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

Intermission

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.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Get lost

NOW THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT.

Enough with complaining about how I can't find the motivation to go running. Sometimes you have to kick your own arse into action (although, anatomically speaking, that might be hard to achieve, at least if you want to kick your own arse hard enough to accomplish such action). So what if there are a thousand things to do around the house? They'll still be there when I get back.

On one of my morning walks, I had stumbled upon a promising trail not too far from here. Have I mentioned that the trail head is 300 metres from our doorstep? With beautiful single-track stretching out in every direction? No? The trail head is 300 metres from our doorstep! With beautiful single-track stretching out in every direction!

300 metres, folks.

Now, after many ifs and buts, worrying about the weather and whether it would be too good to waste on running (I promise you'll never hear me utter such blasphemous words ever again) instead of painting the house, I decided to find out if I had read the map right and that that trail led where I thought it led. Before I had time to hesitate, I threw on some clothes and got out the door.

It didn't lead where I thought it led. It led to an Olympic-sized swimming pool infested with blood-thirsty mosquitoes. As I wasn't in the mood to wade through waist-deep, ice-cold, who-knows-what-horrors-hide-within (probably leeches, definitely sharks) water, I turned back. The single-track was so narrow it was almost invisible, my feet danced between jugged stones and gnarly roots in a desperate attempt to hit dirt, a fleeting side-glance informed me that something big had sharpened its claws on an ancient, moss-covered tree. The forest seemed to be untouched by human hands. I hoped I got a good signal on my phone in case I fell and hit my head, and, I don't know, accidentally butt-dialed J while unconscious? I don't know why I thought having a good signal would be useful in that case. I was still shocked from the bear-mauled tree. I wasn't thinking straight.

Back on tamer grounds, I picked a new trail to follow. It was perfect. Just enough roots to make the soft ground interesting and keep me on my toes. Fir trees and pines on each side hid a somber sky that was laden with rain. The trail was short and ended up at a forest road. Lovely, I thought, and ran even further, determined to explore every little corner of this part of the world (or at least my neighbourhood).

Eerie.

This part of the world was a dead end, and not a very pretty one. There was a huge gaping wound in the forest where its owner had felled countless trees. I turned back once again, and this time I followed the forest road to the south, aiming to get back to civilisation. My legs were feeling great but my heart kept playing hopscotch, so I didn't want to push it. Still, when a new trail appeared to my left, I didn't even falter. I left the road. I knew that this trail led back home.

After a while, I got to a crossroads of trails. To my left, the trail I had originally followed. To my right, the trail home. Straight ahead, who knew? Not me. And I wouldn't find out unless I followed it, so I did. What seemed like a broad path at first quickly deteriorated into almost nothing (unless you're a snail, and then I guess that nothing looked like the autobahn to you). I took wild turns trying to follow the sharp corners of the trail, tree branches and needles piercing my arms and legs as I squeezed myself through their narrow corridors. I stopped abruptly, the trail disappearing completely all of a sudden. To my right, something resembling a trail dissolved into the shadows. I turned to follow it and--

I got attacked. By a thin, pointy, murderous, fence-sword tree branch that tried to bore a hole into the side of my head. My fingers massaged my head, looking for blood. Surprisingly, there was none. But I took the warning seriously. I turned back yet again and looked for another trail. 

This one was better, but still an obstacle course

A minute later, I found one, and it led me back to the beaten path. I ran the last few hundred metres with such joy in my heart that my legs picked up the pace. I hadn't even run 10km, yet I had seen so much and experienced the kind of adventure only running can offer.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Rainy day woman

I've been in a weird place when it comes to running ever since I did those 100 km last September. My motivation has been shaky at best; at times I've been as enthusiastic to go for a run as a dog is before a trip to the vet. Some runs just felt uninspired, others like crossing items off a ”to do”- list I made in preparation for some unspecified, distant goal.

Easy runs. Check.
Intervals. Check.
Long runs. Check.

Those gems of a beautiful, magical run you get when you're in a flow, on a pair of fresh legs, maybe on a smooth, pine needle covered single track through the woods, were few and far between. I missed them, but not badly enough to put on my running shoes and get out there.


