Monday, 29 August 2011

Early autumn weather

Running to and from work in my VFF today added up to 11 lovely kilometres. Whether or not it was such a great idea to run to work this morning - when the skies were heavy with ominously dark clouds, the first day I felt well enough after my cold - remains to be seen. But had I not done it, I would have not had the pleasure of seeing the light contrasts in this landscape:

The cows didn't seem bothered by the impending storm

I arrived at work drenched because, seconds after I took this picture, the skies opened and it poured down with rain. And oh what fun it was running through water puddles in my VFF and not worrying about getting my shoes/socks wet. Childish fun. I don't think I missed a single water puddle on my way to work.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

So much to do, so little time

Like a kid in a candy store with only one dollar/euro/currency of your choice in his pocket, I stand before a race-packed autumn, drooling at the endless possibilities and getting anxious because I don't know which one will give me most value for my money. And by money I mean time.

Take the 3rd of September, for example. There are three events that appeal to me:
  • Karlstad 6-hour ultra. A bit too far to travel, but wouldn't it be nice to have run an ultra race?
  • Kyrkloppet. A 5K in nearby Alingsås that seems really fun and charming. But only 5K. Maybe I should run home after the race. Joking. Maybe.
  • Long run with the group in Skatås. Always fun, and if I run home, a pretty decent 30K+.

The week after that offers an interesting marathon in Vänersborg (Skräcklanmarathon) and Risveden Terräng (a tough 17,7K). A marathon debut versus a cool terrain race. Both tempting, for different reasons. But, of course, if I run over 30K this Saturday, running a marathon next Saturday might be a challenge.

The rest of the autumn continues along those lines. Almost every weekend there are at least two races to choose from. Not having been able to run since last Tuesday, I have given my training priorities some thought and realised that, having missed Skövde, an ultra race is not on the top of my list of things to do this year any more. There are so many other fun things I could do. Run a marathon. Run more trails. Run ultras in training. Build up strength so that I can up the ante next year, and maybe dare to plan a big adventure in the mountains next summer.

What to do, what to do?

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Meanwhile, in Gothenburg...

Day 5 without running. Saturday, the day I was supposed to be in Skövde for my first 6 hour race. I've been following the race live, admiring all these men and women who are willing to run round a 400-metre track a million times over a 24- or 48-hour period, one foot in front of the other ad infinitum, through the dark hours of the night, no matter how much it hurts or how infected their minds are with thoughts of a warm bed and better things to do.

I envy them a bit. I'm not even kidding.

My cold seemed to be getting better last Thursday, causing me some minor anxiety: should I enter the race after all? But then Friday morning came and brought the mother of all headaches with it, along with resignation. It felt ok to let it go. It felt right. Under the circumstances, with a thigh muscle that was dangerously close to getting strained and with diverse complaints from several joints, it was a blessing in disguise to get a cold. Who knows. Maybe, if I had run the race, the creaks and groans from my joints would have turned into injury. Plus it gives me a chance to recharge my motivation batteries. Nothing gets you aching for a long run more than knowing that you can't.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

My plans and my health have timing issues

Life happened when I was busy making other plans. I ran home from work last Monday, thinking about the Ultra Festival, having almost made the decision that I'd enter. And then I woke up Tuesday morning with a runny nose.

The runny nose then developed into a full-blown cold over the course of the day, which put a stop to any hopes and dreams that it was one of those 24-hour viruses and that I'd make it to the start on Saturday. I suppose it's still not 100% certain that I'll miss it – miracles do happen, or so they say – but it's quite unlikely, with only three days left.

I'm mostly ok with it. I do get a bit envious when I read how others are preparing for the race, but at the same time I hadn't invested in it completely, which softens the blow somewhat. There will be other races. Karlstad 6H next weekend perhaps?

Saturday, 20 August 2011

No big deal

The best thing about running 26 km today was not that I managed to run them. The best thing was that I was able to walk afterwards. That it felt good throughout. That I did it with style. That I had energy left to do other things. Like breathe. I still remember one of my first long runs of the year, together with the group. I ran 26 km then, too. Or crawled, more like. Towards the end, I was running on pure will power, because my legs had given up. That was 6 months ago, and a lot has happened since then.

And just now I told J how I don't take food with me on such ”short” runs. A lot has happened, indeed, not least when it comes to my mindset.

It was a lovely run in the sun, with 11 other runners. I've written before how time seems to fly when I run with the group. There's always someone to chat with, always someone who asks you how you're feeling, always someone to carry you through the toughest bits by keeping you distracted with conversation. I caught up with the people I knew and got a chance to chat with the ones I didn't.

