Monday, December 26, 2016

Die Hard 50 Mile Christmas Training Run

In a recent Talkultra podcast Zach Miller discussed (transcript of the interview by Ian Corless) his impressive victory of 2016 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships and mentioned: 'But you never go out there and race a full 50 miles in training.'

I started brainstorming right there how to fix that this Christmas. I must run a 50 Mile training run!

Christmas Day, 7:02am. I'm getting out to run 50 miles on familiar local trails. The weather is great with slightly above 0°C temps. I start my GPS, turn on my headlamp and head into the darkness. I have prepared well for this - by watching Die Hard the previous night.

Welcome to the party, pal.

Fast forward to evening, 70.8K down. I'm home for my third and last 'aid station' visit to grab food. I'm tired. My legs hurt. I crave for energy, but lack appetite. I feel like it would make sense to quit this stupid training run now. I've hit the Great Wall.

Please don't let me die.

Then I realise Die Hard's bad guy Hans Gruber represents that familiar voice in our head rationalizing us into giving up.

Happy trails, Hans.

I drag myself out to shuffle in the final 10K. I see very few people, certainly not any runners.

80.7km down. I stop my GPS. It's 9:40pm. I finish Die Hard 50 Mile Training Run in 14 hours 38 mins.

If this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year's.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Running Man - book review

I'm guilty of several DNFs, but this book I finished fast. I found Running Man both interesting and inspiring. What's more, Charlie Engle can write and tell a story.

I have followed Charlie Engle with some interest since Running The Sahara came out. I liked the epic documentary produced by Matt Damon. Then I found out he has has done a lot of adventure, bike triathlon and ultrarunning races.

However this is not primarily a book describing all of his races. The most compelling parts of the book are about the crazy ideas he has filled his wild life with: booze/drugs, running across Sahara, and simulating 135-mile Badwater in prison.

The main take-away point from the book is that life is all about adaptation - it's not the circumstances we are dealt that define us.

Running Man is the best endurance sports memoir since Rich Roll's Finding Ultra. Run and get it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Case of Disappearing UTMB Points

Christmas is soon here for ultra trail runners: UTMB 2017 registration starts Dec 15.
"Enter the legend! 8000 runners from 5 continents. What about you?"

Me? Yes! Who wouldn't want participate in the "Sommet Mondial du trail running".

Let's visit ITRA to check if I have the required 15 points from 3 qualifying races.

Yes, I do seem to have 6, 5, 4 and 4 "Endurance" points from my races in the past two years. Just ignore those "Mountain" points for now. So far, so good. 6+5+4=15 would buy me a lottery ticket.

Let's now see if they are in UTMB's list of qualifying races, because "It will not be possible to register for the 2017 UTMB® by making reference to a race not included in this list." Got it.

Damn, Ultra-Trail Collserola 2015 isn't listed anymore. I remember seeing it there before. The whole race with my 4 points has mysteriously disappeared! WTF?

No panic, my other 4-pointer Ecotrail Oslo 2015 is there. We're cool.

Also Swiss Irontrail 2015 is there with the 6 points for T201. I would have gotten the same amount of points by finishing the much shorter and easier T139 or T121. Surely 204.8km with +12,000m would be worth seven points, but six is the max they give for any race. Ok, whatever.

So I have 4 + 6 = 10 points. The remaining 5 points should come from  Zugspitz Ultratrail 2016. It is listed, but marked "To be checked" - meaning those points are not available, because UTMB apparently has some minor dispute with Plan B, who organize Zugspitz Ultratrail. Get over it!

OMG! Zugspitz Ultratrail have announced that they have terminated their membership with ITRA and there will be no UTMB points available for any 2017 races.

However when I chose Zugspitz Ultratrail it was advertised as UTMB-qualifier worth 5 points. Unfortunately that's not the case. Had they been honest about this, runners could have chosen another race.

German blogger Trailfieber found out this disagreement is basically about Plan B's Zugspitz Ultratrail failing to respect UTMB's Ultra Trail brand. Meaning UTMB and other UTWT races would like to own everything in the world related to Ultra Trail. Good luck with that.

