Saturday, 31 March 2012

Born to be mild


Those who go by past achievements shall eat humble pie. It says so in the Bible.

The plan today was to run the WRT Sandsjöbacka trail marathon route. 44 km, or (plan B) stop after 35 km when we left the woods and got back to civilisation. This was to be an important training session. I need all the trail kilometres I can get in preparation for the 80 km of BUM (Borås Ultra Marathon) in May.

It all started off well. I packed my rucksack with water, warm clothes and snacks and ran to the bus stop. An hour later, I met up with D from the group in Kungsbacka. He guided us with some help from his GPS on roads I'd never been on before. I was already having a good time. Running through new places is like catnip for me. I just love it.

A persistent headwind accompanied us for the first 10 km. Then we were in the Sandsjöbacka nature reserve and it couldn't reach us. Birches, pine trees and spruces cast their shade on us, while stones, roots and low bushes did their best to trip us. At some point there was no trail to follow. Just tangled grass, twigs and shrubs (that concealed pockets of water) and jumping from stone to stone hopefully without breaking a leg. I stumbled and almost fell at least three times. I also almost lost an eye when a branch whipped me across the face. I got off easy, with just a burst vessel to show for it.

One of the very few bits of trail that were easily run

After some bushwhacking, we were back on track. Sandsjöbacka is hilly and technical, mostly single track, with only very short parts of the trail being easy enough to let you put your guard down and catch your breath. It was fun to run on trail, but it was hard work. Yet I had to bite the bullet if I wanted to run BUM. Upwards and onwards for 270 elevation metres. Some really beautiful metres.

Up and away

D led the way and it finally clicked in my brain that we weren't actually running just on the Sandsjöbacka trail, but on some lesser trails too. I was overjoyed (see above about running through new places). We took a wrong turn somewhere, but it was only a short detour and we got to see a lovely path. 

Where does it go?

We got up to the plateau that overlooks the Sandsjö lake. Although I had been there once before, I was still struck by how beautiful and surreal this place was. In the summer, these are grazing grounds for cows and sheep, but now it was deserted. For some reason, it reminded me of the Swedish mountains, barren but still mesmerizing. My legs got some much needed rest from all the uphill running, but I could already tell that my strength was quickly running out.

Lovely

I warned D that I was thinking about quitting when we got to the road that cuts through Sandsjöbacka nature reserve. He suggested we slow down instead, but I didn't think that it was going to help. We were already running very slowly. I was tired to my bones. Whether it was because I spent almost three weeks off my feet, sick, or because I hadn't run any trails since last autumn, I don't know. Maybe it just wasn't my day.

When we got to the road, I said goodbye to D and felt a pang of guilt for dropping out and leaving him to run the rest on his own. I slowly made my way to the bus a few kilometres away, jogging a bit, walking a bit. There was no energy left in my body now. I was gravely disappointed. My goal to run BUM seemed more and more like a pipe dream. Any confidence I gained after Skövde was gone. If I collapse after just 10 km of trail, how can I run 80? 

Not as pretty

25 km later I crawled onto the bus that would take me home. Don't get me wrong. 25 km is not nothing, especially if you run them in good company and in such a wonderful environment. I had fun. But this was a test to see if I have it in me to run BUM, and, frustratingly enough, I failed. Maybe I need to rethink my goals for this season.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Need for speed


I really am no afternoon runner. My energy is at its highest half an hour after I've drunk my morning coffee, and then it slowly leaks out from my body during the day, until a few hours after midday when it reaches it's nadir and I start transforming into a zombie. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with food intake either. Today I ate a pretty big snack around 14.30, consisting of soya sausage and bread. Not the healthiest of snacks, and definitely not a favourite of mine (I hate most soya products, including sausage) but since I was planning on going running in the afternoon and eating dinner afterwards, I figured I had to eat enough to see me through those hours.

Big mistake. Whether it was the aforementioned energy dip or the soya sausages that my stomach still struggled to ingest three hours later, I don't know. But during the first kilometres of my run in the woods I felt heavy, my breathing laboured. I was really frustrated, because I had my Five Fingers on for the first time in over a month, and it's usually so easy to run in them. My legs feel so light when they don't have so much weight to carry, and my step is more technically correct, so I save a lot of energy. 


After a couple of kilometres, I met up with J, who had walked up to the woods to avoid running on tarmac. We started running together, and something strange happened. He pushed on, running up hills, increasing his speed on the flat parts, and suddenly I had to change gears. It was hard work, not like my usual jog-around-the-trail, listening-to-the-purty-birds-and-contemplating-life kind of pace.

I liked it. It wasn't hard enough to make me swear I'll never go running again, but it was hard enough to send my heart racing and endorphins rushing through my veins. I liked the challenge.

When I got home and looked at the splits data from my Garmin, I realised that this ”challenging” pace was not higher than my usual comfortable pace. At least the one I had before I got ill and missed almost three weeks of training. But now I got a taste of what it's like to push yourself with the help of others. Who knows. There might be an interval-loving runner in this little ultra turtle after all.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Oxygen


Mirage, meet forest. Forest, meet Mirage.


After 2,5 weeks of running abstinence and withdrawal symptoms, it was finally time to introduce my Mirage to some dirt and my oxygen-starved body to some fresh forest air. I wanted to catch the sunrise, so I headed out at 06.30. Not a soul was to be seen. Not a sound was to be heard, except the sound of my shoes on gravel.