I ransacked myself for answers. Part of the reason for my reluctance to go running was not wanting to leave the house when there's so much to do. I don't like unfinished business, plus it is kind of awesome to work on an old house and watch it transform into something beautiful. Another reason was not wanting to add another must in my life. Running for me is about freedom. It's not an obligation – but, for a while there, it got very close to becoming one.

A realisation hit me. Running - my therapy, my shelter, one of my dearest friends - was drifting away from me because I didn't nurture it. I only saw the demands it placed on me and forgot about the good times we had had. I let other things come between us, foolishly believing that, while running can (and does) affect my life, life cannot affect my running. Whenever I've felt down, running has lifted my spirits. Whenever I've had important decisions to make, running has helped me clear my head. But it's not a magic wand you can just wave and fix everything. Someone flipped a switch somewhere and now the water is gushing in the opposite direction, and my running is getting flooded by life and it's just not cool, man. Not cool.

Back to the drawing board for me. I needed to make time for running. I needed to get back to what made it fun. I asked some friends if they wanted to join me for a 50K run. I dreamed about a warm, sunny day by the coast, stopping for ice-cream, chatting and laughing for hours while getting to see new places. My first day of vacation.


What we got was a slightly modified version of it. We did chat and laugh, we did see new places, we did stop for ice-cream, but we also got drenched by a persistent summer drizzle that turned the sky grey and the forest dark. Close enough.

While this was a much-needed run that took me one step closer to getting my motivation back, I'm not there yet. As long as life is upside down to the extent that it is, running will have to settle for being ”that thing you do to keep in shape” instead of a lifestyle, a lifeline.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Endings and new beginnings

Sometimes, while you're busy trying to do things you like, like writing on your blog, life pulls gently on your sleeve to get your attention. Other times, it rips your arm right off.

Three months ago, we bought a house. Oh, I have fond memories of the time before that, when I could go for a whole minute without having something to do.

Buying an old house and having to renovate it by yourself takes time, and effort, and an emotional investment unlike anything I've experienced before. Our decisions matter, because this is our home now and the decisions we make – which colours we pick for our walls, which furniture we choose for the extra room we suddenly have, which trees, bushes and flowers will reshape our flat, uninspired garden – reflect who we are. And because we're not millionaires who can throw money at problems until someone else fixes them, we're stuck with the mistakes that we make, at least for a while.

Life has been trying to rip my arm off to get my attention to the house, while I've been looking for my running shoes, my crochet hook, my book. I paid attention and worked 12-13 hour days until I was too tired to think, to exercise, to function. I lost touch with friends – but thankfully, the good ones always stick around no matter how much of a shitty friend you've been. The other ones? They were probably not your friend to begin with. Some doors were closed forever.

All this is small potatoes, of course, in the grand scheme of things. It's a stressful period in our lives that will soon fade into a hopefully less stressful period, when we actually have time to reap what we sow. Because a home does not actually become a home, no matter how amazing the furniture and the wall colour and the garden, if you don't actually live and laugh in it. If you don't bake those cookies so the walls and floors and ceilings become saturated with the smell of them. If you don't accidentally make a dent in the upholstery while you're carrying a chair to the dining room so your dinner guests will have something to sit on. If you don't have time to go through the whole house, room by room, and discover all its hidden flaws and treasures.

So I wash the paint off my arms for the umpteenth time. Try to find some much needed balance between work and play. I picked up my crochet hook again last night for the first time in three months. My fingers remembered the drill, even if the pattern to the particular piece I was working on was hiding in a much more obscure part of my brain and I had to coax it into materialising.

My book was in a box with a pile of other books, some of them new and exciting, some of them old and beloved. I decided to make time for at least a couple of pages every day.

Running then? After a couple of months where little to no training took place, I stood on the starting line for this year's Rovön 6H with considerable apprehension. I had made up my mind to shoot for 33 km, no more. I hadn't put in the miles for more. But then, as I ran with some friends from AIK and the hours just passed, I found myself aching for those longer distances. I was tired but I didn't want to stop. I was still hungry for ultras when I finally did, after 44 km. It was a relief to get my mojo back after months of routine, unexciting runs. I started planning my next adventure within minutes. I now have two concrete plans, and that's just in July.


