Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Disaffection blues

What a week it's been so far. Work has been crazy, with long days and not even having time to go to the loo. And then, just as I was busy pulling my hair out because there is NO WAY I can effectively do all the things I have to do within the workday, a lorry pulled outside our building and dumped a ton of new responsibilities on my lap along with a fancy new title to go under my job description. Will I get extra money for it? You're kidding, right? I will be paid in headaches and sleepless nights instead.

I was this close to bursting into tears of frustration. Then I got angry instead, for all the good that it did me. In this line of work, if a tree falls in the forest and everyone's around to hear it, no one gives a damn anyway. The whole forest could be mowed down by a multinational cooperation to make way for cow pastures and it still wouldn't make a sound.

When the amount of responsibilities in a job surpasses the monetary benefits derived from it, there'd better be some other satisfaction you get from it to make up for it. If there isn't, well, that particular job sucks. Frankly, I'd rather make less money and be happy with what I do, than get lots of money and dread going to work every day.

Running to and from work did not work its therapeutic magic, either. My foot doesn't hurt, but it's not ok. My legs felt heavy, even though I'd had a day's rest. Something was wrong. I felt that it was too warm, my pulse was too high and I couldn't get into a flow. I felt like I was getting ill. At some point during my morning run I passed 2000 km for this year, which had been my goal, and I didn't even notice. What did go through my head was that I maybe needed a longer period of rest. Maybe an easier month, with shorter and less frequent runs, and more alternative training. I still have my swimming card. But I'm worried that I would lose too much strength and stamina. Yet my body needs to heal, so that I can find the energy to set new goals for next year. Like maybe get a new job.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Berit, eat my shorts

Pandemonium. News headlines about how the end of the world is nigh. The rain whipping our windows mercilessly. A cow flying past outside. A two-glasses-of-wine hangover (yes, I'm lightweight). None of that was enough to stop J and me from going for a run. Berit, as this particular storm is called, lovingly yet inexplicably sporting a female name, was not enough to stop us.

The fact that I had just hung both my jackets AND both my winter tights to dry after washing them almost was enough. Almost. I put on some warm training trousers, a long sleeved functional top and a vest. I looked like my picture should be in the dictionary, under the definition for ”jogger”.

True to my appearance, I started off easy, while J was warming up. In the woods, the wind didn't seem so dangerous; in fact, we could hardly feel it. Except by the lake, where the sparsity of trees meant I was suddenly hit by such a gale force wind, I was almost thrown into the bushes.

I took a detour on the way home to make my round a bit longer, and let my feet pick up speed. I ran at a controlled, yet fast pace. So, what if it was downhill? It still counts. But then I was met with a wall. With no trees around to protect me, I was struck by a headwind so strong that my eyes watered. My leg muscles were working hard to move me forward, but I wasn't getting anywhere. Luckily those sudden bursts of wind usually stop seconds after they hit you, and I was able to run the last few hundred metres without incident, bringing the week total to a nice, even 60 km. Satisfied.


4 weeks left to Christmas, and any efforts to repress that fact have been futile. Everywhere you look, a thousand little lights warming up the cold Swedish night. Shop windows dressed in gold, red and green. People walking around wrapped in their winter coats, smiling lovingly at each other and taking in the wonderful atmosphere. And Christmas songs accompany them on their walk through the city.

Lovely picture. Shame it's not exactly true. Yes, people have already decorated their balconies with Christmas lights, that are going to stay on – in some cases – until March (it's true. I have that kind of neighbours). Shop windows are indeed dressed in glorious colours, to lure you in to buy junk. People aren't smiling, however. They're stressed because they have so many presents to buy. And those Christmas songs? The 1238924th time I hear ”Let it Snow” I'm going to murder someone with some gift wrapping ribbon and the CD player's electrical cord.

