Thursday, 31 March 2011

In nature

Pitch dark, still, at 5.30 in the morning. Waiting for the bus, I was overcome by a rare calmness. Drunk on the scent of spring, the birds were chirping. Together with the light drops of rain, they formed a divine orchestra of flutes and cymbals, caressing my ears and nurturing my soul.

As nature puts on its most vibrant colours and softly paints our cheeks red, I find myself longing more and more for the forest's seductive whispering, the sea's comforting sway, the mountain's eternal, reassuring, solid presence. That's where I am most in touch with myself, where the armour I wear to cope with the everyday grind comes off, where the background noise of work, obligations and troubles dies down. In nature. That's where I am truly alive, that's where I am truly me.

I wished that this fleeting moment of peace and solitude would last all day. Instead, I got an intense 8 hours of work and what felt like the weight of the world on my shoulders.

The wind had picked up when I later ran home from work. Daylight revealed what darkness had so masterfully concealed this morning: that greyness was still abound. Traffic, tarmac, roadworks, gravel everywhere, rain drops sticking to my glasses creating multiple copies of grey 17-storey buildings. Heavy mood, heavy legs contributed to a high pulse throughout the whole run.

One work day left before the weekend.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

I would like to thank my agent... parents for driving me to my English class, and J for putting up with my bad jokes for almost 13 years.

Karin has very kindly nominated me for a blog ”award”, where you have to write 8 things about yourself and then pass the ”award” on to 8 other bloggers.

Here are 8 things you desperately wanted to know about me, but never thought to ask:

  1. I have two university degrees, yet the achievement that I am most proud of is running almost 50 km last autumn (hate studying - love running).

  2. I always give people the benefit of a doubt. They have to seriously screw up to lose my respect.

  3. I am a hard-rocker at heart (and probably always will be), although I do enjoy other styles of music too.

  4. I must have been a hippy in a past life. I would have felt right at home growing up in the '60s, both music-wise and life philosophy-wise.

  5. I am an agnostic. That's not to say that I don't get spiritual from time to time. I believe that the closest thing to God that exists is what we see all around us. Everything from a tiny little bug to the stars and the universe.

  6. I hate flying, but love travelling. A conundrum, for sure. Running to my travel destination is not usually a viable alternative.

  7. Without my contacts / glasses, I'm blind as a bat. Unfortunately without the aural perks of being a bat.

  8. I've moved country twice, which I found exhilarating, in the butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of way. If we hadn't made a life for ourselves here, and if it weren't for how far it is from our families, J and I would probably move to Canada tomorrow. Just for the thrill of it, not because we're tired of Sweden.

But enough about me. What about you...

...Biscuit Nikki...




...and right there, my inspiration just flew out of the window. A lot of the people whose blogs I read have already answered. Some other bloggers are too ”big” to notice my blog, let alone read it (Scott Jurek? Rune Larsson? If you're reading this, let's get together for a run soon, yeah? Call me!)

So there you have it. I broke the rule of sending the love forward to 8 bloggers. But if you have a blog and I haven't mentioned you, feel free to share 8 things about yourself!


I put my VFFs in my backpack and jogged towards the woods. Even though there was morning frost on the roof tops, the sun warmed my face. Once my feet left the tarmac and entered the woods, the Kayanos came off and the VFFs took their place. I had only run on tarmac with the VFFs before, so I was very curious to see how they felt on the soft forest paths.

It was magic. I felt like I was floating above the ground instead of running. What impressed me the most was how quiet I was. My backpack rustled a bit, but otherwise I could probably have taken a deer by surprise, if only I had been so lucky as to see one.

I saw a couple of people walking their dogs, but otherwise I had the woods to myself. I ran around the 2 km trail in my VFFs, as close to the softer edge of the path as possible, and then I stopped to switch back to my Kayanos for the return trip home. I was suddenly aware of the bird song symphony happening all around me. Spellbound I listened, almost unable to break myself free of their seductive melody. I wanted to sit on the ground with my back against a tree, and just spend the day in the peaceful embrace of the woods, in the comfort of nature's lullaby.

Turn up the volume:

Unfortunately my mobile camera does not exactly film in HD-quality, but I hope you get the idea.

I reluctantly left the woods and headed back towards the noise of civilisation. I ran to our local bakery and bought some freshly baked bread, still warm from the oven, that soon turned into an after-run snack. I was in heaven.

If only my body would allow it, I would spend the whole day in the woods running.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

People watching

Spotted in a well-known sports store yesterday evening:

A beautiful woman in her thirties, with her hair sleeked back in a tight ponytail, long black coat and tight black trousers, who looks like she just flew in from Wall Street, trying out running shoes.

She takes one well-polished high-heeled boot off, puts a random running shoe on, steps on the treadmill, fires it up and takes maybe ten slow steps on it, before declaring that the shoes are fine. With one running shoe on one foot. And one high-heeled boot on the other.

Shaman can't help but stare in fascination. Is this woman's left leg shorter than the right, making it necessary to wear high-heels on one foot while she's running? Is it a fashion statement, like ”I'm standing with one foot in the sweaty world of running and the other in the shiny world of finance”? Maybe she's trying to ease her body into running, by only running with one leg at a time?

