Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Patience, young Skywalker

I might have been just a tad melodramatic yesterday. Just because I wasn't born with fantastic genes that allow me to go from 0 to 100 km within a week doesn't mean I can't build up to 100 km at all. Just because I can't run back-to-back marathons right now, doesn't mean that I won't be able to someday. So, instead of marinating in self pity, from now on I'll try to concentrate on what I can actually do right now. Like run a marathon without my legs falling off. Like run ultra intervals. That kind of thing. And be patient, of course.

Boy do I sound like a wise old cow with all that kumbaya, new age-y crap.

Ok, I'll 'fess up. This change of mood did not come about after hours spent in the lotus position meditating on the virtues of patience, nor after a sudden revelation that it doesn't matter since we're all going to die anyway; it came about this morning when I, on eager legs and icy pavements, high on endorphins, ran the 10 km to work and felt well rested enough afterwards to want to go for a long run tomorrow.

Suddenly, I could. Suddenly, my muscles weren't sore any more. Suddenly, anything was possible. The Force is strong with this one.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Just your average Monday morning

Yeah, ok, so I ran a marathon last Saturday, but did I do it comfortably? Am I strong enough to do it and then recover quickly? Nope. My muscles are still wonderfully sore two days later, so the run commute to work will have to wait until tomorrow. I did some core exercises instead.

January has been a good month. Despite a cold that made me miss a few days' running, and despite our holiday in the North that ”forced” me to replace some running sessions with skiing, I still managed to put together a month quantity that's my second best ever (the first being November, with the ultra intervals). But it does kind of bug me that things aren't moving...faster, somehow. I realise I'm being impatient, and maybe a bit too careful, (not to mention that this is a first world problem, and did you know children in Africa are starving?) but planning for ultras means gradually increasing your long run distances (or, rather, your time on the go) considerably. How can I do that if I can hardly walk down the stairs the day after?

Sometimes I torture myself by looking at training programmes and despairing at the huge amounts of time they crave on the weekends (with long runs both on Saturday and Sunday). Other times I get all gung-ho and confident, and don't care at all about what they say, I'm still preparing for this in my own way. Sometimes the ultra looms over me like a mountain, other times I just break it down into segments and see it as a fun adventure. And then I think that I must be the only person in the whole world who gets sore muscles after a marathon.

Yep, that's the kind of things I think about on a Monday morning, right before my work week starts. Pretty normal, really.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Saturday means loooong run

It hurts just about everywhere in my body right now. Except my hair. One toenail is threatening to press charges and my butt claims that the bruises I got skiing were like a gentle massage by comparison.

It all started when I met up with the group in Skatås. Most of today's participants were long standing members (a few from the Skatås Seven) but there were a couple of new faces, too. The plan was to run to Jonsered and back, approximately 25 km. The pavements were covered in ice, but I refused to use spikes. It's not a matter of principle, but rather a question of balance: I hate the way they feel on my feet and I'm afraid I'll twist my ankle when I put them on.

Old pic. But that's what the pavements looked like today. Only with more ice.

The road to Jonsered is pretty dull, with lots of traffic and not much else to look at, but chatting with the others in the group never let me notice that. We took the long way back to Skatås. Once we got there, some went in for a shower and sauna, some went home. I ran on, slowing down a bit after the crazy fast pace we've been running at. My Garmin showed 30 km at this point, and I figured I could at least run to the bus stop and bring the total up to 35. Running through the city was a nuisance. People everywhere, talking on their mobiles, completely oblivious of their surroundings or, as was the case with one dad, pushing their baby prams in a zigzag pattern, making it impossible for me to run past them. The zombie apocalypse is here, guys. It's already happening. We're surrounded.

When I passed 35 km, I checked how my legs were doing and made a new deal with myself. I'd run to Linneplatsen and see if I felt like continuing from there. And so it went on: I kept telling myself I'd run just a bit further, and thinking how few kilometres there were left to 40, and then to the marathon; and then when I'd run the marathon I was almost home, so I thought I might as well keep running.

43,6 km later I crawled up the stairs and into our flat. With a new marathon ”record” to boot. I can think of worse ways to spend my Saturday.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Cannonball read #06: Catching fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching fire is the second part in the Hunger Games trilogy. It is a young adult novel, although you wouldn't know it but for the age of its protagonist, Katniss. 

