Monday, 29 June 2015

High Coast Ultra 75km

No one said it would be easy
But no one said it'd be this hard
No one said it would be easy
No one thought we'd come this far
Oh, and look we've come this far
- Sheryl Crow

6 months. 6 months of focused training, of worrying about injuries, illness and earthquakes, floods and meteorites devastating the planet. I had finally made it to the start of High Coast Ultra 75 km healthy and strong, and the planet was still as intact as it had been 6 months earlier.

7 AIK runners had driven down the day before, arriving at the Nordvik hostel/student residence hours before the scheduled pre-race pasta dinner. We unpacked, then re-packed our drop bags. Looked at the weather forecast, chose clothes, then changed our minds 2 seconds later. Talked strategy, hydration and food intake, shoes. I wandered around the hostel, taking photos, admiring the open fields and trying to pet unwilling horses. I felt calm and composed. We ate dinner at the hostel restaurant, a delicious mushroom sauce over pasta for us vegetarians. Then, more strategy talking and looking at maps before it was time for bed.

My bed was crooked. My matress wavy. The room was too bright, too warm, too cold. My pillow flat. I was overtired, getting nervous, tossing and turning. I slept a grand total of 3 hours, 3 very restless hours, and woke up with a headache, too tired to even register what that could mean for my race.

After a big breakfast, we got our things and climbed onboard the bus that would take us to the start at the foot of Skuleberget. We got there an hour and a half before we were due to start. Rain was hanging in the air and we sought shelter inside the visitors' centre. We used this time to get the final details in order: attaching the bib to our clothes, re-tying our shoelaces, eating and scrawling mantras on our arms. Getting ready for what was to be -for all of us- our longest race yet.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Witches brew

Tapering means suddenly finding yourself with a calorific surplus and no easy way to get rid of it. Add to that the fact that the weather went from ”All this rain is making my brain rot” to ”Wow, what is that bright yellow disk in the sky?” (which made ice cream manufacturers finally breathe a sigh of relief as they watched their sales go from zero to a gazillion within the matter of three days and me be responsible for at least 1/3 of those sales) and you'll understand my conundrum.

No? Here, let me illustrate with a handy chart:

Charts. Making bullshit look like science since 1895.

This problem was only intensified by the fact that the unexpected good weather coincided with some other happy events in my life, events where it is encouraged, nay, expected that one engages in consumption of foodstuff of questionable nutritional value, for example cakes and sweets, all washed down with wine of course.

It's all fun and games until you can't fit in your favourite jeans anymore.

My attempts to compensate for this weekend's festivities have been as futile as trying to keep the flat clean (as the exasperated owner of two cats, one of which with luscious long fur, I never feel like more of a nihilist as when it's time to vacuum clean. I mean, in the great scheme of things, what does it matter? The flat will be just as dirty again two seconds later). 

I made a list to see if calories in < calories out but I don't think it adds up:

Not included in the list above is the energy I spent preparing this concoction:

Looks like piss, tastes like piss but piss is not one of the secret ingredients. Maybe.

Its secret ingredients DO NOT include viper venom from the 540835783rd viper I saw on Vitberget yesterday. Nevertheless, I do hope it's a potent potion against real and imagined colds threatening to DNS my arse on Saturday. Because it doesn't taste as good as ice cream, so it better be worth it, dammit.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


With less than two weeks left to High Coast Ultra, I catch myself listening very carefully. I listen to my knee joints. I listen to the back side of my thighs. I listen to my throat.

I found myself getting very restless the other day. The weather was beautiful but I couldn't go for a run because I'm supposed to be tapering. A walk did nothing to get rid of the excess energy. My body was still but my mind was racing. I tried reading, watching TV, chatting with friends, but I only got more restless. I think that, if I could see the future and knew that I'll come out of the next 10 days healthy and whole, that I'll be able to stand on that starting line on eager legs and a clear head, I would be able to relax. But I can't. And right now, with tapering giving me a lot of running-free time to notice such things, everything is just background noise.

Have you ever stood in an empty room and thought it was quiet, only to really listen and realise it was not quiet at all? The fridge buzzed. The ventilation hummed. The traffic outside the window sang out of key. A floorboard creaked or a single drop of water left a leaky faucet to plummet all the way down to the sink.

On your computer screen, more noise. On your news feed, static. Celebrities, reality shows, diet plans and scandals are the soundtrack of our lives. The faces may change but they are all interchangeable.

It's never quiet, not even when you think it is.

When people talk about mundane things, like royal weddings and wallpaper patterns, I disconnect. I turn inwards. I examine my own thoughts. But, without running to pad the walls of this particular isolation room, the much needed silence is not there either. I listen to the sounds of a body that is trying to adjust to the shock of lower weekly mileage, trying to resist an onslaught of viruses and bacteria, trying to avoid getting injured or sick, because now is the time to get stronger, not weaker. I eat more fruits and vegetables than I usually do (and that's not even counting the vanilla in my ice cream). I try not to breathe too much in public. I wash my hands an extra 20 times per hour. Still, I worry that my worrying about getting sick and missing HCU will make me sick and miss HCU. It's a tapering-fueled, hypochondriac SOB of a vicious circle.

I want it to be quiet. I need it to be quiet. 