See you on a trail somewhere, sister.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Sign sign everywhere a sign

The jacket came off when I ran home from work today. I can't say that I was in any hurry to get home, either. The weather was near perfect: clear skies, mild temperatures, just a light breeze to keep me from overheating.

Yesterday, winter made a last valiant effort to hang on to this hemisphere. It snowed for maybe an hour, but it was gone just as quickly as it had come.

Winter, it's now time to admit defeat. Behold the signs of spring's triumphant victory:

Sunday, 27 March 2011


My tired legs groaned when they realised they were about to go for a short run. Curiously, my foot was quiet. It didn't seem to suffer after yesterday's long run. I slipped my VFFs on and jogged for 2,22 km.

Or did I? Maybe the real distance was much shorter? Or longer? Does it matter?

I'll be the first to admit that I have a fixation with numbers when it comes to running. I like my kilometres to add up to an even number. I like to make sure that I've run a certain distance. 10 kilometres is great. 10,02 is better, to allow some margin for error. Coming home and finding out that I've ”only” run 9,99 is a catastrophe. My dormant OCD takes over. I feel unaccomplished, a failure, and it takes enormous amounts of strength to not go out and run 10 metres just to get an even number.

Free mixed numbers texture for layersphoto © 2008 D. Sharon Pruitt (TAKING A BREAK FROM FLICKR) | more info (via: Wylio)

Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit. But this was a discussion that came up with at least two of my running buddies on yesterday's run. We talked about how two different brands of GPS watches can show different distances. Which one is correct? Not to mention the huge deviation from my mobile phone: I ran a whole extra kilometre yesterday, if you believe Endomondo. Someone had forgotten to start his watch again after a short pause, and ran a couple of kilometres before realising it. Did these kilometres happen? If you don't have evidence for it, how can you prove that you've really run the distance? If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

He did, by the way. I saw him.

Most people who run need to have some sort of indication of the distance and time they've covered, whether they measure it with a normal clock and using an online map tool or a pre-measured round, or use super advanced GPS watches. As long as you always use the same method, the same measuring tool, it's a great way to see if you're making progress. In the case of the VFFs, it helps me to make sure I don't do too much too soon. Not everyone is as fixated as I am with even numbers, but I know I'm not the only one. Is it healthy? Probably not. But sometimes we all get a bit of OCD about our passions.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Pushing my limits

When you try to open the door to your flat with your car key, then you're tired. My current exhaustion informs me that 26 km was maybe a bit ambitious for my level of fitness right now.

It all started well enough. I was rested. The sun was shining. My spirits were high, despite this morning's philosophical musings. A group of 7 gathered in Skatås. It's always nice to meet new people, but it was also very nice that I had run with most of these 7 several times before. The conversation flows more easily when you know someone.

We set off towards Jonsered. It felt easy at first, as we ran out of the Skatås forest and among Sävedalen's houses. I had debated briefly before leaving home if I should wear my jacket or my vest and decided it was still too cold for a vest, but now that the sun was shining with no clouds in sight, my black jacket absorbed way too much heat for my liking.

After a couple of kilometres' noise from the near-by motorway, we turned left and followed the river. This was much better. There wasn't much traffic or people about, and before we knew it we were in Jonsered.

In Jonsered we were met with about 30 people that were queuing up to buy...stamps. We found out from an excited lady that a new stamp, that portrayed Jonsered's entrance, had just been released. She beamed at us. We blinked uncomprehendingly at the crowd of people queuing up to buy stamps. They blinked back at us, a group of tights-wearing, sweaty crazies that had just run from Gothenburg and were just about to run back. I don't think we found common ground. They collected stamps, we collected kilometres.

Someone then said that Lerum was only 8 km away. Mia's face lit up. She wanted to run the marathon distance today. I immediately started shaking my head violently, as if I were having a seizure. Maybe I'm getting a bit smarter, because I can't deny that I was tempted to add some extra kilometres to my run. But I didn't.

Our group split up. Mia, Johan and Christian made their way to Lerum, whereupon Christian would take the train back, and the other two would leg it to marathon glory. I joined Hans, Carl and Therese on the run back to Skatås.

It could be the ghost of long runs past that was haunting me as soon as we left Jonsered. I remembered how tired I felt at exactly the same place when we ran from Alingsås, and I almost felt sympathy pains towards my past self. I could feel how the tiniest little hill had started to challenge me, how lactic acid threatened to establish itself in my thighs.

Making conversation while running started feeling too grand of a project. We had run 18 km at this point, and I was certain I would have to take the bus the rest of the way. Then we left the quiet cycle paths and ran through the main road of Sävedalen, with all its shops and people. Somehow, something that would otherwise make me run the other way, gave me strength to keep going. I suppose I was distracted by all the going ons around me. Especially by the people sitting outside in the sun eating burgers. My stomach growled.

