Saturday, 30 May 2015

Dances with reptiles

After a month of seemingly constant rain, a period so long and miserable that I thought moss would start growing on me and my running shoes started smelling conspicuously of mold (and looked like they were covered in it, too), we finally got a day so marvelous, a sun so fiercely devoted to drying our soaked bones and drenched hearts that everyone in the whole city dazedly crawled out of their houses like snails and stared disbelievingly at the blue sky.

About 15 of us in AIK ran a route I had never run before, which took us past one of my most favourite spots in the whole world: a weekend-house neighbourhood by a nearby lake, a place so picturesque, summery and, well, Swedish, it could have been the inspiration to an Astrid Lindgren book. Time flew faster than we could run as we chatted and laughed. Before we knew it, we were back at the hockey arena where we had started, 17 sunny kilometres richer.

I went on running after we had said our goodbyes. This time, I sought the shadow of the woods, having almost run out of Tailwind and needing the terrain mileage and elevation gain. The ground was sometimes soggy, even completely submerged in water at places. But some parts were as dry as a sun-baked stone in Death Valley. And there, while I was busy daydreaming about trail running in the mountains and summer days in warmer latitudes letting salty waves cool my legs, I heard it.

A hiss. That's all it took to make me produce a most pathetic little whimper. I turned around and realised I had narrowly missed running on a viper, that was lying on the right side of the double-track I was on, sunbathing and probably it, too, daydreaming about whatever adventures vipers embark on with their viper pals. Slithering up the mountain and biting unsuspecting runners, I'll bet. Or whispering in your ear that you should just eat the damn apple. Sneaky sods.

This is the second viper I encounter while on a run this week. The first one was a relatively small viper, cocky and pissed off (ergo most likely a teenager). The one I unwittingly almost got very friendly with today was probably an adult one. A grandpa, even, judging by the way it harrumphed and slowly crawled into the bushes after having warned me to get off its lawn.

Me and snakes, we get along great. Like cats and dogs. Remember the time I danced on with one?

Luckily the rest of my run was uneventful and I managed a not-too-shabby 30 km on happy legs. One tough week left.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

I walk the line

The line between success and disaster is a very fine one. One that an ultrarunner has to learn how to balance on while an abyss of pain and disappointment lies beneath her feet, no safety net or harnesses. One false step and she falls, and there is no one there to catch her.

With one month left to High Coast Ultra, and just over a week to my last really long long run in preparation for it at Rovön 6H, I am starting to get nervous. I place my feet down extra carefully when I negotiate roots and stones on the trail. I listen extra carefully to my body's signals and massage my thighs at the slightest niggle. I fight the demons saying I can't do it with every bit of mental strength gained on previous races and runs. I keep expecting something to go wrong. I imagine myself standing at the starting line and what I feel most is surprise. Did I really make it here?

At the same time, the time for tapering is not here yet. Two heavy weeks left, two weeks to collect precious terrain kilometres, chasing single track and hills, in shoes caked in mud and on feet pruney and cold. Experience points to help carry me through endless miles of elevation, rocky paths and, possibly, apocalyptic weather. This needs to be done. Two weeks left before I can breathe out and let my body start repairing itself for the real challenge. Suck it up buttercup.

I am ready. I am not ready at all. A fine line between well prepared and under-prepared. Between top form and injury. And I walk the line.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Pushing my luck

Spring in Skellefteå is like a surprise visit from an old friend: It comes suddenly, you're overjoyed to see it and it only lasts a short while.

Within a couple of weeks, the last of the snow finally melted and the buds on the trees turned into leaves. Icy, slippery slush got burned down into water puddles by the sun and transformed the frosty, brittle earth into soft, hungry, shoe-stealing mud. Life is awakening from its deep slumber.

Like a migrating bird, I have returned home to the trails. My legs heavy from the last few weeks' increased mileage, my lungs burdened by a ball of yarn, I covered a total of 57 trail kilometres in 4 days. 

My knees were shocked by this ordeal and threatened to pack up and leave if I didn't quit this whole trail running business. They didn't approve of the altered running style or the elevation gain. I, on the other hand, thought my adjusted running style was doing a great job keeping me from falling on my arse and that every metre of elevation gain in training is probably vital in order to survive High Coast Ultra. 

Sticks and stones may break my bones...

Wet, wet, wet

Obstacle course.

It's not the first time me and my knees don't see eye to eye, and probably not the last either. No one ever became an ultrarunner by playing it safe, KNEES.

To celebrate the fact that the sun deigned to grace us with its presence today (after yesterday's short-lived snowfall) and that I survived yet another bout of back-to-back long runs, I forced myself to eat three scoops of ice-cream at a cafe.


