Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A schizophrenic run

I don't usually have my mp3 player with me when I run. When I'm in the forest, I prefer to listen to the sounds of nature all around me. When I'm in the city, I want my ears to be able to warn me about potential dangers, like oncoming cars. This morning I took it with me, however, because I knew I'd be running on the pavement, near traffic but not in it. I weighed the risks and decided they weren't that great. I still managed to almost get run over twice, first by someone pulling out of their driveway and then by someone driving out from a parking lot. I swear, a lot of people driving to work in the morning resemble zombies.

On my mp3 player I had a mix of upbeat hard rock and wanna-cut-my-wrists-with-a-razor indie. The thought behind choosing the latter for a long run was to get me to run more slowly. Instead, it brought on a wave of emotions that I didn't even know I was harbouring. I went through a wide spectrum, from anger to remorse, from worrying to unexpected, almost ecstatic happiness. And finally, relief and closure.

Society is built in such a way as to distract us from thinking too much. Work, tv, junk food, shopping, all leave so little time for reflection that we often repress all those pesky feelings that bring us down. They offer an overload of visual stimuli and little meaning. They fill our eyes and our stomachs, but not our minds. Sometimes we need to open those flood gates and let these emotions wash over us.

Needless to say, I've got things on my mind. Things that my running usually gives me the opportunity to analyse and work on. Having not being able to go for a long run for such a long time, these things have been building up in my mind. They've grown and grown in secret, without me noticing. With the help of music, these thoughts were released, and over the course of my long run, were analysed and brought back to their real proportions. Now they're not that big and scary any more.

And, as a bonus, a ray of hope broke through the heavy clouds hanging over Gothenburg. 22 km, the first long run in weeks, felt easy. At some point I realised: I was running. And then I smiled. My thigh cooperated as much as it could, despite some mild annoyances now and then. In fact, it felt better and better the further I ran. It's a week and a half left to Gothenburg Marathon. Hope springs eternal.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The things I do for love

...of running, that is.

10 VFF km run today, 5 of which in blinding pain. No, not from my thigh. Thigh was very complacent and seemingly very happy indeed. No, it was my poor foot.

VFF are usually very comfortable. They are like gloves, but for feet. They're not supposed to chafe. That's why I didn't know if it was my VFF or a little stone that had found its way into my shoes that was causing this burning sensation on the inside of my left foot.

I refused to stop and find out. I kept going through the pain, because I'm hardcore like that. When I got home and took my VFF off, I saw that it was the seam in the shoe (that had probably got twisted and ended up in the wrong way when I put the shoes on) that was the culprit. And that my foot looked like it had been mauled by rabid tigers. Ok, maybe not mauled. But scratched. And maybe not by tigers. But mice. Mice, definitely. Or tiny, tiny ants. Warning for strong images (and feet. Some people hate feet):

That hurt when I showered
 And sores are not the only thing I have to put up with. I also have to put up with having our hallway filled to the brim with running shoes and my closet with running clothes. It's chaos. To my ever increasing collection of shoes I added, apart from the new Kayanos, terrain shoes extraordinaire Inov 8 Talon 212. Because I'll be running a lot more terrain if I can help it, and because I like that they're minimalistic.

I'm the Imelda Marcos of running shoes.

Saturday, 24 September 2011


What a week it's been. My good friend C has been here visiting for a few days (too few), and we've had an amazing time. Catching up, laughing till our stomachs hurt, sightseeing and -of course- running filled our time together. C is a fledging runner. More important, she is willing to listen to me talking about running for what seems like hours on end. And she claims she likes it. I choose my friends very carefully. They have to be able to put up with me going on about the things I love. Poor things.

Because C is a beginner, and because of my still strained muscle, we thought we'd take it easy on our runs in the woods together. We ran when we could, walked when running got too tiresome. Even so, C impressed and inspired me so much with her determination and strength. She managed to run 5,5 kilometres in her longest run, which is an achievement of heroic proportions, one that makes me very happy. I always get inspired by runners pushing their limits, regardless of their level. More so when they're friends of mine. 

After I dropped C off at the station, very sad to see her go, I went for a run by the sea. We'd been running on the hilly paths around the lake all week, so I wanted to see how far my thigh muscle could take me on a flat surface. The strain was there, but it never hurt. Unfortunately my stomach was a different matter. About half way into my run it cramped up and I had to walk for a few minutes. When it eased up, I recommenced my running and gradually picked up some speed again. In the end I managed to run 10,5 km, which I'm very happy about. I've been confined to single digit runs for two weeks now, so it was nice to get back to running longer distances. It was like waking up from a deep slumber. Who knows. If all goes well, I might even be able to enter the Gothenburg Half Marathon in two weeks.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

I need you like a drug

There is an ongoing discussion on one of Sweden's biggest running forums about how running is like a drug. I completely disagree. Running is nothing like a drug.

