Friday, September 1, 2017
Triathlon Long Distance European Champioship will take place again in Almere (Amsterdam, Holland) next week. Let's hope the weather will be less stormy than on 17th August 1991, when I took part in this Europe's oldest 'ironman'-distance race.
The whole week had been calm and sunny. The course was advertised as fast and flat. I was ready to set a new PR in under ten hours.
The race morning appeared stormy as hell. The waves in the sea looked like big hills. The 3800-meter swim was a blurred struggle for survival.
On the 180-km bike course the wind blew gravel on the wet roads. Both of my tubular tires were punctured. I carried two spare tubes, which I managed to install with cold hands. On the last lap both of my spare tires blew off as well. I had to cycle the last 40km with an empty back tube and the last 20km with a flat front tire as well. They were right, 'flat' described the course well.
The rain stopped during the run, but it was still windy. I ran a great marathon, finishing in 11 hours and change. It wasn't a new PR, but it was certainly a strong performance I could feel proud of forever.
Today I checked the website of Challenge Almere. They have all the old results online, so I searched for my name from the 1991 list. It wasn't there! Nothing about my lifetime achievement. I had always assumed I was a finisher, but I had never actually checked the results before. I have absolutely no idea why my result was omitted 26 years ago.
A philosophical question: Did I really finish, or was it just a dream?
Thursday, August 17, 2017
I found an old trophy with a plate: "Laulajan lenkki 64km 1995 IIIp Miehet".
Singer's Loop 40 miles 1995 3rd place men.
I was able to scan two photos of me running in this race. The cross-country skiing type large front & back bib was number 14. My minimalist gear included shabby shorts, worn-out shirt, huge sunglassed, white tube socks and thin-soled running shoes.
My 'Flock of Seagulls' hair was blowing in the wind. That style may have been fashionable back in the day.
I wondered what is the story behind this cheap trophy? Why had I kept it all these years? I've never been much of a materialist, so I tend to throw everything away.
Luckily I managed to download the Finnish ultrarunning magazine 'Ultrajuoksija' 2/1995. Editor Tero Töyrylä had published a few pages about the event with interviews and results.
This road race had been organized in Vammala (a former town in South-Western Finland, now a city called Sastamala) since 1990. The singer was one of the competitors: Mauno Lampimäki. He had recorded countless songs with his dance band. The start and finish was at Myllymaa sports centre. In 1995 there were thirty runners in the race, which was a big increase from previous years. Ultrarunning was definitely booming.
On Saturday, May 13th the weather was clear, cool and windy. After eight years of ironman-distance triathlons, this was my first ultrarunning race ever. In October 1994 I had ran my marathon PR 2:55. In 1995 I had increased my running mileage from 70 to 100 km/week. Two weeks before I had ran a 53km test training run with promising results.
I gave it my best shot. In those days I didn't eat carbs, so there was no energy supplementation whatsoever. I may have received a cup of tap water during the race, but that's all. The course was pretty tough. My marathon split was 3:20. The route was marked, but I wasn't quite sure where to go on two occasions. In both cases I was able to confirm the right direction with someone.
I finished strong in 5:04.08 in 3rd place. I don't recall feeling tired at all. Petri Orava won with 4:25.28 and Alf Granvik came second in 4:58. Maria Tähkävuori was the first woman.
I was happy with my ultrarunning debut. It had been fantastic to run with legends like the Montela twins (Kalevi and Olavi) and Kalevi Saukkonen (who has run over 2100 marathons). Mauno the singer finished as well. He probably sang too, but I had to head back to Helsinki.
I ran Laulajan lenkki again the next year, finishing 5th with 5:37:37, over 30 minutes slower time. I have never been able to run a faster 40-miler than on that windy Saturday in 1995.
Thursday, August 3, 2017
It's Friday night at busy Murtel cable car station in Swiss Alps. The doors open and a zombie drags his feet inside. His corpse collapses on a bench. He lies down on his back eyes closed while liquids slowly spread from a soft flask on the floor. Onlookers shake their head: another one bites the dust.