I visualise. I dream of the time after HCU, of my next adventure, of running in the mountains where the only buzzing you hear are mosquitoes, the only humming the wind, the only singing birds, the only leaky faucet streams and rivers. My footsteps gentle on the paths, brushing against tall bushes. Raindrops on my jacket, balancing on the seams. Breathing in, breathing out, then holding your breath to allow for all the other sound waves around you to reach your ears undisturbed. Being alone with my thoughts, thoughts that don't try to predict the future, thoughts only of surviving each step that carries me towards my goal. A still mind in a moving body.

Solitude. Silence. Simplicity. Stillness in motion.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Rovön 6H - 2015 edition

The day of our unofficial 6-hour race was finally here. They say that how your day starts sets the tone for how the rest of it is going to be. Well, I started my day by accidentally pouring energy drink all over my clothes, 2 seconds before I had to leave the house. An hour or so later I knocked over a big bottle of Coke all over our snacks table. Coincidence? I think not. 

Those were not the only things to go slightly awry yesterday (or even ”ohshitohshitohshit”-awry) but the good stuff far outweighed the ”20 years from now we're gonna look back at this and laugh”-stuff.

There were 8 of us organising this event, and we worked together perfectly, each person knowing exactly what they had to do when we met up at 7.30 to set up the start/finish/aid station area. I turned up 5 minutes late because of the energy drink incident, sticky and smelling like lemons, to find that the others had already put up one of the party tents and hung a line of flags over it. I wanted to hug each and every one of these crazy people. They're the best. I felt a familiar wave of pride and excitement wash over me. I was close to tears with joy.

Anja helped us dig a hole for one of the signs.

Damn right we're international.

A little over a year and a half ago, I asked some of my running buddies from AIK if they were interested in starting up a 6-hour race, seeing as nothing of the sort existed in Northern Sweden. It wouldn't be official, at least not yet. It was to be an experiment to see if people in the area were interested in this kind of thing. To my surprise, they said yes. And thus started a journey that was smooth sailing thanks to these amazing people and their hard work and enthusiasm.

Now, our little baby was growing up so fast. Last year, 24 people ran the event. This year, the number was up to 40. Some people (a few of them eminent, experienced ultra runners) traveled to Skellefteå to run it. The rainy weather did not seem to deter them. Nor the mosquitoes that feasted on our energy drink spiked blood.

Runners started gathering a few minutes before start

I ran the first 5,5 km round with my Camelbak on my back, the water splashing around in there and causing a racket because I had forgotten to empty it of air. When I came back to the aid station, I decided to take pity on my fellow runners and my poor knees and left the Camelbak with my other stuff. The reason I had it with me in the first place was to practice carrying some weight for HCU but I figured that could wait until a shorter run.

When you run for hours, you go into a sort of trance. Faces, voices, places all melt into one. I remember running with some friends from AIK. I remember running alone. I remember running with J. I remember we laughed and talked about serious stuff and made plans for the future and made plans for dinner. I remember that the question I asked and got asked most often was ”how is it going?”. I remember meeting the AIK group that was running in the opposite direction from us and cheering us on. I remember my arms feeling cold, then warm, then cold again, depending on the wind and rain. I remember trying to do math in my head to see how many rounds I had left and failing miserably. I remember looking across the river and seeing other runners and shouting hellos. 

It was Sweden's national day

After almost four hours I was running with E and G from the club. I wondered where J was. He hadn't run more than 15 km since last year's Rovön 6H, and more often than not much shorter distances than that. But he had not gone home and he was not at the aid station. The results board told me he was still out there soldiering on, and the next time we passed the aid station he had finally decided to give up. He had run an amazing 33 km on legs that had ached from the get-go. I felt so proud of him, so happy, so impressed. Undeniably one of the most fantastic performances of the day.

On the South side of the river, with the headwind picking up

A lot of people broke their personal distance records

I went on running. My goal was to run between 40 and 45 km, as a last long run before HCU. I didn't want to risk running longer than that and cause an injury. But I should know myself well enough by now. When I passed the aid station again after 44 km on legs that weren't sending any warning signals worth taking seriously, I decided to continue. I ran the last round first by myself, then joined once again by G, who was about to break her personal record by a staggering 20 km. When I had run 50 km, I stopped and walked back to the aid station where I proceeded to stuff my face with chips, chocolate, biscuits and coffee. I wasn't hungry at all, but I knew it would be hours before I got the chance to eat dinner.

With just under a half-hour left to the end of the race, I put on every last bit of clothing I had taken with me and tried not to mind the mosquitoes that attacked my bare calves. I talked with people, cheered other runners on, packed my things and put them in the car. When the race was over and all runners had gone home, it was time for the circus to move on. Down with the party tents, down with the flags. Empty the water and energy drink cans, throw the garbage away. Collect all signs and tapes, dismantle the makeshift toilet booth. All of this under a persistent drizzle that soon turned into proper rain, chilling us to the bone.

An hour later, 13 of us were sitting at a pizza restaurant with a calorie-rich pizza in front of us and a beer in our hands, toasting each other. I laughed so much that the only body part that didn't ache (my jaw) also got a great workout. At that moment, tired and overwhelmed by months of planning and hours of running, I couldn't see myself participating in the organisation of another Rovön 6H next year. But this morning, after I'd had some sleep, ”no” had turned into a ”maybe”. And I'm already starting to think about what further improvements we can make. Better weather is only one of them.

HCU is less than three weeks away. It's time to start tapering for it and let my body recover. I am so relieved and happy that I could run 50 km without my knees collapsing.