Saturday, 30 July 2011

From lemmings to goats


From the mountains to the sea. From hiking to swimming. From fleece tops to bikinis.

And from lemmings to goats.


I feel like I've been on the road constantly for the past three weeks, ever since I went on leave. I've covered great distances by planes, trains and auto-mobiles. But not so great on foot.


The two weeks I spent in warmer climates can be summarized, more or less, like this, when it comes to training: I ran between 3 and 14 kilometres. I ran in the middle of the day, in agonizing heat, and I ran early in the morning, before the sun was up, feeling the chill of the sea breeze against my legs. I ran fast and I ran slow. And I swam. A lot.


The fact that my legs didn't see much running action was painfully evident this morning, when, tired from yesterday's long journey home and -stupidly- on an empty stomach, I stumbled through 20 km just, so to speak, to wake my legs up after their long holiday slumber. Predictably, it wasn't an easy feat. I have forgotten how to run long distance. A scary thought, considering my plans for the immediate future...


Tuesday, 19 July 2011

I'm already missing the mountains


My so-called long run this morning lasted for 17 km. I was tired and uninspired. I tried to put together a half marathon or so running around the lakes, thinking that I wouldn't get another chance for a long run until the end of the month, when I'm back from my holidays. As soon as I had rounded the first lake, however, I was already sick of hills and longed for flat ground. If I have to run on challenging terrain, I'd like to have some distraction from the agony it causes. Something to compensate for it. Maybe, oh I don't know, some breathtakingly beautiful mountains around me? I'm sure I'll fall back in love with these lakes again, but right now I'm just missing the mountains too much.



As luck would have it, the sea is not far from the woods and the lakes. A few kilometres later I was running by the seaside. I wouldn't exactly say I was enjoying this run, but it was comfortable to fall into an even rhythm. I did wish I had gone swimming instead, though.

Tomorrow I'm heading for warmer climates. Much warmer. Weather forecast says 35-40 degrees. I'm taking my Kayanos and my VFF with me, wondering if I'll get to use them. This blog will also be taking some time off while I'm on holiday. See you in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Today was not a good day to die

Two great adventures, two days in a row. First running 18 km on Kungsleden, then hiking 23 km to see two glaciers. Including the first day's run and hike, my legs covered a distance of 56 km within three days.

No wonder then that today's hike was tough going. My thigh muscles were aching and my calves were stiff. Still, I soldiered on, up towards a 1600-metre top that J wanted to climb. He was very tired too, but also as stubborn as I was.

The mountains in the distance were as beautiful as ever. The immediate area around us, less so. Large stones, patches of moss and grass, a flower here and there awaited us as soon as we got over the tree line. The only things to break the monotony were the ever melancholic song of the plover and the Long-tailed Skuas that flew low over our heads as a warning to stay away from their nests. Ahead of us loomed a wall of stone: a 1400-metre top that was to be our first goal (and only one, if our legs gave up).


A short break for sandwiches gave us some strength. Soon we were crossing a scree slope, rocks of various shapes and sizes that always cover the ground after you've reached a certain height. The slope doesn't have to be steep to cause problems; balancing on these rocks is an art form even without the incline.

50 metres from the first top, we heard a not so distant rumble. To our left, over the Norwegian mountains, dark storm clouds had gathered. There was no mistake. The rumble was thunder. We looked at each other. Then we tried to figure out in which direction the clouds were heading. It was impossible. They seemed to float motionlessly above the highest tops.


A decision had to be made, fast. Continue towards the top and risk getting caught up in a thunderstorm on our way down, or head to lower ground as soon as possible? After a brief discussion and some disappointment, common sense prevailed and we decided that we weren't ready to die.

We picked a different way back and had to fight our way through thick bushes, brushwood and marshland. There was no trail to follow. The whole time the clouds were gathering and moving closer, threatening us. We felt exposed and vulnerable, like human lightning rods in a barren landscape where vegetation was as high as our knees.

Suddenly, we saw the ski lift towers a hundred metres in front of us. Between them grew nothing. It looked like a motorway by comparison. We almost ran down the mountain the rest of the way. A half kilometre from the flat, the first drops came.