That zombie is me. I'm at the highest point of Swiss Irontrail 214km (133 miles), but not even halfway through. We had started 4am in Davos. We would have to run a counterclockwise loop with over eleven thousand meters of elevation gain to finish in the same place before 6pm on Sunday.
Quitting is not an option. You have to suck it up and design a way forward. I would have to descend down to Maloja by the big lake. There would be a house with a warm meal and a place to nap there.
I would regroup there and finish my longest race ever.
After eating and sleeping in Maloja I kept on going relentlessly. There were uphills and downhills. It was hot and cold. There were easy roads and technical trails. My feet sensed the terrain instinctively and adjusted automatically.
After another day and night I crawled up the final steep slope before Davos. It was extremely hot and I kept on cooling myself off in streams. Three figures stood on the cliff high above watching my struggle up.
It was Andrea Tuffli, who has directed Swiss Alpine events since 1986. I ran my first ultra-trail in Davos back in 1995 and returned many times for various races. He and the other two guys cheered excitedly, high-fived me and grabbed my arms.
"Congratulations! Do you always finish every race you start?", they asked. "No, but if you let go my arm I might finish this one", I joked and laughed. I kept on laughing the whole 5km downhill to Davos with people clapping and shouting everywhere, and tears of happiness pouring from my eyes.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Monday, June 19, 2017
Mozart100 is an interesting addition to UTWT. It's not a new event, but the course is new. For the full 105km they now offer 4,700m elevation gain in one loop. The altitude is under 1,500m so no adaptation is necessary. I decided to give Salzburg a try.
The start/finish is at the historic town centre. It was convenient stroll to the 5am sunrise start from my 800-year-old hotel room. Altstadt hasn't changed that much since Mozart. Salzburg makes one feel young in comparison.
They checked the obligatory gear: a cup/bottle and a whistle. I chose to add foldable poles in my 125g vest. A headlamp was required as well, but we were allowed to leave it in our drop bag.
I put also some other stuff in the bag we could access at 33 and 75km. However I never needed any of it as the organizers took such a good care of us and the weather stayed ideal all day.
300 runners had plenty of space on the streets of Salzburg on early Saturday morning. The first 12km was easy until the first aid station. My problem was they were so well-stocked and accommodating that I wanted to stay forever.
When I finally said goodbye the gravity of the situation hit me. I quickly calculated that at this rate I wouldn't be able to run through the remaining eight aid stations within cutoffs. I was in an obstacle race with a twist: here the obstacles were treats.
Before the race I had worried the course might be too easy for me. Luckily that wasn't the case at all. Chatting with Mozart veterans, they testified this new course was much tougher. With one monster mountain in the middle and three beast hills to boot, finishing was going to take guts and Red Bull.
In Austria they drink Red Bull instead of water. It's like putting gas in the tank. It also tastes like gas. The solution came to me in the form of Red Bull Cola. I kept gulping it down while moving on steadily and not stopping for too long for any reason.
I don't know why but everyone seemed very friendly and talkative all day. Maybe the beer had something to do with it. Anyway the day went by smoothly. I had fun all the time. People seemed to be smiling and enjoying the lake scenery.
Almost too soon I found myself marvelling at glimpses of spectacular sunset over Salzburg on the last hill. I planned to finish in 16 hours and change, but they made me wait for the green light at a couple of intersections. Official timer stopped at 17:01:15. I'm pretty happy with that result, which placed me right in the middle of 200 finishers.
Mozart100 deserves congratulations for rising up to the challenge of producing a top-notch world class event. Their race organisation is superb with no shortage of brilliant individuals. I'm certainly tempted to race in Mozart City again in 2018 to see if I can race 100K against the sun and beat it too.
Friday, June 9, 2017
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Today we did a one hour running workout called 'Molina' (designed by Ironman triathlon champion Scott Molina) with Jr:
- 20' Warm Up RPE2,
- 5x2' RPE3 (5x1' RPE1),
- 5x20" RPE5 (5x5" RPE1),
- 20' Cool Down RPE1
Enjoy your Sunday!