The books take place in a future society, where the privileged citizens of Panem live in luxury while the citizens of the 12 Districts live in misery, forced to work for Panem. Every year, every District has to send two of its (young) citizens to the Hunger Games, a brutal fight to the death, until there is only one person left. This is a punishment to remind the Districts not to revolt against Panem, and a way to keep them in slavery and crush their spirits.

For those of you who haven't read the first book, SPOILERS AHEAD.

Katniss and Peeta won the Hunger Games but they cannot rest in their laurels. Before long, President Snow shows up threatening Katniss that her loved ones will suffer if she doesn't diffuse the uprisings that are taking place in some of the other Districts. Unbeknownst to her, Katniss has become an icon for the imminent revolution. And things are only about to get even worse.

The first book in the trilogy was easy to read, entertaining and fun, but left me wanting more. It had so much potential for political commentary, but I thought that this was downplayed in favour of the ”love” story. I realise now that it might have been building up to the events of the second book, which was much stronger in its message. Of course, we see things through the eyes of an unwilling 17-year old, that is too caught up in her own problems to care about the world around her at first; but it is exciting to awaken along with her, to become more politically active as she does and watch her grow.

Collins created a fast-paced book with complicated characters. Motives and feelings are never simple, and they are even less so when life keeps throwing new challenges to the central characters. Loyalty, self sacrifice, love are important factors that lead Katniss and Peeta into conflict with themselves, each other and the people that are closest to them. I couldn't put the book down.

A surprisingly good follow-up. I can't wait to read the trilogy's third book, Mockingjay.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Home is wherever I'm with you

J and I were hit by a wall of noise, traffic and fashion minded people as soon as we stepped outside Gothenburg's train station, having left the Northern wilderness behind. It was like stepping out on another planet. Immediately I felt a pang in my heart, one of longing for the quietness and simpleness of life in the North. For having family close by. It's an ache that's hard to explain, and even harder to subdue.

Life does not stand by and wait until you've recovered from the culture shock, however. I was back at work this morning, no matter how hard I wished that my dream last night (one where I was running on country roads past spring-green meadows with friends) would last forever. Still tired after the long train journey, I didn't decide until the last minute if I'd run today. And when I got off work, I couldn't wait to get out in the rare sunshine that graced the city and run. Run with a million thoughts buzzing in my head. Important things that have been lying dormant for years, waiting for the final drop to force them to run over and flood the universe, my universe. Yet, no answers come to me. My heart and my head are not seeing eye to eye right now, and it's hard to know which one to listen to.

The ache. Not even running can subdue it.

Monday, 23 January 2012

If at first you don't succeed

Try, try again.

I told J there was no way I would ski down that slope where I so spectacularly somersaulted last Saturday, getting covered in snow from top to toe. But I did want to go skiing. So we headed for a flat area where I thought I could ski round and round, perfecting my, well, standing on two feet and propelling myself forward with the ski poles. Living on the edge. That's me.

But once we got there, we saw a very appealing slope that ended in an open field. Perfect to practice on, in other words. I could fall all I wanted without any risk of close encounters with trees and such. Try one failed. The tracks were broken and I lost my balance, rolling around in the snow. I was becoming an expert at rolling around in the snow at this point. But then, try two went well. Really well. As I felt the wind screaming in my ears, I let gravity do its part. I focused on keeping my shoulders relaxed, rested my elbows on my knees with my ski poles behind me and, before I knew it, I was on flat ground. To prove that it wasn't a fluke, I did it once more. Success.

Then we were off into the woods. It went better and better, and even though it wasn't perfect, I found a good rhythm. I lost my balance now and then, but it was going much, much better than the first time. And then, we were suddenly at the slope where I'd fallen the first time, the slope that almost scared me off skiing for good. It didn't look as scary any more. I glided down it smoothly, feeling as if I was going at 100 km/h but probably only going at 20. I whooped and threw my arms in the air when I reached the bottom.

I think that running has given me guts that I didn't use to have. The attitude that I can do it if I hang on and keep trying. Just one more gift among the many others that running has given me.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Cannonball Read #05: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I loved Middlesex. It offered a mix of humour and drama that appealed to me and kept me turning the pages. So Eugenides' new book was eagerly anticipated.

Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are the three corners of a love triangle that's spiced up by mental illness, religious self-discovery and existential agony. We follow these characters through their journey to find happiness. It's a painful, difficult journey, both for the characters and for the reader.