I'm going to get less training oriented and more political here for a second. Unless you're a child, you can most likely afford the things you need (and what do we really need, if we have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies?). Unless you're a child, this whole present exchange tradition has you driving around like an agitated maniac, running over pedestrians and trying to find a gift for your great aunt Esmeralda. Who, by the way, doesn't even know it's Christmas. She thinks the Germans are about to invade.

It's stressful. Most importantly, it's meaningless. In most cases, we buy presents because we feel we have to, otherwise people are going to think we don't care about them. Because nothing says ”I love you” like plastic crap that's made in China or cheap clothes that are made by child labourers in Taiwan. We rush into shops to buy yet another pair of socks for Grampa and all this time, fat cats around the world are sitting in their mansions rubbing their hands together and laughing diabolically, because the greatest trick they ever pulled was to convince people that Christmas is about consuming. Consuming worthless, needless stuff. Consuming enormous amounts of mass-produced chocolate and alcohol. Consuming greedily with our wallets and with our bellies, while our misguided hearts go hungry. They created a picture of how the perfect Christmas should be, only they left out the most important ingredients: warmth and meaning. Without them, Christmas is an empty shell. Beautiful on the surface, but empty. While landfill sites are getting filled to the brim with our waste.

I tried to remember what presents I got for Christmas as a child and I can't remember a single one. Well, except for that rad electric guitar I got when I was 16. It's not because I didn't get any presents, it's because I appreciated other things more (yes, even as a child. Especially as a child). I remember the big family gatherings and breaking bread together. Sitting by our fireplace. The cold outside and building a snowman with my brother, on a good year when we got white Christmas. The house slowly getting filled with the scent of baked goods that my dad had prepared. The taste of my mom's special mayo salad. That's what the essence of Christmas is for me. Being with my family. I can't remember a single present but I remember this.

So buy less this Christmas. There's nothing wrong with giving; on the contrary, it's a wonderful gesture. But make your own gifts. Bake cookies, make a scarf, give a special photo you've taken, write a poem if you're so inclined, or help to paint someone's house if you're not. Give away something that you have lying around, that someone else might need. Promise that person that you'll do them a favour, should they need one. Spend time with your kids, because that's what they need the most, not video games – play a board game, listen to them, go for a walk with them. And if you absolutely MUST buy something, consider buying second-hand, a book (feeds your mind, at least) or lottery tickets from charity. Here in Sweden there's, for example, Cancerfonden, that has such winnings in the pot as vacations, food for a year and more – and if that lottery ticket you bought isn't the winning one, your money has gone to a very good cause: fighting cancer.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The grand tour of central Gothenburg

So, you know that little problem with my foot? It seems to have disappeared, or else it's lying dormant under the surface. Because this morning I was able to join the group (well, all two of them that braved the stormy weather) for a long run.

We ran over the two main bridges in Gothenburg. The first one almost killed me, and it wasn't just because it's several hundred kilometres long. Like M said, apparently having witnessed how the wind almost threw me over the edge of the bridge, ”Good thing there is a fence there”. And good thing I ate that extra sandwich before I left this morning. Because my own body weight was obviously not enough to keep me from flying. But then we were on the Hisingen side of the city, and we had the wind on our backs, and everything was right with the world.

After the grand tour of the city centre we were back where we started, but no run can be called long unless it's at least 20 kilometres. Not in our group anyway. So off we ran through the Botanical Gardens, up an evil hill through Rhododendrons and other unpronounceable flora, and towards Änggårdsbergen. In a surreal, serendipitous moment, we ran past some runners with bibs on, heading in the opposite direction. I still don't know who those people were, despite having spent hours googling races. 

Änggårdsbergen was muddy but beautiful in its late autumn colours, because, although the wind was howling, the sun was shining. The guys and I headed off in different directions at a crossroads, me towards home, happy that my foot had made it unscathed so far but having no strength to speak of left in my legs. There were one hill too many on this round.

Leaving Änggårdsbergen behind, I was struck immediately by the contrast between the serenity of the woods and the hectic, stressful Christmas shopping that seems to have started in earnest today. Unfortunately, running back to the woods and hiding was no option. I arrived home after 23 km, carefully planning my route to avoid the worst of traffic. Not bad for my little ”injured” troll foot, that nevertheless punished me for it anyway. I got a blister.