I travelled across Europe with planes, trains and cars for those points. I spent my hard-earned cash on that trip. I ran all night in rain and mud to celebrate at the finish for those points. Take my finisher T-shirt and medal away, but give me those points you promised!

So now when I'd like to use those points, they aren't valid - only because an ultra trail running race had included the words ultra trail in it's name? Good job, guys!

Fortunately Swiss Irontrail 2017 doesn't have a lottery for T214 in July. I'm a trailrunner, not a trailgambler.

[Edit: UTMB informed that UTMB 2014 finishers will be allowed to get 6p, although normally only 2015-16 races apply. This slight deviation from the usual rules is welcome in a situation where some races are not acknowledged. So combined with the 10p from Ecotrail Oslo and Swiss Irontrail 2015 I can now get a total of 16 points. In other words while I have lost the 9p regarding Ultra-Trail Collserola 2015 and Zugspitz Ultratrail 2016,  I could participate in UTMB 2017 lottery if I wanted. I think Irontrail T214 offers a much better deal.]

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Living With A SEAL - book review

Living with A SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet by Jesse Itzler is a funny and inspiring book about the art of getting uncomfortable for self-improvement. Routines can be useful, but sometimes you need to push beyond to get better.

The story goes something like this: Mr. Itzler is participating in an ultra relay race. He observes a big African-American runner attempting the challenge by himself. Against all odds the big guy finishes 100 miles in under 19 hours.

Itzler learns he is a badass SEAL who says 'I don't stop when I'm tired. I stop when I'm done.' SEAL believes that when you think you are done, you are only at 40% of what your body is capable.

Inspired, Itzler gets SEAL to live in his home with his family in NYC as a personal trainer for a full month. The book tells the lessons learned during those 31 days.

The unidentified SEAL in the book is David Goggins. Most ultra endurance athletes have heard about this Ironman & Ultraman Hawaii, UTMB and Badwater finisher - to name just a few of his accomplishments.

I found it highly interesting to learn about his unorthodox training methods and uncompromising principles like 'If it doesn't suck, we don't do it.'

For me this hilarious book is a most welcome antidote to all those boring pseudo-scientific training bibles. I laughed out loud frequently while flapping through the pages. SEAL says: 'It doesn't have to be fun. It has to be effective.'

Living with a SEAL is both fun and effective. It's a quick easy read, but at the same time it offers a great opportunity for self-improvement. You don't have to invite SEAl to your home. Just keep in mind that 'Every day do something that makes you uncomfortable.'

For example, I tend to suffer a bit from vertigo, so I climbed a 140m vertical rock tower recently. Or it can be something as simple as taking an ice-cold shower. Just keep in mind: 'Every day is a challenge, otherwise it's not a regular day.'

Drop your self-imposed limits and get out of your comfort zone. Because after this book, 'The only easy day was yesterday.'

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Snow Running in November

"Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood."
 -Andy Goldsworthy

In early November we got 22 cm snow in Helsinki because there was a strong wind blowing warm moist air from the sea to the freezing cold front on the south coast of Finland.

It sure was fun running on new snow already. Snow makes it easier to see as the days are dark this time of the year.

Now it looks like the weather has changed back to normal and most of the snow will possibly melt away in rain during the week ahead.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Downtown Helsinki Sea Pool Swim

The empty lawn and beach waiting for summer.
Allas Sea Pool is a new opportunity to experience an outdoor swim in downtown Helsinki. To kick off November I headed for this new cool city beach. It's easy to find by the seaside marketplace near the ferris wheel.

The seawater pool with Suomenlinna ferry in the background. 
I paid the 9€ entrance fee and changed into my swim gear in the dressing room. After taking the obligatory shower I dashed out to the nice wooden swim area with three pools: a cold 25m sea water pool, a warm 25m pool and a smaller pool for kids. The water in the pools is clean and safe to swim.