Eugenides' descriptions of places and people leaves little to be desired. Apart from Madeleine, whom I found a bit flat (but maybe that was the whole point?), everything and everyone else was vivid. But where he truly excels is in his descriptions of Leonard's mental illness. He conveys the torment Leonard goes through and the consequences on the people who love him so wonderfully that my heart was breaking for him at the same time as I despised him for the pain he inflicted on others.

So, lots of drama, but what about humour? Not so much of it in this book. It was a long book, with certain passages feeling out of context, like this book was supposed to be a love story but suddenly it was about something else entirely. I suppose that was my only issue with The Marriage Plot: I had trouble figuring out what the book was about, especially with the parts about Mitchell's journey. Especially after the abrupt ending.

Was it a good book? Yes. Would I recommend it to a friend? Probably not. I would loan them Middlesex instead.


Red cheeks, icicles on my eyelashes and frozen drops of sweat on my forehead. That was what my reflection in the bathroom mirror looked like when I got back from a 10km run in -10 degrees (-15 in the freezing headwind I was met with occasionally) and on unploughed, snow-covered cycle paths. The sky was a shade of pink, almost implying that there was, indeed, a sun hidden somewhere behind the thin layer of clouds. I get this. This is my thing. This is who I am, what I do.

Yesterday I switched my running shoes for a pair of skis, for the first Nordic skiing session of my life. It resulted in a few falls, one of which a spectacular somersault of America's funniest home videos proportions. I suspect I will never become a true Nordic skier. There's too much equipment to master, ski poles and skis that all get entangled whenever I try to move sideways, resulting in even more hilarious falls. No; I'm much more comfortable (and elegant) in my running shoes. But I'm willing to give skiing another try. Tomorrow. Falls notwithstanding, it was kind of fun.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Running around in circles

After a long train journey north, we finally arrived in J's hometown. It looked festive and Christmassy, all dressed in white. I couldn't wait to put on my running shoes and head out for a run. And so I did, that same afternoon. A short run later, having discovered new cycle paths and cozy residential areas, I was back and sported a clogged nose. Oh yeah. My cold is definitely back.

I didn't let that stop me this morning. I woke up with the thought of a long run by the frozen river, and drew a route on jogg.se. It looked simple enough on the computer screen. J tried to convince me to use Endomondo and Google maps, in case I got lost, but me? Get lost? Never. I just have to take a quick look at a map and I got it memorised for all eternity.

8 km later, finding myself in the middle of nowhere, I had to consult Google maps for the second time. Stupid Endomondo wouldn't let me look at the map for some reason, and a growl of frustration left my throat more than once. I was this close to throwing my phone in one of the snow heaps by the road.

Let me make this clear: I was most definitely NOT lost. But having got to a crossroads and seen that the street I was supposed to be following continued to my right, instead of in front of me, kind of threw me off. Later on I would realise that some mischievous troll had turned the road sign around so that it was pointing in the wrong direction.

A postman drove by looking at me jumping up and down on my phone. Then, a police van did the same, probably wondering what I was doing doing jumping jacks in the middle of a deserted industrial area. Unfortunately for me, who was looking at them pleadingly, neither one stopped to ask if I needed any help.

My irritation was replaced by elation as soon as I found the cycle path I had been looking for. The path was surrounded by spruces with limbs hanging low under the weight of the snow. It was magical. I now thought I knew where I was. Over the bridge and towards the river again, after a couple of wrong turns (well, I write wrong, but that's in the eye of the beholder. Right? I mean, for someone that wanted to run in precisely that direction, they would have been the right turns).

..and then I wouldn't have seen this.

Then I got confused yet again. I was exactly where I had planned to run when I drew my route, yet that long stretch of road towards the town centre was much longer than I had anticipated. I ran for days and nights, and still, the only thing I could see around me were trees and a few scattered houses. I started getting nervous. Would I have to eat my words and ring J, asking him to come and get me? Never! I pushed on, on packed snow, slipping a couple of times, staring longingly at the distant goal that I hoped was ahead of me.

Finally, one of the city's landmarks rose above the trees: the church tower! It was still a few kilometres away, but now I knew I wasn't half way to China. Soon, I was running past traffic lights and shoppers. With almost 21 km behind me, I was back where I started. I shook my feet to get rid of the excess snow and stepped through the door.

