Tuesday, 31 May 2011

It's not easy being green

Isabellah Andersson, the first woman to cross the finish line at Stockholm Marathon for the forth year in a row, two months after a knee operation, told a reporter during an interview that she had just become vegetarian. It wasn't a big deal for her; she described how eating meat was a very rare occasion when she was growing up in Kenya. She's of course not the only successful vegetarian or vegan runner in the world. Scott Jurek, a trail runner who is also a vegan, is just one shining example among many others.

I've been a vegetarian for almost three years, and a committed runner for almost as long. I've been aware of how important it is to make sure I get all the nutrients I need, and that it is even more important with the amount of exercise I put in. I've often wondered if it is even possible to build a strong, healthy body on a vegetarian diet, especially with all the recent articles about how the Caveman diet is beneficiary to an athlete. Now, I'm not an elite runner and I don't even put in nearly as much training as some of my (amateur) running buddies do, but it's been a struggle to plan simple, healthy vegetarian meals, especially with a carnivore in the house. Let alone compensate for the extra nutrients that I need because I exercise.

Seeing that some of the athletes I admire have thrived and succeeded on a vegetarian or vegan diet inspires me. It helps me see that, if I eat right, my training doesn't have to suffer for my dietary choices. I just wish someone else would do the cooking.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Wishful thinking is not enough

I was very optimistic when I woke up this morning. I felt kinda woozy and tired, but I thought it was because I hadn't slept well during the night; I had had some really crazy dreams. My throat felt fine. I started packing my running clothes, thinking I'd run home from work. But then I made a mistake: I used the thermometer.

A whooping 37,3 was the cause of my wooziness, and not the crazy dreams that had made me sleep badly. I know it's not exactly a life threatening temperature, but fever, even a modest one, is a no-go when it comes to running. Besides, my normal body temperature can be as low as 36,5, so it's almost a whole degree more than that. It's not worth it to risk a longer period of sickness just to be able to run commute from work. I took the car instead.

The wooziness has definitely not gotten better during the day. Despite the fact that my fever hasn't gone up, I've been feeling as if I'm about to pass out or fall asleep, and driving home took some serious concentration. Now that I'm home, I think I am going to treat poor little old me: I will do nothing for the rest of the day, nothing except watch my favourite TV show and settle down with the amazing book that I'm currently reading. Treating myself might involve blankets. And ice cream. And crawling up on the sofa with a cat or two on my lap.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Healthy for a whole 3 months? Not so fast...

Huh. I was getting worried that A WHOLE SEASON might go by without me getting sick. A monumental event like this might have thrown the planet off its axis. Now I don't have to worry that the end of the world is nigh or that hell has frozen over. I have honoured my contractual obligation with the universe to get sick at least once per 3 months, and everything is right with the world.

My throat has been irritated for days, but I attributed it to the fact that I did a lot of yelling last Wednesday in order to be heard by the group of people I was addressing. I just thought that I had overstrained my vocal chords. Yesterday's long run went well, despite it being 20 km of hill hell, and it didn't knock me out for the rest of the day like long runs usually do, so I never suspected I was getting sick. Until I sat down on the sofa to watch Stockholm Marathon on TV, when claws started sharpening themselves on my throat. By the time I went to bed, there was no doubt. I was ill.

I have a tough -albeit very short- work week ahead of me. I'm not ill enough to stay at home (I have no symptoms other than my sore throat), yet I'm ill enough to have to stay away from running. With the long weekend coming on, I don't mind the short break that much. I am going to have lots of free days, hopefully sunny ones, to go running. Until then, lots of vitamins, rest, and keeping my head above water at work.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

A life less ordinary

Some people's idea of fun is going to the shopping mall together with hundreds of others on pay weekend and spending their day spending money on useless things and lining the pockets of people who are much richer than they will ever be.

Photo by Andreas Nilsson
Others enjoy drinking their money away, until they either pass out in a pool of their own vomit or end up in a bar fight.

Others like spending hours in front of the TV watching contestants in reality shows humiliating themselves for fame and money.

Yet none of those acts are considered crazy. That's what's considered normal these days. While running any distance longer than, say, 5km will get you funny looks. Wanting to go out for a long run early on a Saturday morning, wanting to catch the first sunlight in the trees and to listen to the birds singing, wanting to feel the adrenaline as you manage to climb an ascending slope so steep that it makes your eyes water, that is what passes as insanity these days. 