So what if I get the shakes when I haven't been on a run? So what if it's the only thing I can think about when I can't do it? So what if, the more I do it, the more I need it? So what if I get runner's high on it?

I can stop any time I want.

Yeah. I don't need this.
So after 5 whole days of abstinence, I couldn't wait to chose to go out for a test run. My thigh muscle has been sending me mixed signals, feeling fine when I walked, aching if I made a sudden move. I wondered how it would feel if I ran in my VFF, thus landing on my forefoot very softly.

I put on my running clothes, enjoying the sensation of synthetic fabric on my skin. It was like reuniting with a beloved old friend. I had missed my clothes. My Garmin, that faithful little dog, found some satellites. I was ready to go.

I didn't dare try my luck for more than 3 relatively flat kilometres, and for those 3 km in the chilly, sunny autumn morning, it worked really well. That's not to say that I am injury free. But the injury was almost like a discreet ghost, tapping me lightly on the shoulder. No pain. Just bliss.

I can stop any time I want.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Out of order

And I was starting to worry that my annual injury was delayed...

Picture by ctbarna
I have rested my thigh muscle for three days, which pretty much meant that I did nothing: no running, no cycling, no climbing. That is frustrating enough; I'm used to doing at least one activity per day. Pure rest days are far and in between. But to add insult to injury (pun unintended but oh so fitting), I can hardly walk. I've been limping all week, not so much because it hurts to lean on my left leg, but in an attempt to let the muscle heal faster. I thought it was working. I thought I would be able to go for a test run tonight.

Two events violently shook me out of this delusion. First, my bus trip into town yesterday. The bus driver suddenly had to brake to let an old lady cross the road, causing me (who had just gotten up from my seat to get off the bus) to stumble and put all my weight onto my left thigh. Ouch.

Then, today after work, as I was walking to the bus stop, I saw the bus just getting ready to leave. Naturally, I started running. Well, the right leg ran. The left one shot pain signals to my brain immediately. My running total for the day: 1,5 meters.

So what's the moral of the story? Well, kids, it's like this. If you make grand plans for the future, like marathons and adventures and ultras and, I don't know, just running a couple of kilometres in the park with your friend who's coming to visit in a few days, all you get is a slap in the face and a ”Ha ha!”

Monday, 12 September 2011

All dressed up and nowhere to go

Bad Mr Postman/Mrs Postman (Postwoman?) left the Wiggle package containing my new Kayanos outside our flat. He/she didn't bother knocking on the door. I would have opened, had he/she done that. Instead they were left to their fate on the cold staircase, just lying there for any passing shoe thief to grab. Luckily, J found them first.

Look at them trembling with fear. Poor babies.
It's the same model as my old Kayanos, but a much better colour. They're, of course, still white and clean. But I don't expect that to last long. Just let me get over this pesky injury first and soon enough they too will turn a nice shade of brown. I only seem to own brown running shoes these days.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Determination or stupidity?

There's a blurry line between them. And I almost crossed it today. J and I had this brilliant idea to run Torrekullaleden today. Yep, the day after Risveden. It wouldn't have been a problem, as I didn't feel particularly tired this morning after the race, if it hadn't been for one tiny detail: that little muscle on the front side of my left leg.

It all started, I suspect, with my plantar fasciitis, which set off a string of minor complaints in my legs. Let me explain: to compensate for the PF pain in my left foot, I overused my right leg. This resulted in a complaint on the back side of the thigh. Then, to compensate for that complaint, and with my PF as good as gone, I leaned on my left leg for support, causing a strain in my left thigh muscle. It's just my theory, but I think it makes sense.

I'm not sure exactly when the left thigh muscle stopped liking running, but I think pushing on for 32 km last Saturday, even though my whole body just wanted to crawl into a ball and go to sleep, might have had something to do with it (again: determination or stupidity?). Running 17,7 km terrain yesterday didn't help. It certainly wouldn't help going out for another long terrain run today. So after 3 km of alternating running and walking, and just before we left the forest path for the Torrekulla trail, I threw in the towel, said goodbye and good luck to J and headed home.

A friend of mine once said: no one ever died of a little poison. Not of a little muscle complaint either. Right?

I've never had to give up on a run before. I've cut sessions short, I've taken it easy, changed my plans, but I've never abandoned a plan completely. But, although I was very disappointed (running this trail with J has been on the cards for ages), it was the right decision to make and I knew it. I jogged home pretty much on one leg, because it felt better than walking, and managed to add another 10 km to this week's total.