- Endomondo isn't working, said J. We haven't been able to keep track of where you ran.

That could only mean one thing. I would never have to admit to J that I got lost.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

You know you're a runner when...

...the first thing you pack for a trip in cold, snow-covered Northern Sweden is your running gear.

...and that's just half of it.

...you pack your Lungplus breathing aid and spikes before you pack your sweaters.

...your running gear takes up half the backpack, leaving very little space for such unimportant things as going-out clothes, scarves, personal hygiene products.

...you can't wait to run in -15.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

On a roll

Having just registered some strength exercises in my diary, I noticed that the last time I had a whole day's rest was January 3rd, exactly two weeks ago. Oops. I have been alternating running with strength exercises and climbing, of course, so it's not like I'm using the same muscles every time; my legs do get to rest sometimes (let's ignore the fact that my legs are included in the strength exercise regime).

On some level, I guess I see strength training as a rest day from running, so it doesn't count. Only, it does. And when I ride my bicycle to work, my legs don't get any rest then either (even if I don't register short bike rides in my diary). If that's not an injury waiting to happen, I don't know what is. My right hamstring has been acting funny since last summer, and I don't mean putting on a clown nose and telling jokes. Maybe a day's rest would do it good.

My cold is coming back, which might necessitate an obligatory rest day. Tomorrow's planned long run might have to be postponed. Besides, tomorrow in the afternoon, J and I are taking the train north for a week's break from Gothenburg's grey weather. Better save those legs (and lungs) for the Nordic skiing I'm hoping to do up there.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Cannoball read #04: Prosperity without growth by Tim Jackson

I don't know how to review this book without sounding like I'm stupid.

Ok, let me start over: I'm no expert on economics, and at least half of this book went right over my head.

I picked it up because I wanted to read something different to what I usually read, and because of the book's premise: is it possible for humankind to thrive without economic growth? The older I get, the more fed up I get with things. Mindless consumption. Gadgets and clothes and decorative porcelain figurines or whatever. Things like television sets that break down after a couple of years, forcing you to buy new ones (if your peers haven't talked you into it first). Things that do nothing to enrich our lives, despite the promise of a better life they "make" in the commercials.

Tim Jackson discusses prosperity in his book. What does it really mean? Is it having all those things? Or is it fundamental values, like human connections, having a job, being healthy instead? And how does our society's endless striving towards economic growth help us to achieve such prosperity?

According to Jackson, it doesn't. Our society is ”trapped” in an economical model that chases after continuous growth, which has very bad consequences indeed for humankind. Not only because this model is based on consumption and the unequal distribution of goods, that does nothing for prosperity as defined above; it also has a catastrophic effect on our already-burdened planet. Nature's resources are quickly running out, and we have to do something to stop that.

Jackson proposes a different model, one that is based on the exchange of human services and on the investment in green alternatives. He presents arguments against the growth model and in favour of his greener one, most of them sound. But he does so in a language I had trouble following. The book reads like a economy textbook (maybe it is?) and it is littered with jargon. But here and there are small breadcrumbs of wisdom, simple and logical statements that even I could follow. And these breadcrumbs led me to the final chapter, one that summarised the book in an understandable way and which was a bit more ”social commentary” in nature. In the end, I was convinced.

I was relieved when I finally finished the book, but to say that it was a bad book would not be accurate. You can't say a book is bad just because you don't get it. The parts I did get were very interesting and put into words a lot of the thoughts I've had in my mind for some time.

Procrastination suddenly sounds like a great idea

After a short run in the woods dressed like a ninja (black tights, black jacket, black VFF, bla- eh, blue buff. Ok, like a colourful ninja), I took on the challenge of sorting through old photographs and putting them in albums. We keep the old, printed ones in a box, all heaped up in a pile, and never look at them precisely because they're in a pile. We're talking hundreds of photos here. I bought a couple of photo albums and fished out some glue, and got started.

Santorini '98. I love that place.

Hours later I emerged out of a cloud of glue, my head spinning with memories but mostly with low blood sugar. And glue fumes. But I'm not finished, oh no. I'm not even half way. After I tried to sort the photos and divide them into smaller, thematic piles, I realised this would be a task that was going to take weeks. It wasn't just that they were disorganised, the ones from England together with the ones from Sweden, together with old ones that neither J or I recognise; there were doubles as well. Try finding those ones among the hundreds of others.