17 km were added to my already tired legs' kilometre collection. Tomorrow, we leave the beloved mountains and the mammoth road trip home begins.

Friday, 15 July 2011

11 hours well spent

With a total of 23 kilometres sitting in my legs after yesterday's run/walk on Kungsleden, I set off for a hike. We were a group of 7 that left the flat this morning. J had a plan to hike to a glacier, and I thought I'd go along and see how far these tired legs could take me. The others would turn back after a few kilometres, so I knew I could walk back with them if I was too tired to hike to the glacier.


My thigh muscles were a bit sore, which only was a problem on sharp inclines. Otherwise, I felt great. The weather was amazing. The company was great. Little angry lemmings screeched as we walked past. One of them ran over my hiking boot. A white male reindeer was spotted in the distance, crossing the river.


After a short coffee break, it was time for the others to turn back. I decided to push on. There were three of us that continued onwards and upwards, crossing rivers, climbing hills and walking across snow fields. 


The glacier was soon within our view. It looked small from a distance, but as we got nearer and nearer we started realising what a majestic landscape this was. We climbed higher, and suddenly the earth ended. Or it seemed that way, as we stood on a thousand metre high cliff and looked at the endless plains down below.


We ate lunch there on the cliff, trying to soak in as much of the beauty around us as possible. It was breathtaking. I rested against a rock and let my eyes wander across the mountains in the distance. I wasn't eager to leave, but we had unfinished business. The glacier was our first goal, but we had a second one if we felt up to it: a mountain top of 1644 metres, which could be reached by walking on a steep slope between two glaciers.


We weren't sure we'd be up to it. Large stones covered the entirety of the slope, treacherous beneath our feet. Any one of them could give way at any moment, causing us to fall several metres and quite possibly breaking a few bones and in the worst case dying. Still, we had to try. 


We stepped carefully on the stones, using our hiking sticks for balance. We didn't get very far before we decided to turn back. Climbing up was fully possible, but climbing down felt more and more difficult. On the way down, my left boot got caught on a stone in such a way, that it disturbed its balance and almost caused it to fall on my right foot. That would have meant the end of our hike and a ride on a helicopter to the nearest hospital.


We got to the bottom of this slope in one piece. The hike home would prove to be much easier than the hike to the glacier, as we picked a slightly different, easier route. The temperature had gone up and with it came the mosquitoes. Swarms of these blood sucking vampires attacked us as soon as we left the barren higher ground and reached the greener areas. As a result, we walked much faster. My legs felt better than ever, and I almost ran when the ground was even.


J's Garmin showed 23 kilometres when we got home. The hike took us 11 hours, breaks included. 11 hours well spent.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Kungsleden - a dream come true

Sitting in the warmth of the flat after a hot shower, I cannot believe that a couple of hours ago I was running on Kungsleden. That I ran most of the 22 kilometres to the first cabin and back.


A change of plans. Originally I wanted to run to the cabin on Friday, seeing as the weather was supposed to be better then. But there are so many other things I want to do in the short time we are here, so many places I want to visit. So it had to be today. Alone, because J's niece has a cold.


I filled my Camelbak with water, packed my Inov-8 rucksack with warm clothes, food, my Nikon and other necessities and left just after 8.30. My revised strategy was to run walk the distance, knowing that there would be no way I could run the whole route, not today, not with so little terrain training. So I started off by walking the first couple of kilometres that just climbed up the mountain side and started running when the ground got flatter.


The solitude was striking. I couldn't see a living thing. In the distance I could hear the sorrowful cries of the plover. Never was I lonely, even though I was alone. My soul was at peace in these eternal surroundings. I felt so little, so insignificant, a speck of dust in the universe.

 
They say that time does not exist without the movement of matter. It's easy to believe that time stands still in this environment of ancient, majestic, motionless giants and endless, undulating grass fields. Yet, the place is bursting with wildlife; not just plover, but all sorts of birds that make their nest on the sides of the mountains. Reindeer seek food on the hills and drink water from the ice cold streams. Lemmings bolt at the sight of humans and hide under rocks.

See it?
I ran on. Started meeting people on their way from the cabin to the village. Couples. Families. Friends. Pensioners and kindergarten aged children. The wind was howling at certain places where the mountains did not protect me, and with it came a freezing rain.