I don't think it's anything serious. It doesn't hurt; rather it feels like the muscle, or a tendon, is dislocated. Hard to explain, but it just feels uncomfortable. I'm resting both tomorrow and on Tuesday, and see how it goes from there.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Risveden terräng

Where to start...why not start at the end?

Mud. And a very generous goodie bag.
So, it was muddy. And wet. And steep at places. And very, very slippery at others. There were roots, stones, water puddles and mud. Mud everywhere. There were some short bits where you could actually run. Forest roads and such. But the toughest and longest part was the terrain part. Singletrack mostly.

At the top of the infamous wall. Yes, I walked.
I consider it a personal triumph that I not once landed on my butt. I slipped on one occasion, which caused me to wobble, but I regained my balance quite quickly. Others (I assume by the screams that I heard from time to time) weren't so lucky. They probably got more mud to wash off than I did.

Avoiding the mud was a futile pursuit. To do so you would have to not only NOT enter the race, but avoid being anywhere near the race. So after a while I stopped trying to run around the mud pits and run through them. I was already covered in the gooey stuff from the knee down anyway, so why fight it. Release your inner pig.

One of the shorter easy parts. Looks like a highway by comparison
My Kayanos helped me to stay on my feet, but, really, a terrain shoe would have been so much better. If this terrain running malarkey is to become a habit, I might have to invest in a pair. Small price to pay in order to experience something so unbelievably fun, so tough, so demanding, so obviously right and good for you.

17,7 km were run at an average of 6:09 min/km, with a couple of sub-5 min/km kilometres, way faster than I had dared dream of. It was a very well organised race, with glad volunteers and a fantastic environment. I liked the fact that there were ”only” 550 participants. Big races tend to shift the focus from what you're actually doing to what you're going to tell your work buddies at the cooler on Monday. They become something to brag about, one item to check off your list, instead of an experience. This was more my style. Local, fun, well organized.

An hour before the start. It got busier later.

Western Sweden's toughest and steepest terrain race

My Trail Runner magazine finally arrived the other day, just in time to give me the final push I needed to get off my arse and make a decision. It was so full of inspirational trail photos and stories that I couldn't resist entering Risveden Terräng any more. Besides, I need to quench my thirst for trail. My heart is aching for the mountains. Since there are no mountains around here, forest trails are the next best thing.

Having missed the deadline, I'll have to enter the race (and pay the higher price) once I get there, but right now I'm so excited about it that I wouldn't miss it for the world. The organizers are promising that the trail (that had apparently become not so much a trail as a small river after the last week's heavy rains) has dried up a bit. It is, of course, not mud free. But maybe I won't have to bring my swimming gear after all.

Apart from the prospect of finishing the race with mud up to my ears, other things to look forward to include 22 hills, one of which nicknamed ”the wall” (no climbing required. Or is there?) and amazing vistas over lakes and forests. Oh, and the route being 17,7 km long. It's not going to be easy; I have been too lax about my terrain training and there are definitely not enough hill kilometres in these old legs of mine. But what better way to get some trail running in than, you know, actually running trails?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Shaman is a happy little pig

After Saturday's less than successful run in the woods, I felt disheartened. The dip in my strength came after just 7 km and every hill was a struggle. I read this as a message that I had neglected my hill and terrain sessions lately, and had ended up in tarmac rut hell. I can run far if the ground is flat and even – but so what? The real test is terrain.

Dare to leave tarmac behind!
So I chose to run a hilly round in the forest this morning. As soon as I left the flat, I was stricken by the contrast between last Sunday and today: Sunday was a sunny and warm late-summer day. Today is a windy, rainy autumn day. The leaves have started turning orange and a lot of trees have dropped a considerable amount of their foliage.

Summer is over. Well, at least the colours are pretty.
When I entered the woods, the already dark sky disappeared behind the pine-and-birch canopy and I found myself in a landscape at dusk, although the sun was up – somewhere behind the clouds. I smiled when I saw that the lamps were on around the path. I dreamed of lazy evening sessions in the dark forest with my headlamp on. 

I left the main path and turned right on a lesser path that doesn't see as much traffic. It was wet, but I could easily avoid the worst puddles by running on the grass on the side. Soon, however, I came to a puddle that can only be described accurately as a minor lake. And it was only a little taste of the waterfall to come.

An appetizer. The main course was lake Loch Ness, monster and all (the monster being the mud that tried to eat up my shoes)
This time I couldn't avoid getting my feet wet. My shoes squished as I ran on, and it wasn't long before I stopped caring. The trail was no trail any longer. It was a river. The last few days' rain had made little streams overflow onto the paths, eroding them and creating little canyons.