Santorini '98.

And then, suddenly, I ran out of glue. You can imagine my disappointment.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Oh the places you'll go!

I'm warning you. Words are failing me right now, and I have to use photos to convey how wonderful, how absolutely perfect this morning's run was. I loved it so much, I could write a song about it. I could buy it flowers and take it out to dinner. I could watch it while it sleeps.

But...Sweden's NOT in NATO

I left home around 10 and headed towards the city centre. As promised, the sun was shining, but the wind hadn't let up that much, so I was met with a headwind. Still, it wasn't too bad, and my mood was so good that it didn't matter. 

I ran through Kungsladugård. A part of Göteborgsvarvet goes through here (the world's biggest half-marathon, for those of you that haven't heard of it). I'm running it in May, but as I ran the streets that get worn down by almost 60.000 running shoes every year, it seemed like a lifetime away.

I pressed on further towards Röda Sten and the river. Ferry boats, factories and the smell of tar were unmistakable signs that I was close to Gothenburg's port, but I could turn my gaze towards the west and the open sea, a much better sight.

Further on, the cycle path that I had been following disappeared among the expensive-looking villas of Käringberget and Långedrag. Here and there, a tall pine tree or stone cliff were visible among the houses. Not that there was any monotony; every house was a different style, each beautiful in its own way.

I was almost at Saltholmen when I noticed the cycle path sign pointing south. That's where the adventure started, that's where I was entering an unknown territory. I followed the signs, but there was some cognitive dissonance between the memory I had in my head from the map I had studied before I left, and what the signs pointed to. I wanted to follow the coastline, but the signs wanted to take me through neighbourhoods. So I ignored them.

This was one of my favourite parts. Hinsholmen marina was like a ghost town, with seemingly abandoned boats covered in tarpaulin. The road that led through it came to a sudden stop. Only the sea lay beyond. At that moment, I wanted to sit there on a stone and just stare at the sea for hours, the sun warming my face. It felt like the end of the world. 

Luckily it wasn't. A path continued along the seaside towards Fiskebäck, through the woods. I climbed up a steepish slope and, as I reached the top, I was rewarded with a glimpse of the sparkling sea among the trees. It was downhill all the way to the water.

I was back in civilisation. And got lost almost immediately. Again, it was a matter of signs pointing in a direction I didn't want to go, so I asked a kind man which way Näset was. He gave me the right answer. How I knew it was the right answer? Because it meant I would be running by the sea once more.

My legs were not complaining, unlike my stomach. I wanted to get home now, and my head was so filled with all the wonderful new memories that I was content. I found my bearings and soldiered on, past even more villas, joggers and dog walkers. I was running in familiar surroundings. It had been exciting to see new places, and what better way to see them than on my own two feet?

25 km was the grand total of today. I will be running there again.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Plans for the weekend

Number one priority this weekend will be to finish the book I'm currently reading, so that I can review it for Cannonball Read and then proceed to forget all about it. I'm so fed up with it. I wanted to expand my literary horizons, so I picked up a book about economy. To say that half the book went over my head would be an understatement; it was at least three quarters of it. The rest of it was interesting. No, really. Keep an eye out for the exciting review sometime this weekend. Not that I'm making any promises. I might, after all, fall asleep halfway through reading the charts on absolute decoupling.

Look at all those lovely books waiting for me.

All work and no play makes Shaman a very dull girl indeed. So I'm planning a little adventure as well, right before I dive into the boring, economy-textbook stuff. Last week Marcus from the group and I ran, pretty randomly, around western Gothenburg, on a day so beautiful (and cold) it made my heart (and my lungs) ache. We didn't run as far as the sea, though. Tomorrow, the sun is said to make a guest appearance again, the second of only four booked this winter here in Gothenburg, and there are still parts of the coast that I haven't explored. I've drawn a route that takes me to the seaside, along what looks like paths and through what looks like forests (or maybe it's just shrubbery), as well as through some more urban areas. Let's hope that this wind eases off.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Cannonball read #03: The walking dead by Robert Kirkman

I got it all backwards. I watched the series first and then read the book. Maybe that was the problem?

I am one of the seemingly very few people who have loved every single episode of  the TV series ”The walking dead”, despite its slow pace (or maybe because of it). I was aware that it was only loosely based on the graphic novel of the same name, but I wasn't prepared as to just how loosely that was.

