Monday, 29 October 2012

Can I pay someone to do this for me?

Looking for a job is a full-time job. Oh yeah. It's not enough to write your CV and a cover letter, and send it to different companies. No. You have to modify them according to each and every advertised job. No one cares that you worked at a bar 20 years ago between parties on an extended summer vacation on Ibiza, if the job you're seeking is in astrophysics. Likewise, no one cares that you know astrophysics if you're applying for a job as a bartender.

Luckily, I'm applying for neither. I am neither an astrophysicist or a bartender. But I did work as a waitress a few nights back when I was a student during the early 2000s. Should I include that in my CV?

I'm not sure if I'm procrastinating or not. Well, right now I definitely am, blogging instead of getting my CV and cover letter done. But am I procrastinating when I'm wandering around the Interwebs looking for a job when I'm supposed to be studying for my Sports Psychology test on Thursday (gaaaAAH)? Was I procrastinating this morning when I ran 10 km?

The answer to the latter is, of course, a resounding NO. Seeing as it was a very fast 10 km. If I had wanted to procrastinate, I would have slowed down. Although I did slow down a bit when I hit the north shore of the river, and the sun that had been hanging so low on the horizon that it was hidden behind the trees finally found its way to my body. It was heaven to feel that it was all falling into place: my body felt intact, the weather was beautiful and did I say my body was intact? I can't remember the last time I was able to run this fast consistently without breaking down. I think I haven't had an injury-free day in two years.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Insane in the brain

Dragging your unresponsive, probably unconscious legs behind you for 13 km is hard work. No matter how beautiful the weather was, how prettily the river was flowing towards the sea, how the air smelled of snow and burning wood, I struggled completely oblivious of my surroundings. The perfect training schedule that I devised in the beginning of the week was already showing its first fault: ”long” runs the day after a double session of strength training and Body Combat is a bit too ambitious. At least right now.

You know how sometimes when you're out running you get lost in your own thoughts and time flies by even though you've been running for hours? Today was not one of those days. Today was ”just one more step, just one more step” the only thought going through my mind. The last kilometre, which included a tiny upwards slope, was run on pure will. I wondered if my body would ever be strong enough to run a marathon again. I wondered if I was pushing it too hard at the gym. I wondered if I wasn't pushing hard enough.

A few minutes after I got home and stretched, I sat at my computer to register the run in my logbook. Behind my computer, a window faces the street behind our house. There I saw a woman jogging leisurely by. Despite the almost debilitating ache in my lower back, the tiredness in my legs, the disappointment in my heart, and despite the fact that I had just run an agonising 13 km, every single moment of which was torture, the only thing I thought about when I saw her was ”I wish I was out running”. 

Doctor, are there any pills for my condition?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Shaman's theory of relativity

The cosy chill of the last few days that carried the scent of burning wood from fireplaces the whole city over had turned into a windy cold. Still, the thermometer swore it was warmer by at least 4 degrees. Strange how temperature can be a matter of interpretation. Take how it's a constant 22 degrees in the flat, for instance. Yet it always feels colder around midday. Warmer when I've eaten some spicy Mexican soup. Colder when I'm tired. Warmer when I've had to make a difficult phone call. That's why J lovingly (yet - I suspect - sarcastically) calls me ”the weather expert”. I can never dress right.

One thing's for sure. I always get warm when I'm running, so I like to dress light. A white T-shirt saying that I am training for Stockholm Marathon 2011, which is a blatant lie now, and it was a blatant lie a month after I bought the T-shirt, when I got plantar fascitiis and had to skip the marathon training altogether. And a wind jacket on top of that.

The problem was, as J and I walked down to the river in the dark to warm up before our run, that a headwind when you're walking can feel so much colder than a headwind when you're running. As a result, our so-called walk to the river was also a matter of interpretation, as it very much resembled an easy jog. Once there, we turned our backs to the wind and turned the so-called walk to a proper easy jog, that is to say, we changed very little about our speed. Soon we were running under the bluish light of the riverside lamps, with reflections of the considerably warmer light of the houses on the other side of the river on the water surface. It was a magical evening.