The water in the sea pool is as cold as in the harbour, only cleaner of course.
The air temperature was just above the freezing point and the sea wind with drizzling rain bit into my wet skin like a vampire on Halloween. No wonder the sandy beach and green lawn were empty. I literally got cold feet already. Without further ado I jumped in the warm pool.

You can see the glass cafe on the left and the wooden dressing rooms and saunas on the right.
The water was pleasant 27°C. I enjoyed a relaxed 1500m watching the cruise ships and Suomenlinna ferry in the harbour. I shared the fast lane with another swimmer. There were only two lanes. I bet it will get crowded in sunny weather next summer.

The warm pool has two lanes for swimmers. Silja Line cruise ship in the background. 
I finished with a dip in the refreshing 5°C sea water pool. After that I defrosted myself in the sauna. They have separate saunas for men, women and private groups. I felt pretty good afterwards in the cafe. I'll probably visit Allas again in the future.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Helsinki City Trail 21km

Helsinki City Trail in mid-October is the biggest trail running event in Helsinki and the second largest in Finland after Bodom Trail in May. Both are 21km races with a couple of shorter distance options.

Nice forest paths around 9km. (Photo: Satu Tala) 

21km course in starts at Paloheinä hill and climbs it again after a 10K loop in the Northern woods. Then it heads South to Laakso, where the finish area is.

I'm not generally too fond of point-to-point courses, but in this case it wasn't a problem for me. I could easily reach both the start and finish by bus in just a few minutes away from my home.

Running the last uphill. (Photo: / Juha Saastamoinen)

HCT is entirely in the Central Park, which is a wild forest area within the city. There are small undulating hills and the total elevation gain is only 370m. The trails are mostly quite runnable, but there are some rocks and roots, and a few surprises. This time around the weather was cloudy 4-5°C drizzle, but it was only slightly damp - not muddy or slippery really.

My final sprint across the granite boulders. (Photo: Karri Jalava)

My main goal for the race was to have fun and finish without re-twisting my left ankle. I enjoyed the run very much and finished in 2:14. This was my shortest race since a half-marathon in 2010. Trailrunning is slower, but I don't miss those fast road races at all. Times have changed.

The fastest 21km runners on the podium. The winner Henri Ansio with his hand up ran 1:21.

Helsinki City Trail is organised by Classic Trails Finland. The same non-profit association is behind Nuuksio Classic Trail Marathon in September. They do a really good job. Also the volunteers are great. These guys are the best, but don't take my word for it - please participate yourself next year!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Plod Thickens

Back in Nuuksio again after the marathon on Friday for more. Like I haven't learned anything. This National Park is as dreadful as it's vast. Beware or be prepared to pay for your boldness. It's a fact, not fiction: notorious Nuuksio is a synonym for adrenaline-boosting adventure.

I planned for a long run, but the plod thickens: I sprained my left ankle AGAIN in the first 5K. Funny to be listening to The Running Man Charlie Engle on Proper Suffering. What is that makes us want to push ourselves past our comfort zones on broken bodies beyond reason?

So I kept going on both new and old trails until I got tired. I drank water and picked apples from a tree. I continued until I collapsed on a bus stop. The bus to civilization would come in 5 minutes. What a dreadful 30K trail/off-trail run on a sunny but October day. I loved every minute of it.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Trailtober Marathon

Quiet morning after the rain by the Laka Kálàtoin in Vaakkoi, Nuuksio National Park.

I launched October Trailtober with a completely self-supported trail marathon. In fact, I started the day before October 1st. View it in Strava.

Trailtober flashing some fall colors.

To add buzz to the adventure, I had no idea where my route would lead me. Except that it would most likely be in Nuuksio National Park.

This never gets old. Well these boulders are pretty old, but you know what I mean.

I decided to start by taking bus 345 from Helsinki as far as it would go. Which is pretty far on the outer edges of Espoo, in a place called Vaakkoi.

My favorite view from a cliff above Haukkalampi.

I ran the first half mostly on the classic trail called Route 2000. The blue-white markings had worn off in many places. I took many detours, some for geocaching and photographing purposes, some simply because I wasn't sure where the route is supposed to go.

Mustalampi is a popular place for the picnic people for obvious reasons.