The single track trail was littered with stones, roots, brooks. I had to stop often and walk, then run 50 metres, then walk again. The idea of twisting an ankle did not appeal to me.



My strength was starting to leave me. I had no idea how much I had run or how many kilometres were left to the cabin. Suddenly, a familiar view appeared before my eyes. After a sharp bend in the trail, I saw the river that flows past the cabin. I was relieved. The cabin could not be far. It meant warmth, it meant food, it meant shelter. A sign soon informed me that there were 4 kilometres left. 


I pushed on as the trail became more and more treacherous. A large stream that cascaded from the snow fields higher up on the mountain cut across the trail like a sore in the landscape, with two meter high walls on each side. I climbed down carefully, as the slippery stones gave way under my feet causing minor landslides. I could see no way across the stream without getting my feet wet, and for a moment, my courage left me. Had I come so far only to turn back a mere kilometre before my destination?

 
I found a relatively dry passage and got across. The trail was nowhere to be seen, and I spent a few minutes wandering around looking for it. Once I found it, I started running again. Finally, the cabin was there.


The cabin host came out to greet me. He said he had seen me running and was worried that something had happened. I told him I just needed to get warm and eat some food, and that I would soon be on my way again. He showed me where the kitchen was, and I collapsed on a chair.


Several people were using the cabin, some of them as a temporary respite from the road to cook some food, some who had spent the night there and were getting ready to go. Everyone seemed friendly and in a good mood. These were like-minded people. I felt warmth not only in my body, but in my heart too. 


I was reluctant to leave the cabin and get out in the rain again. My only consolation was that it would mostly be downhill on the way back, and the thought of a hot shower when I got home. Sure enough, more kilometres were logged running back than running to the cabin. I hardly had to walk. There were more people on the trail now, and the feeling of solitude disappeared.


I got to the cabin, and the long awaited shower felt as good as I had imagined. My feet looked terrible, and I wouldn't be surprised if a nail falls off in the days to come. My knees had taken a beating too, bearing so much weight on the downward slopes. But the emotional satisfaction I got from making this dream come true made it all worth it.


18 kilometres of pure running, of a total of approximately 22. Elated.


Wednesday, 13 July 2011

On the road again

We left J's hometown behind at 8 this morning and headed for the mountains. 5 hours of driving later we were there, already dreaming about all the adventures we'd have the following days.

The landscape around our flat is breathtaking. Snow laced mountain tops disappear into the mists that hang low in the sky. A light drizzle brought the already low temperature to a wintry 9 degrees. I wolfed down a sandwich and put my running clothes on. Long tights, running jacket and gloves. I haven't had to dress so warmly in ages.

I thought I'd run a couple of kilometres on Kungsleden, scout the area, prepare for my adventure of running all the way to the first cabin and back. Even before I arrived at Kungsleden, however, I started having second thoughts. It was uphill. All the way. Seeing the start of Kungsleden gave me a kick, but it didn't last. After a (steep) kilometre I started walking. Ran some more. Walked. Alternated walking and running for a few hundred metres more before I gave up. My lungs were screaming. I had gotten stomach cramps. I stopped and tried to breathe deeply to ease the pain. Wiped my glasses so that I could see where I was going. Looked around, attempted to take in the majestic environment, hungrily inhaled the crisp, clean mountain air. I turned back.

All my troubles disappeared as the ground sloped downwards. I ran effortlessly, jumped between roots and stones, enjoyed the flow. I didn't get very long before I had to stop in my tracks. A small dog was running towards me, barking its little head off.  No matter how small a dog is, a bite is a bite and I had nothing more to protect my legs but my thin long tights. I stood still while the dog's owner shouted orders at it. Once the dog was out of sight, I ran on, giving the dog owner a look that could make milk curdle when I saw her. It is illegal to have dogs loose in nature reserves, and in general where there's likely to be wild animals around.

I will have to reconsider my adventure plans. I'm having doubts about whether or not I'm strong enough to run the 11 kilometres to the first cabin and then back, seeing as it's terrain and uphill. A run/walk strategy is not looking so bad right now. Regardless, this adventure will have to wait until Friday, when the sun will be making an appearance according to the local weather forecast.