Sky's the limit
Meanwhile, several puzzle pieces are falling into place. Skövde Ultra Festival takes place a week from now, offering several time races, everything from one hour up to 48 hours. I've been thinking about entering the 6-hour race for months now to see how far I'd get. The successful run from Alingsås a few weeks ago gave me a big push in the right direction, but I still wanted to wait until the last minute and see if some other factors would allow me to run this. In the immortal words of John Lennon, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. So I'll decide some time in the following days. Until then, I'll enjoy knowing that, after all the hard work I've put in the last 6 months, I can run 26 km and think it's no big deal.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The tyranny of swimming pools

They say that running is a very democratic sport. You don't need to invest a fortune in order to participate. You just need a pair of legs and a place to run. You can choose to run by yourself or with others. In a park full of people or in the woods, all alone.

Swimming, on the other hand, is a different matter. At least if you live in Sweden and have no choice but to swim in a pool. Then you need to share a very small space with others, regardless of your ability and theirs. Like it or not, you have very little say in the matter.

So, as I entered the pool for the first time in months, I wondered apprehensively how the day's session would be. Would I get kicked in the face? Get a bucket of water on my face by an over enthusiastic crawl swimmer? Have to zigzag to avoid the slow swimmers? All of the above?

Well, at least I didn't get kicked in the face. But I did swallow an unhealthy dose of chlorinated water when an ambitious swimmer crawled past me vigorously, causing a minor tsunami to find its way into my nose.

Have you tasted chlorinated water? It's about as palatable as cat litter.

I tried to suppress my cough and keep swimming but it was no use. The agonizing coughing noises I made to relieve my nose from the burning sensation reverberated off the walls, startling a few old ladies doing the dog swim in the slow lane. But my torture didn't end there. As I swam on, trying to expel the last drops of water from my throat, I was met by several obstacles. First, the lady that had snubbed the slow lane, in order to float vertically in the middle of the pool, motionlessly. Then, the group of pensioners jumping up and down in a corner at the shallow end.

What's wrong with using the slow lane for such activities, instead of forcing me (and the others who are there to - I know it's hard to imagine, but try - SWIM) to swim around them? Why? Why use the central lane? Why on earth would you pay good money to stand there and jump for 10 minutes, blocking my way, only to go out and disappear afterwards?

Swimming pools are evil.

Bitching aside, the actual swimming part of this session went really well, by my standards. I remember the first couple of times I tried to swim in the pool, struggling to even get past 25 metres using breaststroke. Now I can swim 100 metres without resting. I think I can hear the phone ringing right now. Must be Sweden's Olympic Team, asking me to join them.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Endorphin high

Some of you might remember that I went on a running technique course a few months ago. It helped me think about how I run, even if I don't always do that. I also believe that it helped me keep my plantar fasciitis in check.

The coach that offers these courses, Markus Stålbom, was kind enough to arrange and lead a free 1,5-hour session today for those of us that have been on one of his courses. I was excited, but also a bit apprehensive. In the newsletter inviting us to the course he promised it would be a tough session. I wondered if I, who never does any speed training, would find it a bit too tough.

It was tough. It was so tough that my thigh muscles raised a white flag in surrender. They rolled over and played dead. They thought I was asking too much of them. Running 50 km slowly? No problem. Running a hundred meters fast? Lady, are you insane?

Running slow is not a problem. Especially in this environment.
We started by jogging around a football field to warm up, keeping a high cadence and our feet relaxed. We then did some exercises that would help us relax in our whole body and improve our posture when we ran. And then the toughest bit came: some sort of interval training (I guess it's called? See how clueless I am when it comes to such things?) where we ran between goal frames, stopping to do some exercises at each one and then running on.

Markus told us we would do 6-8 such rounds. Depending on how much strength we had left after 6 rounds, we could choose to go on and do more. I'm proud to say that, even though my leg muscles played dead, I kept going after 6 rounds. I did all 8. The last round was, admittedly, not a very fast one, but the kick I got from completing all of them was priceless. Not bad for a newbie.

This whetted my appetite. It was so much fun that I found myself considering joining a group to do intervals and technique sessions. But the question is if such training is necessary in order for me to be able to meet my goals. What would I gain from it if my goal is to run long distance? As much fun as it was, there are so many other things that I want to do that I wonder how I'll find the time.

If only that pesky little detail called work wasn't in the way, I could train all day...

