Friday, January 25, 2013

My coldest ultra trail race

Vasaloppet 90K in Sweden is the coldest ultra trail race I've done. It's the oldest, longest and biggest cross country ski event in the world.

In 1987 it was also the coldest: -33˚C (28˚F) as measured at the start in Sälen. It was quite an experience to be one of those 16,000 skiers freezing in long lines, waiting for the 8:30am gun. It was difficult to breathe in the cold air.

The start was delayed. A few buses full of competitors had died along the road there, and we had to wait about 30 minutes until they arrived. This is Sweden for you: we'll start all together, or not at all.

I remember my toes and fingers were pretty deeply frozen as everyone was desperately running around or hopping up and down. After the start there was a huge uphill, and chaotic queues quickly formed. I suppose the infamous ultra what am I doing here moment occured to many then, if not earlier.

The first Vasaloppet was held in 1922, when a Swedish newspaperman wanted to retrace the classic route from Sälen to Mora, made by young nobleman Gustav Vasa four centuries earlier, in 1520.

Gustav had been escaping from King Christian II. This mighty King of Kalmar Union (Denmark, Sweden and Norway) had just invited the Swedish aristocracy to 'a party' in Stockholm, only to have them all (including Gustav's parents) massacred.

Gustav had failed to convince the men in Mora to start a rebellion against the evil king, and he was headed towards Norway. However he was soon caught in Sälen by two quick Mora brothers on skis, who told him that people had changed their minds after learning about the new taxes. The Swedish people would fight for their freedom.

Three years later Gustav I was crowned King of Sweden. In those days Finland was a part of the Kingdom as well.

In 1972 Sports Illustrated had described Vasaloppet "One of the most bizarre, most foolish, most excruciating most exalted human events of our time." I knew right away that I had to do this crazy ski race! Much like the Hawaii Ironman (which I did the next year), this was a race you simply had to finish, at least once in a lifetime.

After a couple of hours the sun came up and the temperature warmed up to tolerable levels. After about each mila (Swedish mile, which is 10km) there was an aid station serving hot Ekström's blåbärssoppa, a blueberry soup actually made of bilberries, which grow abundantly in Scandinavia.

Everything was going well, except my skis: they seemed to slide more backwards than forwards. I had them rewaxed at every service point, but the ever-changing snow composition made wax selection too challenging for me.

Long story short, Anders Larsson won in 4:20, and I finished way later in 9:40. Somehow I must have felt a touch frustrated, as upon returning home I immediately cut my skis in pieces and burned them in a fireplace.

I have never done any classic style skiing since, but I've adopted the freestyle skating technique that doesn't require constant waxing. Later on I once skated 100 km as a fun training challenge by myself, and it felt a lot easier than Vasaloppet. The record-low temperatures in 1987 are the most probable reason for that.

Nowadays Vasaloppet week includes several shorter events as well. There are also AmericanJapanese and Chinese sister skiing races of Vasaloppet. In the summer there are VasaStafetten relay running race and CykelVasan, a popular mountain bike event. Heja Sverige!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ultra Trail Bucket List

Please click the UTBL-tab above this post to view my Ultra Trail Bucket List. Six ultra trail running races: two done, two scheduled this year, the last two later on.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Nooooooooooooo! Yes, that's a no with 13 o's.

The suspense is over. I just lost in the UTMB 2013 lottery. I was listed as refusé.

Now let's put on the positive hat. 13 reasons why this is a good thing.
  1. I'll have twice the chance of winning the 2014 draw. 
  2. I have more time to train and prepare for it too. 
  3. The points acquired are valid for two years, so I can reuse my 2012 points. 
  4. I've dreamed of doing this race since 2007, so one more year is not such a big deal. 
  5. Who knows the weather might be bad again in 2013?
  6. In that case the weather would most certainly be excellent in 2014. 
  7. They might increase the number of required points (currently 7), which would favor runners like me who have a lot more than that.
  8. I'll be a more experienced trail runner in 2014, possibly also fitter and wiser.
  9. I won't have to race twice in Chamonix in 2013 (I've entered 80km du Mont Blanc in June).
  10. Trail running gear in 2014 might be a lot more advanced.
  11. Suunto Ambit GPS might allow me to track a long trail race like UTMB accurately by 2014.
  12. Some of my friends might be doing the 2014 UTMB as well.
  13. I can spend the money budgeted for this on something potentially more fun than plodding around the Mont Blanc massif in a weekend with thousands of ultratrailheads.
Congratulations to those 2300 UTMB 2013 runners as well as those doing the CCC, TDS or PTL. You lucky bastards! See you on the trails.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Age-graded marathon PR discovered!