Monday, 11 July 2011

A short long run

Waking up at 4, driving across the country to arrive at your destination just before 8 in the evening and then sleeping for only 6 hours is not recommended before a long run. Being dehydrated on top of that and not taking water with you on your run, although it's 25 degrees in the shade at 7 in the morning, well, that's just stupid. Without having drunk coffee beforehand is suicidal.

J's sister has a beautiful garden
Needless to say, my attempt at a long run yesterday, although very inspired and enthusiastic, was less than successful. My legs were heavy and felt bloated. My mouth was dry. The coffeine deprivation headache from hell found its way into my head. And the path seemed endless. Running through J's hometown has been a plan of mine for over a year. There are so many places that I haven't seen, despite the fact that I've been here many, many times. Visiting these places on foot seemed ideal.


And it would have been, if all the aforementioned factors weren't present. All things considered, the measly 12,5 km that I managed to scrape together were an achievement of heroic proportions - by my temporarily low standards. I still got to see the town on foot. Sometimes you have to be content, even when it hasn't gone as planned.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing with family, chasing J's 4 year old niece around (I wonder how many more kilometres that was?), eating and DRINKING WATER. My body seemed to have used up all its fluids, because as soon as I drank a glass of water, I was thirsty again. I wondered if I'd get any more running in before we had to leave for the mountains. I was too tired to see this as a viable option.


Today is a different matter. I slept for 9 hours and woke up well rested. After a big cup of coffee, I am ready to take on whatever this day throws at me. Including runs in the wilderness that surrounds J's hometown. Maybe.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Holidaying

Last run home from work before I go on holiday, and it turned into a spontaneous fartlek session. Lots of things were going through my head, all to do with work and everything that has to be in order before I can finish this chapter in my life and begin the next one. Last day at work tomorrow. Uncertainty about the future and what it may hold. Needless to say, a stressful time. What better way to get rid of some negative feelings than to take them out on the tarmac?

On Saturday we're leaving for Northern Sweden, first to visit J's family and then, after a couple of days, to continue towards the Norwegian borders and the mountains. There I will run a short part of Kungsleden. I am looking forward to this adventure so much. I had to postpone it while we were there last year because I got sick, but -fingers crossed- this year I'll make up for it. Trail running at its best: past reindeer, ice cold creeks and in the shadow of snow covered, timeless giants.


After that, J will be returning home and I'll be going on the second leg of my holiday. In the warmth, by the sea, with family and friends. A different experience. A much needed experience. There will be running there too, of course. Early in the morning, before the sun has turned the ground into burning coal, through golden fields of hay and with the scent of pine trees accompanying me.


I'll be popping in to keep you updated, but forgive me if it's not as often as it has been. I have some holidaying to do.

PS A BIG THANK YOU to the anonymous reader who donated 2000 crowns (about 200 Euro) to my charity collection for cancer research. You are simply amazing!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Elitist editorials and Wednesday long runs

I'm not a fast runner. I'm faster than some, slower than most. But I am a runner.

Yesterday I got the latest issue of Runner's World in the mail, along with a letter urging me to renew my subscription. I have thought about cancelling it for over a year, but after reading the editorial I have finally made up my mind.

The magazine does not inspire me any more. I find that it's more aimed at beginners, and the only things I've been enjoying are ultra running legend Rune Larsson's column along with a couple of others. The editorials always seem to be about the same thing: the lack of good results in Swedish running. The magazine's editor has made it into his personal crusade to turn Swedish runners into Kenyans. He's been trying to convince people to run faster for ages, but in the latest issue he goes as far as to imply that speed is the only running merit worth mentioning. He writes that we should leave our comfort zones and run faster. Any speed below 6 min/km is slow.

I find his attitude elitist and provocative. Tell ultra runners that they are not daring enough when they run 100 kilometres ”slowly”. That it's somehow comfortable to run that far. Tell it to trail runners, climbing up mountains. Or let's not even take it that far. Tell it to the couch potato who's heading out for their first -probably really slow- run.

I agree that we should push ourselves sometimes, if we want to get better (but not that it's wrong to not do so). But pushing ourselves and leaving our comfort zone can mean very different things to different people. We all have our own ”demons” to fight: for some that means running faster, for others running further, for others just getting out the door. 