Lovely single track

Friday, 25 November 2011

Growing pains

Those tired feet from last weekend? They're not just tired anymore.

The destructive downward spiral started by my plantar fasciitis a year ago (almost to the day!) has claimed its latest victim. I can remind you of my theory, that the PF in my left foot led to stiffness in the back right thigh muscle by way of overcompensation, which in turn led to a strained front left thigh muscle. The injury that is only starting to fade away now, almost three months after I got it.

Which brings us to today. The aforementioned left thigh injury caused me to overcompensate by landing on my right foot too heavily. Which is now aching whenever I put any weight on it. I am a human see-saw.

Left-right-left-right. Photo by birdman dave
I have been treating my foot with Diclofenac since yesterday and already it's getting better. But the worst thing is that I knew, I've felt for days that the stiffness in the foot was on the verge of becoming something more serious. But sometimes you can run through aches and pains, and then they mysteriously disappear (case in point: my knees). Truth be told, my guess was that my foot was just tense and needed to loosen up. I thought my shoes were too tight. Put on a thicker pair of socks and they were a bit too snug. Yet, they're the same size and model as my old ones.

My feet are a constant source of amusement. I've had the infamous blue nails. Fun things like blood blisters. Hilariously excruciating pain whenever I tried to squeeze them into my climbing shoes. Strange sores on my toes of unknown origin. And, of course, the barrel of laughs PF and now this ache on the top of the foot.

I'm starting to suspect that my feet are growing, at the ripe old age of 30-something. Using VFF and doing foot-strengthening exercises must have contributed to my feet getting bigger. They certainly don't like getting constricted in tight shoes.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Wednesdays are a big improvement on the whole weekday concept, compared to Mondays. They're closer to Friday, for one thing. And I have the day off. As some of you might remember, I have been trying to get another long run in on Wednesdays, not quite as long a run as Saturdays', but enough to get in some more kilometres during the week and to get my legs to be comfortable with the distance. To move my safe point a little further, so to speak.

I've had doubts whether my body would like the thought or not, but it keeps surprising me. As it turned out, not only do I survive two long runs per week, I also seem to thrive on them. Because I run relatively slowly, my body recovers quite quickly from them. And my Saturday long runs don't leave me incapacitated any more.

Did I say I run slowly? Today's run wasn't exactly slow. Even though it was slow by other people's standards, it was fast by mine. Faster than I run some tempo runs. But I couldn't help myself. The flow was there, my legs were eager and the weather conditions were just right. I didn't even look at my Garmin. Instead, I let my body fall into a natural rhythm and run at what felt like a very comfortable, easy pace. I was surprised to find out later that I had covered 18 km in under 1:40.

The highlight of my run was definitely the swarm of 30-40 blackbirds (or was it crows?) flying low over my head against a grey sky, just as I was leaving the suburbs and seeing the sea stretching out in front of me. And not getting pooped on.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

In search of a world where Mondays don't exist

Mondays should be banned and replaced with Fridays. Who's with me?

The week started with a really long, stressful day. Lots to do and lots of negativity among my colleagues. What didn't make things easier was that I already felt completely psychologically drained. Despite our cancelled plans on Saturday, I had a great weekend. I just wanted more weekend and less weekdays. Less work and more play. I feel so alone with these twisted feelings. I bet everyone else in the world looks forward to going to work on Monday.

Or at least those who have job descriptions like ”chocolate taster”.

I ran both to and from work, in an attempt to find some much needed energy, on a pair of legs that hadn't completely recovered from Torrekulla. As I'd suspected, my legs got better afterwards, but it wasn't particularly enjoyable having to struggle to move them up a hill. The energy I got from my morning run unfortunately only lasted about 30 seconds after I walked through the door.