Once I let go of my ”fear” of puddles, I had a blast. I ran straight through them, the water sometimes being ankle deep. My feet couldn't possibly get any wetter, my shoes hardly any dirtier. Inhaling the oxygen-rich air only made the experience better. But mother nature had one last surprise in stock. The light drizzle that had accompanied me since I left home suddenly turned into a monsoon downpour that soaked me to the bone within seconds. I burst out laughing then, the only living things around to witness this momentary lapse of sanity being birds, and they weren't likely to spill my secret. It was heaven.

Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go to the woods and get their shoes all dirty.
16 wonderful, wet kilometres later I was home, filthy but happy. The hot shower I took afterwards was the best one I had ever had. The hot tea I drank was the tastiest one ever. My self-esteem was restored. This is happiness. This is life.

(Have a look at the new content I have added under ”why I run”)

Sunday, 4 September 2011


What do you do when your thigh muscles are so strained that you can't walk down the stairs? Why, you go for a run of course!

Gothenburg is enjoying what is probably the last day of summer, with 25 degrees and sunshine. How could I just stay home and rest? Besides, my logbook informed me that I was a mere 3 km away from having run 60 km this week. Good weather and a nice, even km total: excellent motivators to put on your VFF and head out for a recovery run.

I had to get out there before summer gives way to autumn

Surprisingly, it was easier than I thought. I even ran up a 300-metre hill without any lactic acid aggravating my thighs. The 60 km limit was crossed and I was happy. To top it all off, we went climbing afterwards, where I told J I'd take it easy. Sure. It's been months since it felt so easy climbing a 6B.

Yesterday's self-esteem killing session was replaced by two back-to-back successful ones, leaving me once again confident. No matter that my thighs hate me right now.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

You gotta fight for your right to party

Some days running 30+ km feels easy. Today was not one of those days.

It all started last night when I, in preparation for my planned 35 km, went to bed early to make up for the week's sleep deficit. I put on my earplugs and relaxed. Not a second later, our neighbour (whose living room is on the other side of our bedroom wall) started blasting music. Bad music. Having the earplugs on made no difference; so loud was the music that I could hear the words of the songs.

I thought: it's Friday night. It's ok to have a party. I thought: J has talked to him about this before, he'll turn down the volume soon. I also thought: I hope his stereo spontaneously combusts. He has parties every other week.

After two hours of twisting and turning in bed trying in vain to fight the murderous thoughts that plagued my tired brain, I gave up and went to knock on his door.

Me: Hi! Could you please turn down the music? It's so loud that I can hear it despite the fact that I have earplugs on.

Sherlock: Aha! Are you going to sleep?

No, I'm not going to sleep. But loud music makes the voices in my head angry.

He agreed to turn down the music, but it made little difference. I could hear it anyway. So I spent the night on the sofa. On the very uncomfortable sofa. Where I woke up less than 6 hours later with a stiff neck, when the morning light found its way into the living room.

So maybe I wasn't that well rested when I joined the group for a long run with the ambition to run home afterwards. It might also be the case that today's lousy performance was a result of a low carb week. Or that my Camelbak tube suddenly stopped working and I couldn't drink any water. Or that last week's cold is still lingering. Or that the route was very hilly. Or that I was simply having a bad day.

The first 7 km went well. I talked to people, climbed up hills energetically, even jumped over stones and fallen branches. Then something happened and I found myself walking up hills more and more, the mere thought of running them making my thigh muscles ache. Nonetheless, I never once considered throwing in the towel and taking the bus home.

After I left the group, I had to stop and walk several times, stretching, drinking water (after I figured out what was wrong with my Camelbak and fixed it) and texting J complaining about how tough it was. Nuts and bolts started falling off, hips and knees begged for mercy, but still I went on. After all, no one ever got better by sitting on their arse. I have to fight for it if I want to get better. And boy did I fight today. For 32 km.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Running - a provocative activity apparently

A colleague at work reacted this morning when I told her that J had driven me to work.

”Good. I get a guilty conscience when I see you running 5 km to work at 7 in the morning”

I get such delightful comments from time to time. Another favourite is:

”I get tired just looking at you run”

Somehow I fail to see the humour (?) or good will (?) in these comments. I understand that, for some people, the very thought of exercise makes them want to hide under their bed covers. I used to be one of those people. Maybe it has something to do with gym class at school? I don't know. But I got over it. It took determination, it took inspiration, it took getting over injuries and illnesses and juggling training with work and personal life, but I got over it. It was a tough journey at times, when icy rain whipped my face and wintry wind turned my eyelashes into icicles, or when the blistering Mediterranean sun threatened to cook my brain in my scull, but I got over it. And now I can run 5 km and think of it as a warm-up, whereas some years ago the distance loomed over me like an enormous shadow.

So, if I could do it, so can you. Are you healthy and whole? Are you willing? Then there are no excuses. Just get out there and do it. Set your own goals and reach for the stars. Otherwise, quit it with the silly comments. I've already paid my dues.