Sunday, May 21, 2017
When you start Ecotrail Oslo 80km you could be fooled into thinking that you can easily finish in eight hours. The course follows River Akerselva to Lake Maridalsvannet. This is the drinking water source for Oslo. After filling our water bottles at 14km aid station the real trailrunning begins.
The following natural area is beautiful with forests, lakes and waterfalls, but the technical path requires full focus. The rocks, roots, streams, swamps and tree trunks make running fun but slower.
The previous week had been rainy and most of the snow had melted away. The weather has always been great on race day though.
There is only about 2000 meters of total ascent. The biggest hill climbs up to Holmenkollen 35km aid station. The wind and drizzle by the ski jump area made me grab some coke and continue immediately. Soon hundreds of 45km runners started and passed me.
It was nice to have some company. In the first edition of this race in 2015 I got lost a few times. Now the markings were good and there were always runners to follow.
In Sørkedalen we were treated gluten-free bread. This 50km aid station was my favorite. 30km racers had already gone.
A dirt road climbed the last big uphill. Then it was down all the way to Fossum 60km aid station. 20K racers had left it pretty cleaned up. Unfortunately there was nothing to eat anymore. Ecotrail Oslo has over 3000 partcipants, with only 10% choosing the 80km distance. I filled my soft flask and left. I had packed ten Clif Shot gels in my UD vest, so I had enough energy to finish.
Running down Lysaker river valley was a bit muddier business this year. The trail is undulating and slippery. Especially with my Hoka Clayton 2s. Still I'm happy with my shoe choice, because my feet stayed comfy and blister-free all the way.
After the last 70km drink station the last 10K was easy city cruising to the finish. I was determined to improve my 9:44 course PR. It was close but thanks to final sprint I made it in 9:42. 2 minutes!
This was my first race in M55-59 age category and I was 4th. These Norwegian runners are pretty hard core. Local star Didrik Hermansen had won with 6:15.
Ecotrail Oslo has developed into a great spring trail event with enough challenge to keep it interesting. Thanks to organisers and volunteers for the experience.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
8 key points from Training Essentials for Ultrarunning by Jason Koop which outline my current ultratrail running training strategy:
Structured training leads to better results than running more. There's generally too much focus on volume. Superlong runs are very hard on the body. The workouts necessary for best cardio fitness may seem simple and boring, but these methods will make you prepared for success. Extreme gimmicks may seem to work for a while before fading out.
The limiting factor isn't your physical capacity to run fast. You can develop specific parts of your physiology through increasingly focused specificity during the year. Start with the broadest aspects of training like aerobic endurance. Do the most event-specific things last.
Ultrarunning is a thinking sport. Your mind is your greatest weapon. Use it skilfully and wisely. You have to think your way through the challenges. You need to train your brain as much as your body.
As you get fitter, a bigger training stimulus is required. But you also need to rest. Running yourself into the ground won't improve your race. Recovery is an important part of training. Find the right balance between work and rest.
You can most dramatically improve your race during the ascents. Lactate threshold work yields the greatest improvements. Preparing for the climbing (and also descending) in your event is a high priority throughout your training.
Your training needs to be specific to the demands of the event you are training for. Cross training won't directly improve your ultrarunning. Hiking can be beneficial. Non-running activities may make you a better overall athlete, but you should not do them at the expense of your running.
7. Perceived exertion
Heart rate is not a good training tool. Your brain is the only training tool yet that can determine the correct intensity and workload by perceived exertion.
8. High-carbohydrate diet
Forget fat adaptation. High-carb diet will deliver energy quicker to working muscles, make you run faster, and help you go farther.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Saturday, April 1, 2017
Saturday, March 25, 2017
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
In Shrovetide we Finns lap up pea soup and play in the snow like crazy.
Nordic skiing is my usual thing to do this time of year.
I simply love the freestyle. Classic style: not so much - after finishing Vasaloppet 90K years ago in Sweden, I cut my classic skis and burned them in the fireplace.