By the time we had run 22 km, I was completely quiet. Not really observant of my surroundings either, although my Garmin informs me that we ran through Kalltorp. I started looking wistfully at all the convenience stores we ran past. I wanted to go in and buy some water. Clever me had inexplicably decided against bringing water today, and I was paying for it. For some reason I also wanted to buy ice cream. But I didn't want to hold the others back, and I didn't want to let go of them either, as I had no idea where I was. So I kept running.

The final hill up to Skatås made me walk. It came precisely after 25 kilometres, so I could walk up it in good conscience. The others continued to run up the hill and waited for me at the top. I went to the ladies' room in the Skatås gym and drank the most deliciously cold water. I felt refreshed enough to want to join Therese for an extra kilometre.

My foot got the ice bath treatment when I got home. The rest of me deserves an ice cream. And some really cold water.

Life, the universe and everything

Sometimes I wish I had the brain of a scientist. There are so many things that fascinate me, that I wish I could understand,that my puny little brain can only stare at, agape and in awe of it all. Take the universe, for example. I watched BBC's Wonders of the Universe last night, another excellent documentary by the channel that is the Mother of all documentary film making.

The universe is vast. It's incomprehensible. Mankind has strived to solve its puzzles for centuries. Modern scientists have theories, based on mathematical formulas, observations and what not, and they still can't explain the biggest mysteries of them all: How did it all start? How will it all end? Is talking about beginnings and endings redundant, when time cannot exist without matter? Are there other universes out there? How about intelligent life?

Hubble Sees 'Island Universe' in the Coma Clusterphoto © 2010 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | more info (via: Wylio)

Yet I can't help but bring it down to scale sometimes. I don't need to stargaze to be in awe of the universe. The universe is all around, here on our planet, in the tiniest little bug or the most delicate flower.

On my long runs, if I'm lucky, I sometimes get into a certain state. You could call it meditative. While in that state, something strange happens. I can feel the tiniest creaks in my body, the numbness in my toes, the tiredness in my limbs, and at the same time it's as if I am observing those things from a distance. They don't touch me. Some other times, my mind just seems to scatter and expand, until it is not a mind any more, but rather particles carried by the breeze. When all of this happens, I feel as if I am part of something bigger. A part of the universe.

It sounds new age-y, I know. I could very well be influenced by pop culture in my view of the universe. I have found that it is very hard to talk about the universe as a layman without sounding like a hippy. But analysing the universe scientifically cannot take away the awe I feel when I'm out on a long run, the childlike curiosity with which I look at my surroundings or the way I marvel at the beauty of it all. And my awe and wonder can only make me thirstier for knowledge and understanding.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Talk to the hand, foot!

The Demented Dictator has been critical of me lately. Its Podiatric Majesty has treated my switching back to my old Sauconys with scepticism.

You see, I had this crazy theory that, I don't know, maybe my Kayanos are not helping with my Plantar Fasciitis. That, all this time, they only made the problem worse. Seeing as they haven't made it better. This theory came about one day after a run, when I felt the arch support of the shoe push against my foot. What if the shoe rubs against my foot and causes the inflammation?

My Sauconys provide support and cushioning, but not to the same degree as my Kayanos, so I thought I'd give them a try and see if they rubbed against my foot in the same way. Almost a year after I confined them to walking shoe hell, they were back with a vengeance on yesterday's run. They felt light. They felt right. They didn't rub against my foot.

But my theory did not seem to hold. Foot was still not happy. If I sit still for more than 5 minutes, it acts up. So now everyone thinks I have twitchy feet.

Instead of moping about it like I did last week, though, I'm going to treat the Evil One with the contempt that it deserves. I will join the running group for a long run tomorrow, to Jonsered and back. And long it shall be, if all goes as planned. 25 sunny kilometres, revisiting a part of the now legendary route Alingsås – Gothenburg. Conveniently, it is just the part that I remember only vaguely, as I must have been in some kind of delirium when we ran it: Inexplicably I kept saying yes to running just a bit longer, only a few kilometres left to the marathon distance, our destination is just around the corner...(I'm looking at you, Mia).

(But so glad you egged me on.)

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Flexibility is my middle name

I got lazy yesterday. I didn't go for a run, as I had planned. The wind had picked up considerably in the evening, the sky was half cloudy and it didn't look or feel like summer at all. I did some strength exercises instead. Yeah, I'm flexible like that.

The wind is still howling, even more than yesterday, but two days in a row without running? When I'm healthy and my legs are well rested? Sacrilege! Besides, I really don't feel like cycling against the wind.

So my running clothes are coming with me to work. By the time I start running home, the sun will be on its way back to bed and I'll have the wind on my back. Maybe the sky will treat me to a kaleidoscopic sunset.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Spring forward

Last night, as J and I were slowly walking back to the car after climbing, it suddenly hit me: time was maybe 20.30, but for the first time since last autumn it didn't feel late. That, for me, is a definite sign that spring is here and summer is just around the corner.

Let me explain. I am a notorious early bird. I go to bed early, I wake up early. The latter has become a necessity because our cats don't let us sleep in, but also because I work shifts and sometimes have to be at work at 6.

In the summer, when daylight increases, I tend to need less sleep and can stay up a bit later than small children.

