Sunday, 2 July 2017

Boden Fortress 50K

I've never felt less prepared for a race. No mental preparations at all. There have been so many other things to focus on lately that, when race day finally dawned, I was almost caught by surprise.

The evening before, I packed my things with an uncharacteristic lack of interest. I would put one thing in the bag, then go and do something else, then come back and put another thing in the bag (or maybe that's just my ADHD?). My right knee had been bothering me for ages, so much so that I wondered if I was injured. It made it hard to muster up any enthusiasm for the race. In fact, I was convinced I would get my first DNF and be forced to cancel the rest of my races this season. No wonder that packing felt like a chore. No wonder a 50 km race felt like having to face the death squad. I'd rather be at home tending to the garden and avoiding any confrontation with my knee.

There were four AIK runners that drove to Boden to participate in this peculiar race, that would take us to 5 (?) Swedish Army forts, positioned on the perimeter of the town. My running buddies echoed my feelings. All four of us have entered the Ultravasan 90 km race in August, and this was to be an important step towards that. Yet no one felt ready. It was a beautiful day, already warm at 9 in the morning. When we arrived at the National Defense Museum, just in time to listen to the information given by the race organisers, a trail shoe-shod, hydration pack-carrying crowd had already gathered.

Way too much time was given to the energy drink sponsors, and I felt my attention drifting off to other things, like the swords on the wall, the buzz of the cafeteria fridge behind me, the faces of the other participants. The race organisers then went through the course, but my brain was completely shut off. I trusted that they had marked it well enough for me to avoid getting lost; I wasn't going to be able to retain any of this information anyway.

Outside, the four of us posed for a ”before” picture, to remember how insane people look right before they throw themselves into the burning pits of hell: all manic smiles and misplaced confidence. The starting gun was less of a gun and more of a tank cannon, keeping in line with the military theme of the race. I have a very strong aversion to guns, tanks and all things military, but it was kind of cool to get such a deafening send-off.

Just before the start

The others opened strong. I had no desire to try and keep up with them, partly because I was worried about my knee and partly because 50 KILOMETRES IS A LONG WAY, MAN, KEEP YOUR SOCKS ON. I wasn't last but I couldn't have been far ahead of the last runners. We climbed up to the first, and perhaps most accessible fort after just 4 km. The view was breathtaking: you could see for miles around, over the tree tops and Boden. I drank a couple of dl of water, filled my water bottle and negotiated the steep, rocky trail down to the river again.


The first fort

I was now running alone, no other ultra runners in sight. Some of the 10K runners ran past me impossibly fast, too fast to register. I trudged along in my 6:30 pace, the sun already too hot, the surroundings having gone from soft pine forest to dilapidated boat yard. My motivation started waning. After the second fortress, at around 13 km, we made our way back to town. This was a part of the course that was more populated, as we were running among what looked like Suburbia, but it did nothing to alleviate the boredom I was feeling more and more. Time went by so slowly, and the half-marathon distance seemed to never come. I haven't been so bored since one hour before the bell rang on the last day of school.

Running to the second fort aid station


After the third fort, my mood started changing. I was running on forest roads now, having just passed 22 km. I kept thinking that I was almost half way. It was nice to run in the forest, in the shadow; the sun was really hot. Unfortunately, the course turned towards town once again, and soon I was in the town centre, giving angry looks at drivers who didn't stop at crossings to let me pass. I spoke to J on the phone. I felt kind of delirious because of the heat. I remember asking him to drive to Boden and bring me cold milk. Move over, pregnant women. Your cravings are nothing compared to the cravings of a dehydrated ultra runner.

A couple of kilometres later, the aid station appeared before my eyes like an oasis in the desert. Conveniently positioned by the river, in case someone wanted to throw themselves in it to fight off the heat, they were a sight for sore eyes. My watch said I'd ran 28,5 km, the volunteer said 31. I wanted to believe him and not my watch. My motivation had started waning again. I ran by the river, then up up up on soft, bark-clad paths and technical trails, on an ascend that felt unending, like it would take me all the way to heaven. Right before I arrived at a fort/aid station, I ran past a couple of guys who were walking up. ”It looks easy!” they said. ”It doesn't feel easy” I replied, really struggling now. ”How do you think it feels for us then?” they said. 


One foot in front of the other, I thought. Onward, upward, forward. But the course had a fantastically cruel ace up its sleeve: The secret stairway. If you've never tried switching from running to walking up stairs, let me tell you: it sucks. It sucks all of your energy out of your thighs. It burns almost as much as the sun burned my scorched shoulders. Soon enough though I'd climbed to the top and reached the aid station. Two of my AIK-friends were there, one of them nursing a bloody, chafed foot, the other having just completed the obligatory run around the fort. We exchanged a few words, drank way too much/not nearly enough water and I headed off again.

The secret stairway

I had started passing more runners now. I passed one of the walkers, who commented that it still looked easy. It's easier to run downhill, that's for sure. The race doesn't really start until you've hit 30 km; that's when all the sins of your past, all the injuries and missed long runs, all the shoddy preparations start catching up with you. A few of the runners I passed walked. A few lingered at aid stations too long, but understandably so. My own sins hadn't caught up with me yet. As I realised there were fewer than 10 km left, I started counting down, a countdown that was slow. I didn't mind, because I was going to make it in under 6 hours and my knee hadn't complained once.

The course had one last nasty surprise left for us: we had to make our way up a slalom hill. A sun-exposed slalom hill. Slalom hills are very steep, and they magically become even steeper when you've just run a marathon. One foot in front of the other, I thought once again. Onward, upward, forward. I looked down at my feet, looked up at the top of the hill. Neither helped. I just had to fight it, just had to make it to the top, even if I had to crawl there.

After that particular trial, a nice trail down to a camping site, some paved roads, a beautiful path by the river, and less heat. I remember thinking that it wouldn't add up to 50 km. I remember thinking that it couldn't be possible that I was still running and the finish line was nowhere in sight. I remember looking at signs and hoping I'd see ”National Defense Museum” on one of them. 