Summer is going to be intensive, with lots of work that still needs to be done on the house. But at least life isn't pulling on my arm quite so hard this time. And with all my running-related plans? I'll be playing as hard as I'll be working.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Odyssey

A friend and I were talking the other day about training and he asked me if I have a goal. He was referring to my running. I think.

I replied that, for me, the journey is far more important than the destination. Lots of great minds agree with me – the Greek poet Cavafy the most notable among them, with the American poets Aerosmith a very close second – so I must be right:


As you set out for Ithaca
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.

[…]

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;


My friend then asked me what happens if we get lost on our way to our destination. Too caught up island-hopping like a modern-day Ulysses to remember we once had Ithaca to get to. I asked him, thinking about this year's running goal of not having a running goal, what happens if we don't even have an Ithaca to get to.

The conversation may have been training-related but my mind wandered off to other things. Sometimes it feels like I've been on the move my whole life. I've switched schools and moved house so many times I've lost track. I've lived in three different countries, 4 different cities, 10 different places. I was almost always the last one in, in groups of friends, work places, you name it. And, because I moved so often, I was often the first one out.

It was hard work to start over all the time. New friends. New colleagues. New challenges. The older you get, the harder it is to start over. But I didn't mind. I got to see so much of this part of the world, met so many wonderful people, even though I sometimes wish I didn't always have to leave them.

In April, after many years of house-hunting, we will be moving into our new house. Our own house this time, not a rental that we can just move out of whenever we want, but our own place that we hope will be our permanent home. The sense of commitment, after a lifetime of being on the move, is almost overwhelming. I am sprouting roots and I just don't know – is this my Ithaca? Or just another island on the way there? Do I want it to be my Ithaca? Or, like I (only half-jokingly) asked J when it became clear that the plan was for us to live in Sweden for the rest of our lives: But what about Canada? Are we never going to try living there? So many places we'll never spend time in.

This moving-all-the-time business became a way of life and turned into a wanderlust that can only be satisfied by regular long runs. How will it feel to finally settle down for real?

My motivation to get out and exercise has been less than exemplary lately. I am sure there are many reasons for that, perhaps mainly because I'm currently juggling work, studies and the imminent move which all leave me mentally exhausted. It takes a will of steel to get myself out the door, but once I'm out there, it's always worth it. Take yesterday, for example: the sun was low on the horizon when I finally decided to get out and run. It was a gorgeous winter day and the sun cast a warm light. I ran in the forest, on snowmobile tracks. It was quiet but for my footsteps. The sky was torn in two by a passing airplane and painted in all shades of orange. I had only planned on running 10, maybe 15 km, but I got home after 20. This was a journey worth going on, but it did get me thinking about my lack of a running-related Ithaca. Could this be what is causing my lack of motivation? That I don't have a goal to train for?


Last Wednesday, AIK awarded me the title of ”Leader of the Year”. It was an honour that meant so much to me, for several reasons but mainly because I wasn't the last one in anymore, and I certainly don't plan on being the first one out. From the first time I trained with the group I felt like I belonged there, mostly thanks to our coach, but even my fellow runners, who all embraced me immediately. Many of them have become my friends.
 
[…]

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Halcyon days

There are winter days when the sun paints the treetops gold and you suddenly realise it's the first time you've seen that golden light in months. Those winter days when the cold still grabs hold of you with its icy claws, but then you hear a bird singing and you wonder if you're mistaken, maybe you fell asleep and woke up two or three months later and it's spring.

Those winter days you want to lie down on your back somewhere where that golden light can reach you. You want to climb up high, maybe on a hill, because the sun is already so low when you finally leave work. You want to lie down and look up, and pretend that the world is upside down and that the sky is an ocean and the clouds are ships. You think about going running, the perfect way to enjoy a beautiful day such as this, but then your mind wanders off to other days, days when you were a kid, being lazy in the sun. You remember your head leaning against the window of a warm car on such a sunny winter afternoon, on your way back home from a day trip with your parents. The sun caressing your face as your hands cradle a mug of hot chocolate during a snack break to a Sunday hike up the mountains. Reading your favourite book by the window. And then all you want to do is curl up like a cat and get lost in the memories. There will be time for running later. This light is only fleeting still, anyway.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Mad about running