Those few minutes of golden light right before the sun rises or sets are for me the best time of the day. On a clear day, the sky is painted in all shades of orange, and it feels like a warm embrace. Some of my best memories are from serene summer dawns or vibrant summer dusks. For example, the time I went running early one summer dawn and I saw a beautiful roe deer not 10 meters away.

Encounters 2photo © 2010 Michele Pegoraro | more info (via: Wylio)

In the winter, the chances to catch those fleeting moments are rare. Partly because the sky is obscured by clouds more often than not, and partly because it's dark most of the time. Some days, when I'm at work, I never even see the sun, because it's dark when I get there and dark when I leave.

On Sunday, we spring forward. An extra hour of sunlight in the evening. I am planning on celebrating this fact by going for a run this evening, just when the sun is about to set. Maybe I'll be lucky and catch a magnificent sunset.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Double trouble

Yesterday was my first time on the bike since the autumn. I cycled like a maniac, which left my legs dead. I could really feel the cycling muscles stuggling to wake up after months of neglect.

So today I had only planned to run to work, and then I was supposed to get a lift with J to our climbing course in town. I decided to make it a ”longer” run than my usual, and was treated first to a pheasant sighting and then to a beautiful sunrise. Unfortunately the pheasants flew away before I got the chance to take my mobile phone out and take a picture, but the sunrise was kind enough to wait for me while I fumbled with the camera settings.

Half way through the day I found out that I didn't have to work late, like I had thought. That created a dilemma for me: Should I stay at work anyway, and join J on the car ride to town? Or leave work early and run home to grab a bite first? I chose the second.

Did I mention my legs were dead from yesterday's cycling? Yeah. That's exactly how they felt this morning, while I tried to keep leaning forward, lift my heels towards my butt and generally use a good running technique. But on the way home it was even worse. My feet were so heavy, they almost scraped the ground. What almost made me throw in the towel was my breathing. Employing the right running technique makes me run faster than I am comfortable with, and my pulse skyrockets.

I ended up running 10 km today. Two running sessions in one day, which are soon to be followed by a climbing session. Nice!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Learning to fly

Well, maybe the running technique workshop I attended this morning wasn't that advanced. I didn't learn how to fly. In fact, it felt nothing like flying. It was running the way nature intended it.

Markus Stålbom's workshop was recommended to me by a running buddy. Some of you might remember that I met up with said buddy a few days after Christmas, when I was feeling very low because of my foot injury, in order to get some tips on improving my running technique. He had attended one of Stålbom's workshops and was kind enough to show me what he had learned. When I left a while later, I was full of hope: maybe, if I improved my technique, I could avoid future injuries and relieve my aching foot. I didn't feel so powerless any more: my technique was something concrete that I could work on.

Since then, I have thought about all these tips while I run, especially when in my Five Fingers. It must have made a difference; when Stålbom filmed our running style at the beginning of the session, he didn't have that many corrections to make about mine. He thought I should try to lean forwards a bit more. I was braking by leaning backwards.

Waiting for the workshop to begin

After talking about some theoretical stuff, we went through some running drills and exercises. Lots of them. The first ones were aimed at improving individual aspects of our running style, such as lifting the heel directly under our body, and the later ones were aimed at bringing all the aspects together. The workshop was concluded after 3 hours with another video analysis, to see how our technique had changed.

I could immediately see a difference in my style. I leaned forwards more. My feet touched the ground less. It still wasn't perfect, of course, but I was getting there.

When I came home later, my head was full of information. I had to go out and practise, before I forgot. My pulse was high, my legs worked hard, my breathing was laboured. Trying to piece together all the different technical aspects was difficult. Stålbom said right before we left that it can take up to a month before the body gets used to it.

I found Stålbom very easygoing and likeable. I thought that the workshop, especially the drills and exercises, were very useful. It will be hard to build up to such a level where I can run long runs ”perfectly”, as technique tends to suffer the more one gets tired. But those short runs home from work should be perfect for working on my running style.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Back to square one

Last week was a great one for my foot. The new stretching method seemed to work and I could walk and run without pain. But then, a few days ago, something happened and stretching stopped working. So now my foot hurts again, especially when I've been sitting too long.

That's why I didn't join my group on their long run this morning. I didn't dare go on a long run, far from home, risking holding back the others if my foot played up. I went out on a run on my own instead, with the Black Crowes on my mp3 player, within walking distance of our flat, in case I had to turn back.

With the first notes of ”She talks to angels”, I welled up. The skies were heavy, the ground was wet, the snow was stubbornly clinging to the pavement. All the frustration I've been feeling because of the injury, because of all the planned races that, let's face it, I probably won't get to run this year, and mostly because I simply don't know what to do to make the pain go away, suddenly overwhelmed me. A few seconds later, the frustration was gone just as easily as it had come and a smile found its way to my face. I was running after all, wasn't I?

Still, I picked a short cut, not wanting to risk making things worse. I ran through alleys of pastel coloured terraced houses, by pastures where horses play-fought, on deserted streets. Not a soul was in sight.