Some days not even a run will help. And today I get to do it all over again. Tuesdays are not much better than Mondays, it seems, not in my line of work anyway. Anyone looking for a chocolate taster?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The glamorous life of a long distance runner

Our plans last night got cancelled, because one of our friends got sick, and because J has been knocked out by lumbago since yesterday. Sore muscles and tired feet made me take an extra rest day today. Nothing wrong with my energy levels, however. It's a beautiful day outside. What better way to spend it than by cleaning the flat?

I've changed the sand in the litter box. I've vacuum cleaned, mopped the floor and scrubbed the tub. I've cleaned the counter and tidied up the living room. I've recycled the enormous amounts of junk that has been piling up on our balcony (yep, today I'm ashamed to be a human. Just look at how much resources two people can waste). It's taken me 3 hours. But I'm far from done. Oh no; I have the Closet to take care of.

My running related clothes and gear are scattered in the hallway, in the bathroom and in the aforementioned Closet. There is no order to this chaos, no system that has been carefully devised to keep track of everything. My hats are in a box in the hallway. My Camelbak is hanging upside down in the bathroom. My rucksack is in the Closet. And the crap in the Closet is taking up so much space that I don't dare go in any more. I'm afraid I might get swallowed up and not be found until future archaeologists excavate this site and see my skeleton curled up in a ball, sucking its thumb. I bet they're going to scratch their heads at all the strange running paraphernalia.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Muddy, to say the least

7 runners met up to run the Torrekulla trail this morning. No one seemed to be deterred by my threats that it would be hilly, muddy and slippery. It was fun to show others my local trail and to see them wade through mud. Misery loves company.

Everyone wanted to buy this house by the trail and become a farmer
I lost count of how many times we slipped and almost fell on those wet planks and stones. I might even have let out a terrifying scream that scared away any wildlife that, until now, called this nature reserve home. Still, we managed to run the whole trail unscathed, except H that unfortunately sprained a muscle and had to let us go. An extra lap around the parking lot at the end brought the total to just over 21 km for me. A demanding, yet really enjoyable session. 

I don't know what colour the others' shoes were originally, but after Torrekulla they were all a uniform brown.
Not to mention a learning experience. The dangers encountered on the trail are many: wet leaves. Stones. Roots. Bears. Jaguars. Sharks. But did you know that death by pine needles is one of them? I almost bled to death when one of the sneaky little buggers found its way into my mouth and pierced my tongue while I tried to drink some water out of my bottle.

Exaggerate? Me? Never.

Onwards to new adventures tonight. Dinner with friends at a fancy restaurant. Well, maybe not so adventurous, but definitely fun.

Friday, 18 November 2011

I can't be good at everything!

Climbing has been a bit of a hit and miss lately. We haven't been going regularly, like we used to, and as a result our arms and fingers have become as strong as overcooked spaghetti.

On the plus side, our hands have been as soft as a baby's bottom. I had to do something about that yesterday. I got to the wall early and spent an hour bouldering, while waiting for J to get off from work. The skin on my hands quickly turned an angry red and a blister established itself on my middle finger (coincidence? I think not. The boulders were definitely telling me to go and engage in an intimate activity with myself).

Swapping running shoes for climbing shoes: a bad idea?
By the time J arrived, I had no skin left. The futile attempts at climbing anything harder than a 5 only resulted in me smearing the wall with blood and bits of my skin. Well, at least that's how it felt. Or like my hands were on fire. Washing them with cold water later was as pure a joy as the one felt by children at the first snowflakes of winter.

Tomorrow: Torrekullaleden with the gang. The muddy pits of despair! The shoe swallower! The slippery stones of doom! Can't wait.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


I couldn't find my Lungplus this morning. I had put it in that big backpack that I took with me to Skatås last weekend, then unpacked it and proceeded to completely forget where I put it.

Of course, now that I'm writing these lines, hours after my morning run, I know exactly where it is.