So, I put up this photo on Facebook, after my 21 km run in -23 degrees (-31 chill factor) last night:


Everyone was like ”you're mad” and ”did you forget to take your medications again” but I prefer to think of myself as a dedicated person. Because if you love running as much as I do, you don't let a little thing like arctic temperatures, frostbite and pneumonia stop you! You don't choose a warm, comfortable sofa over the gentle, pickax touches of the Northern wind on your face! No! You get out there and you play chicken with the lorries that drive 70 kph through the industrial backside of Skellefteå, throwing a whirlwind of snow all over you as they pass. You run blindly through a dark forest on snow-heavy paths because you didn't think to bring your head torch and your field of vision has shrunk to a pinhole because your eyelashes are covered in ice. You take the detour up the hill, because that's what you had decided you would do beforehand and, besides, you're kind of curious to see if it's just as windy up there as it's down here.

Numbers have the power to intimidate us. Standing at the starting line of our longest race yet, we feel unsure if we can make it, so we take it really easy. Glancing at our clocks during our fastest race, we realise we're running faster than ever before and we slow down just a little because surely it won't hold all the way to the finish line? All the time, we put up arbitrary boundaries for ourselves, be that speed, distance or temperature. Boundaries are good. They keep us safe. We decide where to draw the line, what we can overcome and what will defeat us. Only thing is, we usually err on the side of caution and we sometimes, unnecessarily, end up defeating ourselves.

Our boundaries stand firmly where we put them, if we never challenge them. And that's ok. We don't need to challenge them. In the end, it's all about the eternal struggle between motivation and fear that takes place inside of us. Do I want this badly enough to take risks? Did I want to go running badly enough? I put on approximately every item of clothing I owned and stepped out into the cold. For me, motivation won over my fear of -what? Freezing out there, lying helpless in some back alley and getting devoured by wolves? What was really the worst that could happen? As it turned out, the worst thing that did happen was that condense formed on the inside of my ski mask, made the chin area all soggy and turned it into an icecube. Not what I need to have on my chin when it's -23 outside, but was it that big of a deal?

I took a detour on my way home, too. I was having so much fun, under the stars, on soft snow, watching steam rise from the river, the night sky painted dark pink by the city lights.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

My 2015

So here it is, what you’ve all been waiting for, the thing you’ve written letters to Santa for but he only gave you an ugly sweater (that fat bastard), the Annual Summary Of The Year That Has Gone By ( or ASOTYTHGB ® as it's more widely known).

A million hungry reader voices exclaim in relief: FINALLY. Well, my friends, you have to wait no longer!

It was a strange year. A surreal year. A life-changing year in many ways. A couple of tough months that I'd love to go all Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on. A couple of wonderful months, reuniting with dear old friends who helped me cope with the tough months, and making some pretty cool new ones who have helped me look ahead instead of back. Life skidded off to one direction only to swerve at the last moment and head off into the opposite one. You know, like life usually does. Sometimes you can bury your head in the sand and wait for it to pass, but this year I faced all challenges head on and I want to believe that I came out of it a stronger person. With a little help from my amazing friends and family.

Hey, Karma, that’s not to say that I want you to throw even bigger challenges my way. I’ve had enough drama to last a lifetime lately, thank you very much.

Running-wise it was perhaps my best year yet. I started off strong after an injury, increasing my mileage carefully until I could run 30-odd kilometres on any Wednesday evening unscathed and put in double long runs in a week. Rovön 6H in the beginning of June served as my last long run before the year’s main, 75 km- goal at the end of the month, High Coast Ultra. I took it relatively easy, ”only” covering 50 km during the six hours I had on me. I recovered unbelievably quickly. I was right on track to meet my goal.

High Coast Ultra was an event I won’t soon forget. A race so beautiful, so tough, the hours seemed to fly by and drag on at the same time. I was in a great mood throughout the almost 12 hours I was out there and I made it to the finish line exhausted but happy.  It was a race that taught me a lot about myself and how resilient I can be if I need to, both physically and mentally. I'm pretty kick-ass, really. And modest, too.