Somewhere along the line society lost the plot. We've been worshipping false idols, namely cheap thrills that give us satisfaction for a second and then they're gone. We leave our hard earned cash as an offering to the temple of Mammon and get garbage in return, garbage that has been wrapped in glitter to make it look like gold. Garbage that fills up our homes and our planet, that tries to fill the spiritual emptiness in our minds and hearts but fails miserably.

Happiness does not come from things or money. Happiness comes from friends, family, being close to and in harmony with nature. Run, or walk, in the woods and maybe you'll catch a glimpse of a deer. The wind in your hair will calm you down. The birds will lift your spirits. And when your run is over, you'll come home blissful. Serene. Truly happy.

I've never been interested in leading a conventional life. My parents can attest to that, with all the headaches that I've given them over the years (sorry!). But I would never sacrifice my happiness to conform. I would rather go for a long run early on a Saturday morning and be called crazy, than shut myself up in a packed shopping mall looking for the latest deal on garbage and go crazy. I would rather live the life less ordinary.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The perfect run

”I'm going for a short run”, I told a sick J.
”What do you mean by short? 15 kilometres?” he joked.

I admit that I enjoy how some people I know think this of me. That, for me, 15 km is a short run. However unbelievably exaggerated it might be. It chimes well with the ideal of who I want to become.

I had toyed with the idea of staying indoors all day today. It rained a lot this morning, which in itself is no issue. But it was also windy. I had hoped that the weather would be good enough for a long run, but in the end I compromised and went for a short run.

It had stopped raining when I left the flat, but the sky was still dark and ominous. Some school kids were by the lake, and one of them had jumped in and was drying her hair. I rounded the lake avoiding most of the water puddles that had formed after the rain. The wind couldn't reach me as long as I was in the forest. 

I turned towards the horse path. The sign that tells you in which direction the horse sulkies drive each day of the week had been vandalised and was illegible. I used my amazing deduction skills, honed by countless hours wasted solving Sudoku puzzles on the Internet, to look at the hoof prints on the soaked path and conclude that the sulkies were going in the same direction as I. I would have to be careful.

The rain had turned every leaf in this lush part of the forest into a luminous, almost glow-in-the-dark shade of green. The air was so delicious, so full of oxygen that just breathing in and out was an exhilarating act of pure pleasure. I kept an easy, even pace, that not once felt strained.

It was the perfect run. I didn't run 15 km. But I did run longer than I had planned to.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The first day of the rest of your life

There is something comforting about putting a race behind you. The anticipation building before the race can be beneficial, but it can also turn to anxiety and paralyse. Luckily I don't get that nervous any more before a race. It probably has to do with my lowered expectations when it comes to chasing personal records. But after a race, when muscles have recovered and the endorphins have dissolved into nothing, when the built-up anticipation has either led to triumph or disappointment, that is when it all happens for me. That is the time for dreaming.

The saying goes: Today is the first day of the rest of your life. With the race over and done with, I'm all of a sudden free. The rest of my life is ahead of me. I can run if I want to. Rest if I want to. Eat what I want (I'm sick of pasta by this point). Look for a new race, or just head to the forest. Plan the next big adventure with the group, or go for a solo run, lost in my own thoughts.

After Kungsbackaloppet, I promised myself I'd never run another race. The agony of pushing myself to cross limits that I don't really feel comfortable crossing was too much (especially as I was running on an empty stomach. Now that was pure agony). I'm settling more and more into my identity as a runner that runs far, not fast. That wants to be an ultra runner when she grows up. That runs for the experience and joy of running. Göteborgsvarvet wasn't agony, because I knew from the beginning I wouldn't be breaking any world records. I just had fun. But the real adventure is in the every day run, be it a short one taking the path less travelled, or a long one to a new place. The meditation. The surroundings. Chatting with friends or listening to the sounds of nature. And now I am free to do that, without dietary restrictions, without taper weeks, without anxiety.

I still kind of wish I could run Stockholm Marathon on Saturday, though.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Yes, I'm still alive

The past few days I've felt like this:

When it comes to blogging, that is. Because when it comes to running, I've kept busy. After taking Sunday off, I ran home in my VFF both on Monday and yesterday. Today, after a really hectic day at work, I ran to J's workplace and then we went climbing. For once, the wind was on my back, the weather was beautiful and the whole nature seemed to be in bloom. 

And now I have some less tiresome activities planned. Call my mom, read a book, sleep...

