbier St-Bernard will feature a new course in 2014 - this new X-Alpine race will be 8600m/111km = 77.5.]
Eiger Trail to Eigergletscher Station.

100-milers (~161km), Top 6:
  1. Andorra Ultra Trail - Ronda dels Cims, 13000m / 170km = 76.5
  2. Hardrock 100, 10361m / 161km = 64.4
  3. Grand Raid Reunion - La Diagonale des Fous, 10845m / 170km = 63.8
  4. Grand Raid des Pyrenees - GRP160 Ultra, 9766m / 161km = 60.7
  5. UT4M, 10115m / 167.8km = 60.3
  6. UTMB, 9600m / 168km = 57.1

Cairns along Eiger Trail.

In the 200-mile (~322km) category there is:
  1. Tor des Geants, 24,000m / 330km = 72.7
[Edit: PTL 2014 will be 28,272m / 307.1 km = 92.1, thus making it number one in steepness, although still 'only' a 190-mile team event! Anyway this legendary UTMB event will now earn a spot on most bucket lists.]

Snow in late July at Eiger Trail.

There is also a couple more races well worth mentioning, although their length doesn't fit my categories: Trail Ticino, 9778m / 136.7km = 71.5 and Ice Trail Tarentaise, 5000m / 65km = 76.9!

Too steep for me.

Stage or team races were not considered, as I'm not too interested in them at the moment. Also fell/hill running races were dropped. Although they may provide a lot of cumulative elevation gain, I want to mainly focus on races that climb to above 2000 meters of altitude. For that reason races like Transgrancanaria, UTMF and TNF Hong Kong 100km were omitted from my lists. Also ultras well under 80km were not listed, although a 50K might be ideal for beginners or as a training run.

Eigergletscher cable car Station.

As you can see, I was able to find only four races with D+/km over 75. I have finished only one of those: 80km du Mont Blanc. It's most likely world's steepest 50-miler. These races are super tough!

Eigergletscher train station - the train goes up to Jungfraujoch 3454m.

By the way, all the photos on this page are from Eiger Ultra Trail 101km 2013 course, which is both steep and beautiful. Highly recommended.

I'm a risk-averse fair-weather runner. I'm also alive.

A final thought: keep it safe! Steep courses are fun to run, but it's not worth risking a fall. Kilian Jornet said recently while running up and down Matterhorn: "It's safe, but if you make a mistake you die." Stay away from dangerous stuff like that. It's possible to enjoy trail running without being a lunatic.

Once I tried to run a trail called Camino del Rey in Andalusia, Spain. I didn't have any gear or guide. I soon noticed it was dangerous and turned back. Many adventure-seekers have fallen into El Chorro gorge. I guess you could say I'm a risk-averse fair-weather runner. I'm also alive.