I was already pretty happy with my Stockholm Marathon 2010 result of 3:06:26. After all it still is my best time of the decade. But yesterday I happened to check out my marathon results at a local running magazine website, and this performance was listed as my PR. Having run three 2-hours-and-change marathons back in the day, I was dumbfounded initially. Then I was super-stoked to realize that my age-graded time was indeed a stunning 2:52:52!

Out of this world - what's not to love about that number: 2-52-52! My Achievement Percentile was 73.37%, which I understand is Regional Class, although honestly I fail to fully grasp how that figure was generated.

Age-graded calculator can add glimmer to your old results.
I don't have a competitive bone in me and couldn't care less about my results. I don't run to win anything, and certainly not for fame or money. Just run, be the opposite of Lance, and reduce worry with a restroom plan. Like The Ultramarathon Man Dean Karnazes, "I run because it always takes me where I want to go".

Clueless about achieving a PR soon at Stockholm Marathon 2010.
Having said that, the majority of marathon runners are not spring chickens, and you just may have to beat your friend's time to win a bet, or maybe you'd just like to add some glimmer to your old results. So if you'll get interested, the age-graded calculator I used is always at your service.

Friday, January 4, 2013

2012 training/racing review

Trailplodder's 2012 highlight was finishing Trail Verbier St-Bernard 110 km - my 3rd start there!
2012 was a good year of racing for Trailplodder. I turned 50, but thanks to my new high-carb/low-fat plant-based diet (quite a change from my previous paleo low-carb/high-fat diet) I stayed 100% healthy (not even those ubiquitous flus) and definitely recovered quicker.

The only downside is that all that water in fruits and veggies can make you feel colder in winter, but that can actually be a huge advantage in warm/hot weather. That's a great tip to keep in mind with global warming - or global weirding as some choose to call it.

I grabbed tons of UTMB points by finishing Transgrancanaria 123K, Trail del Monte Soglio 63K, Trail Verbier St-Bernard 110K as well as the epic trail journey Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix (CCC).

I ran a marathon in Paris and a 50K around Lidingö island in Stockholm. And I finished Challenge Barcelona, a full ironman-distance triathlon along the scenic Maresme Coast in Catalonia.

I ran only 2,425 km (1,506 miles) in 2012. Even if I add the 387 km of walking, it's still only 54 km/week. This was because I wanted the hamstring that was torn in 2011 to heal and to get rid of my 2011 plantar fasciitis. The pain has now reduced to tolerable levels, although Leadville 100 founder Ken Chlouber probably hit the nail on the head when he said "Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone."

Normally I run about twice more in a year. For example in 2008 I ran more than a marathon as my long training run once every single week of the year. Last year my long runs were typically close to a half-marathon.

With 7,785 km cycling (mostly on wireless Taxc Bushido trainer) and 260 km swimming I totaled 10,862 km (6,750 miles) in 2012. In addition to that I used some EMS (Electronic Muscle Stimulation) to prepare my quads for those Alpine downhills.

What's planned for 2013? More running training and longer long runs. Focusing on three key ultra trail running races in the summer: 80km du Mont Blanc, Eiger Ultra Trail (101K) and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB 168K).

The last one depends on the results of the lottery in two weeks. They say there's about 30% chance of winning. Let's hope for the best.

I'd like to finish with another Ken Chlouber quote: "You are better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can." Have a great 2013 everyone and see you on the trails!