Sunday, 22 May 2011


I've been thinking about speed a lot since yesterday. I've talked to friends, discussed finishing times and agreed that the atmosphere during the race was amazing. The slower ones of us marvelled at the winner's finishing time (just over an hour) and also at those of our friends who run faster than us (that is, most of them). Some of our fast friends were pleased with their results. Others wanted to run even faster.

I think it's unbelievable how ”amateurs” can maintain such high speed over the course of 21 km. Elite athletes do nothing else all day but train. It's their job. So even if it is amazing finishing times they achieve, even if it is world records, I can't help admiring my friends just a little bit more. The ones that have a day job and a family. The ones that have no coach. No sponsors. No dieticians. The ones that get by and succeed on their own. The unsung heroes.

I am slow by comparison, but I don't mind. I run because I enjoy being out there, in the forest or by the sea, alone or with others, moving at my own pace. I've never run a half-marathon faster than 1:50, and I probably never will, because my motivation with running is not to shave off some minutes from an official time, but to have fun. I simply don't train to run fast.

Yet, there is something glorious and inspiring about fast athletes, be it elite or amateurs. Most people want to run faster, to break their personal records or to beat their work pal. Even those who claim that they only want to get around the course – I believe that they also have a time goal, however modest it might be. Everyone wants to move their limits a little bit further. To outdo themselves, to prove to themselves that in that moment they are doing something grand. In that moment, they are immortal.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Shocking news! I didn't win!

I got the free bus in to the start and got there about an hour in advance. The wind was chilly so I kept my jacket on as long as possible. When I finally had to leave my belongings at the baggage area, I went indoors to the sport expo to keep warm. I wasn't the only one who had thought of that.

Then it was time to get to my group. A big banner marked the front of the group, and people queued anxiously behind it, trying to get a good place. If anything, it was warmer in there than in the expo. I couldn't help but think of emperor penguins that huddle together during the harsh antartic winters to keep warm. We applauded the first runner to complete the race as we waited. It took him just over an hour. Ponder that.

If a starting gun went off, I didn't hear it. But I didn't have to. The group started moving slowly forward, and finally we were off. It was nice to start with a slope and enter the park bit feeling strong. But after a kilometre, something happened. It started as an annoyance on the inside of my left knee, then developed to pain, then crescendoed with SHIT THIS HURTS SO BAD I'LL HAVE TO DROP OUT. I tried running in a different way, lifting my knees more. No improvement. I looked at the people cheering us on all around. I had to stop. I couldn't stop. One kilometre into the race and I'm already stopping? That would be too embarrassing.

A hill appeared before me, and I switched to uphill running mode. When I reached the top, my knee pain disappeared. Just like that. I ran up a steep hill at an even pace. The public was amazing. We were offered cocktails, beer, buns, and most importantly, support. Some people were screaming so loudly I thought I'd go deaf. Most signs were in support of family members or friends, but I did catch a glimpse of the familiar ”Run like an angry Kenyan” sign. Bands were stationed along the route, so we were never without music or cheering. A funny comment by the singer in one band made me smile and run juuuust a little bit faster: ”Are you the last ones?” 

The runners were like a snake that crawled its way through the whole city. Some had to walk. One had collapsed. I saw a girl running in the same kind of "skort" I was wearing: ”I like your skirt”, I joked. ”Thanks, I like yours too”, she answered and smiled back. People of all shapes and sizes were out running on this beautiful day. Everyone was running on their own terms.

I realised early on that it would be tough to achieve my goal of running the race in under 2 hours. It was too crowded and in the end my Garmin registered an extra 200 metres because of all the zigzagging. I was in good form and felt great, but it wasn't going to get me anywhere if there was a wall of runners before me. I didn't mind, I was having fun. The dreaded hill on the central avenue of Gothenburg was easier than I thought, so I just enjoyed the benefits of a low pulse on my way back down it and let my legs run faster than I had done up to that point.

There was a last surprise left for me, though. The last 2 kilometres offered some hills that I hadn't prepared for mentally, and I started feeling the effects of just having run 19 km. I was, however, able to spurt to the finish. It was probably the first time I've completed a race without feeling relief that it's over.

I picked up my medal and my belongings and met up with some of the runners in the group for a beer. I met an Irish girl there who hadn't run Göteborgsvarvet, but who was there as a volunteer. On the bus home later, a woman asked me how it had gone. She had stood and cheered for hours, because she thought it was fun. I was thankful that these two, and other people like them, were there to turn this event into a huge party.

Finishing time: 2:00:33.

