Saturday, 31 May 2014

A lazy long run

If you fantasize about jumping in the river while out running, you're probably on the brink of dehydration. Because said river was neither warm or otherwise particularly inviting as I took a detour at the end of my run to bring my total distance to 30 km.

A light drizzle obscured my sight this morning as I headed west for an hour of silent, solo running before it was time to join AIK. It was only 12 degrees and grey, but the solitude and tranquility of the river somehow developed pictures in my mind of warm summer mornings. I stopped to take photos with my phone now and then, something that turned out to be less than wise towards the end of my run when I realised I would have to put in some pretty fast kilometres if I was going to make it to training in time. But it was worth it. Some views were worth saving in more than my memory.

I arrived at the hockey arena with only a couple of minutes to spare. We then embarked on a tour around Vitberget, on paths and trails darkened by the recent rain. Someone had turned the saturation levels all the way to max, and the trees were a blinding green. At places, stones were slippery, roots were hellbent on making us trip and moss was doing its best to suck our shoes off our feet. Yet, no one was complaining. Quite a few of us were laughing.

Friday, 30 May 2014

With blood taste in my mouth

Like a little bird that is about to take its first jump off the nest, I hoped that if I moved fast enough, I would fly. Instead, I felt like I had shoved a sword down my throat and was slashing around with it with every step I took.

Track intervals are the worst. You have no hills to blame for your poor performance. Or for only running 4 x 1000 metres while you had planned on doing 5 x 1000 metres.

Well. There was a strong-ish headwind I could blame, but, on the other hand, there was also a strong-ish tailwind, depending on where on the track you were currently running.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Decisions, decisions

The best way to torture me is not by causing me physical pain. No. The best way to torture me is to give me options that are equally good or bad. I will spend hours swaying from one of them to the other, and, when I finally think I have made up my mind, two words will pop into my head and get the ball rolling again:

What. If.

What if J and I drive all the way to Luleå for the half marathon, and it's too warm.

What if we drive all the way there and my knee, that has been bothering me for days, prevents me from running.

What if it's boring running around the industrial part of town - twice.

And so on, and so forth, until I make up my mind again.

(Yes, this is a first world problem. I live in a first world country. This is a problem I have. Hence, it is a first world problem. What's your point?)

Friday afternoon I made up my mind not to run Luleå half marathon. Instead, I made a vague plan to put a long run together by running to Lidingöloppet on tour (which was going to be held here in town), then run the 5 km race, then jog home. Saturday morning, I woke up, felt the heat, then changed my mind again. I didn't want to race on such a warm day. I would go running with AIK in the morning, and then maybe, maybe do the race at an easy pace in the afternoon (as if I could enter a race and just jog around it – who was I fooling?).

This plan was quickly abandoned as well. As we zigzagged our way up the ski slope, the sun deep-frying us like scampi, I could almost see my body moisture evaporating drop by drop. I tried to breathe, but the air was tar-thick.

”I can't breathe”, I told my teammates.
”Don't worry, your lips aren't blue yet”, answered the one with the medical expertise.
”I feel like you're not taking me seriously”. I couldn't believe I had the strength to move my mouth in this heat.
”Oh, I am. I am hypochondriac too”

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Just a VFF rebel

Have you heard all the latest reports how Vibram got sued because they claimed in their ads that their Five Finger shoes can improve your running style and prevent injuries? Yeah, turns out you can still get injured, even with VFF on your feet. Some people on the Internet have gone so far as to say that, UNLIKE all other shoe brands, VFF can actually cause injuries!

They can also cause diarrhea, acne, hurricanes, grasshopper plagues and alien abductions. Moreover, there are strong suspicions that they are responsible for the disappearance of socks in the wash. A friend of a friend of a friend's ten year old son said Five Fingers ate his homework. True story.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Flocktjärn: Encore

While every other runner in the country seemed to be in Gothenburg to run Göteborgsvarvet (a.k.a. the biggest half marathon in the world), I and some 25 other runners from AIK gathered outside a school in the southern part of Skellefteå to run to Flocktjärn and back. The sun heated the air to a comfortable 15 degrees (which would later rise to 20), while a lukewarm breeze (which would later turn into what could almost be described as a hurricane) kept the air cool enough to breathe. 

I was worried. Three days ago, I ran the Wednesday terrain round for the first time this year. As much as I enjoyed running in the forest again, on merciless, dusty hills and spruce-shaded trails, I couldn't help but notice a nagging feeling in my left knee. One I was very familiar with. My runner's knee seemed to be making a comeback.

Then I went for a tempo run last Thursday, and the faster pace seemed to be doing my knee good. I didn't feel any irritation in it until after the run, and even then it was negligible.

I have a vague plan to run Luleå half marathon next Saturday. A runner's knee right now would put a spectacular spanner in the works. And that's without taking into consideration my real plans for later this summer. Plans which, if they come into fruition, are going to become memories for life. VIP: Very Important Plans.