But there was a little moment of irritation right then, because there are so many things I want and have to do on my ”free” day, and wasting time looking for missing things is not one of them. My throat doesn't like the wintry conditions that have befallen Gothenburg the last few days and I wanted to spare it the minus degrees Celsius this morning.

Predictably, I didn't let the absence of breathing aids stop me from heading out in the cold. I took my mp3 player with me. As my legs slowly warmed up, the sun was slowly climbing the horizon and painting it in pastel colours. Jeff Buckley came on with Hallelujah. And I was out running, the cold's sting turning my cheeks red, and I was happy and thankful that I could, so soon after the intervals. My eyes might even have welled up. But don't tell anyone.

It is amazing, really, this almost religious experience that is the runner's high. You know the feeling? When spring is in the air, all the beautiful people shed their winter clothes and walk around in summer dresses and t-shirts and you just fall in love, even if it's not a specific person you're in love with but life itself?

The brain is a funny thing.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Surprise, surprise

I expected not to be able to walk for a week. Instead, I had to run to catch the bus, and not only did I make it, but it didn't even hurt! Ok, maybe it hurt a bit. On my left hip. But otherwise it didn't hurt. At all!

Seriously, I am surprised at how little Saturday's adventure has affected my body. I am tired, as in I haven't made up for the hours of sleep I've lost, but there is no stiffness or strained muscles to speak of. My injured thigh muscle stopped complaining after the fourth interval and I haven't heard from it since.

Oh. And running for the bus gave me a thrill. At that moment, I wanted to go for a run so badly.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Ultra Intervals - the story

Let's have a look at some numbers:

People in Sweden that have completed all 8 intervals: 38 (and another 7 in the open class)
People from the Skatås Seven that completed all 8: 5. The winner of the intervals was one of us.
Injuries: none (just some scares)
Calories burned: 5084
Calories consumed: A gazillion. In chocolate, peanuts, pasta, cola, raisins etc.
Weight lost: 1 kg.
Hours of sleep from 4.30 Friday morning to midnight Saturday night: 1

8 of 8 ultra intervals. 80 kilometres. 22 hours.

80 kilometres. It's a number that's hard to wrap your head around. You might think that dividing it in 8 intervals would make it easier, but no. Now, I haven't done a 50-miles ultra so that I can compare it to this, but I can compare how I felt after just 4 of the intervals to a marathon. Marathon is much easier. What is supposed to be time to rest between intervals is just an opportunity for your legs to lock up and for your mood to drop.

I would never have managed to do all 8 if I hadn't shared a cabin in Skatås with my running buddies. Without the cheerful banter and the laughs in between intervals. Without the whole adventure of renting a cosy cabin and embarking on something crazy together. There is no chance the 3 o'clock interval would be reason enough for me to leave my bed. Luckily, even though I'm sure none of us really wanted to leave their warm sleeping bags and head out in the darkness and freezing cold (despite D's absurdly enthusiastic claims that "this is fun!"), together we somehow managed to scrape together the courage and head out to what was, for me, the most difficult interval of all. The second one. The one that really made me question my sanity.

Dark, dark, dark. And cold.
But then the sun was up for the fourth one, and the fifth one, and the sixth one. And each one of them felt just like any training session, like I hadn't already collected tens of kilometres in my legs. Especially the fifth one – I was flying. Or at least trying to, zigzagging among the pensioners, joggers, prams that were outside on this beautiful, sunny yet crispy late autumn day. 

Sun. A mood enhancer.
The sixth interval was run in moderate pace. We were all getting tired, knees and feet and hips were aching. And then it was time for 2 team mates to throw in the towel. One of them had made other plans for the evening, and one was experiencing some knee trouble. Both of them had crushed their previous distance records, running 60 km. Amazing.

But it felt a bit empty in the cabin afterwards. Knowing that the intervals were over for some made it less motivating to continue. Maybe they were the smart ones? It was dark outside again, and all the sunshine revellers had gone home. The only people around in the forest was us. No one was talking. Everyone was concentrating on their private struggle. I played some music, but I was too tired to even listen to it. 