Pre-race restlessness

Just 8 hours left to the start. That's a whole working day. What's the deal with such a late start? What to do with all this time? Normally, on a Saturday, I would go out on my long run in the morning and then have the rest of the day for other things. Now I have to rest. I would very much like to, say, vacuum clean but, so sorry, I have to rest.

(Everyone knows about the phenomenon when you have homework to do, but you suddenly find that your flat is in urgent need of vacuum cleaning. This is the opposite. The flat really could do with some vacuum cleaning – as Sote sheds like a hairy mammoth- but I have to postpone that)

I just want to go out for a run!
Go grocery shopping? The bags are too heavy. Too tiresome for my shoulders. Watch TV? It puts me to sleep, and then I might oversleep and miss my start. Go for a walk? Are you crazy? My legs might fall off during the race. Read a book? Now that's just ridiculous. My eyes would get tired, and then I wouldn't see the curb while I'm running, I'd stumble and twist my ankle and have to get taxied back to the start. Eat? Drink? What if my stomach can't take it? Have you seen the pictures of the runner who got, erm, stomach problems during Göteborgsvarvet, but still bravely (or stupidly) completed the race in his brand new brown shorts? Yeah, despite his determination, he didn't win. But he got his 15 minutes of fame. Or more like an eternity of infamy.

I can't do anything today. It's too risky. I think I'll just lie on the sofa and wait for the hours to pass. But...what if my muscles get too relaxed and I can't get out of the sofa? What if?

Friday, 20 May 2011

Dude. Get serious already.

It's kind of funny. I've known now for a couple of weeks that I'll be running Göteborgsvarvet tomorrow. But I haven't really known. It hadn't sunk in, not until today.

Work and other stuff have been keeping my mind distracted from the race. I only first started realising the magnitude of this thing yesterday. When I saw the endless queue of cars outside the race centre. The expo. The signs in the street warning the public that roads will be closed off during the event. The traffic cones directing the cars to the parking lot. The blue line running through Gothenburg. The headlines in the paper. People asking me what my bib number is so that they can keep track of my progress.

And suddenly, when the work week is over and the mind has time to deal with other things, it all becomes very, very real. I don't have a racing plan! Should I have a plan? Aren't I supposed to be drinking lots of water today? What clothes am I going to wear? Will I freeze to death before the start? Or will it be too warm? What time do I have to be there? What bus do I have to take? Is there a chance for a sub 2-hour finishing time, when I'll most likely have to elbow my way forward in the crowd? WILL I BE ABLE TO SLEEP TONIGHT?!

What kind of serious runner hasn't got all that sussed out months in advance?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Counting down

Photo by Dapeel
The blue line has been painted on the streets of Gothenburg. People have been queueing to get their bib. Runners all over the country are consuming disturbing amounts of pasta. The weather forecast looks promising. On Saturday, almost 60.000 will follow that blue line for 21 km, to the sounds of music and a cheering 200.000-strong public.

Should be fun.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


The last training session before Göteborgsvarvet was short. Way too short. I ran in my VFF, planning on running on a relatively flat tarmac route. Oh, the freedom of being a lone runner early on a Wednesday morning. I get to change my mind and my route as I please.

Seeing as there was so much morning traffic and noise along the road, I swerved to the left after just one kilometre and up the long hill towards the woods. I routinely avoid this hill, because it is several hundred meters long, and, at its top, steep. Today, though, it was a piece of cake. I want to attribute it to my VFF, forcing me to run with better technique and being so light. That, and running at 6 min/km.

The woods were like an oasis, after the jarring cacophony of traffic. I was met with bird song and the breeze in the crowns of the trees. I was alone, but for a few people walking their dogs or running. I welcomed the solitude. The last couple of days have been a whirlwind of work and other worries, and there's nothing like a run in the woods to make me feel better. I turned towards the lake and caught the reflection of the sun on the water among the trees. It was magic.

Even if I don't intend to aim for a personal best at the race on Saturday, I still somehow manage to get all tangled up in the pre-race routine, tapering the days before and taking it easy. So I left the cornucopia of the forest behind and headed home, arriving after only 6 km, still hungry, still troubled.

Way too short.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Day of the living dead

12 hours of work on 6 hours of sleep do nothing for my mood. I'm weird like that. As I sat in the afternoon meeting and the clock tick-tocked the minutes away, I felt my brain slowly drifting into a coma, from which words escaped randomly in answer to people around me, none of which making sense. I was awake, yet not really there. Like a zombie. And zombies are not the happiest or most patient kind of people.