There was an autumn feel in the air, and I thought about how my worst nightmare would be living a Ground hog Day life, where winter and autumn succeeded each other, year after year, spring and summer gone forever. I am a summer person. I thrive on warm summer evenings and on dew-laced summer mornings. I love the way the summer breeze feels on my bare shoulders. The way lazy summer afternoons feel like an eternity. The way the world seems to stretch forever beyond the horizon.

After 8 km I left the quiet streets and turned towards the seaside, heading back home. The sun had managed to break through the clouds and finally projected some semblance of spring. People were out now, jogging along the water or walking their dogs. The world was waking up slowly, as though it had been hibernating for years.

I felt strong, though my foot ached. My legs worked hard, yet I didn't feel tired. I was running somewhat faster than I should have, given that this was supposed to be a long run, but trying to slow down only made me feel sluggish.

The Black Crowes gave way to Pink Floyd. The seaside gave way to quiet streets again. I was almost home. I stopped the clock at 16 km and walked the rest of the way. Once I got there, I gave my feet an ice bath. Back to ice baths, back to square one. As happy as I am that I managed to run today, I can't help being frustrated.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Spring? What spring?

Snow. Again.

Joining spring in its resounding lack of, well, presence, was today's planned run. Rest, in other words. Total rest, unless you count the short walk to pick up my bike and the subsequent 1 km-bike ride home. A well-functioning bike richer, almost a thousand crowns poorer.

The reason for taking the day off is, of course, yesterday's tiredness and my achy foot. Both of which seem to be a lot better today, and which, I am hoping, are going to be even better tomorrow. I am thinking about joining my running group for a long run then. Yet it is my foot, this Despicable Dictator, this Terrible Tyrant, this Despot of Doom, that gets to decide whether or not I run tomorrow. The world is holding its breath.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The epic battle of Brain VS Body

Running over 40 km within 5 days can lead to tired legs. Huh. Who would have thought.

I should have heeded the message my body sent me when I woke up this morning. Usually I feel well rested when I wake up, and the alarm clock doesn't even get the chance to wake me before I jump out of bed and pour my cup of coffee. Not this morning though. This morning, the alarm clock was satisfied it got to do its job. I had slept for nearly 9 hours when I got up, but I still felt groggy.

Nevertheless, I packed my running gear and took the bus in to work. My foot then proceeded to bother me every time I got up to walk. I can almost hear my exasperated body asking my brain with a sigh how I could have missed the numerous signals it had been sending all day that I needed to rest.

Yet, as much as I dreaded the run home, my mood changed when I stepped out the door. The weather was really mild, the sun was glowing and everything was drenched in a soft light. I started running and could immediately tell that it was going to be a tough one. My joints ached. My bones ached. My evil foot ached. But I refused to stop. It was such a magnificent day and I wanted to take my jacket off and run forever. Contradictory, I know. Let me put it like this: if my brain could have jumped out of my head and run on its own, it would, and very enthusiastically at that. My body, on the other hand, would have collapsed in a heap given a chance. It was pure willpower that took me home; my body was the lifeless marionette, my brain the puppet master forcing my legs to keep moving.

Because I didn't torture myself enough with this run, I threw in some push-ups and sit-ups when I got home. I am happy to report that the Two Hundred Sit-ups programme is going according to plan. The push-ups, not so much. I am doing the toddler version, the one where you rest on your knees while you do the push-ups. This is necessary because I have the muscle strength of a toddler. I can't do one single real push-up. There, I said it, and now the whole world knows. I can run 50 km but I can't do a push-up. No strings there that my brain can pull. Judge me if you must.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The world is my oyster, the road is my home

Glorious sunshine filled our bedroom when I opened my eyes this morning. I got up, aching for a longer run. Other than that vague plan, I didn't know where I was headed when I stepped out the door in my running shoes an hour later.

Kids were on their way to school and traffic was heavy. That pushed me towards the solitude of the lake and surrounding woods. I was also curious to see if the ice had melted there, as it has on the pavements. I left the main road and made my way there through the quiet suburbia, meeting no living soul except a wild rabbit.

The path that led to the lake looked promising. There was ice, but it was either laced with patches of exposed dirt or of the crunchy, none-slippery kind. Some part were completely ice-free. I ran further, sometimes having to leave the path and run among the trees, until I came to the beach.

This lake beach is very popular during the summer. People come here to sunbathe, have picnics and swim. Today though it was deserted. It was completely quiet but for the bird song, the wind in the trees and the distant hum of traffic. I stopped for a few minutes to let this amazing feeling sink in: This here? This is precisely why I run. It's days like these.

Sadly, the path pretty much disappeared after that. Ice was everywhere, and I had to stop and walk a grand total of 11 times during the rest of my run. About halfway in my run, I gave up and headed back towards civilisation and the ice-free pavements. Traffic was gone. The kids had started their lessons. I was alone.