Making it to the finish line of HCU made me swear off races despite having enjoyed the experience, only to start thinking about my next goal approximately 3,4 seconds later. I talked to a friend about doing Black River Run in September together, a 80km race, and extending it on my own to shoot for 100km. I had done the training for it and I felt ready. You never know if you’ll ever be as well-trained as you are right at that moment, especially with an injury history like mine. As the weeks passed, however, I felt less and less motivated to travel the 800 km to the town the race took place in considering it was only an unofficial 100. So I ran them on my own, right here in Skellefteå.

That was it. I had achieved what I had always dreamed of. I ran 100 km confidently, like I knew I had it in me. It was great fun at times, boring at other times when the landscape consisted of grey tarmac and fast cars. 


And then I realised that somewhere along those 100 km I got injured.

My feet were destroyed. My hip fell off and hopped away on its own as far away from me as possible. It took me several weeks to convince my body parts to cooperate with me again and help me run. My whole autumn was one long comeback. I finish the year with an average of 200 km per month, my strongest year since I started running.

And now, while we are standing on the ledge waiting to leap blindly into the new year, I wonder – not without considerable apprehension – what 2016 will bring. Some BIG changes are on the way. When it comes to running, I want to become completely injury-free so that I can run far again. The mountains are calling. They are always calling.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Aurora runner

What a show the universe put on tonight. In an impulsive move that will go down in history as one of my best ideas ever, I skipped training with AIK to embark instead on a solo run by the river. I took my headlight with me, thinking I was going to need it on the southern side path where there are no street lamps.

I didn't need the headlight. I ran on snow that many feet had trodden on, even, smooth, perfect. The trees around me almost formed a canopy, barren but for their white winter dress, sparse enough to allow glimpses of the Northern river bank. There, there were street lamps, casting an orange light on the thin layer of ice that lay in patches on the river.

But I spent little time looking around me. My head was turned up towards the sky.

I am completely convinced that, if people spent more time looking at the sky, there would be a lot less fighting in the world. For how can anyone hate when something that is so much bigger than us, eternal, beautiful, takes place all around us, all the time? How can anyone care about pride and power and material possessions when the real magic, the kind of magic we believed in when we were children, is not fairy tales but within reach, if you only put on a pair of shoes and go for a run on a dark, cold winter night and look up?

A quiet dance, a breeze stroking a curtain on a summer day, a rainbow, soundless fireworks interrupted by falling stars. One, two, three, four Geminids. The spruce trees laden with snow, orange light from the street lamps across the river, the sky above an undulating green. My footsteps light on the snow, I am alone, I laugh with tears of joy, I am a child again. I am comforted by the presence of something so magnificent in the face of so much despair in the world. I stop, I look up again, my neck already stiff and I'm wondering how I have managed to avoid falling into the river. Northern lights swirl so rapidly now, their tentacles forming a spiral so tight that it's like a solid ceiling over my head and I can't believe my eyes. I have seen them before, but never like this. You can almost see the particles hitting the magnetic field, like iron chips gathering around a magnet, and you see the pulleys and levers behind the magician's curtain, as if you've seen through the magic. Yet, when you look again, you see only beauty, and you're willing to accept the fact that you'll never understand it all, you are too small, and that's what makes it magic.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Fluctuations

I stepped out into a white world yesterday after work. Snow on the ground and fog closing in around me made me feel like I was crawling inside a cotton ball. It was almost otherworldly, the backdrop to a tense scene in an old-school horror movie, escalating towards a particularly gruesome murder or the revelation of a horribly deformed villain. I ran with my stomach trying to climb up my throat, a sensation I always get when I go running directly after work, as if the day's worries are a physical entity that I can just expel out my mouth like spoiled food. It went well, despite all that. I covered 10 km and could relax after an extraordinarily long week.


This morning, I stepped out into a completely different world. A pale sun struggling to rise above the horizon turned blue snow into orange, and you could almost feel the heat bouncing off the few scattered clouds above. A mean feat when the temperature was as low as -10 degrees. I tried to listen to a podcast on my way to meet AIK and managed instead to push play on one of my most favourite songs, Sad Captains by Elbow. Poetry. Magic. Love. Also, sadness. I've been thinking about a dear friend of mine a lot lately who seems to be struggling, and about how sometimes it's hard to help those that refuse to open up and choose to create their own personal hell and live in it alone. I sang along quietly, letting the words reach my heart and letting my heart mourn what feels lost.