The central characters are the same. There are zombies. There are guns. The central characters shoot zombies. And that's where the similarities end.

The first mistake that almost anyone talking about a film based on a book ever makes is comparing the film to the book. And yet I walked right into that one. But I think it's relevant, so bear with me.

I'm by no means an avid graphic novel reader. As an adult I've read maybe 3-4, and I've been an adult for almost two decades. Still, I have nothing against them. But I couldn't help wishing that this one had been...more, somehow. It could be that I'm used to reading fat, wordy novels that over analyse and describe in minute detail, but I found it compressed and lacking in emotion. I didn't care about the characters, and I certainly did not feel the imminent threat from the zombies. I suppose that when you try to fit into 144 pages what has the potential to be such a huge story (having, despite that fact, made bold claims in the introduction of the book that it will be powerful, with strong character development etc), then you're bound to have to leave stuff out.

Of course, ”The Walking dead” is a series of graphic novels, and should perhaps be judged in its entirety. Problem is, I don't feel so inclined to buy the rest of them after reading the first one. It was entertaining and easy enough to make me want to read it in one sitting, and I wouldn't say it's bad, exactly, but I think I'll stick to the television series to get my zombie fix.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

At least the sun is shining

Two gargantuan work days in a row, with the first one finishing at 9 at night, made me worry: would I be able to find my way home? Recognise J after having been away for so long? And what about the culture shock of switching from work mode to free time mode? Would I even know what to do with myself after the second day was over?

Reality hit me hard when I walked through the door at approximately 10 o'clock Monday night. One of our cats had pissed on the sofa and the whole place smelled of ammoniac. Talk about crash landing. Talk about my fingers twitching spasmodically with felinecidal urges.

This morning was an improvement. I went for a long run around the neighbourhood, and darkness slowly gave way to sunshine as I put kilometre after kilometre behind me. It wasn't a good run, despite the sunshine; my cold is not completely gone yet, and a persistent headwind hit me mercilessly for at least half the distance.

My pace was -as is becoming the norm- higher than it should be. I keep running my long runs at 5.30 min/km, and then struggle through my easy ones. I'd love to say that there are benefits to doing things backwards and going against what pretty much every training programme says I should be doing, but I'd be lying. I run the way I feel like running and at a pace that feels comfortable. There's no thought behind it. I'll probably pay for it one day.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Mind over matter

The evening after my loooong run I felt like I had been run over by a herd of stampeding elephants. My body was not so much aching; it was going on a strike against its employer (me). Making any movements took will power, walking took miracles. But once I got over the threshold of rearranging my body parts, the stiffness was gone and my body did as it was told without protest.

Still, I wondered how it would feel the following day. Aches and strained muscles usually feel worse the day after hard training. And if my body was so stiff now, how bad would it be a day later? I feared the worst. I imagined myself paralysed, unable to even speak, having to get nutrition through a tube. I needn't have worried. The next day, my body's stiffness was pretty much gone and I was able to go climbing and conquer new routes.

This morning was a different issue. I had spent ten hours in bed, but how many of them I actually spent sleeping I cannot say. I remember one of our cats sprinting through the flat several times during the early hours and then jumping on the bed, waking me. I remember the other one purring in my ear. I remember wanting to strangle them. I remember my throat feeling irritated again and the struggle between the part of me that wanted to get up and drink some water, and the part that didn't want to leave the warmth of the bed. And I remember floating in a half dream, not sleeping but not really awake either. For what was probably several hours.

When I finally got up at the late hour of 8 o'clock and looked at myself in the mirror, I looked like death warmed over. I was supposed to meet some complete strangers for a social run later on, but I doubted I could even drive the car there. As my morning cup of coffee made its way to my veins, so did life, and things started looking a bit rosier. I thought about my plans for the day and had to rearrange them a bit, because I didn't think my legs would carry me up any hills today. And besides, I had some errands to run. So instead of meeting these strangers and sabotaging their run, I headed out on a solo run of 11 km. It was tough at first, but my legs soon got the idea and found some hidden reserves to pull a couple of 5.05 min/km kilometres.

I can crack the whip if I have to. Show 'em legs who's the boss.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Looong run

 This is running just the way I like it. Spontaneous, adventurous, exploring new places, with the sun warming your frozen body and with some nice company to chat away the hours with.