Now with new skis around that don't require too much waxing, I might return to classic technique. Except skating seems too much fun to give up anymore.
Anyway I skated 25K in fairly nice, slightly too warm weather.
I do recommend cross-country skiing for trailrunners. It's a great whole-body workout and easy on the legs.
Friday, February 24, 2017
|My pre-race jitters before UTMB felt as massive as the Alps.|
Like many athletes, I get my fare share of pre-race jitters. Judging by the number of articles on this issue, there's a real war on event anxiety going on.
Let's face it: your body is not an idiot. The race course seems to have an insane amount of distance and elevation. It's not going to be easy, and everyone knows it.
If you feel powerless against mighty mountains, realize your fears are like ripples on the surface of a lake.
Deep down the water remains cool and calm. Take challenges as a chance to explore your possibilities.
Ultras are 90% mental, and the rest is up to your head. A scared mind can play dirty tricks on you.
I believe The Barkley Marathons RD Lazarus Lake calls this phenomenon Quitter's Talk. Get over it.
Some of my best performances have occurred after horrible (but hilarious in hindsight) preludes. When you break through threatening obstacles, that's when you really grow.
Listen to your body, but don't believe all your thoughts. Don't worry too much. The pre-race jitters will soon pass after the start. Focus on executing your race plan and have fun out there.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
|80km du Mont Blanc in Chamonix provides a lot of suffering for such a short distance.|
Let's not kid ourselves. We ultratrail runners like to suffer. Why else would we bother racing at all? There's not that much money and fame for the champions in our sport - let alone midpackers.
Not only do we love races, but we tend to choose the longest, highest and toughest courses with the most elevation gain. Race organisers almost boast how extreme their event is.
We love tough challenges. Races are the ultimate sufferfests. They draw us like a light moths. Why is that?
Maybe suffering leads to clarity and some sort of illumination or happiness. Looking back, those hardest spots often seem like the best parts of your life.
|These guys are still grinning after suffering 200K in mostly terrible weather (Irontrail 2016).|
So here they are - my ten tried and tested easy tricks to suffer even more in your next ultrarunning event:
1. Arrive at your destination as late as possible. No need to recover from the travelling or acclimatize to the altitude. Sightseeing is absolutely unnecessary.
2. Minimize sleep the night before the start. Stay nervous, check you gear all night long and repack your backpack.
3. Race injured or sick. Never give up no matter what. If you DNF once, you'll always DNF.
4. Start the race too fast. Stay above your comfortable threshold even if it makes you throw up.
5. Get lost. Take the wrong way and keep going forward when you don't see any route markings. Never study maps of the race course.
6. Take yourself very seriously. Stare at your GPS watch. Never chat or joke with fellow competitors. Don't shoot any photos or videos.
7. Hurry through aid stations. Time spent on eating local goodies is wasted. Forget to fill in your bottles. No need to thank the volunteers.
8. Don't stop for anything. Fail to remove debris from your shoes or take care of your feet. Whose afraid of blisters? Never nap. Run past those who show any weakness and might need help.
9. Fall down. Go faster than you are capable of. Run a technical course like it was a track. Trip and face plant. Act like it doesn't hurt at all. Don't seek medical help.
10. Use cheap gear - or no gear at all. Why pay extra for quality. Poles and waterproof pants are for losers.
|Tip: use minimal low-quality gear and don't prepare for stormy weather (Eiger Ultra Trail).|
Thursday, January 26, 2017
'Deal. Sounds fine to me. See you in less than seven days,' I replied and begun my solo jungle trek to Gunung Tahan, or Mt Endure in English. I had just learned from my Lonely Planet South East Asia guidebook that it was possible to do this exciting Tahan trek cheaply - all by yourself. I disappeared in the jungle before anyone had a chance to stop me.