I was more horizontally inclined between intervals.
Resting between intervals 7 and 8 was easy. I slept for maybe 40 minutes, the most sleep I had gotten since Friday morning. Before I knew it, it was time to go again. I ran alone, wanting to choose my own route, tired of running the exact same path in the exact same order, mentally exhausted of seeing the same rock, the same tree, the same parking lot. Not a very good strategy in the end. Trying to find enough kilometres to run on at 9 o'clock in the evening, while having run 70 already on a brain full of mush was taxing enough. I could have skipped that challenge.

Throughout the last interval, there was never a doubt that I would manage it, despite the psychological and physical strain. I was running on determination. And then it was over. 80 kilometres. Too tired to celebrate. Too tired to manage anything but a smile. Too late in the night to care.

But today, having achieved something so marvellous, there will be time for reflection. And to make a solemn promise to myself to never, NEVER do anything like this again.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Eighth interval - the last one

I did it. I DID IT. 80 km run in 22 hours. The last interval was dull, but I knew I could do it.

I'm going to write a more detailed report about the whole day tomorrow, when I've had a chance to recover and can form coherent sentences again. For now, goodnight. I'm soon off to get some well deserved sleep.

Seventh interval - the challenging one

Darkness has fallen once again, and the last two intervals are run by the light of the street lamps. It's taxing. The body starts thinking again that it's time to go to bed. We have also "lost" two of the Skatås Seven who had to bow out because of various reasons. It's also challenging to see two friends leave. It feels empty in here somehow, although we're still 5 crazy runners left that are going strong. Still, a favourite song on my mp-3 player made me run the seventh interval in under one hour. I have now completed 70 km and it's 19 hours since we started. Only one interval left.

Sixth interval

I managed to get 15-20 minutes of sleep and I woke up a different, probably better person. When it was time for the sixth interval, we settled for an easy 6 min/km pace and got in with strength left. Only two intervals to go and the mood is great.

Fifth interval - the "fast" one

I was determined to run more slowly on the fifth interval, as the last one felt tough. Instead, I put on my earphones and suddenly my feet were flying. The fifth interval was over before I knew it. Where that energy came from, I don't know. Maybe the pasta I ate a couple of hours ago. Maybe the music.

The sun is shining over Skatås, warming up the seemingly millions of people exercising here.

Fourth interval - halfway there

40 kilometres over and done with. 40 kilometres left. It's tough, and it's slow. But mood is great. It's time to start counting down.

Second and third interval

A couple of questions that popped into my mind at 3 in the morning when I crawled out of my sleeping bag and into my running clothes were "Why?" and "Where is my mommy?". I hadn't gotten any sleep, and, given that I had woken up at 4.30 the previous morning, it meant that almost 24 hours had passed without sleeping. I drifted in and out of a strange trance, the kind that can only be caused by sleep deprivation.

But I had my mind set on doing this. It wasn't easy. I hadn't stretched and it was a struggle to move my legs forward. I started worrying if I'd even get through 4 of the intervals, which I had kind of decided would be the minimum acceptable amount. Then it was over.

I didn't get any sleep between 4 and the next interval at 6, either. Somehow, though, waking up at 5.30 to get ready felt natural. I had done it; I had tricked my body into believing that it had already rested and that it was a new day. The 3rd interval was much easier than the second, despite some protests from my thigh muscle. When we got back to the cabin, the sun was just starting to cast some light over the horizon.

It remains to be seen, of course, how much longer I can keep tricking my body.

One down...

...7 to go. With such nice company you don't even notice that you're running up and down the same stretch of cycle path.

Friday, 11 November 2011

T minus 4 hours...