I ran to Linneplatsen to meet Marcus from the group, and we headed towards the port. There is something about sunny days that make me want to seek open water. The streets were pretty quiet, as it is a bank holiday, but people were outside walking or running. The biting cold made them dress up warmly in snug coats and woolly hats, but I still clung onto my t-shirt and running jacket combo. Anything else and it gets too warm, even at a couple degrees below zero.

We continued along the river and towards the sea, although the water was hidden somewhere behind the villas of Långedrag. We discussed briefly the possibility to run all the way around the peninsula, but it would have meant a much longer run for Marcus, that had to get home. So we cut through towards Mölndal instead, past multi-storey buildings and shopping centres. Traffic here was a bit heavier, but never so heavy that we noticed it.

I left Marcus and headed home after about 23 km, thinking I'd round it up to 25 km and then stop. But Gothenburg doesn't see such beautiful winter days that often; so I kept on running, planning on running around the neighbourhood to get up to 30. But then I got to 30 and I still didn't want to go home. I knew J was out too, and really, what better way to enjoy this weather than letting your body soak up all the D-vitamin it can get? I turned towards the sea again.

I was getting seriously hungry at this point. I had an energy bar with me, but A) I didn't want to stop except to take a couple of pictures and B) I suspected it was frozen and I didn't want to break a tooth. My energy was now waning, and the few sips of water from my bottle did nothing to quench my thirst. Only 5 km to go, I figured. I might as well eat when I get home. I was starting to get tired, but I managed to keep a decent enough posture.

The world through my sunglasses is a warm shade of orange

35 km brought me a few hundred metres from my door, and I walked the rest briskly. It felt great to know that, even though this run left me with a pair of stiff legs, I could still go through it at a faster pace than I'm used to (had I gone on like this I would have run the marathon distance in under 4 hours) and on an empty stomach to boot. It feels even greater that the first long run of the year was a pretty long one. It bodes well for my ultra training.

Cannonball read #02: In defence of food by Michael Pollan

My mum taught me to avoid processed food. With the exception of pasta and rice, which we didn't eat that much of when I was growing up, everything else on our table was cooked from scratch and with in-season ingredients that were usually bought at the local street market.

Since I moved away, processed food has slowly gained more and more space in our fridge and pantry. Not that J and I buy take-away and frozen pizzas that often; but carbs are a staple of our diet, a common ground that he (an omnivore) and I (a vegetarian) can agree on, so that we can eat our meals together.

Michael Pollan's book was an important reminder of what my mum taught me all those years ago: eat food (real food). Not too much. Mainly plants. It's a simple lesson, one that should be obvious – humankind survived by following these rules for thousands of years. Yet, the past few decades, heart related and other diseases have increased dramatically in the Western World. Pollan thinks that processed food is to blame, partly because of the amount of junk that it contains, and partly because of all the nutrients that it doesn't contain, thanks to processing and bad science. He supports this thesis by providing research evidence of indigenous populations with a previously clean bill of health getting sick as soon as they abandon their traditional diets and replace them with bad Western habits.

Although I found him repetitive at times, Pollan really drives his point across. He writes in a manner that is easy to understand, and his Don Quixotic crusade against the food industry giants makes him sympathetic to the reader. You wouldn't exactly call him objective on the matter, but then again he's not trying to be. Unlike his ”Omnivore's dilemma”, where he succeeded in advocating for a more plant-based diet without coming across like a rabid environmentalist, ”In defence of food” can at times feel like a personal vendetta. Not that it's a bad thing; the ideal world according to Pollan is a world where families gather around for a healthy meal every day to form strong bonds and bodies. And that's not a bad world to live in.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The devil makes work for idle hands

You know what I do when I can't run? I think about running. I read about running. I dream about running (yeah, ok, so I sleep too, and I work and I read books and I do other sports. YOU'RE MISSING THE POINT).

So when I'm kind of ill, like I am now, I miss running and, like an alcoholic that doesn't have access to a real drink and has to resort to sucking on hand antiseptics to get his fix, I make do with reading about other people's running. Big mistake. Because, while I'm busy being kind of ill, people everywhere are busy logging kilometres and getting better and better. And some people are really good.

Quite obviously, while I slept or worked or did any of those other things last year, those people were out running. You know, those people. Those ultra running types. The real ultra runners, not the fake wannabes like me wasting time on trivial things like sleep. Those people logged crazy distances in 2011. Some had run 5000, others 6000, and some over 7000 km. I wonder when they even have time to actually log these kilometres in their diaries. Do they do it while they're actually running?