This happened about 30 years ago. I was in my early twenties and relatively fit. I had finished my first marathon run the previous year. I travelled by boat up the river to Taman Negara HQ in Kuala Tahan with a large backpack. I carried the big three of hiking: a tent, sleeping bag and foam mat. I had lots of food as well. Had I known how challenging it would be, I'd probably never have attempted this alone. As none of my friends were neither interested nor capable, I decided to do it. I thought it would be fun. I was confident that I got this.
Taman Negara's fauna has it all in terms of dangerous creatures, including elephants, tigers, rhinos, snakes and spiders. After hiking just a few hours I found myself more concerned with dangerous flora. Specifically the thorny vine that had arrested my fall down a muddy slope. I yelled in pain as the tiny needles sunk deeper around my neck and body. I struggled a few minutes to grab a knife and cut the vine. Finally I was free to continue. After that I watched my every step more carefully.
Later on I encountered a Singaporean hiker hiking back home. He was shocked and cried a lot while telling his story. He had pitched his tent by the river. Several elephants had stomped over the tent while he was sleeping. Miraculously he had stayed alive and wasn't even seriously injured. The elephants had no intention to harm him. He just happened to camp on their path.
In the late afternoon I arrived at the first campsite by River Melantai. I had advanced maybe about 15 km. In those days we didn't have any GPS to measure the distance. I dove in the water with a big splash to clean myself and wash my muddy clothes. I pitched my tent and enjoyed a cold dinner. I didn't carry a cooker and jungle wood seemed too wet to burn.
I noticed a few black leeches all over my body. It's impossible to avoid those tiny suckers in the jungle. They can easily drop from vegetation to crawl under your clothes. I carefully burned the ugly buggers off with a lighter. You have to let them inflate themselves with your blood first. Don't tear them off prematurely, or you risk getting a bad infection.
I expected a thunderstorm every evening. They don't call this rainforest for nothing. It started before I fell asleep. Laying on a sleeping bag and soft mattress, I felt safe in my waterproof tent. After a while the top outside fabric gave in and leaked badly. By the time the rain stopped, my tent had turned into a kiddie pool. Loud animal noises kept me awake all night as I laid down soaking wet. I imagined hearing scary beasts nearby, but luckily they left me alone. My strategy was to never unzip my tent before sunrise, no matter what.
In the morning my body ached. I had to make my backpack lighter. I decided to hide most of the heavy canned food high on a tree for my return trip. Then I had a big breakfast. When I picked up my skyblue backpack it was a lot lighter, but covered with hundreds of skyblue butterflies. They must have thought it was their mothership or something. They followed me across the river for a while, which was fun but weird.
The second day climbed over 27 hills. My dirty contact lenses were not usable anymore. No worries, my pace was so slow that I had plenty of time to spot the route markings with my myopic eyes. The highest peak was 576m, followed by a steep trail downhill and seven river crossings. I used a stick I found to stay upright in knee-deep streams. I reached the second campsite after the last river. The flowing waters had kept me well hydrated, cleaned and cooled. I ate something and fell asleep quickly after burning away a dozen leeches. I estimated to have covered another 20 km and was on schedule. I felt happy after about my performance, but the worst was ahead.
Serious mountain climbing started on the third morning. It was a shorter section than previous days, but all of it was steep uphill to the camp at over 1800m altitude. There was only one small stream about half way up to fill my water bottle. I felt better as it got gradually cooler and less humid. On the steepest rocks bouldering skills were required. I didn't have them, but somehow struggled my way up with bare hands. (Nowadays they have installed stairs and ladders there.) At night I was shivering as it was windy and only about +5°C. I hadn't thought of bringing warm clothing in the jungle. I had to anchor my tent real well to prevent it from flying away in the night. It was awesome to lie on that narrow ridge and watch the milky way glowing bright.
In the morning all my gear was dry and my spirits were high. The most difficult part of the climb was ahead. It was a vertical cliff about 250m up and down. There were some old ropes and I was barely able to do it. During the last descent my water bottle fell down accidently. I watched it drop into the jungle a hundred meters below me. I had to make it to the summit and back down to the last watering hole in one day. The summit ridge seemed long, but not too technical. I drank black swamp water from moss growing on the slopes. The 360° view from the 2,187m peak was magnificent. I wrote my name in the visitor book and headed back immediately. I barely made it back to the watering hole before dark. So far so good.