A couple of kilometres left

And I remember finally seeing the finish line, among the tanks and the people and the shade. Oh, the shade.

My feet hurt. I crossed the finish line and immediately took my shoes off, lay on the grass, happy to do nothing and having nothing to do. My AIK-friend who'd finished first of the four of us snapped photos and got us coffee and ice-cream, once the other two also finished their race. We sat there chatting for a long time, all of us thinking about Ultravasan 90K in August with considerable trepidation.

After a wonderful shower and a meal, we headed home. It was quiet in the car, an almost contemplative mood having taken over us. This was one of the races I've enjoyed the least, mostly because of the heat but I think also because I wasn't in the right head space for a race. Usually I look forward to spending a day out on the trail. Relaxing into the knowledge I have nowhere else to be, just enjoying my surroundings and the fact that I have a pair of healthy, working legs that make it possible for me to see all these new places. But this time, I couldn't relax. I felt that I did have somewhere else to be, although I don't know where. It was a stressful race, both for my body and my mind. Hopefully I will be more enthusiastic when it's time for Ultravasan.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Appreciative af

I did an online test the other day that was supposed to help you find out more about your best personality traits. Number three: humour (not sure J would agree, as he doesn't seem to appreciate my running commentary about how funny certain foreign names are during skiing competitions on TV. I don't get it. I think I'm hilarious). Number two: honesty (selective honesty, I swear. You can still come to me with your ”Does my butt look big in this” type of questions. Also: The dog ate my homework).

Number one? Appreciation of beauty and excellence.

Normally I would nod my head wisely at this and exclaim that Finally! Internet tests get me! but after my close call with death by prolonged exposure to the elements yesterday I'm not sure I agree completely. There might be exceptions to my appreciation of beauty is what I'm saying.

It started off well enough. I had decided to run home from work, because that's the kind of running I could fit into my schedule. I glanced out the window a couple of times as the clock hands crept slowly towards 6 pm and freedom, which was a mistake because it did absolutely nothing for my motivation. It was snowing. It was windy. It was dark. But, once I stepped outside, my Appreciation Of Beauty And Excellence kicked in. I noticed how big fat snowflakes made small craters in the ground upon impact. How trees gracefully bent in half in a magical ballet. How passing car drivers could tell that I was thirsty and drove close to the edge of the road, shooting off snow in my direction to quench my thirst. I gratefully flashed them a huge smile with teeth turned brown from tire-tainted slush.

Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse after a while. Three seconds into my run, I realised that no one had gotten the memo that I was running home from work, and the sidewalk was still covered in 10 centimetres of snow. Sure, I could run on the road, which was relatively clear of snow, but I had forgotten my reflective vest at home and I wasn't quite feeling suicidal just yet. So I moved through the white stuff like a hippo through a puddle of molasses, only not as elegantly.

After three kilometres of torture, my Appreciation of Beauty And Excellence was still going strong. I was appreciating the beauty of suddenly running parallel to the bus route and thought it was really excellent that it was so close by. In case I needed to take the bus the rest of the way home. Which I didn't. Because one personality trait that didn't come up on the Internet test was never throwing in the towel, not even when it's really wet and useless and, frankly, getting a bit smelly. So, instead of doing the smart thing, I did the other thing, which was putting one foot in front of the other several times in a row.

A few kilometres later, I was running through the village of Bergsbyn. Saying that I was running is, of course, a gross misuse of the word. Snow was thick on the ground and the wind was slapping me around like someone had told it that corporal punishment was about to be outlawed and it was trying to get in a few good hits before it had to stop. I waded, I swam, I sent prayers to all known gods that I don't believe in. And that's when I, driven to despair by weather conditions and unresponsive imaginary entities, finally started feeling suicidal and decided to brave the road.

Ah, the road. Pavement with only a light dusting of snow on it. Hard, unrelenting, dependable. I felt the minor aches I had developed around my knees dissolve into nothing, aches that can only be attributed to the softness and instability of fresh snow. But you know who else likes the road? Car drivers. 7 pm on a Monday is apparently rush hour in Bergsbyn, because I could only run on the road a few seconds at a time before I was forced to jump back onto the sidewalk. Playing chicken with cars is not a game a runner can win.

The last few kilometres home were slightly uphill, because I wasn't miserable enough already. My ears were frozen and my eyelashes were stuck together. My throat hurt because I had inhaled all that ice-cold air. But, in the end, after an hour and a half, after taking it one step at a time, one foot in front of the other several times in a row, I got home. As I stood in the hallway peeling off wet clothes, I looked out the window at the snow falling outside and appreciated the beauty and excellence of being in a nice, warm house.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Periscope up

OH HAI.


Remember me? Hilarious blogger who's kind into running? Yeah. I don't remember me either. It's been ages since I've written anything here. How are things with you? Good? Yeah, I'm great too, thanks for asking.

Well, I'm great now. I wasn't doing so great there for a while. I must have stumbled during one of my runs straight down a rabbit hole, and landed in Wonderland. The less wonderful kind of Wonderland. The kind where you try to remember how much you love running but all you end up doing is finding amazing and imaginative excuses to get out of doing it. Like, ”These dishes won't do themselves” (yes they will, we have a dishwasher), ”the cats are tripping over themselves to get my attention, I should give them it” (they spend most of the day sleeping, eating and pooping, and they manage all that completely without my help) and ”there is a surplus of chocolate in the cupboard, I should really eat it to make some space for all the kale, spirulina and chia seeds I am totally going to buy next time I'm at the store” (yeah).