Thus commenced a 4-day rest period that I suspect my knees (and lungs) are going to thank me for.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Say yes

Finding out I have a condition that may make it impossible for me to run in the future led to a mini mid-life crisis that I must have forgotten to have when I turned thirty and thought to myself ”Eh, it's not that different to being twenty nine”. Running is a huge part of my life, my social circle here in Skellefteå consisting almost entirely of other runners, my free time when not running spent largely helping out with AIK-related activities (co-coaching the beginners group, for instance).

This realisation stopped me in my tracks. What would I do without running? Who am I if I can't run? What will I have left?

The answer is: not much.

It was a very scary thought. Sure, I have other hobbies. I knit. I read. I watch movies. But they're hobbies, not a way of life. And they always take second place on my priority list. Because, let's face it, would you rather be in a dark theater or running here:

Take yesterday, for example. I ran 36 km, a wonderful, pain-free, life-affirming 36 km, which, however, left me so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open. My vague plans to go out with friends for dinner and a drink were promptly cancelled. How could we go out? I had just gotten run over by a bus. I tried reading my book but I kept reading the same sentence over and over again, my brain having suddenly lost the ability to turn letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into meaningful language. I was done for the evening. I put on a film and watched it without really understanding what was going on (although, to be fair, that might have been the directors' fault rather than mine, WACHOWSKIS).

I was held captive under the blanket by a fearsome feline.

A couple of hours later, J reminded me of a gig I had wanted to go to. A friend from AIK happens to be an excellent musician as well as a gifted runner, and I had wanted to watch him perform for a while. I told J I was way too tired to even think about getting dressed and heading into town. Besides, it was getting late. Way past my bed time. Yes, I am 90 years old, thank you for asking.

J shook his head and laughed. I'd like to think he laughed with me rather than at me but I suspect the latter was the case. Which got me thinking. Was I really that tired or just lazy? My legs worked, surely I could cycle the two kilometres into town. My eyelids were heavy but open eyes are not a prerequisite for listening to music. Or drinking for that matter. And we didn't have to stay long. One drink, then straight to bed.

With my condition-related thoughts at the back of my mind, I said yes. It proved to be a lovely evening, with great music, great company, and a great big smile glued to my face. I even managed to keep my eyes open. We stayed longer than just one drink. All this I would have missed if I had said no to going out.

I made a resolution to start saying yes more often. It can lead to wonderful experiences during this wild ride that's called life. And who knows? Maybe those crazy people that claim that life is more than just running are right.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Difficult words and grim prospects

A few months ago, the palm of my right hand started itching. After a couple of weeks, a lump appeared under the skin. I ignored it at first. I had just taken up knitting, and because I hold the yarn in such a way that it rubs against my hand exactly there, I told myself it was an allergic reaction to it.

The lump proved to be pretty persistent. It didn't go away. It didn't hurt, but I caught myself rubbing it absentmindedly with my left thumb sometimes, so it was obviously at the back of my mind.

I finally decided to see the doctor about it. He compared my right palm to my left, rubbed them, made me bend my fingers this way and that until he was satisfied with his diagnosis.

What I have is a benign, often slow-progressing condition called Dupuytrens contracture. Try saying that quickly three times. What it means is that tissue builds up under the skin of your hand, which pulls at your fingers and can cause the affected ones to become bent over the years. Advantages to getting this condition include, but are not limited to, amusing guests at parties with your Captain Hook impressions. I need to work on mine. I only drew a polite smile from the doctor when I tried it. Maybe it's because I can still straighten my fingers? It's not authentic enough.

Apparently, it's more likely that you'll somehow get teleported to Mars and then promptly get hit by a bus driven by mutant sloths than I, a woman under 60, should get afflicted with this condition. So, despite my usual optimistic disposition when it comes to medicinal issues, I am not entirely sure that I won't be one of the few lucky ones who also develop a lump in the sole of their foot.

I don't need to tell you what a painful lump in the sole of a runner's foot would mean for said runner's future running prospects. I don't need to tell you what a scary thought that is for someone who, when not running, is thinking about running.

I don't worry often, but when I do, I usually worry about the past. About things I've done, things I haven't done. Things I've said or should have said. I don't worry about the future. But this? This worries me. It might take years before my fingers get affected. I don't care about that. Worst case scenario, I can't open jars and have to wear mittens instead of gloves during the winter. Clapping my hands might become a challenge. But, even though it's a remote possibility that it might ever come to that, I worry about my feet. My brave warriors that have carried me through forests and on beaches, on mountains and through golden fields.

Sure, there are worse things in the world. The Big C. Ebola. Multiple sclerosis. Boy bands. But thinking about how some people suffer even more doesn't make me feel better. It makes me feel worse. And hey, don't worry! I could still get all those things! (Except boy bands. I don't think I'll ever ”get” boy bands.)

You want me to try living without running? You try living without oxygen. If you're a runner, you understand.

When I told her about my condition, my colleague gave me the following advice:
”Run all you can, while you can”.
And that is exactly what I intend to do.