After 9 km I was back home. I didn't really want to go inside on such a beautiful day. I wanted to keep running. Sometimes, though, it's a good idea to stop running while you still have the will and energy to continue; it makes the next run so much more appreciated.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Almost famous

A funny thing happened to me today. A guy I know, whom I meet through work maybe a couple of times per year, came up to me today and asked me about the time we ran from Alingsås to Gothenburg. A few months ago, two other women I know (again through work, that I only meet a couple of times per year) asked me the same thing on two separate occasions. I have no idea how these three people (that I hardly ever see) know what I like to do in my free time, let alone what distances I cover on foot. Sure, I talk about my running with some of the colleagues I see every day, but how this information travels to others outside my workplace is a mystery to me. I guess doing ”crazy” things, like running almost 50 km, will make you interesting enough to talk about during lunch break. I can imagine the conversation going something like this:

- Hey, you know Shaman from X workplace?

- Yeah?

- She's a nut job. I heard she ran 50 km the other day.

- I heard she ran it backwards.

- I heard she had to carry one of her running mates on her back, for the last 20 km.

- While running backwards!

That's how I injured my foot, by the way. I ran backwards while carrying a 150 kg-heavy ex-hockey player on my back.

Oh well. If I am to become ”famous” (or infamous) for something, it could be for a lot worse than long distance running.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Coming up next: a short break

I had a weird work day today. It started off slow, then built up momentum and reached a crescendo of crazy activity around midday, only to taper off in the afternoon. Kind of like my run home after work: I started off easy, then I increased my speed from ”even a slug would call this slow” to ”I think I might collapse with a heart attack any minute” (also known as ”fast walking”, if you're an elite runner) and then negotiated the long hill of the final kilometre in winding down tempo. Average speed: nothing to brag to my running buddies about. But I survived. I was worried there for a second.

Tomorrow J and I are starting a 4-week course in climbing technique, which I'm really excited about. I am taking the day off running, as my legs have started sending me warning signals that they might snap in two if I force them to run for the 6th day in a row, and saving my energy for the course. On Wednesday though I'll be back out there running. Hopefully on ice-free forest paths. Hopefully in the sun.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Perchance to dream

My foot survived running 20 km yesterday. It feels fine this morning. Suddenly, new possibilities are opening up for me. Suddenly, the colours are brighter, the clouds are parting in the sky and I feel like breaking into a Broadway dance routine. But then, just when I'm about to fly away into the sky, drunk on hope and excitement, reality coughs politely and taps me on the shoulder.

It's easy to get carried away and repeat past mistakes, namely doing too much, too soon. But there are so many sirens singing to me now that it's hard to resist. One is of course our group's ultrarun in April from Varberg to Gothenburg (88 km), which I was planning on running a part of. Another is a running event, also in April, that takes place around the Göteborgsvarvet's original route from 1980. Sounds like fun. Then there is an actual halfmarathon race on the 16th of April that I was thinking about entering. So I'm looking at 3 halfmarathon runs within the same month. I just might have to reconsider running all of them, and just pick one.

I've also started looking at races this summer. It would probably be naive to think that, just because my foot doesn't hurt now, the problem is gone for good and I can run the same amount of kilometres I ran before the injury. But I am so tempted to enter an ultrarace. Two of them are 6H events, meaning that runners plod/run around a track as many times as possible over a 6 hour period. Trollhättan is in July and Skövde in August. It took us just over 5 hours to run from Alingsås to Gothenburg, so it's not a huge step to 6 hours, especially as you can walk, rest and stop to eat as many times as you like. It would be so nice to break the 50 km barrier and finally be able to say in good conscience that I have run an ultra.

So many exciting races. But, as with all great things in life, you have to start somewhere and build up. Today's small step towards my goals, a short run in my VFFs.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

I wish I had a river so long, I could teach my feet to fly

On the day's agenda: 16 km around Gothenburg, by the river, over two bridges. What really happened: 20 km including running to and from our meeting point downtown. Yeah baby!

I took the car to town and then ran the two kilometres to our meeting place. The city was still quiet; not much traffic or people around, the shops still closed. It's a different beast altogether, just an hour or so after the shops open.

There were ten of us who met, as always, at 10, chatted for a few minutes and caught up with each other's training and lives. Then we were off. We ran through the city on wet pavements, almost no ice in sight. Talked with the lovely Mia for a while. After a couple of kilometres, we were joined by Henri, who had just missed us at the meeting point and ran, presumably quite fast, until he saw us. Impressive!

The first part of the run took us past some cruise boats, parked at the pier. Not long after that, it was time to take on the first of the two bridges across the river. I have to admit that I was dreading this moment. I don't know why, really. It is long but not so steep, so it turned out to be child's play to run up it. Still, nicer to run down it.

The other side of the river used to be an industrial area, mainly for building boats. Nowadays the area is experiencing a housing boom, which has transformed it into one of my favourite areas in Gothenburg. The style is modern and quite exclusive. The prices are even more exclusive.

In the summer, lots of people walk along the pier, sunbathe or eat some icecream at one of the cafés. Sometimes we cycle there and just lie in the sun, enjoying the atmosphere.

Leaving the residential area behind us, we ran through an industrial area. Not so beautiful to look at, perhaps, but chatting with the others in the group made these kilometres fly by. Then it was time for the second bridge, and I wasn't sure what to expect. The first one didn't pose any problems, but I couldn't for the life of me remember how steep this one was. I found out soon enough: it was steep.