As amusing as it was watching my own waistline expand to a level where it should be attracting its own moon (any day now) or at least a falling apple or two, the underlying cause of it was less so. A couple of really tough months at work (which poked the sleeping bear that is my doubts about my career choices in life), at the end of what was an endless, stressful period getting things fixed around the house, coincided with November. My least favourite month of all the -mbers. Pitch dark most of the time, grey and miserable the couple of minutes the sun manages to drag its arse over the horizon, it doesn't exactly make anyone happy. But this year November was being even more of a gigantic a-hole. Global events made sure of that. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

So I crawled back home each day after work and hid under the covers, the thing that would most definitely make me feel better looming above me like the most intimidating monster: running. I found no motivation to get out there, no matter how hard I tried. And the harder I tried, the less motivated I felt. The few times I did get out there were great, but not great enough to convince me that sticking my head in the sand for a few hours every day wasn't the best idea ever. If I waited this month out – no, strike that, this year out, then things would once again get sunny and beautiful and I'd go back to having my characteristic permasmile tattooed on my face.

Needless to say, this tactic didn't work. Avoiding running leads, shockingly, to even less running. I forced myself to get out there instead. That worked, in so far as I collected a few measly kilometres per week that I might have otherwise skipped, but I didn't enjoy them.

I was worried. I was getting to a point where running was the last thing I wanted to do. The realisation was terrifying. I mean, I'm a runner. I love running. What kind of a runner am I if I never want to go running? And if that means I'm not a runner, then who the hell am I?

That's why you keep coming back to this blog, people. It's all about the deep, philosophical questions.

It's too soon to say that I'm out of that particular black hole (and you can never, ever really escape black holes, because SCIENCE) but a few things have helped me peek over its edge. First of all, the last couple of weeks at work have been a stroll through the park compared to the previous 2 months. I've even had time to go to the loo! Second of all, I've opened up to friends about this and they have been tremendously supportive. The mountain of stress, depression and general dysphoria has been shrinking and is now currently a hill. I've been climbing upwards for days now, with renewed energy and determination.

Yesterday, I ran my first long run in over a month, right after I joined the gym. I'll also be doing the Cannonball Read again next year, and I have a couple of other little projects I'm going to be working on. All very exciting stuff. Watch this space.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Setting my priorities straight

If my roller skis had eyes, they would be looking at me accusingly right now. I haven't touched them in weeks (except for when I moved them from the hallway to the boiler room last Saturday, so that they wouldn't burn holes in my back with their accusing, non-existent eyes every time I picked my running shoes over them). A few weeks ago, I was in great shape and had just found some of my long-lost motivation. Then, I went to this amazing party. The party was so amazing, it took me two weeks to recover.

I almost never drink, and on those rare occasions that I do, I drink maybe a glass or two. Even a glass or two can leave me feeling shattered the day after (the main reason I never drink anymore). That was not one of those occasions. That was one of the occasions when you have such good fun, you lose track of time, forget your own name and wake up with a tattoo on your forehead swearing eternal love and devotion to someone called Chi Chi.

The price I had to pay for this particular little indulgence was a compromised immune system and a subsequent, very stubborn cold that lasted for two weeks. During those two weeks I ate my own weight in chocolate, moved as little as possible to keep my heart from racing (maybe the chocolate had something to do with it racing? Nah, that can't be it) and watched an entire season of Braindead (had there been more seasons, I would have watched them too). I turned into a mushy heap of laziness and apathy.

Being sick sucks.

Once my throat cleared up, I went for a run. Everything ached. Old injuries that I thought had healed woke from their deep slumber and launched repeated attacks on my body. Although I was running on a gorgeous forest road, surrounded by autumn-clad birches and grandiose spruce trees, I longed to get home and rest. I logged 25 difficult kilometres that day. My legs had obviously forgotten how to run.

The next day, I thought about going roller skiing, then changed my mind.

The day after, I thought about going roller skiing, then changed my mind.

The day after that, I went for a long run instead.

Today, in spite of a gorgeous sun painting the trees all shades of orange, red and yellow, I once again find myself choosing other things to do. Autumn is the time for books and crocheting and watching films. Slowly winding down after the frenetic activities of summer and before the long hibernation of winter.

They're not going to read themselves.

The accusing, non-existent eyes of my roller skis are boring a hole through the walls.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Babel

 There is no poetry left in the world. There is poetry in my heart, but when I open my mouth to let the words fly away and make a nest in someone else's tree, they have no wings to fly with. The sounds I make are rusty, frustrated attempts at a whale song in a feline world.

There is poetry in the world. The skittish deer disappearing into the woods as I ran past it on my long run last night told me so. The fleeting clouds in the sky told me so. The dirt I gathered underneath my fingernails while gardening told me so. I dig and plant seeds, so that next year there will be even more poetry in my world. Is it poetry if the words you speak are in a different language than everyone else's?

If no one hears, maybe they'll see. I use my hands to turn wool into leaves and flowers, structures and abstracts. I use my hands to turn stone into Eden. I use my hands to turn clay into screenshots of my mind. My heart speaks through my hands.

”Beautiful”, they might say. Yes, but do you see? Do you see beyond me and that which I make? Don't look at me! Do you see that I'm pointing at my heart and the poetry that longs to find others who speak the same language? Do you see the almost infinite amount of stars, the intricate details of a butterfly wing, the laughter of the one I love, all huddled up in there? Do you speak my language?


Thursday, 25 August 2016

A little long run can go a long way

I'm complete rubbish at maths. Especially when I run. So, while I intended on running 20 km yesterday evening, I did 30 instead. Oops! Oh well. It could happen to anyone.

I started by leaving the car a few kilometers away from the AIK meeting place and then tried to run there with a little detour over what strongly resembled the impact crater of a medium-sized meteorite. They are taking huge bites out of our beloved Vitberget, you see, to build expensive houses. Where there used to be dark corridors of pine and fir forest, there are now mud and tall fences and cranes and men in reflective gear working these premium lots until they look like every single other premium lot in the country. Our beloved white mountain is bleeding, its open wounds not only an eyesore but an ugly indication of where our society is headed.

In memoriam

Put off by the sight of dead trees thrown unceremoniously across what used to be a forest path, I tried to find other ways to get to my destination. More fences, more strict warnings of planned explosions in the area to level the ground from a mountain to an ant hill. I tried to concentrate on the podcast I was listening to. Managed to leave this so-called progress behind and get to a less civilised trail. The clock was ticking and I had to get to my running buddies. 