There was, of course, no running today. After 4 consecutive days of tough sessions, I needed to rest (12 hours of work, rest? Ha!) I cycled to work and was then met with headwind on the way back. Because, of course I would. It's Gothenburg. You always have headwind when you cycle, regardless of which direction you cycle in. You should try it some time. Cycle a hundred meters in headwind, then turn back and cycle the way you came. You will be crushed by gale force headwind. Again.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Close call

Apart from my calves being a bit tired, I escaped yesterday's heroics with my skin intact. I was tired, but still able to run the 5 km home from work, and YES, once again, at a speed faster than my usual. I tried taking it easy, thinking about the approaching Göteborgsvarvet. But apparently there is only one gear in this racer car and I run all my sessions in it: whether it's a long run or speed work, it's just as fast (or slow). 

I'm slow compared to him. Look, he's won a medal and all.
I keep waiting for the sword of Damocles to fall. Only it won't be falling on my head. It will be chopping my legs off. Metaphorically only, hopefully. I can't keep running at this higher speed all the time. My body is not used to it. Sooner or later something will have to give and I'll be back on the bench, injured.

But now, I'll rest my weary legs. A 12-hour work day awaits tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Holy VFF idiocy, Batman!

Remember how you're supposed to increase the length of your VFF runs gradually, slowly and very, very carefully? How the general rule of thumb is to increase by 10%? Remember how it was only last Monday I set a new personal VFF record by running 6 km? Well, I kind of broke it today. Big time. And I'm sure there will be hell to pay. Just in time for Göteborgsvarvet.

I was thinking about joining a group of other barefoot runners today (none of whom I've met before) for a short barefoot/VFF run, but the logistics didn't pan out. Also, J told me he was thinking about going for a run. I love running with J, but it doesn't happen as often as I'd like. So I jumped at the opportunity, with my feet in my VFF.

My plan was to run 6 km, to maintain the strength I've been building and to establish a safe foundation from which to veer into longer distances later. J has had problems with his shins ever since he started running, so he was to run/walk the distance, concentrating on technique. I would run ahead when he walked and turn back to pick him up when he ran.

It was not a realistic plan. J runs much faster than me, and I run much faster than he walks. The trail we picked is a loop, and I thought I'd run in the opposite direction, meet him halfway and then run the remaining distance together. But then, instead of turning to run home, he took a detour to the lake and another loop trail. Again, I ran in the opposite direction to meet him halfway, extending my run.

Somehow the planets aligned and I caught up with him after 6,6 km, just as he was starting his walk segment. I'd already run more than I had planned, so I wanted to walk the rest of the way home. But then it started raining. And J had one more running segment left. So we ran together. What with me being 25 cm shorter than J, my poor legs were working overtime to keep up with J's long ones, and the last kilometre took only 4:41 minutes to run.

New VFF record, shattered less than a week after the last one: 8 km. Oh, how I'm going to regret this tomorrow.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

New(-ish) stomping grounds

Either I'm made to run long distances or my body is easily manipulated by my brain. How else can I explain that yesterday's dead-weight legs during my 5 km run home would transform into road-runner worthy half-marathon machines today? How else if not by attributing it to the fact that I love running long distance while my run home bores me to death?

With one week left to the world's biggest half-marathon, I had planned a modest, 18 km-long run for today. Solo. I haven't run with the group in ages and I miss it, but I have so many things planned for the rest of the day that I had to get my run in early. 

Nature was at its best today

I didn't know what to expect. Last week I skipped the long run in favour of a long hike, and I was wondering if I'd struggle today. Also, see my aforementioned dead-weight legs. The first kilometre went as planned, with the speed averaging at 5:49 min/km. Then I was off. It felt easy. I kept glancing at my Garmin and trying to slow down, but slowing down only made me breathless. I imagine that's how it must be for runners Down Under, where everything is upside down, but here in the northern hemisphere people usually get breathless when they run fast, not when they run slow. Well, not me. I must have some Antipodean blood in me. During the rest of the run, I averaged a comfortable 5:28 min/km without even trying.

Again, try to remember that this is fast for me.

About half way into my run, I took a short cut through an area I hadn't been in before. The spruce-lined road winded between two cliffs. A couple of picture-perfect white houses clang on to the cliffs. I enjoyed the solitude and exploring new places. Soon I was back on familiar ground, running by the seaside, heading home. My heart rate loved it all, too. It settled at an average of 155 bpm.

