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


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.