The debate among us lasted all but a second: we would skip our usual Wednesday run on Vitberget and try Kraftloppet's route. Kraftloppet is an 11 or 20 km- trail race, and this year it is scheduled for this Saturday. No one seemed too keen on negotiating, or facing for that matter, a deeply scarred environment. So Kraftloppet's route it was.

Some of us did the 11 km-version, but most of us picked the longer one – myself included. That was when bad maths came into play. I had already run 6 km. My brain somehow succeeded in translating 11 + 6 km to a little over 10 km and decided the short route was way too short for my intentions, therefore I had to run the 20 km one, which would obviously bring me closer to my goal of running a total of 20 km. Yeah. I told you I was rubbish at this.

Hey, I'm good at other things. Like procrastinating, or pretending to be bad at maths so that I can run further than I had planned.

Not once during those couple of hours I spent running with these guys and girls through the woods did I regret my decision. Not once did I feel bored or tired. I did start recalculating how long my run would turn out to be and got it (almost) right this time (when it was – conveniently - too late to turn back), and then wondered briefly if my light, wholesome dinner consisting of a piece of nectarine pie and ice cream an hour earlier would suffice to see me through it. I skipped with energy, chatted away, looked forward to my watch showing those double digits that would make this a really long run instead of just an ordinary long run. Those double digits are, of course, completely arbitrary, as what a really long run is is vastly different from one person to another. I've had friends log ultra runs as distance dittos. I'm not quite there yet. Don't think I'll ever be.

I took an extra detour on the way back to the car, despite the fact that I suddenly felt really tired, as soon as I left my friends. Is it a little crazy to want to round up the numbers to that magical limit of 30 km? Then I'm bonkers. I may have been dropped on my head as a baby. I collapsed into the car with all the elegance of a drunken one-legged pirate. A really satisfied drunken one-legged pirate.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Running through my head

I came home to an empty house. J was still at work, and I had dropped my mom off at the airport earlier after her two-week visit here. Even the otherwise very talkative cats were quiet. It was eerie.

I have the kind of job where I have to actively interact with lots of different people in a loud environment all day, every day. By the time I finish work I am usually mentally exhausted. This kind of job will do that to you, if you're an introvert like I am. Silence is a welcome change, solitude a respite. But today, the same silence I usually seek in order to recharge after work felt strange, unfamiliar.

I went looking for a different kind of silence, the kind you find running in the woods, thinking it would help me get my thoughts in order. As the jingle of the ice-cream truck faded away in the distance, the voices in my head got louder. Conversations with family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues I'd had earlier today, conversations from days ago, older conversations still made my head buzz. I pressed pause, rewound, replayed them. I tried out different answers, different outcomes. I said something nice instead of something mean, I shouted in anger instead of keeping quiet, I kept quiet instead of saying something stupid. Nothing changed. The things I hadn't said remained unsaid, the things that I had said remained etched in memory. All that brooding did was give me temporary relief from keeping my thoughts bottled up for so long.

The technical trail demanded my attention. I skipped between stones and roots, lost in my thoughts. I almost twisted my ankle, distracted and unobservant as I was. When I got home, J was back. The silence that had haunted the house earlier was gone. We don't always need to speak to communicate what we want and how we're feeling. We're so in tune with each other, we just know. But with others, it's not as easy to say the right thing at the right time.

I wish I could be clearer, make my voice speak as loudly and eloquently as it does in my head while I'm running. Maybe then I wouldn't need to risk twisting an ankle.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Intermission

Once upon a time, there was a runner who liked to do stupid crazy exciting things, like run ultras and such. A couple of years after she started running, when she was still young and easily influenced by her peers, she participated in something called Ultra Intervals. Starting at midnight one cold November night, this runner and six friends of hers ran 10 km every three hours until nine the next evening, to a total of 80 km. Even though the experience was definitely exciting, and, yes, even a little bit stupid and crazy, she swore to never do it again. Like she always did after each stupid, crazy thing she ever did, right before she did it again.

Then she made a mistake. A big mistake. A few years later, she happened to mention Ultra Intervals to some other friends, who obviously mistook her advice to ”never do this” to mean ”absolutely! Drop everything else and do it NOW”. They planned it and invited her and then, although she'd told them she'd rather drink cockroach milk or have Donald Trump's baby, kidnapped her, threw her in a car, drove her to one of their rank's summer cottages and made her eat great food, have an amazing time and, oh, run 80 km or so.

That runner was me. A tired house owner who, despite just having had 4 weeks off work, almost felt like she had worked so much on the house that she'd rather be at work (almost).

The not-even-48-hours I spent at that summer cottage more than made up for those weeks spent scraping peeling paint off walls. They felt like at least a week's worth of vacation, because my mind was so full of beautiful memories by the end of it.

After an amazing dinner of (vegetarian) halloumi and quinoa burgers on delicious home-baked bread on Friday night, the six of us prepared ourselves mentally for the challenge ahead. By the time we set out on the first interval, a thick mist covered both tree tops and, at places, the way ahead. It wasn't completely dark here up North. It was eerie. We had lots of energy and chatted away the first 10 km. When we got home, we all went to bed (not the same bed. Surely I don't have to clarify that it wasn't that kind of get-together).

We had all managed to sleep an hour or so when we were rudely awaken by six buzzing, very loud phones. The roads were still shrouded in mist but there was much more light in the sky already. We ran the same route as before, this time a little more tired and drowsy despite (or because of) the hour of sleep we had gotten. The third interval was almost mist-free, and we had breakfast to look forward to. Our legs were getting stiff. Some of us jumped in the nearby lake afterwards, only some of us with clothes on (still not that kind of get-together).

The lake in the distance

By that time, we had slept a grand total of 2 hours and were fresh enough to want to skip sleep for the rest of the day. Our fourth interval was on a new route, past cows and horses and fields and houses, always with a view of the lake. After our fifth interval, most of us jumped back into the lake, but this time to swim to a raft where we then ate lunch. The sun was warm enough to bake us while we ran, but out there on the raft, with the wind blowing and our skin wet, it was nice to have a towel or bathrobe wrapped around our bodies. The swim back was invigorating and helped our tired muscles recover somewhat. We spent the time that was left to the sixth interval lying in the sun and chatting about books and films and what to do on our next adventure.