I am ready for Göteborgsvarvet!

Friday, 13 May 2011

The pulse mystery

Up until last winter, my average heart rate during an easy run was between 155-165. Then, in February, something strange happened. Within the range of a few weeks, my average pulse rose and rose until it settled at 170-180. At first I thought it might be a lingering infection. But when my pulse didn't drop back to its usual levels as the weeks went by, I was completely baffled.

There was no logic to it. Speed didn't seem to matter, in fact my pulse was a bit lower during some of my faster runs. Ditto with time of day, route, hours of sleep or how tired I felt. There was no connection to the perceived exertion; some days when I felt I worked hard, my pulse was closer to 165. Other days when it felt easy, my pulse was closer to 185.

Today, when I ran home from work, my heart rate averaged at 146. I was running faster than usual, and it felt tough at times. So, who can solve this mystery? Please don't tell me I need to run faster...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Today I left my brain at home

Run commuting with a twist was scheduled for today. I ran to Js workplace, just like I did last Wednesday, but taking an easier way there and without my climbing gear on my back. I had the foresight to ask J to take it with him this morning so I wouldn't have to carry it. Turns out I could have carried it myself – but more about that later.

It was warm and humid today. I might as well have been breathing underwater. My pace was however pretty high (by my standards) and I was able to maintain it on the mainly flat first part of the route. After about 6 kilometres it was time for me to honour what is now quickly becoming a Wednesday tradition, and got lost.

Right before passing Gothenburg's main hospital, one usually has to climb up a pretty steep and long hill. This I tried to avoid by running through the city's botanical gardens. The hill has to be climbed one way or another, but I figured that since it is so beautiful in there, I would at least get distracted by all the pretty flowers. It worked. The hill was broken down into shorter segments, with some flat parts in between.

I ran past people sitting on the grass having a picnic, or sitting in a café sipping lattes. Some were walking around looking at the vast variety of flowers. I didn't know how to get to the hospital, so I improvised. My improvisation led me to a narrow trail in the woods, lined with wood anemones. I could see the tall hospital building behind the trees and made my way there, after a short detour.

After coming out of the gardens, I realised I was at the bottom of yet another hill. The sun felt even hotter when compared to the coolness in the woods' shade. The cold water I had taken with me had gotten piss warm after only 20 minutes, and now it was reaching boiling point. I was defeated. I walked up that hill, using the last of the water to wash my face and neck, and enjoying what could just about be called a light breeze. I started running again when I reached the top of the hill and didn't stop until after my Garmin showed 10 km.

Once I had picked J up and we arrived at the climbing gym, I saw that I hadn't packed anything except my shoes in the backpack I gave J this morning. No harness meant no climbing. We made a feeble attempt at bouldering, but we soon gave up and went home, disappointed. When I uploaded the data from my run, though, my spirits were lifted. I had run at an average of 5:35 min/km. Not bad for these tired legs!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The run that almost cost me a dislocated shoulder

I thought I was inhaling air, but apparently what I really was inhaling was mud. Or so it felt while I ran my first kilometre towards the lake. The air was rich with the aroma of a thousand flowers and almost sickly sweet. Could it be the reason it felt so thick? Can I be allergic to pollen?

Arriving at the gate of the nature reserve, I saw a man and a woman approaching, having just completed their run. The woman stopped to stretch just before the gate. I looked at the man, trying to guess if he too would stop and let me pass through the narrow gate, and he looked at me; I run to the left, leaving him plenty of room to the right, in case he decided to keep walking. But the right side was obviously not good enough for him. He kept walking towards me, forcing me to swerve to the right at the last minute. My shoulder violently bumped against his. I turned to look at him, but he didn't seem to have noticed. My grandma would probably have threatened to wash my mouth with soap, had she heard the words I uttered just then.

I reached the lake and was struck by a horrible stench. The whole area smelled, inexplicably, of rotten fish. There were plenty of people around, some jogging, some walking their dogs, and some returning home carrying their picnic baskets and blankets after a day in the summer-warm sun. I was still struggling with heavy legs and laboured breathing, so I left the lake path and headed towards the horse track nearby, which would take me home. 

This horse track is used almost exclusively by, well, horses. According to a neighbour who runs there sometimes, moose frequent the track too, although I suspect for different reasons than the horses and their riders. I ran alertly, listening for any sounds of hooves and watching out for big animals on the path.