I can't sleep. I rushed to town after work to pick up the keys to the cabin and then rushed home to try and get a couple of hours' sleep before tonight's intervals. It's no use. No matter what I do, whether I lie in bed or on the sofa with the tv on (a sure fire trick that has always sent me to the land of dreams before), I just can't relax. My mind can't switch itself off. It's been working overtime for days now, trying to make sure all the puzzle pieces fall into place, with work, with the cabin, with menial things like doing the laundry and packing and buying food to take with me. It's usually so scattered that it's an effort just trying to remember to put some clothes on before I leave the flat in the morning. And now it has to remember important things, like the key to the cabin?! A daunting task.

So the result of the last few days' frenetic activity is a really heavy backpack that I'll have to carry up the hill to Skatås and a mind on amphetamines. Impossible to go to sleep. But hey, if you can't beat them, join them. Who needs sleep anyway? I'm drinking coffee instead and hoping to stay awake through the first interval at midnight. In a little more than 4 hours.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Countdown to Ultra Intervals

We're two days away from what could be the highlight of the year for many runners. Friday, at midnight, marks the beginning of the Ultra Intervals, a 24-hour period of testing limits and pushing boundaries.

Running internet forum is responsible for this crazy idea. The gist of it is this: you have to run 8 intervals of 10 km each, spread out evenly over the course of a day. So, the first interval starts at midnight, the second at 3 o'clock, the third at 6 and so on. Until the last one, Saturday night at 9. It's almost like a 24-hour ultra race, but with mandatory rest periods.

Bad news is, the slower you are, the less time you get to spend resting between intervals.

You can choose to enter the competition class (if you intend to run all 8) or the open class. Open class has looser rules. For example, you don't have to be so punctual. You can even start a day early. I thought I'd aim for the competition class and see what happens. Worst case scenario, if I can't run all 8, is that I get ”demoted” to open class. No big deal.

As you can imagine, apart from the colossal physical effort of trying to run 80 km within a day, there is an important psychological factor that needs to be overcome. Namely boredom. Imagine running around a 10 km path, 8 times within a day. Or even worse, imagine not having a 10 km path to run around and having to do with a much shorter one, like a 1 km path. Times 80.

Add to that the fatigue from not getting enough sleep and rest between intervals and the reluctance to go out in the middle of the night when your nice, warm bed is calling you, and you begin to understand the enormity of this project. Still, many people around the country are going to give it their best shot. And, luckily, some of them are in my running group. In order to better deal with the psychological factors that might otherwise force us to throw in the towel, some of us decided to run these intervals together. So we rented one of the cabins in Skatås, where we will be spending the time between intervals resting, eating and socialising. We're stronger together.

I have no idea if I can run all 8. I'd be happy with 6. Although, to be honest, this is completely unknown territory for me. Common sense says I should be able to manage more than 5, since I get to rest for a couple of hours between intervals – but maybe that's just what's going to be tough. Getting up again after you've been resting for two hours.

Hopefully, I am going to be able to update the blog during the day (and night). Feel free to follow me on this adventure and to leave comments such as ”You can do it!, ”Go get' em tiger!” and ”Move your fat arse!”. I'm going to need all the encouragement (and, failing that, bullying) I can get.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Who needs races when there's a trail in my back yard

I didn't run Finalloppet. I decided to boycott races for a while; I haven't felt like doing any, and besides, I've run four so far this year, including my first marathon. Maybe I have race fatigue and my muscles twitch involuntarily at the mere mention of the word.

Instead, J and I hit the Torrekulla trail. It was muddier than usual. Strange thing, it was also steeper than usual. Not wanting to flood my thigh muscles with lactic acid, I walked up a couple of hills. The mud sucked the juice out of my legs. It was a struggle to find runnable terrain sometimes. A canoe might have been easier to steer than my legs in these conditions. Still, I managed to gather about 10 km of single track, 8 of park path and a couple of tarmac ones. All in all, I think this was a far more useful trail session than Finalloppet would have been.

Mysteriously, my shoes got less muddy than last time
Autumn is in its dying throes. The forest that, only a week ago, looked as if it were on fire with its vivid colours, is now as grey as ashes. A few leaves are still hanging on to the trees for dear life, but even they have turned brown. And the trees? The trees dressed up as skeletons for Halloween and forgot to take off their costumes. 