What I found strange was that, as the hours passed, it got easier and easier to run. Perhaps not mentally; it was so relaxing and pleasant to sit on the patio and shoot the breeze that I found the thought of having to get up and run again less appealing. I cherished those moments between intervals, getting to know my friends better, eating good food and being so profoundly at peace with myself and the world, I never wanted it to end.

During the second-to-last interval, I picked up some speed and left most of my friends behind, because I felt my slow twitch muscle fibers grow more and more tired. I needed to shift gears to let them rest. One of my friends followed my lead, caught up. We ran mostly in silence; it suited me fine. It gave me time to concentrate on breathing, soak in the knowledge that the difficult part would soon be over and think back to all the memorable moments I had already collected during this trip.

After a dinner consisting of heavenly spicy lentil soup, home-baked sourdough bread and fresh blueberry juice, we got ready for the last interval. My upper body was knackered, my ribs felt bruised and my shoulder crooked. My legs were fine though, so I decided to follow the example I had set the previous time and ran a little faster again. Again, my friend followed suit, but this time, when we didn't have to worry about saving our breath and our energy, we spent the whole time talking about everything under the sun. We completed the last interval and celebrated with a high-five.

Everyone completed the intervals. Some of us set new personal distance records. We sat in the sauna to soften up our tight muscles and then sat down for an hour or two to talk again, tired but satisfied. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we slept well that night.

The morning after, we ate breakfast and lunch, and talked some more. I thought about how we jelled as a group, how the conversation flowed freely, how this experience had brought us closer together. I thought about my own achievement, maybe not a new personal record for me but the feeling that I could do this comfortably, which meant that I was in much better form than I was the first time I participated in the Ultra Intervals five years ago. And yes, I even thought about whether I wanted to do this again.

The answer? Absolutely. If I get to do it in this kind of company.

My good friend Edith was our wonderful hostess. She has just started her company Kvastresor, which organises health- and exercise related trips. I cannot recommend her enough. Go and have a look at her website.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Get lost

NOW THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT.

Enough with complaining about how I can't find the motivation to go running. Sometimes you have to kick your own arse into action (although, anatomically speaking, that might be hard to achieve, at least if you want to kick your own arse hard enough to accomplish such action). So what if there are a thousand things to do around the house? They'll still be there when I get back.

On one of my morning walks, I had stumbled upon a promising trail not too far from here. Have I mentioned that the trail head is 300 metres from our doorstep? With beautiful single-track stretching out in every direction? No? The trail head is 300 metres from our doorstep! With beautiful single-track stretching out in every direction!

300 metres, folks.

Now, after many ifs and buts, worrying about the weather and whether it would be too good to waste on running (I promise you'll never hear me utter such blasphemous words ever again) instead of painting the house, I decided to find out if I had read the map right and that that trail led where I thought it led. Before I had time to hesitate, I threw on some clothes and got out the door.

It didn't lead where I thought it led. It led to an Olympic-sized swimming pool infested with blood-thirsty mosquitoes. As I wasn't in the mood to wade through waist-deep, ice-cold, who-knows-what-horrors-hide-within (probably leeches, definitely sharks) water, I turned back. The single-track was so narrow it was almost invisible, my feet danced between jugged stones and gnarly roots in a desperate attempt to hit dirt, a fleeting side-glance informed me that something big had sharpened its claws on an ancient, moss-covered tree. The forest seemed to be untouched by human hands. I hoped I got a good signal on my phone in case I fell and hit my head, and, I don't know, accidentally butt-dialed J while unconscious? I don't know why I thought having a good signal would be useful in that case. I was still shocked from the bear-mauled tree. I wasn't thinking straight.

Back on tamer grounds, I picked a new trail to follow. It was perfect. Just enough roots to make the soft ground interesting and keep me on my toes. Fir trees and pines on each side hid a somber sky that was laden with rain. The trail was short and ended up at a forest road. Lovely, I thought, and ran even further, determined to explore every little corner of this part of the world (or at least my neighbourhood).

Eerie.

This part of the world was a dead end, and not a very pretty one. There was a huge gaping wound in the forest where its owner had felled countless trees. I turned back once again, and this time I followed the forest road to the south, aiming to get back to civilisation. My legs were feeling great but my heart kept playing hopscotch, so I didn't want to push it. Still, when a new trail appeared to my left, I didn't even falter. I left the road. I knew that this trail led back home.

After a while, I got to a crossroads of trails. To my left, the trail I had originally followed. To my right, the trail home. Straight ahead, who knew? Not me. And I wouldn't find out unless I followed it, so I did. What seemed like a broad path at first quickly deteriorated into almost nothing (unless you're a snail, and then I guess that nothing looked like the autobahn to you). I took wild turns trying to follow the sharp corners of the trail, tree branches and needles piercing my arms and legs as I squeezed myself through their narrow corridors. I stopped abruptly, the trail disappearing completely all of a sudden. To my right, something resembling a trail dissolved into the shadows. I turned to follow it and--

I got attacked. By a thin, pointy, murderous, fence-sword tree branch that tried to bore a hole into the side of my head. My fingers massaged my head, looking for blood. Surprisingly, there was none. But I took the warning seriously. I turned back yet again and looked for another trail. 

This one was better, but still an obstacle course

A minute later, I found one, and it led me back to the beaten path. I ran the last few hundred metres with such joy in my heart that my legs picked up the pace. I hadn't even run 10km, yet I had seen so much and experienced the kind of adventure only running can offer.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Rainy day woman

I've been in a weird place when it comes to running ever since I did those 100 km last September. My motivation has been shaky at best; at times I've been as enthusiastic to go for a run as a dog is before a trip to the vet. Some runs just felt uninspired, others like crossing items off a ”to do”- list I made in preparation for some unspecified, distant goal.