Shorter steps, slower tempo and soon we had reached the top of the bridge. At this point I had run 16 kilometres and was looking at a couple of easy ones through the city centre. Sure enough, the way back to where we started was flat, if very muddy and wet.

18 kilometres later, most of the group had completed their run, but not me. I still had to run back to the car. I stayed and chatted with the others for a few minutes, and then joined forces with Henri and Daniel, who were running home in almost the same direction as me. It was all uphill from here, and I could really feel the distance I had run in my legs. I had to stop and walk for a minute or so, but then I started running again, lowering my tempo even more. I finally arrived at the car with 20 kilometres under my belt.

As you can imagine, I am very pleased with today's run. Great people, sightseeing, and a distance record for this year that I didn't think I would manage before the summer. If my foot keeps behaving, this might actually turn out to be a good running year!

Friday, 11 March 2011


In a half-awake state, I'm dreaming of summer nights, the crickets singing their monotonous but soothing melody, the sea waves caressing the beach, a light breeze stirring the leaves in the trees. The view out my window is quite different. The ground is white. Again.

I woke up with a heavy head to the sound of a purring cat. He's so reliable and considerate. He wakes us up every morning at 5, at the latest, presumably anxious that we might be late for work. I suspect that I didn't get my 8 hours of sleep last night. But then again, when was the last time I did?

I am hoping to get a short, easy run in today, if the rest of the puzzle pieces of Friday's busy schedule fall into place. I am also hoping that my heavy head will have a chance to be cured with a full night's worth of sleep tonight, as I need to be in good shape tomorrow. Our group is running a 16 km route around central Gothenburg then, a route that I've wanted to try for a while and which promises to be fun and just challenging enough. It will take us over two bridges, up and down the river, through both industrial and residential areas.

Soon, summer will be here. With it will come the long runs far from the city, in green fields, in lush forests, on soft sand. I can't wait.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

She's running out the door

Oh goody, my favourite combination. Strong headwind and icy rain. On my first run since Sunday. What a treat. Thank you, Freyr!

Would you believe me if I told you that a drop of icy rain nearly took my eye out? No? Would you believe it if I said that it was carried by the aforementioned strong headwind with such force that it almost left a bruise on my cheek, only two centimeters south of my left eye?

I think you're starting to get the picture of what the weather was like. But how did it feel?

It felt good. After two days' solitary confinement, I was aching to go for a run, although I did look doubtfully out the window at the grey skies, moments before it was time to go. But as usual, it feels worse just before you leave. Once you're outside (and wet), it's actually not half as bad as you thought. It usually turns out to be quite fun. At least if you're wearing protective goggles.

Now I have a riddle for you. An enigma. A mystery. A puzzle. What is this strange dust-like substance on my tights? Remember that it was raining on my way home.

A most mysterious mystery

Whoever finds the right answer wins...well, nothing. I don't know what the answer is, so how would I know if you're right? But you'll win my everlasting admiration, if you at least come up with an imaginative answer.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Cabin fever

Day two of house arrest. Yesterday I stayed home from work, just to be on the safe side and not let the light fever develop into something more serious. I was climbing the walls – only figuratively speaking, unfortunately. It was a beautiful day outside, and I was stuck indoors, restless and not really feeling up to doing anything except RUNNING. Because, of course I would obsess over it, given that I can't do it.

Try not to think of a pink elephant. That's all you're thinking about now, isn't it?

I wouldn't have managed a metre, of course. Despite my restlessness, I am exhausted. Just not sick enough to accept the fact that I have to rest. I did my planned sit-ups and then the dishes. It was about all I could do, before I resigned to the fact that my mind is willing but my body is not.

Today is shaping up to be one of the same. I've been trying to amuse myself with quotes about running (my favourite so far, a marathon sign: ”Your feet are hurting because you're kicking so much ass”). But instead of quenching my running thirst, they're only making me feel parched. I want to run. In the woods. In my VFFs. On a warm summer evening. Or, hey! I'll run in a hailstorm, if I have to. JUST LET ME RUN.

Some good (-ish) news. I've been stretching my evil foot in a new way, which has pretty much removed the soreness from the heel. That, coupled with the obligatory rest, seems to be helping a lot. But something mysterious is happening instead. The inside of my foot, from the arch up towards the ankle, hurts when I turn it in certain angles, though never while I'm running. It feels like something in there gets torn every time I turn my foot outwards. It's been like this for a couple of months, but it got worse yesterday.

Isn't rest supposed to make you feel better? What is this strange, sharp pain, and where does it come from? Is it a bi-product of my plantar fasciitis or did I twist my foot while running and don't remember it? I'm baffled...

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The case for minimalist running

Disclaimer: I am not a barefoot fanatic. I am just a curious beginner. I've only run in my Vibram Five Fingers a handful of times. I'm not sold yet. The following is information I've gathered from books and around the Internet, so it is absolutely not meant to convert anyone. Just some food for thought. I've included some links in the text and at the end of this entry that provide much more information than I can hope to offer.

Why am I writing this?