Those were the things I thought about during the first few kilometres of my run on Torrekullaleden. I wanted to test a new route that took me through the Sandsjöbacka nature reserve and back towards the first part of my usual long run. My reverie was rudely interrupted by a snake that slithered across the path, which I almost had to jump over to avoid. Then I arrived at the more technical part of the trail and I couldn't think about anything РI had to concentrate on not breaking a leg. Or my neck.


After 10 km I left the trail and was on a country road that winded through horse pastures, farms and birch woods. The cool shade of the woods was replaced by a merciless sun. I sipped water out of my Camelbak constantly to keep hydrated. Soon I was back on my usual route, heading home, but I chose to take a little detour through a neighbourhood where I hadn't been before. There weren't many people around – not so strange on a working day.

20 kilometres later I was back home. I'm loving the fact that I can run two long runs in a week. They weren't fast, but they certainly were outside my comfort zone. Eat that, Mr Editor.

He's not leaving his comfort zone for anyone

Monday, 4 July 2011

A disappointing 5K

Compare:

The only bad training session is the one you skip.

And:

If your session is so bad that it makes you wonder whether it has a positive effect at all, maybe it doesn't.

Three late nights in a row meant dragging myself out of bed this morning on pure determination. Or rather obligation, since I had to go to work. We stayed up until 12 last night to watch the Metallica concert on TV, which left me with just 6 hours of sleep.

So when I ran home from work, I was so tired that not even my VFF could make this terrible run good. I was about as gracious in my step as a raging bull, as light as an elephant. A large, overweight elephant. I landed heavily, aggressively, as if I hated the ground and wanted to extinguish its life by stomping on it.

It was warm. I was exhausted. Too little sleep. Too many kilometres yesterday.

The only good thing about this session was how easily I ran up the last hill, the one that I usually avoid because it's steep and at the end of my run.

So, did this training session have a positive effect? Did I become a stronger person and a better runner because of it? Or was it just filler, a way to meet my monthly quota? Is a meaningless, boring, slow and tiresome session better than none? Is quantity better than quality - ever?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Music in my ears

Yesterday I asked J to make an Iron Maiden play list for my mp3 player. I don't usually listen to music when I run, because I prefer to concentrate on my breathing and to the sounds all around me. But this weekend is special. It started with the Maiden concert last Friday, continued along the same lines throughout the day yesterday and will be finishing tonight with a couple of drinks down town while watching the Big 4 (Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeath and Metallica) broadcast on a big screen TV, while they're playing live in Ullevi. This whole weekend has been a big metal party in Gothenburg. A once-in-a-lifetime party.

J showed no mercy in his choice of songs. Fast song after fast song played in my ears, all classics, all loved. My feet were dancing, flying, celebrating. The first 10 kilometres were run in just under 55 minutes, which (for me, and for a long run) is fast. I couldn't help myself.

When the first, mellow notes of the Talisman started playing, I had reached the seaside. In such an environment, it wasn't difficult to relate to the song lyrics, that talk about a crew that is about to sail out to sea. I got goosebumps and I wasn't sure if they were because of the cool breeze and moody weather, or because of the song.


Opening so fast was of course not without consequence. My energy started leaving me after about 13 kilometres, and that, coupled with the fact that it coincided with a part of the route that I am not particularly fond of, made me slow down. But then, after a few kilometres, it was time for Blood Brothers – a favourite of mine. I picked up speed again, climbed up the hill that takes me home and completed a half marathon in 1:56:39.

Sometimes it's good to have music in your ears.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Up the irons

I must be getting old. Standing for 5 hours at the Iron Maiden concert last night left my lower back crippled. The pub round before the concert didn't help either. Nor did the few hours of sleep after. But it was worth it. It was crazy to be standing among 56.000 people, to be singing screaming along to the classics, fists raised in the air, to feel the ground vibrating with all these people jumping up and down. And to see some of rock's greatest living legends on stage, in the largest arena in Sweden.


So, unsurprisingly, I will not join my running buddies for a long run today. J and I might go climbing later, but I'm saving my long run until tomorrow. I might even make a play list with Maiden songs for my mp3-player to take with me.