Easy runs. Check.
Intervals. Check.
Long runs. Check.

Those gems of a beautiful, magical run you get when you're in a flow, on a pair of fresh legs, maybe on a smooth, pine needle covered single track through the woods, were few and far between. I missed them, but not badly enough to put on my running shoes and get out there.


I ransacked myself for answers. Part of the reason for my reluctance to go running was not wanting to leave the house when there's so much to do. I don't like unfinished business, plus it is kind of awesome to work on an old house and watch it transform into something beautiful. Another reason was not wanting to add another must in my life. Running for me is about freedom. It's not an obligation – but, for a while there, it got very close to becoming one.

A realisation hit me. Running - my therapy, my shelter, one of my dearest friends - was drifting away from me because I didn't nurture it. I only saw the demands it placed on me and forgot about the good times we had had. I let other things come between us, foolishly believing that, while running can (and does) affect my life, life cannot affect my running. Whenever I've felt down, running has lifted my spirits. Whenever I've had important decisions to make, running has helped me clear my head. But it's not a magic wand you can just wave and fix everything. Someone flipped a switch somewhere and now the water is gushing in the opposite direction, and my running is getting flooded by life and it's just not cool, man. Not cool.

Back to the drawing board for me. I needed to make time for running. I needed to get back to what made it fun. I asked some friends if they wanted to join me for a 50K run. I dreamed about a warm, sunny day by the coast, stopping for ice-cream, chatting and laughing for hours while getting to see new places. My first day of vacation.


What we got was a slightly modified version of it. We did chat and laugh, we did see new places, we did stop for ice-cream, but we also got drenched by a persistent summer drizzle that turned the sky grey and the forest dark. Close enough.

While this was a much-needed run that took me one step closer to getting my motivation back, I'm not there yet. As long as life is upside down to the extent that it is, running will have to settle for being ”that thing you do to keep in shape” instead of a lifestyle, a lifeline.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Endings and new beginnings

Sometimes, while you're busy trying to do things you like, like writing on your blog, life pulls gently on your sleeve to get your attention. Other times, it rips your arm right off.

Three months ago, we bought a house. Oh, I have fond memories of the time before that, when I could go for a whole minute without having something to do.

Buying an old house and having to renovate it by yourself takes time, and effort, and an emotional investment unlike anything I've experienced before. Our decisions matter, because this is our home now and the decisions we make – which colours we pick for our walls, which furniture we choose for the extra room we suddenly have, which trees, bushes and flowers will reshape our flat, uninspired garden – reflect who we are. And because we're not millionaires who can throw money at problems until someone else fixes them, we're stuck with the mistakes that we make, at least for a while.

Life has been trying to rip my arm off to get my attention to the house, while I've been looking for my running shoes, my crochet hook, my book. I paid attention and worked 12-13 hour days until I was too tired to think, to exercise, to function. I lost touch with friends – but thankfully, the good ones always stick around no matter how much of a shitty friend you've been. The other ones? They were probably not your friend to begin with. Some doors were closed forever.

All this is small potatoes, of course, in the grand scheme of things. It's a stressful period in our lives that will soon fade into a hopefully less stressful period, when we actually have time to reap what we sow. Because a home does not actually become a home, no matter how amazing the furniture and the wall colour and the garden, if you don't actually live and laugh in it. If you don't bake those cookies so the walls and floors and ceilings become saturated with the smell of them. If you don't accidentally make a dent in the upholstery while you're carrying a chair to the dining room so your dinner guests will have something to sit on. If you don't have time to go through the whole house, room by room, and discover all its hidden flaws and treasures.

So I wash the paint off my arms for the umpteenth time. Try to find some much needed balance between work and play. I picked up my crochet hook again last night for the first time in three months. My fingers remembered the drill, even if the pattern to the particular piece I was working on was hiding in a much more obscure part of my brain and I had to coax it into materialising.

My book was in a box with a pile of other books, some of them new and exciting, some of them old and beloved. I decided to make time for at least a couple of pages every day.

Running then? After a couple of months where little to no training took place, I stood on the starting line for this year's Rovön 6H with considerable apprehension. I had made up my mind to shoot for 33 km, no more. I hadn't put in the miles for more. But then, as I ran with some friends from AIK and the hours just passed, I found myself aching for those longer distances. I was tired but I didn't want to stop. I was still hungry for ultras when I finally did, after 44 km. It was a relief to get my mojo back after months of routine, unexciting runs. I started planning my next adventure within minutes. I now have two concrete plans, and that's just in July.


Summer is going to be intensive, with lots of work that still needs to be done on the house. But at least life isn't pulling on my arm quite so hard this time. And with all my running-related plans? I'll be playing as hard as I'll be working.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Odyssey

A friend and I were talking the other day about training and he asked me if I have a goal. He was referring to my running. I think.

I replied that, for me, the journey is far more important than the destination. Lots of great minds agree with me – the Greek poet Cavafy the most notable among them, with the American poets Aerosmith a very close second – so I must be right:


As you set out for Ithaca
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.

[…]

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;


My friend then asked me what happens if we get lost on our way to our destination. Too caught up island-hopping like a modern-day Ulysses to remember we once had Ithaca to get to. I asked him, thinking about this year's running goal of not having a running goal, what happens if we don't even have an Ithaca to get to.

The conversation may have been training-related but my mind wandered off to other things. Sometimes it feels like I've been on the move my whole life. I've switched schools and moved house so many times I've lost track. I've lived in three different countries, 4 different cities, 10 different places. I was almost always the last one in, in groups of friends, work places, you name it. And, because I moved so often, I was often the first one out.

It was hard work to start over all the time. New friends. New colleagues. New challenges. The older you get, the harder it is to start over. But I didn't mind. I got to see so much of this part of the world, met so many wonderful people, even though I sometimes wish I didn't always have to leave them.