Memories of August's ultra session

I'm trying really hard not to compare myself with others here. Because, after all, I love running no matter what the distance, even if I prefer the longer ones. It doesn't really matter what the total adds up to at the end of the year, as long as there is a progress from one year to the next. But I can't help wondering if that's what it takes to run ultras. Is that how much work you have to put in to become good? And by good I don't mean win events, of course. I mean just being able to survive an ultra without inflicting permanent damage to your body. Is that how many kilometres you have to put in in order to be able to call yourself an ultra runner in good conscience?

As much as I love running, I have no intention of spending all my free time doing it. So where does that leave a wannabe ultra runner like myself? Is it a question of patiently climbing the ultra distance ladder? Or can I only ever run ”shorter” ultras?

I really need to stop reading about running and go for a run instead.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Cannonball read #01: Snuff by Terry Pratchet

I haven't run a single metre since 2011. I've been feeling feverish and had a sore throat since yesterday. So, in lieu of running-related material, here is my first review for the Cannonball read:

Terry Pratchett's ”Snuff” is his 39th Discworld novel. You'd expect that he would have run out of ideas by now. He hasn't. Despite the fact that he has Alzheimer's, he's still going strong.

I've been a faithful reader of Pratchett's since the late '90s, when I first discovered his books. The quality that I found most attractive about them to begin with was not how good his writing is. It is good, but it's not great. In fact, he manages to lose me at least once with every book, when I'm reading a paragraph and suddenly haven't got the slightest idea what he's on about. No; what I found so attractive were his sense of humour and his unparalleled ability to discuss difficult subjects in a humorous way. While using nerd words like ”troll” and ”vampire” and ”magic”.

In his latest book, the difficult subject he tackles is racism. There's been a murder, and commander Vimes will try to figure out whodunit. Only, is it a murder when you don't regard the creature in question (in this case, a goblin) as, well, a person?

Pratchett deftly creates a world that is permeated with the old values. Aristocracy and working class live side by side, and everyone knows their place. It's the countryside, where things have been like this for centuries, and crimes have been committed in the quiet without anyone raising an eyebrow, because no one thinks it's a crime if it's vermin you're disposing of. Until now; Vimes is forced by his wife, Sybil, to take a vacation in her aristocratic family's home, and, like the true policeman he is, he can sniff out a crime if there is one.

What follows is a murder mystery that would fit right in as a Midsomer Murders episode. It has all the necessary ingredients: the murder, the pub, the local troublemakers, and snobs with money. Pratchett manages to combine all that with social commentary on racial issues, slavery and changing the world one person at a time. The conclusion being that not all Nobs are snobs, and not all yobs are knobs.

Pratchett kept me turning the pages up until the last third of the book. As soon as the murderer was introduced, he lost me; the murderer being quite a bland character and revealed way too early. The chase to catch him took up too much space in the book, that I believe could otherwise been dedicated to learning more about goblin society and their plight, to make them more sympathetic to the reader. A side story about another policeman's illness was a distraction. The fact that he seems to imply that taking justice into your own hands is ok when the law fails didn't win him any points in my book either. His humour is becoming predicable for someone who has read all 39 Discworld novels.

Still, despite these relatively minor flaws, Pratchett manages to end the book on a high note: a hope for the future, that the world can become a better place. It just takes time. And, despite these flaws, it was a good book, albeit not a great book.

Sunday, 1 January 2012


I was woken by the sound of the rain drumming on our windows early this morning. So that's how the new year starts, I thought. With a downpour. I had had a vague plan to go on a long run this morning, to set the tone for the rest of the year, so to speak. Looking out, it doesn't seem like a good idea any more.

But then there is this:

In a way it is so symbolic, this emptiness in my training diary. The year ahead is an empty slate, a tabula rasa. I get to fill it with whatever I want. This thought is both exciting and scary. The possibilities are endless and the road is long; but on the other hand, shit does and always will happen. 

So, as I watched the fireworks last night, my hopes and dreams for this year were tempered by realism. I don't want to aim too high, but nor do I want to waddle in disillusionment and pessimism. I am wary and guarded as a result of everything that 2011 threw at me, but what good does that do? Life goes on regardless of whether I'm prepared for it or not. I might as well enjoy the ride.