Our coach had asked me to pace the group today, as he had a little surprise for us later on. We were 20 strong, plus two dogs. My sadness took a back step to leave room for other things, discussions about everything under the sun and even a lovely 15 minutes or so of singing Christmas songs while we ran. Well, it was lovely for the three of us who actually sang. Some of the others suddenly seemed to have trouble keeping up with us and lagged behind.

Halfway through the run, we were stopped by Santa and his little helpers. Our coach had warmed glögg (mulled wine), which he served together with gingerbread cookies and candy. The glögg tasted like the sweetest nectar and felt like the warmest blanket. 


We didn't stay long, as the cold was a mighty adversary even for the glögg and found its way into our very bones. We ran back to the hockey arena where we had started and parted ways.

I ran home, my spirits high once again. 23 km will do that for you.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Swedish beauty

Just when you think your running motivation is at its lowest, an amazing almost-long run makes you want to stay outside and cover kilometre after kilometre until the sun sets. Which, in Northern Sweden, is about 5 seconds after it rises. But you get my drift.

I don't know if it was wise of me to go running today, considering that hills made me gasp for breath and old ladies pushing walkers overtook me, but I haven't needed to get hospitalized yet, which I take to mean that I am now completely, 100% healthy after my suspected tonsillitis. I will continue to hold that position until pneumonia hits me. What I do know is that I didn't regret it. 

The light in the sky on my way up to our meeting place with AIK was surreal, more dusk than dawn, with flames of pink and red slashing the dark blue of early morning. Buildings were on fire.


I knew we would run up to Vitberget and the forest, and was a bit apprehensive. Despite its name, Vitberget (White mountain) is only a hill, but it offers some steep climbs if you know where to look. These, combined with the 10 cm snow covering the rocks and roots that litter all smaller paths there, made for some tricky, demanding terrain.

But oh, the beauty. The tunnels of weary tree branches, white and heavy with snow. The views towards Kåge and the sea, under stripes of grey and orange sky. The trails, asking way too much of my injury-weakened feet and ankles but more than making up for it by offering such great exercise in return. I was ecstatic. 


On my way home, I took a little detour but still decided to be happy with ”only” 19 km. I had somewhere to be afterwards, and besides, the weather had taken a turn for the worse with icy raindrops slowly working their way into the soft snow and turning it into ice.

This. This kind of running is what makes me want to sing. Or at least – to everyone's relief – blog about it.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Ramblings of a sick woman

This blog is updated about as often as Halley's comet does a drive-by these days. Last updated: 15th October. Wow. Not much has happened running-wise since then. I have been trying to revive my running career, albeit halfheartedly because of icy pavements and a deep-seated hatred of spikes, only to suffer setbacks every other week.

Take last week, for example. I managed a whopping 24 km long run, bringing the week total up to an astounding 50 km. Yes, I am being ironic, but that was my longest run since September and my hip injury, so I'm happy. And then? Two days later? My motivation to go running is replaced by a pressing desire to lie on the couch and nurse my tonsillitis.

With Saturday – long run day – fast approaching, I am trying to get a sense of how this disease is progressing and if I'll be well enough to run by then. I have obviously gobbled down a golf ball at some point, or more likely a curled-up hedgehog judging by how much it hurts every time I swallow. But does it hurt as much as yesterday? The fever is down and I only get light-headed when I overexert myself, like by crocheting or turning the pages of my book. I am probably good to go!

There are many downsides to not putting in the miles. Restlessness and starting to resemble a Buddha statue are only two of them. Hey! Just because you can't go running doesn't mean you have to stop eating like a runner. When traumatic events, like injuries, occur, it is important that you continue living your life as if nothing has happened. Otherwise the injury wins. But, to be fair, there are upsides as well. There is more time to make pretty things. With Christmas around the corner, making pretty things is such a relaxing activity, as far from the shopping hysteria and stress as you can get. 