Then, the lights went off. And suddenly I was very warm. Unfortunately, not all of the riverside path is lit – as to why, it is a long discussion for another time, another place. We had to get to the bridge, and we didn't want to leave the path to seek other, more illuminated ways of getting there, so we continued in the pale light shed by the half moon. To our right, a slope upwards to houses and flats. To our left, a steep slope down to the river. I kept as far to the right as possible, my eyes narrowing to make out the small details, stones and cracks that had to be there, my pupils opening up to let in as much of the little light that was available as they could. A man was walking there, in the dark, no dog by his side to explain why. I was glad I wasn't running alone. J was right behind me, probably not understanding why I was suddenly running faster. After a couple of hundred meters, I stopped dead in my tracks. A trick of the light had caused me to think that last week's never-ending rain had washed away the path, making me pull on the hand break hard so I wouldn't fall into the river. Darkness is a muse for the imagination, bringing out monsters, trolls and bogeymen that aren't really there. The path was, of course, intact.

Despite the obvious plethora of dangers all around, we made it to the bridge unscathed. It was lit up like a Christmas tree, in sharp contrast to what we'd just gone through. Our agreement was that the run there was to be a warm-up, and then we'd introduce some fartlek into it. I ran the first segment conservatively, to see how my body was feeling just then, and then I gave it my all. I was down to 3.30 min/km just before I stopped for the third one, a speed that I'm pretty sure I had never reached before in my life. Too bad I could only hold it for a few seconds. My body was light as a feather, but my breathing was struggling to keep up. I need to do this more often.

I was almost too warm by the time we turned to head back home. I even considered taking off my thin gloves. When we stepped through the flat door, the steady 22-degree warmth indoors was almost suffocating. Yet not five minutes later I was freezing and looking forward to the hot shower that awaited me. Strange thing.

Saturday, 20 October 2012


Not a cloud in the sky and 0 degrees? Off to the woods for a run! Haven't switched to winter tires yet and the road is slippery? No problem! With a prayer and a Swede behind the wheel, anything is possible!

Running 10 km in the woods with a previously injured foot felt like someone was waging a psychological war on me. I spent every second of the first half hour asking myself if my foot hurt, trying to relax and turn my lower leg to cooked spaghetti, and jumping from one side of the hilly path to the other to avoid the huge water puddles that had frozen over, forming a delicate surface. 

A boxing match was taking place inside of me. In the right corner of the ring, a crazy-eyed brawler warming up by doing jumping jacks and throwing uppercuts. In the left corner, the rookie underdog trying to look cool by shaking off the tension in his shoulders and twisting his head this way and that. The fear that my foot was still injured was about to face off with an emerging, triumphant, primal joy of being back on my feet, the hope that this time I might win.

After 3 rounds of sticking and moving, the brawler tires. The underdog closes in, ducks to avoid a jab and answers with a haymaker that fells the brawler to the floor. The judge counts to eight, the bell rings, ding ding, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. My foot holds -just about-, the sun is shining and my shoes are muddy. Just the way it should be.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A new life

Our thermometer showed -2 degrees this morning. As I predicted yesterday, slush had turned to a thin layer of treacherous ice. I cycled to the gym so slowly and carefully that I might as well have walked. Pilates was surprisingly tougher than I thought, but on my level-tough. Waking up before 6 three days in a row has taken its toll, however. Once I got home, I cradled the mug of coffee in my hands as if it were the antidote to some poison that was running through my veins.

As I sipped on some liquid energy, looking out the window at our white-clad neighbourhood slowly waking up and going about its business -school kids on their bikes, much braver than I was-, I saw that the chilli seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago, which I had given up on ever breaking the surface of the pot, had sprouted. A tiny green speck of life peeked out of the earth, a little sign of spring in these early winter days.

See it?

And my foot feels fine this morning.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Winter has come

Autumn in Skellefteå lasted all of...oh, 4 weeks? Today came the first snow of winter. At first it melted as soon as it hit the ground, but as the day turned to night and the ground cooled down, it formed a thin white blanket on lawns and pavements.