When I decided to get serious about running, I went to a serious running store to get some serious running shoes. The kind of store where the staff are shoe experts and promise to sell you the best shoe for your foot. They tested my feet. They made me run on a treadmill. I, like the vast majority of runners, overpronated. I tested a couple of different shoes to find out which ones felt right, and I ended up going home with an expensive pair, that would provide support for my pronation and cushioning for my knees.

Photo by Screenpunk

A couple of months later, I got runner's knee and couldn't run for over 9 months.

Then I was back in the game and everything went well for a while. As I increased my mileage, I got a different pair of shoes with even more support and cushioning, because I figured my joints would need that, in order to manage the extra kilometres. A couple of months later, my Achilles tendons got so tense, I could hardly walk. After purchasing the latest model of those shoes, that are supposed to be among the most supportive and cushioning in the market, I got Plantar Fasciitis. Most of you reading this blog might have noticed. I haven't stopped bitching and moaning about it, since I got it back in November.

Needless to say, the expensive running shoe's failure to protect my body has urged me to explore other alternatives, so I've been doing a lot of reading.

Humans run. That's what we do.

We are meant to run. And we have had thousands of years' worth of practice. A theory that early humans used running as a method to hunt down prey and ultimately ensure survival has become more popular after the publication of Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run (2009). In his book, McDougall describes among other things how early humans had an ability to run down their prey, covering great distances to do so.

Photo by mgjefferies

While tracking down their prey in the desert heat for several hours, humans were able to get rid of excessive heat through sweating, while animals suffered from overheating and later died. What humans lacked in speed, they made up in endurance. This is called persistence hunting and it is still observed in some tribes today.

The modern shoe

So running is natural for us humans. Long distance running in particular. We have the bone structure, the tendons, the muscles, the shock absorption system for it. We've run barefoot or in minimalist shoes up until the 70's; we've managed before. Why is it suddenly necessary to have so much support and cushioning?

Well. What happened in the 70's was that running shoes companies started developing more and more advanced shoes, with all sorts of bells and whistles. Ever since then, they have been trying to convince us that we need these expensive shoes in order to prevent injury. They have been implying that humans are built wrong, that our bodies can't cope with running by themselves, that we need assistance to successfully carry out an activity that we've been engaging in without problems for thousands of years.

Photo by mollyali

My personal experience, however, that expensive running shoes have failed to prevent me from getting injured, is supported by recent studies, which show no link between such shoes and reduced injury risk. In fact, the amount of injuries suffered by runners has not been reduced at all since the 70's. A reported 30% of runners still get injured every year.

Some people even suggest that such shoes lead us to unconsciously alter our natural way of running, landing on our heel instead of the middle of the foot, and much harder than we would have done if we had been unshod, the impact sending shock waves across our whole body. By landing on our heel, we remove one vital component of our shock absorption system: the forefoot. The impact on our knees is greater this way.

Running shoes, with all their cushioning, also block signals that the ground and our feet are sending us, that might otherwise serve as a warning that we're about to get injured. They give us a false sense of security, in other words. This way, they might even cause an injury. In addition to this, these shoes don't let our feet work the way they should; they restrict them, do their work for them, make them lazy. As a result, the muscles and bones in our feet atrophy.

So, question is: why keep using brick shoes when they don't seem to offer any injury prevention?

Minimalist and barefoot running

Barefoot running has become a movement, a reaction to the overwhelming (and undeserving, according to some) success of the running shoe. If, however, the thought of baring your soles (ha!) to pebbles, twigs, glass and the like puts you off, there is a gentler alternative. Minimalist shoes. Shoes that are not much more than a thin rubber sole. Vibram Five Fingers, that were the first ”glove shoes” to hit the market, have been getting a lot of hype lately.

The VFFs' success is evident in the amount of competitors coming out of the woodwork with similar products. Even running shoe giants are trying to get a foot in the market, excuse the pun). The market is being flooded with products that are meant to satisfy a new kind of customer: one that has tried the heavyweight shoes with no luck, and is now going back to basics with the featherweight alternative.

No matter what the brand, minimalist shoes are here to stay. They offer some protection against debris, without taking too much away from the natural, barefoot feeling. That allows the foot to ”sense” if there are any problems. They are light. They force you to take shorter, quicker steps and land on your forefoot, all of which are landmarks of a good running style. If used properly and carefully (examples for getting started here and here ), they can lead to injury-free running.

Photo by Daniel C Bentley

All the above probably makes it sound like I am 100% on the barefoot/minimalist bandwagon. But like I wrote at the beginning of this entry, I still have some reservations. Mostly because there is no research yet that compares the long-term effects of shod/unshod running, or the minimalist shoes' ability to prevent injury contra the established running shoes'. All there is is common sense, that we don't need crutches in order to do something we've been experts at for so long. That, and how enjoyable and natural it feels to run in minimalist shoes.

But don't take my word for it. Google barefoot running and minimalist shoes. Do your own research. Here are some links to get you started, with arguments both for and against barefoot running:

The evolutionary basis for minimalist running

Christopher McDougall on TED

How NOT to start running in minimalist shoes

Born to run

Expensive running shoes - are they a waste of money?

A fictional interview with a barefoot skeptic

Barefoot running pros and cons

A case against barefoot running

Running barefoot is bad

The barefoot running injury epidemic