With the end of the year less than a month away, I wonder if I should be making plans for 2016. I have only one goal when it comes to running, and that is our annual Rovön 6H. I don't plan on entering any other races, nor on embarking on extravagant own adventures. As the years go by and my legs tolerate more and more of the abuse I put them through, it becomes less and less important to put them through abuse. That's not to say I won't; just that it has become some sort of habit, as natural as the cup of coffee I drink in the morning. I don't have to plan for it, I don't have to give it any thought, but I still have to have it or I will wander around like a zombie with a wicked headache. It doesn't define who I am any more than any of my other interests, but it is an intrinsic part of who I am in a way my other interests will never be. I just don't have to shout it from the rooftops anymore.

Does any of this make sense? Because I think my fever is coming back. Dammit!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Filling the void

Children love building towers of blocks. Some of them enjoy looking at them for a couple of seconds and then swiftly knocking them over. They find that hilarious. The power to construct something only to tear it down makes them drunk with excitement. As they get older, they start wanting to save what they've created. Savour it. Show everyone, beaming with pride.

By the time kids grow up to become adults, most of them have gotten over the phase when knocking things over is fun. The rest of them? They become demolition men or the main income source for the local shrink. Some of them become runners. I guess.

See, when you are a runner with a long history of injuries and you finally get a long injury-free streak, you don't think ”Hey, maybe I should cherish this injury-free streak and not do anything stupid”. You don't think ”I spent months getting to the great shape I am in today, maybe I should just be happy I am able to run without pain regularly”. No no no. You think ”Gee, I wonder what would happen if I took this here hand and swatted at this great tower of blocks. What if I ran 100K?”

And that's what I did. I took a big swing at my poor old defenseless tower of blocks. Good thing I am a runner and not the main income source for the local shrink or I'd be seriously broke and/or in jail.

Unlike the child that never grew up to appreciate the work it took to build the tower of blocks, I found no joy in destroying what I had built. I had succeeded in my goal to run 100km, yes. But now I was injured again. And that's no fun!

My chiropractor set my foot bones back in their right place and the pain faded away. Only to be replaced by pain in my hip instead.

I took all this in my stride. I rested for 3 weeks. I found new hobbies. Strangely coinciding with the fact that I had decided to work part-time and have Thursdays off, an avalanche of new extracurricular responsibilities landed on my lap to fill this new void in my life. Weekends were busy with family and friends, both old and new. I didn't miss running.

What scared me most about this was how it wasn't scary at all. I was okay with reading for hours on end. I felt great working on a crocheted throw. I had a blast going to the movies and trying to stop myself from eating all the popcorn before the film started. And I guess it was kind of entertaining trying to stave off that drunk guy who said my hair looked like ”falling stars” at the bar the other night. He wasn't referring to hair loss. I think.

All of this was great. This was who I was. A creative woman who loves reading and watching films. I had time to pursue my hobbies, hobbies that I had neglected what with spending all my free time either running or too tired to move.

But...

But there was one crucial puzzle piece missing. I did not feel entirely like myself. I grew increasingly restless. My body was stiff and ached, suddenly in a state of disrepair and neglect. My thought patterns were altered. For example, I briefly considered switching to shorter distances next running season. Fortunately, this was only a momentary lapse of sanity and not, like I feared at first, the result of a forgotten blow to the head from the fall I took in the woods a few months ago.

I started jogging again. Apprehensive and loathing running because it held the possibility that my hip would act up, I tentatively began building a new tower of blocks. The first couple of blocks kept tumbling down but I didn't give up. After a few days, they stuck. So I added some more. And then some more. I am up to running 10 km with no more than a niggle in my hip and currently content with the way my tower is shaping up. I do not intend to knock anything over in the foreseeable future, even though I do wish I had more time to devote to my other hobbies. This running lark is taking up so much of my free time already.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A hundred kilometres later

Last Saturday, I ran 100 km.

I ran from six in the morning to seven in the afternoon, alone, with only a couple of visits by J, who helped me keep my water bottles filled. 


I ran because I had put in the training hours and it was now or never. I ran because 100 km had been my dream almost ever since I started running. I ran because I could.