You know what comes next. The snow melts to slush. Temperature drops below zero. Slush turns to ice. Emergency rooms around the country fill up with broken bones. And it's only October. Make yourselves comfortable folks, we'll be here a while.

The bike ride to the gym this morning wasn't as idyllic as yesterday's. You could already feel that there was change in the air. The wind was blowing hard from the East, making any resistance the last dried up autumn leaves put up, as they hung on for dear life on trees and bushes, futile. The yoga room was an oasis of warmth and calmness against the epic battle going on outside. Lit candles, soft white curtains, relaxing music made me think that this wasn't such a bad way to start the day.

When it started pouring small wet snowflakes in the afternoon, I was tempted to call off the daily walk J and I go for after dinner. Recreating the warmth and calmness of that yoga room at home and settling in front of the TV seemed like a much better idea. But maintaining a good habit is much easier than breaking it and having to start all over again, and J wanted to go for a run instead, so out we went. After a short warm-up that felt more like a cool down in these conditions, we started running. I left J to continue alone after 1km and turned back home. My foot test today was to be only 2 km.

It did well. It didn't hurt at all, nor does it hurt now afterwards. Not yet anyway. Now all I need to do is keep my fingers crossed that slush doesn't turn into ice. I have an early morning Pilates class to cycle to tomorrow and the emergency rooms are already overcrowded enough as it is.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Morning person

It's not so bad, getting up before the rooster's even gone to bed. Cycling to the gym while sunrise is but a distant promise on the horizon. Getting your stomach muscles annihilated before breakfast. And then, when you're done, exiting the gym to find that, while you were indoors building your core strength, the earth has turn another notch, the sun has come up, the air is crisp, and the autumn leaves you thought were starting to turn grey are still all shades of orange in the warm morning light.

And the day has just begun.

Saturday, 13 October 2012


I took the plunge yesterday and did something that a few months ago I never thought I'd do. I signed up at the gym. Not only did I sign up, I did it right after my muscles had taken a serious beating at Body Combat. I'm starting to think I have masochistic tendencies. Although, it's not like I ever subject my body to tough physical challeng-- ooooh.

I used to train at the gym back in the days before running came into my life. No group training, mind you. Just lifting weights, but never really making any progress. I suppose I wasn't motivated enough to build bigger muscles but I did enjoy breaking a sweat. Then one day I went running and realised it was more my thing. I stopped going to the gym soon after that. 

For decorative purposes only.

Now, all these years later, I'm back. Having tried out the extremely fun Body Combat a few times, throwing jabs and hooks at imaginary opponents, getting out aggression I didn't even know I had and falling on my arse while trying to do a back kick, I decided that sitting around waiting for my body to heal every time I got injured wouldn't work for me. Mainly because I'd then be doing an awful lot of sitting. If I can't run, I need to be able to do something else. Because I need to keep moving.

I will be a runner for as long as I can, and I hope that what that means is for the rest of my life. This is why I need to have a more holistic approach to training. I need the yoga and the core training. I need the alternative training that will make me stronger, that will keep me from getting injured so often and keep me sane when I do get injured (because it's a mathematical certainty that it will happen again. I may love running but running does not love me back).

Although I'm still not sure how sane it is to book three sessions next week, all of which start at 06.45. I guess that the first step on the road to recovery from my masochistic tendencies is admitting I have them.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Give him another chance?

Many of us girls have a soft spot for bad boys. We see a handsome, dangerous bad boy and we think we can change him. Because we believe that, deep inside, his heart is soft, aching to sing rock ballads and watch Julia Roberts movies. We just have to give him a chance.

But then, of course, bad boys rarely change in reality. They break our hearts and stomp on them, and it takes a long time for them to heal, because it's not just the bad boys we miss, it's the idea that love conquers all, including bad haircuts and misspelled tattoos.