So, I was worried. Would my knee withstand the pressure of 25 hilly kilometres? Or would I have to give up half way into the run?

When you're running with 25 other runners, you tend to drift in and out of conversations. Most of them revolve around running, and even if you suddenly do something completely crazy and, say, try to talk about something else, the conversation is going to turn back to running almost organically.

- Have you been to x country?
- Yes, I was there 5 years ago.

(Here, a normal person asks questions about the itinerary, sightseeing, means of travel and so on. And I did. But then:)

- Were you there to run a race?

There was another conversation regarding toenails and the state they get in if you're in the habit of running a few marathons per year, but I will spare you the visual image. Let's just say that the whole discussion started with an innocent comment about the cool nail polish on this runner's fingernails.

Seriously. It's an art. Give me any subject and I'll manage to change it back to running. You won't even know what happened. I won't even be doing it on purpose.

These conversations helped me keep my mind off my knee, and it seemed to do the trick. Whatever complaints it had, it kept its voice low. I ran the whole thing without any major niggles.

All's well that ends well? Well. Maybe I should avoid the Wednesday terrain run for a while. Unfortunately. But I can't risk it. My future plans are VIP.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Trail time

Soft, muddy, littered with stones and roots. That's how I like my trail. It was hard work to run trail again after the long, icy winter. My heart beats a different way than when I run on the road or on the track, maybe because it's so happy to be in the woods again. It beats extra hard, extra strong, urgently, like an excited puppy. 

Not trail enough

That's better!

Vitberget, the White Mountain, offers a wide array of single track. I picked a trail I had run a thousand times before, mostly with AIK. It's one of my favourite trails in the whole world, probably because the largest part of it is downhill and usually comes after 10 km of running up a million endless, seemingly completely vertical hills during our Wednesday runs. Simply put, I have associated it with the relief I get from knowing the hills are over and I can let my legs roll down the slope.

But it's also a beautiful trail. Hidden in the forest, in the shade of fir and pine trees, your legs brush past blueberry bushes, waking up mosquitoes and sending them chasing after you. Pine needles turn the ground into cotton, in sharp contrast to the big stones that protrude from the ground forcing you to concentrate on what you're doing or else risk scraping your knees – or worse.

It used to be a beautiful trail. I was met with this view at the bottom of the hill.

Trees, way too many trees, cut down, probably for a good reason like, I don't know, money? Forestry? I don't know, I don't care. My little slice of paradise was marred. It made me sad. I ran on in search of thicker forest, but this scar was ugly and cannot be forgotten.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Just the run I needed

It was a tumultuous night. Our cats did everything in their power to keep us awake, short of actually clawing our eyes out (because how would we then see they had no food left in their bowl and know to feed them?). They visited the litter box (with accompanying scratching sounds) at least four times. They jumped on and off the bed. They crawled under the bed and sharpened their nails on the mattress. They wrestled and squealed angrily right by our bedroom door. If they'd known how to operate the remote control, I'm sure they would have started the CD-player and played some shitty music at full volume all night. Good thing they lack opposable thumbs, or else they might have carried a bucket of ice-cold water to the bedroom and emptied it on our heads.

I finally woke up just after 7 to the sound of rain. I admit it. I didn't want to leave my bed just then.

It didn't get any better when I looked out the window through half-open eyes a few minutes later, a cup of steaming coffee in my hand. The sky was grey and the trees were swaying with the wind. The thermometer informed me sadistically that it was only 5 degrees, which no doubt meant that the perceived temperature in the wind would be even lower. It was so nice and warm inside.

Despite my misgivings, I ran up to the hockey arena to meet the others from AIK. We then headed out eastwards, on soft forest roads surrounded by pine and fir trees. No soul in sight except us and a couple of horses we came across. Well, and their riders, of course.

Oh yeah, we had three dogs with us too. Cool dog Anja was one of them.

I knew it was going to be a longer run but I didn't know just how long it was going to be. When we got back to the hockey arena, I did some quick calculations and was very happy indeed with what I came up with. The run home would bring me to a total of 30 km for the second time this spring.
Brand new Kinvaras. Before the run...

...and after. Not dirty enough,, but way too wet.

It was just the run that I needed. My body needed the kilometres. My mind needed the good company and beautiful environment, not to mention the meditation-like benefits of the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other for three hours. Most of all, it was good for my confidence. This is what I like doing best, and it's great to know that I can do it.

This was so worth getting out of bed and facing the rain and cold.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

My engine has stalled

I have been waking up feeling groggy all week. Going through each day with the enthusiasm of a sloth. Work has been demanding, both time- and intensity-wise, leaving me no energy to do other, more enjoyable things.

Weeks like these, it's easy to fall into a vicious circle. No energy to go running, but I usually get a huge chunk of my energy from running. So, no running=no energy to go running. And a non-running Shaman is a grumpy Shaman. Whatever you do, do not invite me to your party if I haven't logged enough kilometres that week (unless you're a goth, because then I'm the life of the party).