My thoughts drifted to all sorts of things during the thirteen hours I was out there, only occasionally to how mind-numbingly boring (and dangerous) running on roads was. Like the proficient introvert that I am, I kept myself decent company. With no one else there to dictate the pace, I ran when I wanted to and walked when I wanted to. I ate when I needed to and drank when I needed to.


Upon hearing what I had done, a colleague of mine said I was a machine. I suppose that wasn't too far from the truth. That is sort of what ultrarunning is about. Putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line. Even when it hurts. You push the pain aside, you observe it from a distance and you keep going until you're done.

From dusk til dawn

And it hurt. Almost from the get go, it hurt. My feet took a pounding and I don't know how long it will be before they heal.

A brief smile as I was covering the last hundred metres to round up to 100 km was all the happiness and satisfaction I felt. I've heard people talk about the post-race blues, the emptiness you feel when you've finally achieved something you've been fighting for, but I'm not depressed about it. On a cognitive level, I am satisfied. I recognise that running 100 km is a big deal. I just don't feel it in my gut. It was this exact absence of exaltation after High Coast Ultra as well, only then I had already set my sights on running a hundred. Mentally, I was already moving to my next goal. This time I have no other goals. I don't intend on running any further than that.

With 20 km left to go

It's not easy figuring out where this almost flippant attitude comes from. But I think a clue might lie within the first thoughts that crossed my mind, regarding future plans. I really want to keep doing ultras. It's who I am. However I don't want to have to shoot for a certain distance. Perhaps what happened was that achieving my goal deflated the importance I place on numbers. After all, they are not what running is really about for me. I want to experience things. Discover new places. Explore. Learn. Grow as a person. Watch the sun rise and set in my running shoes. That's the kind of running that makes me happy, the kind that makes my heart swell with a sense of wonder for life.

If there is one gift running a hundred kilometres has given me, it is the confidence to know that I can. So was it worth it? You betcha.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Pause for thought

Recovery after a race should be all about basking in the glory of your achievement, taking it easy and letting your body rebuild itself. My recovery time coincided with a trip back home, giving me ample opportunity to take it easy and recharge my batteries. But it has also meant I've been living out of a suitcase. I haven't stopped to think about High Coast Ultra. About what it taught me. About the experiences I gained. About how it affected me and the way I see myself as a runner.

Sure, I talked about it with any friend who would ask me, but I did it in a detached way, like I was describing a movie I had seen or something I had read about in the paper. I told them about the demanding terrain and the weather and the people I'd met, and they nodded and made appropriate noises.

I told a good friend of mine about the race and she answered emphatically: ”Yeah, but that's a lot of kilometres”. Right there. That's when the penny dropped for me. She must have sensed in a way that I hadn't realised what I had done. She must have felt my detachment when I was telling her the story.

When I got back, I didn't rest. I immediately started thinking about my planned adventure to run on the King's trail in the mountains a day or two later. Onwards, forwards, ever moving, never stopping. Then, reports from the cabins in the area spoke of way too much snow left on the trail, rendering it impossible to run. My plans would have to wait for another year. All dressed up and nowhere to go.

Yearning

I sat at home, watching the seemingly never-ending rain turn paths into rivers, and made new plans. I spoke to an ultrarunner friend about what my next (bigger, badder) ultra challenge should be. He suggested I join him for a race in September. I started looking at ways to get there. Reading about recovery between ultras. Wanting to take on a new goal with my whole heart.

But High Coast Ultra? Does that achievement not deserve any pause for thought on my part? And what about Rovön 6H three weeks before, when I ran 50K? Shouldn't now be the time to stop and enjoy the fact that all the hard work I put in last spring paid off, instead of instantly setting higher, tougher goals for myself? Is this really personal growth or is it number fixation?

Running in general and ultra running in particular has always been, for me, more about the journey and not the destination. The journey was a lot of fun but it stopped the minute I crossed the finish line, when it really should have gone on for days afterwards. I don't need confirmation that I can race a certain distance (although it's nice). I need reflection. I do it to find out more about myself. I do it to get out there and feel more in touch with nature. So what is it that makes those race sirens so seductive?

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

Tapering

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.