I was glad I chose the horse track. It crosses a lush part of the forest, with wood anemones covering the ground and thick, unspoilt vegetation all around. My breathing eased. My legs found new strength. Suddenly I was flying. I stopped once to take a picture, and then ran the last kilometre home at 5:08 min/km. What a difference the right environment can make.

Monday, 9 May 2011

VFF progress

It's not even summer-warm yet and I'm already suffering from running in the heat. The heavier-than-usual backpack made matters worse. A suspected pollen allergy didn't exactly help, either. I was panting for breath. My lungs seemed to have shrunk to the size of a pea. What did help was having my beloved VFF on my feet. A new record was set today: 6 ”barefoot” kilometres. 

It's a modest increase from the 5 km run last Friday, but you can never be too careful when going minimalistic. The transition needs to be made gradually in order to avoid injury. And the last thing I need is another foot injury. But just to think back to the first VFF days warms the cockles of my heart. The first tentative metres walked on the snow covered pavement felt amazing. When I took the first running steps, I felt like a child. And here I am, 5 months later, running 6 km in them. In another 5 months maybe I can run a half-marathon in them. Hopefully, by then, they will be the only shoes I use for running.

Sunday, 8 May 2011


No long run today either. A vague plan to run the hilly 10km- route immediately vaporised when I started running and felt like I had to force my legs to move. I chose to run to the lake and see how it went from there.

I reached the woods. As I approached the lake, I saw an older man waving at me. ”Excuse me”, he said. ”Which way to the 2,5km trail?” I pointed in the direction of the trail but then he noticed the Midnattsloppet t-shirt I had on. We started chatting about races and training. This gentleman has run 20 marathons in his life and knows the ultra-legend (and idol of mine) Rune Larsson. I was very impressed, and in no hurry to start running again. He's also planning on participating in the same ultra as I, in August. We talked for about 20 minutes, and, had it not been a bit chilly, I would have gladly listened to him talk about running some more. I always find it interesting to talk to people who have been running for a long time. I certainly hope I am as active as he is when I'm a pensioner.

Our chat gave me a kick and I attacked the first 4-5 hills on the path with gusto and great determination. Then it was as if I suddenly realised what I was doing. Yesterday's 20 km hike had left me tired. No, not tired. Exhausted. My bones were tired. My muscles were tired. Every fibre in my body was tired. So I eased into a jog and ran a bit longer instead. I came home tired but content, still on a buzz from the inspirational chat. 8 kilometres richer.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Playing truant

I confess. I played truant from the group's long run today. I was supposed to run in Skatås with them, but I decided against it. There were two reasons for that. One, a friend and I went out to dinner last night and good food was not the only thing that was consumed. Beverages that are counter-productive to training were imbibed enthusiastically. Two, I wanted to spend the day with J. It was ages ago we went on a proper hike together. So this morning we packed our backpacks with coffee, sandwiches and cinnamon buns and headed out to hike Torrekullaleden.

Some of you might remember that I ran Torrekullaleden a couple of weeks ago. This time, we hiked it clockwise, and I was curious to see if it would feel just as tough as counter-clockwise. It did. But that didn't deter me from wanting to try to run it in that direction next time.

This last week I have felt completely unmotivated to run. Nothing inspired me to put my shoes on and head to the woods. I have heard about post marathon depression and I wonder if I've been having a lite-version of it, after my easy 31-km run last Saturday. Not that I've been depressed, but when your goal is to run further, and you achieve that goal, then you have to set new goals: either run faster, or further. Right now I can do neither.

Beetlejuice, beetlejuice, beetlejuice

I'm not particularly worried about this dip in my training; I don't follow a specific schedule and I don't care that much if I run fast. I'll never be a fast runner and I'm perfectly fine with that. As long as I can run far! Mostly I run when I feel like it, as far as I feel like and as fast as the mood takes me. If I don't feel like running one day (or two, or three), I don't push myself. My motivation comes back eventually.

Photo by J

And boy did it come back today. To hike the woods, to see that so many flowers have bloomed since the last time I was there, to see others run the tough trail made me start planning my next run there. With Göteborgsvarvet only two weeks away I should probably be taking it easy, but since I don't really care about my result there, maybe I should do what my heart tells me and hit the trails next weekend?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Change of plans

After today's slow start, my body and mind finally woke up around 10 and wondered what the hell I was doing indoors. I was supposed to meet J in town later to go climbing, and an idea planted itself firmly in my head: I would run to town and meet up with him there.