Running is my bad boy. I've given it many chances, thinking that this time it will be different. This time it will work. And every time it breaks my heart, and more importantly, my body. Except this time. Because now I've become so jaded that I just feel indifference. Another injury. Yeah, you know what, running? Screw you. I can't be bothered with you any more. I'm over you. I'm gonna find me a nice boy who treats me right.

That nice boy's name is cycling. After more than two weeks of doing little to no training thanks to my foot, I'd had enough. The sun had finally made an appearance after a week of rain and I wanted to be outside in its warm embrace. Warm might be stretching it; it was only 5 degrees outside. I dragged my bike out of the basement and, with a vague plan of where I was going in my mind and a map in my pocket, I headed towards the sea. 

Cycling is faster than running. My speed was almost twice as high as when I run (I know, right? And I don't even use steroids). Yet I never seemed to get there. I was cycling in slow motion, which was even more evident when I was on a 90 km/h road and a lorry overtook me. Halfway on my round I crossed a bridge overlooking the Skellefteå river running towards the sea. That might have been the highlight of my morning.

Somewhere in the distance: the sea

The way back was slightly more interesting, as I cycled through sleepy villages where the maple trees were still hanging on to their red and orange leaves. My legs were getting tired and I had headwind, so my previous slow-motion speed turned into next-to-none-motion. When I finally got home after almost 36 km, my thigh muscles refused to carry my weight and I nearly rolled down the stairs to the basement, along with my bike. Once there, I had to break the news to my nice boy that I didn't think it was going to work out between us.

There's another reason why girls pick bad boys. They're more fun.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Cannonball read #26: The help by Kathryn Stockett

I can't believe I'm already done with this challenge. I signed up for the half-Cannonball read, which entailed reading 26 books within a year, and I'm already done. What will I do with my life now? What do you mean, I can read a book and not review it?

The help by Kathryn Stockett is an unputdownable book. Unputdownable – is that a word? No? Well, it should be. It tells the story of three women living in Jackson, Mississippi in the early sixties. One of them, Skeeter, is white and trying to become a writer, while playing bridge and attending high-society parties with her other privileged white friends. The two others are black, their job description being to take care of said friends' households. Predictably, they get treated like lesser beings, like slaves – only because they're getting paid it's somehow ok. They have to sit and eat by themselves at work. Use separate toilets so that they don't spread their black diseases to the white folk. And never disagree with their bosses, no matter how unjust they get treated, because then they'll be accused of stealing things, lose their jobs and, in some cases, end up in prison.

These three women will join forces to write a book about the situation in their town, risking everything they have, during a time in history when black people got beat up and even killed for wanting equal treatment. In the process they'll find out things about themselves and each other and form a friendship that transcends the racial barriers.

Stockett draws a lot of her inspiration from her own experiences growing up in Mississippi. She describes how, for a well-off white family, having a black maid was a given. How much love often existed between said maids and the children they took care of. How, despite the abolition of slavery more than a century before, tension between the two races was like a ticking bomb. Tension, which along with shame (for some people), bull-headed adherence to the old ways (for others) and even frothing-in-the-mouth hatred (for a few) made life a living hell for these maids.

It takes many years for societies to change. Racism will most likely always be a part of them. It's just that we find a different bogeyman each time. And it all boils down to the barriers we put up between ”us” and ”them”, and seeing ”them” as an anonymous mass with no discernible features. We don't know ”them”. We just need a vessel onto which to empty our hatred, our fears, our own failures. If we look too close, we see that these people have fears of their own, they have dreams, hopes, they are similar, they are different, the same way you and I are similar yet different. And I think that one of Stockett's main messages is that we need to start looking closer instead of hiding behind charity (which is often an attempt to quiet our conscience rather than done out of true love).

An easy read that deals with a heavy subject, it's a book that is obviously written with love. None of the characters are caricature-like good or evil. Persons who behave in a horrible way towards their help are great mothers. Victims behave like bullies in different circumstances. And people that we adore have dark secrets in their past. It is these grey zones that exist in reality that make it so hard for those who are willing to see them to make sweeping generalisations about races. 