In April, after many years of house-hunting, we will be moving into our new house. Our own house this time, not a rental that we can just move out of whenever we want, but our own place that we hope will be our permanent home. The sense of commitment, after a lifetime of being on the move, is almost overwhelming. I am sprouting roots and I just don't know – is this my Ithaca? Or just another island on the way there? Do I want it to be my Ithaca? Or, like I (only half-jokingly) asked J when it became clear that the plan was for us to live in Sweden for the rest of our lives: But what about Canada? Are we never going to try living there? So many places we'll never spend time in.

This moving-all-the-time business became a way of life and turned into a wanderlust that can only be satisfied by regular long runs. How will it feel to finally settle down for real?

My motivation to get out and exercise has been less than exemplary lately. I am sure there are many reasons for that, perhaps mainly because I'm currently juggling work, studies and the imminent move which all leave me mentally exhausted. It takes a will of steel to get myself out the door, but once I'm out there, it's always worth it. Take yesterday, for example: the sun was low on the horizon when I finally decided to get out and run. It was a gorgeous winter day and the sun cast a warm light. I ran in the forest, on snowmobile tracks. It was quiet but for my footsteps. The sky was torn in two by a passing airplane and painted in all shades of orange. I had only planned on running 10, maybe 15 km, but I got home after 20. This was a journey worth going on, but it did get me thinking about my lack of a running-related Ithaca. Could this be what is causing my lack of motivation? That I don't have a goal to train for?


Last Wednesday, AIK awarded me the title of ”Leader of the Year”. It was an honour that meant so much to me, for several reasons but mainly because I wasn't the last one in anymore, and I certainly don't plan on being the first one out. From the first time I trained with the group I felt like I belonged there, mostly thanks to our coach, but even my fellow runners, who all embraced me immediately. Many of them have become my friends.
 
[…]

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Halcyon days

There are winter days when the sun paints the treetops gold and you suddenly realise it's the first time you've seen that golden light in months. Those winter days when the cold still grabs hold of you with its icy claws, but then you hear a bird singing and you wonder if you're mistaken, maybe you fell asleep and woke up two or three months later and it's spring.

Those winter days you want to lie down on your back somewhere where that golden light can reach you. You want to climb up high, maybe on a hill, because the sun is already so low when you finally leave work. You want to lie down and look up, and pretend that the world is upside down and that the sky is an ocean and the clouds are ships. You think about going running, the perfect way to enjoy a beautiful day such as this, but then your mind wanders off to other days, days when you were a kid, being lazy in the sun. You remember your head leaning against the window of a warm car on such a sunny winter afternoon, on your way back home from a day trip with your parents. The sun caressing your face as your hands cradle a mug of hot chocolate during a snack break to a Sunday hike up the mountains. Reading your favourite book by the window. And then all you want to do is curl up like a cat and get lost in the memories. There will be time for running later. This light is only fleeting still, anyway.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Mad about running

So, I put up this photo on Facebook, after my 21 km run in -23 degrees (-31 chill factor) last night:


Everyone was like ”you're mad” and ”did you forget to take your medications again” but I prefer to think of myself as a dedicated person. Because if you love running as much as I do, you don't let a little thing like arctic temperatures, frostbite and pneumonia stop you! You don't choose a warm, comfortable sofa over the gentle, pickax touches of the Northern wind on your face! No! You get out there and you play chicken with the lorries that drive 70 kph through the industrial backside of Skellefteå, throwing a whirlwind of snow all over you as they pass. You run blindly through a dark forest on snow-heavy paths because you didn't think to bring your head torch and your field of vision has shrunk to a pinhole because your eyelashes are covered in ice. You take the detour up the hill, because that's what you had decided you would do beforehand and, besides, you're kind of curious to see if it's just as windy up there as it's down here.

Numbers have the power to intimidate us. Standing at the starting line of our longest race yet, we feel unsure if we can make it, so we take it really easy. Glancing at our clocks during our fastest race, we realise we're running faster than ever before and we slow down just a little because surely it won't hold all the way to the finish line? All the time, we put up arbitrary boundaries for ourselves, be that speed, distance or temperature. Boundaries are good. They keep us safe. We decide where to draw the line, what we can overcome and what will defeat us. Only thing is, we usually err on the side of caution and we sometimes, unnecessarily, end up defeating ourselves.

Our boundaries stand firmly where we put them, if we never challenge them. And that's ok. We don't need to challenge them. In the end, it's all about the eternal struggle between motivation and fear that takes place inside of us. Do I want this badly enough to take risks? Did I want to go running badly enough? I put on approximately every item of clothing I owned and stepped out into the cold. For me, motivation won over my fear of -what? Freezing out there, lying helpless in some back alley and getting devoured by wolves? What was really the worst that could happen? As it turned out, the worst thing that did happen was that condense formed on the inside of my ski mask, made the chin area all soggy and turned it into an icecube. Not what I need to have on my chin when it's -23 outside, but was it that big of a deal?

I took a detour on my way home, too. I was having so much fun, under the stars, on soft snow, watching steam rise from the river, the night sky painted dark pink by the city lights.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

My 2015

So here it is, what you’ve all been waiting for, the thing you’ve written letters to Santa for but he only gave you an ugly sweater (that fat bastard), the Annual Summary Of The Year That Has Gone By ( or ASOTYTHGB ® as it's more widely known).

A million hungry reader voices exclaim in relief: FINALLY. Well, my friends, you have to wait no longer!

It was a strange year. A surreal year. A life-changing year in many ways. A couple of tough months that I'd love to go all Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on. A couple of wonderful months, reuniting with dear old friends who helped me cope with the tough months, and making some pretty cool new ones who have helped me look ahead instead of back. Life skidded off to one direction only to swerve at the last moment and head off into the opposite one. You know, like life usually does. Sometimes you can bury your head in the sand and wait for it to pass, but this year I faced all challenges head on and I want to believe that I came out of it a stronger person. With a little help from my amazing friends and family.

Hey, Karma, that’s not to say that I want you to throw even bigger challenges my way. I’ve had enough drama to last a lifetime lately, thank you very much.