I packed my heavy climbing gear in my Inov8 backpack and studied maps. I wanted to take a shortcut through Änggårdsbergen, a nature reserve. I've only gone for walks there before and I've wanted to try running its hilly paths for ages.

The sky was littered with small white clouds, but I could see some really dark ones in the distance. After 5 km of tarmac, I entered the woods. There was a variety of trees, anything from spruce to birch to cherry trees. The narrow path winded among them. It was fairytale beautiful.

I soon came to a crossroads, where a woman was walking her dog. I asked her for directions, because, yes, I was already lost 300 meters after entering the nature reserve. She explained that I had two choices: either run to the left and through the whole nature reserve, or run right and get back to civilisation. I decided not to risk getting lost in the woods. I didn't have time for that. I chose civilisation.

After these spectacular 300 meters of nature, I was back among the houses and people. Luckily, the houses surrounding that side of the nature reserve are very pretty. But luck was not completely on my side. As I struggled up a long hill, those dark clouds in the distance moved over my head and hail started pouring down from the sky. I wasn't a happy bunny. I didn't have a change of clothes with me, and there was still a few kilometres left to go. I took shelter under a tree and waited for the worst to pass.

The hail went as fast as it had come. I continued up the hill. It seemed endless. Looking at the map in SportTracks now, it almost was. One kilometre of moving one foot in front of the other, promising myself I could stop at the next lamp post, or that little stone over there, or that car further away. That way, I managed to make it without stopping, and was rewarded with the other side of the hill. The one with the declining slope.

I arrived at our meeting place after 11 km. The sun was once again shining.

Hibernating in May

It is rare, but some days I don't feel like running. Today is one of them. I tried imagining how wonderful it would be to go for a run in the woods, follow the tough undulating trail, get some strength in my legs and then come home almost shaking from the exertion. When that didn't do it, I tried to remember how it felt last winter, when I couldn't run because of my foot. I even tried threats, that if I don't go out for some hill intervals, my legs will fall off. Nothing. I felt no excitement, no anticipation.

I slept for almost 9 hours, something that is extremely unusual for me. Yet I was very reluctant to get up, let alone go for a morning run. Frost had painted the house roofs white, and after yesterday's freak snow fall, with flakes big and heavy enough to make a crater when they landed, I felt like spending the day hibernating. Sometimes it doesn't matter how much you sleep or how well you eat. Sometimes you just have to take an extra rest day.

Yesterday afternoon I met up with a girl that wanted to sell me her place in Göteborgsvarvet, one of the biggest running events in the world, with almost 60.000 participants running the half-marathon this year. This is an event I've been snubbing for years because of how crowded it is. Besides, I had intended to run Stockholm Marathon a week later, so I never entered the race. Then I got injured and had to drop out of the Marathon. But then my foot got better and last Saturday I ran 31 easy kilometres in training, which planted the seed of doubt in my mind: I probably could have run the Marathon anyway. So this half-marathon might help get my mind off what I won't be doing.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Rinse and repeat

You might have noticed that my motivation to write in this blog has been weaning a bit lately. You hadn't? Well, it has. A lot of it has to do with the alternatives being more attractive, for example go for a walk in the sunshine or write on the computer? Gee, let me think. But a larger part of it is because it rarely feels worth it to write a report of my run commute. My lack of enthusiasm when I run the same old round for the umpteenth time would make for a very boring blog post. I would probably go so far as to finish my post with ”yadda, yadda, yadda” and an implied shrug of the shoulders. It's not a path I want to go down.

It is also an accurate reflection of most of my current training. Normally I don't follow a schedule. I run as the mood takes me. Today, for instance, I incorporated some fartlek into my run. It made it more interesting. As in, I didn't die like I feared I would. But most days when I run home from work, I'm too tired to do anything more than the absolute minimum. It's just out of necessity, hardly worth to write about. Who cares, really, if I ran home from work 2 seconds faster than yesterday?

Running, for me, is never more inspirational than when it is spontaneous and free. When I have no time limits, when I don't have to carry a backpack full of clothes, when I'm not tired from a day's work. When I can pick and choose where I run. When I can let my thoughts wander. When I do it because I feel like it and not because I have to. Run commuting serves a purpose in that it takes me from A to B. Its initial charm was that it is so functional: I run because I have to get somewhere and I might as well use my legs to get there, and in the process I collect valuable kilometres. But this functionality is a double edged sword: it takes away the freedom of running, my inspiration.