Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cortina Epic Week 2017


Epic.

A week in the heart of the Dolomites.

Our dreams came true.

Perfect weather.

Professional guides.

Ferrata climbing, skyrunning, trailrunning.

It was an experience beyond words.

Thank you Cortina d'Ampezzo.

We will never forget this epic week.









Monday, June 19, 2017

Mozart100


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

Grit


I grabbed Grit by Angela Duckworth at Oslo Airport to read on the plane. It's a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that makes all the difference.

I found the chapter about culture particularly interesting. Finnish sisu is presented as an example of gritty identity. Finland seems to have forged a strong culture of grit.

Two powerful lessons can be extracted from Finnish sisu:

1. Thinking of yourself as someone who is able to overcome any adversity leads to behavior that confirms that self-conception.

2. It sometimes feels like we have nothing left to give, and yet if we keep on putting one foot in front of the other there is a way to accomplish what reason seems to argue against.

Could grit be the secret to success? According to this book yes, grit can be more important than talent or luck. But now it's not a secret anymore.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Molina


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
RPE = Rating of Perceived Exertion (1=easy, 3=moderate, 5=sprint).

Enjoy your Sunday!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ecotrail Oslo 80km


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

Ultratrail Running Training Strategy

8 key points from Training Essentials for Ultrarunning by Jason Koop which outline my current ultratrail running training strategy:


1. Smarter


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.


2. Focused 


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.


3. Mind


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.


4. Balance


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.


5. Ascending/descending


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.


6. Run-specific


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

Green Smoothie


Green smoothie is my usual breakfast, and sometimes lunch as well. 

Blend any water, greens, fruits, berries, seeds, roots and seasoning you like.

Just add running.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

It's not about the Hokas


Seven years ago I got plantar fasciitis which refused to go away. I tried everything. Nothing helped.

Then I heard about a new rad running shoe Hoka One One. Apparently a couple of guys had left Salomon in France and developed this new brand for mountain ultra running.

In spring 2011 I unboxed a pair of Bondi B. They felt big and weird. People pointed at these 'clown shoes' and laughed at me.

I began running longer and longer daily in Hokas. One day my pf was gone. Time to fly, as the slogan goes.

I've run a lot of alpine ultra trail races in various Hoka models since. Not all of them were faultless. 

For example, the 2014 Stinson Evo was an ankle-twister. But I'm not complaining as I managed to finish Lavaredo Ultra Trail, Eiger Ultra Trail and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc with them that summer.

What I love in Hokas is the 'meta-rocket' design that tips at the ends, the 'bucket seat' for your foot inside the midsole and the half-cm heel/toe drop. They are also relatively lightweight for their size.

At the end of the day it's not about the Hokas. But without them, there probably wouldn't be any of it for me. So thank you Hoka One One and let's keep on rocking together!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spring Training Report


Spring Training Report: smooth hard rock base, looking bright ahead.

After the winter is over, you can always keep on trailrunning. Just add ultra!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

laSKIainen

Laskiainen (Finnish) = Mardi Gras (French) = Fat Tuesday (English).


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

Breaking Through Pre-race Jitters

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

10 Easy Tricks to Suffer More in Ultratrail Running Races

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

Mt Endure Jungle Trek

'Tahan is the hardest trek in Malaysia. Although Kinabalu is almost twice as high as Tahan, it's actually easier. I simply cannot let you go alone. Don't fool yourself. A youngster like you would have no chance against the world's oldest rainforest,' Mr. National Park Supervisor told me bluntly while checking my papers. 'This trek demands excellent physical fitness and mental determination. There are several hazardous river crossings, challenging climbing and traverses along dry ridges requiring rationing every last drop of water. For a well-equipped expedition with guides, cooks and porters, it's at least 7-9 day roundtrip to this highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia. And if you get in trouble, don't expect my staff to rescue you.'


'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.


DAY ONE

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.


DAY TWO

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.


DAY THREE

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.


DAY FOUR

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.


DAY FIVE

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.


DAY SIX

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

The Road to Sparta - book review


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.