In Salmi outdoor recreation area the Cafe was open and I sat down for a cup of coffee and a delicious cinnamon bun. They let me fill my soft flasks in the kitchen sink. I was ready to continue.

Love to run on these rocks. 

I decided to turn south towards Solvalla, because I knew it would be possible to catch a bus back to the city from there. I also knew the trails there well enough to run without a map.

Lake Valklampi is great but no swimming this time.

The sun was shining and and I had great time running on fabulous trails. Meddle by Pink Floyd blasted in my headphones and the lyrics of Fearless finally made some sense to me after 45 years. Climbing...

In the morning when I started it did rain briefly, so I carried rain gear in my vest just in case. Fortunately for the rest of the day it was clear skies all the way.

Lake Pitkäjärvi means Long Lake in English. I've never ran around it.

I ran to Solvalla via Haukkalampi, Mustalampi and Valklampi lakes. Those are popular places with hikers, but it wasn't too crowded.

The climbing wall of Solvalla about 1km South of Haltia Nature Center. 

I've often wondered if ultratrailrunners ever hit the wall. The answer is yes. For me it happened right after completing my marathon. I encountered this huge granite wall by the bus stop.

There's a trail up on the right side.

"If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up - climb it, go through it, or work around it."
-Michael Jordan

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Suunto Clipper Compass

Suunto Clipper Compass:
  • Liquid filled. 
  • Jewel bearing. 
  • Rotating bezel. 
  • Luminous cardinal directions. 
  • Weight 5g. 
  • Supercompact 30x24x11 mm. 
  • Operating temperature -30°C to +60°C.
  • Fun micro aid for navigation anywhere - even underwater. 
  • Clips on a sleeve, strap or map. 
  • Made in Finland.
This may be the ultimate device for simple outdoorlife. It's not a GPS watch, so no batteries, satellites or software to worry about. Always ready to use. Very reliable, durable and low cost.

With this compass, a good map and a little brain-based intelligence you can figure out your distance, speed, altitude and elevation gain.

With a simple tool RPE (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion) you can even measure the intensity of your physical activity.

Clipper is not an iPod either, so if you want music your best bet might be to sing yourself.  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I Do This for Fun

Not-anymore-so-warm September morning at Lake Iso-Antias.

'Do you need help Sir?', a woman's friendly voice coming from the top echoed in my ears. I was climbing up a steep boulder and she must have heard my huffing and puffing - possibly even some bad language thrown at the rock.

'What? No thanks, I'm ok!', I shouted back while struggling in agony to get my eyes above the edge. It was a young lady with a phone in her hand.

'You look like you can't get out of there, are you sure you don't want me to call for help?', she continued, clearly not understanding what I was doing.

'No no no, I'm a trailrunner, it's meant to be challenging, I do this all the time for fun!', I shouted, getting a bit frustrated both at her helpfulness and my unability to explain the situation.

She left me alone, rolling her eyes as she walked away.

Swim or climb? A problem at Iso-Antias.

This left me thinking, what was I doing exactly? Trailrunning does not seem to make a whole lot of sense. What's the purpose of all this useless activity? Why is this random playing outdoors so enjoyable?

My best educated guess is that trailrunning is a bit like quantum mechanics. Nobody can really figure it out completely. Maybe it's like Physicist Richard Feynman put it: If you think you understand it, you don't get it.

Sunrise in Nuuksio National Park.

An image speaks more than a thousand words, so maybe I just keep this post short and add a few photos from my latest fabulous adventure in Nuuksio National Park.

Yes I did it just for fun - and to pick chanterelles. Despite getting lost again, being chased by those unnerving deer flies and twisting my ankle (ouch!), I was having a full day of fun!

On the top of the high cliffs at Lake Syvä-Antias.

One of the best sunny days this summer at Lake Suolikas.

Lake Suolikas view from high boulders.

Lake Suolikas famous from the Nuuksio Classic Trail Marathon course.

Pretty awesome scenery at Lake Suolikas.

I do this for fun.

At the end of the day, time to go home.