Except this stubborn baby.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Star crossed lovers

After a brief self-pitying session last Wednesday, I pulled myself together, did some yoga and later headed for a scout run with a couple of running buddies from the group, in preparation for the Ultra Intervals next weekend. That took care of any existential issues that were lingering in my mind:

Slightly neurotic Shaman: Who am I, if I don't run ultra races? Can I call myself an ultra runner, even if I never enter a race?
Tough love, pragmatic Shaman: No one f!%#& cares.

My biggest fear was, of course, losing my passion. I somehow got it all mixed up in my tired brain that running equals races, and that not jumping up and down with excitement at all the possible ultras that are coming up this spring means I must be on the road to giving up on running altogether.

It's not such an irrational fear. Losing running would be very bad. There are very few things in my life that I've felt so passionate about, few things that have lasted so long. Sure, I have (and have had) other interests: dancing, reading, climbing. But those are just flings. This, this is pure love. Few things have felt purer, more unadulterated, more constant. Running and I are star crossed lovers.

So my fear was that this pure love had turned into the late stages of a failed marriage. The disillusionment. The disappointment. The resentment. The indifference. At the same time, the insecurities: the fear of looking at oneself in the mirror and not through someone else's eyes, and not recognising oneself any more. The fear of letting go of something so familiar. Because what's out there is scary. And I've been scared of letting running go, because what else is there that I could possibly fall so madly in love with? What else could possibly define me so perfectly as a person?

Of course, these were the ramblings of a temporarily insane person, as I realised as soon as I put my running shoes on. This is not a failed marriage. On the contrary; this is the kind of marriage where the couple grows old together, always walking down the street hand in hand, even at 90. The kind of marriage that might go through some tough times, but without losing the love and respect for one another. The kind that will always be there for you to comfort you when you need it.

Running and I are growing old together. I hope J sticks around, too. Having been together for over 13 years, I still kinda like him.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Ultra motivation - have you seen it?

Motivation is not as it should be right now. People are planning races left and right while I can't see further than Finalloppet on Saturday and the Ultra Intervals next weekend (which I'm VERY excited about – crossing all fingers that I'm healthy so that I can participate). Spring's calendar is chock full of ultras, anything from ”sprint distance” 50 km to more than any normal person could conceivably run. Sweden has probably never seen anything like it before, with so many races to choose from. Hardly a weekend without an ultra. Ultra runners are rejoicing at the smorgasbord of choices. And I'm just feeling...meh. Not about running itself, just about raising the bar higher and setting new goals.

I've been dreaming about doing ultras for ages. After crossing the 50 km limit last August, I started believing that anything was possible. And I still do, up to a point. I can imagine myself aiming for distances of up to maybe 75 km, or even 100 km. Then it just gets ridiculous. Could I really do more? And would I even want to?

The fact that I'm currently so unmotivated to set new goals and so indifferent to something that, until recently, was so important to me is scary and depressing. I'm taking a long, hard look at myself and wondering what's changed. Is it my thigh injury that's made me realise how difficult such an endeavour is? Is it the fact that my mind's been preoccupied with other important things and my energy leaks towards them? Or is it the pressure of setting a date and then training just for that?

Running is my passion; I don't want that to change. Nor do I want to settle for routine. There's nothing that can put out the flame like running the same 5 km round every day, every month, every year. It's important to have goals, and since I neither can or want to run fast, mine have been about increasing the distance. So what is it? What's wrong?

I believe it's the race thing. It's the ticking one item off the list thing. It's the arbitrary division of distances as goals. Suggest a social 82,6 km run with lots of breaks and chatting, on the other hand, and I'll sign myself up in the blink of an eye. Even if I don't get the medal that proves I'm an ultra runner (though, I admit, should I get that far, I'd probably try and round it up to an even 85 km. I have issues). Somewhere along the way, there must have been an internal shift from doing this to prove to myself that I can, to just doing it because it's fun.