Without my water bottle I got dehydrated, confused and lost on the fifth day. After one of the river crossings I took the wrong turn left. It took me a long time to find my way back to the right track. I kept moving on along a river until I stumbled upon the familiar route markings again. It was a relief as I didn't have any food left. With the light pack, I was able to run pretty fast now. I was able to find the stash of goodies I had left. I was completely exhausted. I was so hungry that I ate it all. I thought this would have to be my last night in the tent. I couldn't take any more of this.
I'll never forget the astonished faces in the Park HQ as I rushed in. They stared at this crazy forest creature, who was covered in dirt and bloody rags. The Supervisor said 'You came back already... Where did you give up and turn back?'
'No no. I made it to the top of Tahan and back here in less than seven days. I did it!', I announced triumphantly at the finish of my 120 km solo jungle trek. Nothing else seemed too difficult after that.
Note: I didn't carry a camera and mobile phones didn't even exist. It was awesome to be able to relive my adventure with Google Maps Street View. All photos are screenshots from there.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
My initial reaction to The Road to Sparta is mixed. "There are always ups and downs during an ultramarathon," Dean Karnazes states. The same goes for this book.
On the positive side I was happy to finally be able to read Dean's Spartathlon 2014 race report. The ten chapters (19-29) about the actual Spartathlon experience are the best part. It's all vintage Karnazes including battles with blisters, nausea, fans, journalists, traffic, air pollution, hallucinations, sleep running and out of body experiences.
It was interesting to learn how even a seasoned pro ultrarunner can find it challenging to finish those 246km from Athens to Sparta within the 36-hour cutoff time. Amazingly there is a Vertical K skyrun (a mountain trailrun ascending 1000m by night) in the middle of this road ultramarathon.
The trouble with the remaining twenty chapters is that they must pale by comparison. I found all the historic stuff borderline boring. I couldn't help feeling slightly sleepy while tracing the genealogy of Dean's calves and stuff like that. But I appreciate it was a 'voyage of self-discovery' for him.
Also way too many pages were decorated by unnecessary adjectives, cliches, Greek words and quotations. Don't be afraid to skip a little here and there - you won't miss anything essential.
References to marathon (both the victory and the modern running race named after it) could have easily been left out. First, the distance from Marathon to Athens is shorter than 42.2km. Second, Marathon was never featured in ancient Greek Olympics. Third, there is no proof that Pheidippides ever ran from Marathon to Athens. It may have been another messenger. In any case Persians invaded Greece a decade later, so the victorious Greek nike-moment was relatively short-lived.
I found it a bit weird that to relive the Pheidippides experience, Mr. Karnazes chose to eat only authentic ancient Greek foods like figs during Spartathlon. I doubt it's so easy to make it feel the same. The roads didn't exist at the time, so it had to have been trailrunning all the way. Also the runners were barefoot or had simple gear like sandals at best, as they weren't sponsored by The North Face.
Another issue is that to really recreate the epic journey of Pheidippides in 490 BC, one would expect Mr. Karnazes to run the same way back just the way the original Ultramarathon Man did. After all, ultrarunners like Marvelous Mimi have successfully completed Double Spartathlon.
Greeks invented democracy. Unfortunately our modern democracies are in ruins much like ancient architecture. We may have saved the banks, but possibly somehow lost the concept of 'rule by people' in the process.
Dean observes: "Suddenly witness to the brutal realities pervasive in this world, I found it impossible not to recognize that in 2,500 years of conflict and warfare between men and nations, not much had changed... Like Greece itself, the Spartathlon had been a dichotomous experience."
In summary, if Dean's first book Ultramarathon Man inspired you to run longer distances a decade ago, you'll probably enjoy reading this one as well. Surely in tough times we can be a bit like Dean in Spartathlon: "I won't give up without a fight."
The Road to Sparta: Trailer from Barney Spender on Vimeo.