Running-wise it was perhaps my best year yet. I started off strong after an injury, increasing my mileage carefully until I could run 30-odd kilometres on any Wednesday evening unscathed and put in double long runs in a week. Rovön 6H in the beginning of June served as my last long run before the year’s main, 75 km- goal at the end of the month, High Coast Ultra. I took it relatively easy, ”only” covering 50 km during the six hours I had on me. I recovered unbelievably quickly. I was right on track to meet my goal.

High Coast Ultra was an event I won’t soon forget. A race so beautiful, so tough, the hours seemed to fly by and drag on at the same time. I was in a great mood throughout the almost 12 hours I was out there and I made it to the finish line exhausted but happy.  It was a race that taught me a lot about myself and how resilient I can be if I need to, both physically and mentally. I'm pretty kick-ass, really. And modest, too.


Making it to the finish line of HCU made me swear off races despite having enjoyed the experience, only to start thinking about my next goal approximately 3,4 seconds later. I talked to a friend about doing Black River Run in September together, a 80km race, and extending it on my own to shoot for 100km. I had done the training for it and I felt ready. You never know if you’ll ever be as well-trained as you are right at that moment, especially with an injury history like mine. As the weeks passed, however, I felt less and less motivated to travel the 800 km to the town the race took place in considering it was only an unofficial 100. So I ran them on my own, right here in Skellefteå.

That was it. I had achieved what I had always dreamed of. I ran 100 km confidently, like I knew I had it in me. It was great fun at times, boring at other times when the landscape consisted of grey tarmac and fast cars. 


And then I realised that somewhere along those 100 km I got injured.

My feet were destroyed. My hip fell off and hopped away on its own as far away from me as possible. It took me several weeks to convince my body parts to cooperate with me again and help me run. My whole autumn was one long comeback. I finish the year with an average of 200 km per month, my strongest year since I started running.

And now, while we are standing on the ledge waiting to leap blindly into the new year, I wonder – not without considerable apprehension – what 2016 will bring. Some BIG changes are on the way. When it comes to running, I want to become completely injury-free so that I can run far again. The mountains are calling. They are always calling.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Aurora runner

What a show the universe put on tonight. In an impulsive move that will go down in history as one of my best ideas ever, I skipped training with AIK to embark instead on a solo run by the river. I took my headlight with me, thinking I was going to need it on the southern side path where there are no street lamps.

I didn't need the headlight. I ran on snow that many feet had trodden on, even, smooth, perfect. The trees around me almost formed a canopy, barren but for their white winter dress, sparse enough to allow glimpses of the Northern river bank. There, there were street lamps, casting an orange light on the thin layer of ice that lay in patches on the river.

But I spent little time looking around me. My head was turned up towards the sky.

I am completely convinced that, if people spent more time looking at the sky, there would be a lot less fighting in the world. For how can anyone hate when something that is so much bigger than us, eternal, beautiful, takes place all around us, all the time? How can anyone care about pride and power and material possessions when the real magic, the kind of magic we believed in when we were children, is not fairy tales but within reach, if you only put on a pair of shoes and go for a run on a dark, cold winter night and look up?

A quiet dance, a breeze stroking a curtain on a summer day, a rainbow, soundless fireworks interrupted by falling stars. One, two, three, four Geminids. The spruce trees laden with snow, orange light from the street lamps across the river, the sky above an undulating green. My footsteps light on the snow, I am alone, I laugh with tears of joy, I am a child again. I am comforted by the presence of something so magnificent in the face of so much despair in the world. I stop, I look up again, my neck already stiff and I'm wondering how I have managed to avoid falling into the river. Northern lights swirl so rapidly now, their tentacles forming a spiral so tight that it's like a solid ceiling over my head and I can't believe my eyes. I have seen them before, but never like this. You can almost see the particles hitting the magnetic field, like iron chips gathering around a magnet, and you see the pulleys and levers behind the magician's curtain, as if you've seen through the magic. Yet, when you look again, you see only beauty, and you're willing to accept the fact that you'll never understand it all, you are too small, and that's what makes it magic.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Fluctuations

I stepped out into a white world yesterday after work. Snow on the ground and fog closing in around me made me feel like I was crawling inside a cotton ball. It was almost otherworldly, the backdrop to a tense scene in an old-school horror movie, escalating towards a particularly gruesome murder or the revelation of a horribly deformed villain. I ran with my stomach trying to climb up my throat, a sensation I always get when I go running directly after work, as if the day's worries are a physical entity that I can just expel out my mouth like spoiled food. It went well, despite all that. I covered 10 km and could relax after an extraordinarily long week.


This morning, I stepped out into a completely different world. A pale sun struggling to rise above the horizon turned blue snow into orange, and you could almost feel the heat bouncing off the few scattered clouds above. A mean feat when the temperature was as low as -10 degrees. I tried to listen to a podcast on my way to meet AIK and managed instead to push play on one of my most favourite songs, Sad Captains by Elbow. Poetry. Magic. Love. Also, sadness. I've been thinking about a dear friend of mine a lot lately who seems to be struggling, and about how sometimes it's hard to help those that refuse to open up and choose to create their own personal hell and live in it alone. I sang along quietly, letting the words reach my heart and letting my heart mourn what feels lost.

Our coach had asked me to pace the group today, as he had a little surprise for us later on. We were 20 strong, plus two dogs. My sadness took a back step to leave room for other things, discussions about everything under the sun and even a lovely 15 minutes or so of singing Christmas songs while we ran. Well, it was lovely for the three of us who actually sang. Some of the others suddenly seemed to have trouble keeping up with us and lagged behind.

Halfway through the run, we were stopped by Santa and his little helpers. Our coach had warmed glögg (mulled wine), which he served together with gingerbread cookies and candy. The glögg tasted like the sweetest nectar and felt like the warmest blanket. 


We didn't stay long, as the cold was a mighty adversary even for the glögg and found its way into our very bones. We ran back to the hockey arena where we had started and parted ways.

I ran home, my spirits high once again. 23 km will do that for you.