That is why I have to escape this downward spiral. Indoor track-training with SAIK is over for the season, but a friend from the club suggested we meet up at the outdoor track every Thursday and run intervals, each person doing their own thing but still within sight of each other. That way, we can alleviate our collective Thursday interval session withdrawal symptoms.

Here's to a tired body with a fresh mind.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

"Around the bridges" premier

So. After missing the first edition because I was working, the second because I was ill and the third because I was on holiday, it was time for my first ”Around the bridges”-race for the year.

Oh how I have waited for this. How I have dreamt about effortlessly putting 5 kilometres behind me. Not a drop of sweat on my forehead. Elegant like a gazelle. My feet barely touching the ground. And, of course, with a big fat smile on my face, because when you are running fast so effortlessly you are damned pleased with yourself.

What came thundering down the pavement like a bowling ball filled with led was instead a red-faced hippopotamus about to have a stroke. A berserk Godzilla. A glue-drenched steamroller. Or so it felt. After a fast start where I tried to shake off all the overambitious five year olds that had positioned themselves right at the front of the crowd behind the starting line, I had to drop my speed in order not to flood my legs with lactic acid. I overdid it. My speed dropped too much and I couldn't pick it up again. It would have felt suicidal to do so.

I could say that it depended on lack of fuel in my engine. I had eaten a big meal 4 hours prior to the race and nothing after that. I could also say that it depended on sore muscles after what should have been an easy strength training session yesterday. I could blame my wrong choices in clothing, or shoes, or tactics. All of it would have been true. But the factor weighing most heavily is that I was just not motivated enough to run faster. After the second kilometre, I started wondering why I was doing this. Sure, running fast can be fun sometimes, but you know what else is fun? THE ABILITY TO BREATHE.

My result is perhaps slightly closer to that of a gazelle than that of a hippopotamus (although not by much, and we're talking amateur gazelles here, not one of those elite, two-running-sessions-per-day ones), so, on a cognitive level, I am proud of myself and happy with what I accomplished today. I mean, I broke my PR by more than one minute. But on an emotional level I can't help thinking that a trail run with no demands on distance or speed would have been much more satisfying. Post-race blues or plain laziness?

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Two days, two countries

Not to generalise or anything, but usually when you tell people you are going on vacation to the Mediterranean, they imagine you coming home all sunburned and with several hours' worth of slideshow material to bore them with, when all they really did was be polite and ask you how your holiday was.

My story is a bit different. Mostly it involves bad weather and getting lost. I covered bad weather in my previous post. But did you know that the weather did actually get better for one day? Yeah! I even tried to go for a long run.

J and I set off before the sun had climbed so high on the horizon that it might pose a heat problem, but we needn't have worried because an hour later the problem we were facing was of a different nature altogether.

But first things first.

Think: Pine trees. Dry, almost red earth, powder beneath your feet. Clear blue skies. Breathtaking views of the sea.

Think: Salt. Weaver's broom flowers flooding your senses with yellow colour and such a powerful, dizzying aroma that it almost makes you faint.

Think: Healthy legs, all the time in the world, all the dirt roads in the world.

And then, a wrong turn, blue skies turning black, the threat of thunder while you're lost on top of a hill. A part of me wants to go on exploring, another is trying to listen to reason and head for lower ground. Reason wins this round and we find a road back down to the sea. 

Clouds are starting to gather on the left...

This road is not so much a road as it is steep, washed off rock alternating with loose earth, and soon enough my mood is great again. I let my legs relax and carry me downhill as fast as they want, my eyes darting from left to right and then back to left again, to make sure I don't miss a step and go flying instead. Running on a tough trail, with the Mediterranean in the background fighting for your attention, it's easy to make mistakes. Yet somehow I make it down in one piece, J not far behind me, and the first thing I do is let the cool sea water splash against my calves and thighs because I just know that they are going to be screaming tomorrow.

The threat of thunder went off scaring people some place else, I was disappointed that my attempt at a long run was only about 12 km long, but my legs were cooled down and I was happy.

Two days later, I was running on a different hill far from the sea, spectacular in its own way, with endless vistas, both rural and urban. The same evening we took a flight to Stockholm and then spent the night tossing and turning in the airport.

Airport fact number one: If someone sees you trying to sleep, they'll walk as close to you as possible and talk as loudly as possible.
Airport fact number two: Those cleaning machines that airport staff drive around in? They seem to find the floor around you particularly dirty - if you are trying to sleep.

This morning I woke up in a different country than the one I woke up in yesterday. This one is a stubbornly cold country struggling to be prepared for the summer season that is racing towards it. Yesterday's country was struggling too, to achieve season appropriate temperatures, shake all that water from its wings and take off. Europe seems to be in suspended animation right now.

But guess what. I got to go for a swim. It consisted of me easing into a much colder sea than the one that had splashed against my run-warm legs, throwing my arms around trying to make it look like I was swimming while in reality mostly trying to survive death by exposure to freezing temperatures, and then twenty seconds later running out of the sea to wrap myself in a warm towel. Let the summer begin.