Saturday, 13 August 2011

A relaxing day full of sunshine

I knew that summer wasn't over yet! Today's session was carried out on a warm, sunny day, through forest, busy streets and quiet neighbourhoods, together with 3 guys from the group. Variation, long hills and pleasant conversation made for a challenging, yet very enjoyable 1,5 hours.

I left my fellow runners after 12 km, because they were going to return to Skatås, whereas I would head home. The back side of my right thigh has been bothering me for more than a month now, especially after I didn't bother forgot to stretch a few times, and I didn't want to push it so soon after the ultra. Getting injured is not on my list of things to do this summer. So Saturday's long run was a short one, and I pampered my thigh when I got home by stretching properly. That helped.

Rest of the day will be spent preparing a nice dinner, sipping wine and listening to jazz. Tomorrow, I'm heading back to Skatås for a follow-up session on running technique with Markus Stålbom. Looking forward to it!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Ultra aftermath

Aftermath. Such a negative word. You picture desolation, destruction and death when you hear it. As in: ”The aftermath of a nuclear attack”. Not to mention that some people get an allergic reaction to the ”math” part of the word. Too many algebra associations.

But, lacking a better word, I'll get to the point: Saturday's ultra left me in great shape. My joints were kind of stiff (and – riddle me this - my arm hurt, at elbow height) but I was able to get back to running after just one day of rest. I ran commuted a couple of times and topped it with a 10 km run in the woods this morning. No problems. On the contrary, I found myself running faster than usual and not getting out of breath. 

Fall is in the air. I saw a girl wearing mittens yesterday, which I found kind of extreme, as the temperature was around 15 degrees. I resisted the urge to rub my hands together, even though it was chilly. I did, however, put on a vest and long tights for my run this morning. The woods were quiet and soaked from yesterday's heavy rain, and the air smelled of wet earth and mushrooms. As much as I am a summer person, I enjoyed the turn in the weather and the bitter sweet mood I seem to get in when it rains.

The summer is not over, of course. And it just might hold one last card.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Myth and disillusionment. Alingsås - Gothenburg, take 2.

I've kept pretty quiet about this, not wanting to jinx it: Yesterday we had planned to run from Alingsås to Gothenburg. It was to be a second chance for me to cross the 50 km barrier, a line with mythical proportions which I had drawn in my mind and which I had failed to cross the first time around (coming in at 49,2 km). The reason for this somewhat arbitrary division of distances into under 50 km and over 50 km was the coveted Ultra title. Technically, everything over a marathon is an ultra. But competition distances usually start at 50 km.

Those of you who know me well also know that running long distances is my thing. It's what I love doing. Getting into ultra marathons has been a dream of mine for a while now, seeing it as a natural progression in my running and a challenge. Still, reading about others who run ultras, professional athletes and amateurs alike, has created the illusion in my mind that marathons might be challenge enough for me. Surely these ultra runners are extraordinary? They have what it takes, and I don't. Well, not exactly so, my friends. 

Yesterday was maybe the strangest day of my life. I sat on the train to Alingsås alone, wondering where all the others were, while it poured down with rain outside. Great start, I thought. No one else is coming. I might as well take the train back. And I felt horribly out of form.

Once I arrived in Alingsås, however, I saw two other runners waiting at the station. I breathed a sigh of relief and introduced myself. Soon enough we were joined by a third, and I realised that I was in the company of not one, not two, but three real ultra runners. As in, these guys run marathons as a warm-up.

The rain let up. We set off and ran past familiar places, which last November were dressed in white and which were now gloriously green. Horse pastures, camping sites, sleepy neighbourhoods – I'd seen them all the last time around. Seeing them again was surreal. Comforting, in a way, to know where I am, how far I've run and how much I have left.

Last time around all of this was covered in snow
We chatted away about our lives and, of course, about ultra running. I absorbed every little tidbit of knowledge these experienced runners had to impart and laughed at how short a distance my mythical 50 km seemed to them. We alternated between running and walking, giving our legs a rest every kilometre or so, and kept the speed low. We ate often; we stopped after 20 km to wolf down some French fries and drink some cola. 

After 25 km, one of the runners had to stop and take the train home. My legs felt stiff as soon as we stopped, but woke up immediately when we started moving again. We took a longer break after 35 km to visit the loo and fill up on water. After that we were only two left, making our way to Gothenburg on foot.