Maybe the best book I've read this year and one of the best I've ever read.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Autumn state of mind

This muffin left us way too early. I wasn't even halfway through my coffee, and now I have nothing but the lingering taste of cardamom, cinnamon and ginger to remind me of it. I deserve at least 5 more of these babies after the hours I spent working in the kitchen today. But seeing as I can't even look at a muffin without gaining 10 kg (mostly because I can't look at it and not eat it), the late muffin (may it rest in my stomach) will have to do.

Having studied the sport psychology chapter of the week ahead of time, I found myself with a free day. The sun is shining and there's not even a light breeze to turn the chill in the air into full-out cold. I should be out running, but my foot still hurts and I can't even take it for a walk. Another injury! Shocking.

So I decided that this was going to be the day I tried all those delicious sounding vegan recipes from Scott Jurek's book. Well, not all of them. Just two. But trust me: I've spent all morning and the best part of the afternoon sautéing onions, chopping walnuts and unavoidably washing the resulting heap of dishes (Three times I did them. Three.) But I think the food is going to turn out great. The lentil burgers are currently in the freezer, ready to be taken out and thrown into the frying pan when the occasion calls for it, and the chilli is happily simmering, filling the flat with a longing for cold winter days.

But it's not winter yet. Autumn in Skellefteå is glorious. The whole city is on fire, yellow, red and orange flames licking the evergreens. We went out last night after J came home from work for some drive-by shooting (of photographs, silly). He had also discovered a path in the woods he wanted to show me, leading to blueberry-lovers El Dorado, a remote single-track that doesn't seem to see much action, judging by the millions of blueberry clusters still clinging to the bushes. Delicious blueberries. In October

Upon seeing the path I was overcome by this inexplicable urge to hit it running. Soft ground, roots, lush forest, trolls and immediate access to food – it was perfect. Unfortunately it will have to wait a while until my foot gets better. Unless winter gets here first.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Motivation, achievement and enjoyment

My course book on sport psychology is fascinating. It's like 600 pages packed with wisdom that applies not only when you have your race shoes on, but in life in general. 

Take the chapters on personality and motivation, for instance, and their effect on performance. According to the authors, you can either be a high or a low achiever. High achievers are better at focusing on the process, the road to their destination. They choose races where chances of them winning are 50/50, or they set goals that are attainable with effort. Low achievers, on the other hand, pick situations that are either too easy or too hard. They set goals that are either impossible to reach or sure to be reached. High achievers are motivated by pride and a desire to succeed, whereas low achievers are motivated by a wish to avoid failure and shame. Needless to say, a person that sets unrealistic goals (like winning a gold medal at the Olympics without having trained) or too easy goals (like competing in a race against less talented and less well-trained opponents) is not likely to develop as an athlete. Without risk, without testing your limits and dipping your feet in the water you're bound to stagnate.

I am a high-achiever when it comes to running. My goals are realistic, even if a bit on the cautious side. I know what I'm capable of and I run races according to that, challenging myself a little more each time. And, above all else, I have fun doing it. Running is such a pure source of enjoyment for me, because it's a free zone. I make my own rules. I set my own goals. And what motivates me is pride and happiness.

I was sad to find out that there are no online courses in Sport Psychology after this one. When I applied last spring, I saw it as a fun way to learn more about my passion, running. I wanted to find out how others deal with injuries, how they set their goals, how group training can help or hinder an athlete. Studying this wasn't just the means to an end. Studying was the end. But somewhere along the line people started asking me if I wanted to become a sport psychologist. And somewhere along the line I started considering it and thinking that it would be cool to help others reach their goals. Then I found out that there wouldn't be an online follow-up to this introductory course. I had built up my expectations so high that I was tremendously disappointed. In typical low-achiever style, I had put my hopes in a goal that was out of reach. And my motivation to keep studying this course went out the window.

Slowly I'm getting it back, because -in life as in running- I am a high achiever, or at least I'd like to think I am. Reading my very interesting course book, becoming richer in knowledge and enjoying the process of learning is the goal here. Remembering why I took the course in the first place: not to reach a distant, unattainable goal in the future but because it was fun, today.