Green fields and trees were replaced by industries and chimneys. Picturesque houses gave way to multi-storey apartment buildings. We pressed on. I stopped my Garmin every time we walked or took a break, and when we finally arrived in Gothenburg, it showed that I was one kilometre away from a marathon. Shockingly for me, we had been on the go for almost 8 hours. This was running, ultra style. Relaxed. With no time pressure. Easy. Eating, socialising, and doing some running now and then. I couldn't believe how good I felt considering how far I'd run. 

At Jonsered, maybe the prettiest place of the route
It would have been easy to just take the bus home from here, but the 50 km barrier was within reach. I left my companion (who, by the way, was taking a short break before running back to Alingsås again) and headed home. I picked up speed. I took fewer walking breaks. I put my earphones on and listened to music. 50 km came and went and I didn't even notice until I was almost at 51. I was only a block away from home. I walked the last couple of hundred meters, kind of stiff but confident I could have run another 10 kilometres. Surreal.

10 hours after we left the Alingsås train station I was finally home. I had covered a distance of approximately 60 kilometres on foot, 51 of which running. The myth collapsed. The magical line has been moved further away, although I'm still not sure how far away is far enough to give it mythical proportions.

So, what is normal? What is extraordinary? My extraordinary is someone else's piece of cake. My normal is someone else's dream. No dream is too small; no dream is too crazy.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

And don't forget your towel

Picture this:

Early in the morning. It's quiet, you're alone. The lake in the middle of the forest is like a mirror, no breeze disturbing its surface. The cool water embraces you as you lower yourself in. You swim effortlessly, like you were born to do just that. When you get out of the water, the sun has climbed a little higher in the sky and is now warming your shoulders pleasantly.

That's not what happened this morning. This is what happened this morning:

I cycled up to the lake just after 9. Left my bike by the parking lot and jogged to the beach in my sandals (more about that later). Got to the beach only to see 20 free divers getting ready to jump in. I tried to ignore them and walked down the jetty. A breeze made the air a bit chilly. That didn't stop me. I climbed down the ladder and into the water, which was just warm enough, and started swimming. Any comparison to a dolphin or other elegant sea animal would be terribly misplaced here. I was more like a fish out of water. I couldn't get my breathing right. My arms felt tired. And I kept wondering what unspeakable horrors might lie beneath the surface. If Loch Ness has a monster, why not my lake?

I survived long enough to see a horde of families arrive to let their children loose upon the beach. The lake was quickly filling up with various floating devices and colourfully dressed kids. I decided that my short swimming stint had run its course and that it was time for me to go home. Effective swimming time maybe 15 minutes. Move over Therese Alshammar.

So, about the sandals. Not exactly running gear, but walking the one kilometre from the parking lot to the beach seemed like the most boring thing in the world, so I ran. After having climbed a short but steep hill, I ran past a couple of women jogging leisurely. I was immediately showered with abuse. ”No way! Running past us in sandals!” and ”Go home! I don't want to see you!” and ”Next time I'll wear my high heels and run past you, see how you like that!” All good natured comments, of course. I think. Maybe. Well, I laughed. They sounded furious.

All in all, swimming was a good idea. Poorly executed maybe; next time I want to go swimming, I'll do it even earlier in the morning.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Seize the day. Every bloody day.

Ah, the last few days before going back to work. A marvellous, paradox-laden time. The desire to fill these days to the rim with fun activities while you still can, versus the perception that time flies when you're having fun, thus bringing you closer to this certainty: you have to go back to work on Monday. The knowledge that you still have several days left to your holiday, versus the stress that's rapidly building up just thinking about how few these days are, preventing you from actually enjoying said days.

It's kind of like a death sentence, only, you know, less fatal. It's unavoidable. It's nothing to look forward to. It makes you want to throw your fist in the air and exclaim ”Carpe diem!” with all the conviction of a teenager who's just seen Dead Poets' Society for the first time. The only difference being that work is not death, although at times it might make you wish you were dead*. You still have a life outside work that needs looking after. Like a garden that's blossomed thanks to all your tender loving care while you were on leave, life still needs nourishment in order to thrive. Pulling out the weeds. Watering the flowers. Adding some autumn plants. Gathering the fruits of your efforts. Even though you'd rather stick your head in the sand and suffer through the winter months, until it's time for your next holiday.

So I'm planning ahead for Life After Work (also known as the Afterlife). I'm removing any unwanted elements. I'm taking care of the positive things in my life. I'm maybe adding a few things I've always wanted to try. And, hopefully, by the time winter comes around, I'll have gathered so much fruit that will see me through the winter.

*And that you might get a pardon if you're on death row, but no boss will ever say "Ah, you don't have to come to work on Monday" (well, maybe if you're dead).