Soon that gravel was replaced by pine needles, and that sound was replaced by birds gossiping in the trees. Wisps of evaporating morning frost laced the forest clearings, and the lakes were painted orange by the rising sun, enchanted. I kept expecting a hand to reach out from the water and hand me a sword. Running in the woods was a primal, pagan way to greet the morning sun.


I let my body find its own comfortable pace, and that today was an easy 6 min/km. My pulse was normal throughout, but I did notice that I've lost some stamina when I ran up the steepest hills. That was only to be expected, of course. I'll soon be back on track.

It got easier and easier the furthest I ran. It usually takes me at least 5 km to warm up, and by the time I got home after 10 km I was just starting to get in the flow. All in all, my comeback was everything I had hoped it would be, and more. I couldn't have asked for better weather or lighter legs. It was an hour of blissful well-being.

Now to get on with the rest of my day. It's going to be a very busy one, with appointments in the morning and climbing in the afternoon.

My day so far (written at 6 am)


04.00: Neighbour's alarm clock goes off. In my half-asleep state I try to switch my own clock off, pull some cords out of the socket, but it doesn't help. After a minute, the alarm stops.

04.07: Cat number 1 visits the litter box that's so conveniently placed in the bathroom right opposite our bedroom, where the acoustics are great. Digs in the litter box. Wakes me up.

04.15: Neighbour's alarm clock goes off again. Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep. I still haven't figured out that it's not my alarm clock. Still half-asleep, some previously uncharted part of my brain comes up with the theory that my alarm clock is picking up radio signals from the table lamp. I try pulling the lamp cord out, realise it's already out. Fumble with the clock, try to place it on the floor where I at least can't see it, realise its cord is too short, give up. After a minute, the alarm stops.

04.24: Cat jumps on the bed. Wakes me up.

04.30: Neighbour's alarm clock goes off. Now I know that I can't do anything about it. Count the seconds. After 60 seconds, the alarm stops. I change sides on my pillow.

04.38: Someone somewhere in the building slams a door. Wakes me up.

04.47: Someone somewhere in the building flushes their toilet. Wakes me up.

04.53: Cat number 2 visits the litter box. Digs in the litter box, then on the adjacent, slightly loose-walled metal short side of the bath tub. Wakes me up.

04.59: Said cat comes into the bedroom, jumps onto a chair and by doing so dislodges bits of sand crystal that have gotten caught in his paws when he was in the litter box, sending them flying all over our bedroom floor. That is the last straw. I give up trying to go back to sleep, get up and make some breakfast instead. A night of much needed sleep comes to a premature end, only 6 hours after its commencement.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Spring forward


Is anyone else suffering from the effects of the clock change yesterday? I woke up with a start this morning when the alarm clock rang, my head aching. I then spent the entire day yawning, and now I'm trying to keep awake another hour or so, so that I can go to bed at a less pensioner-friendly time than 8 o'clock.

Today also meant taking my bike into work for the first time this year. Now I'm aching in all sorts of places. I'm looking forward to incorporating these short bike rides into my training, not because these few kilometres will make a huge difference (they might do my knees some good), but mainly so that I don't have to use the bus any more. I'm probably going to miss my run commute, but on the other hand it will force me to run in the woods more often. As if I need persuading.


I am anxiously waiting for Wednesday to come, so that I can finally test my health and my legs. Have they forgotten how to run? How much of my stamina and strength have I lost? I checked my resting heart rate earlier, because an increased heart rate can mean that there is an infection in the body. I used my Garmin to count that, and it showed a reassuring 53 bpm. That's a bit lower than usual. But because I am a bit sceptical when it comes to my Garmin's ability to determine my heart rate (it tends to lose the connection to the heart rate monitor sometimes), I checked it manually, the old fashioned way, ie by placing my right index finger on my left wrist and counting. The results weren't as reassuring. Almost 60 bmp, a good 4 bpm more than usual.

This will drive me crazy.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Doesn't get much better than this

T-shirt. The smell of grilling in the air. Bird song. Squinting to keep the bright light from blinding you. I don't know how long this great weather is going to last, but I'm taking advantage of every sun-drenched moment. An effort at climbing this morning went better than last time, but I'm still not back to the strength I had 3-4 weeks ago. A walk with J in the woods later was so close to perfect, the only thing missing was a slightly higher speed. Three days left. I have to try running some time, DAD.

I took the Nikon with me on the walk again, and was lucky enough to catch a lot of wildlife on it.

How much would a woodpecker peck if a woodpecker could peck wood?
A very inviting trail


A wild rabbit...
...squinting in the sun. Commence cute-meltdown now.
Some eager daffodils
And my right-place-at-the-right-time photo opportunity: a young moose calf...

...and its suspicious mother.




Saturday, 24 March 2012

A change will do you good


I'm sitting down for the first time in 6 hours. The planned cycle ride was postponed due to less than excellent weather, and suddenly J and I had the whole day to ourselves. So what better way to spend a grey Saturday than to move the bedroom.

We live in a two-bedroom flat. One of the bedrooms was used to sleep in, the other as an office / gym. But because of our mollusc-intelligence neighbour and the traffic outside our window, we've had trouble getting our beauty sleep. That's why we switched the two rooms around. It was a lengthy project, one that left me with an achy back, but now it's done and we're both really pleased with the result. The bedroom is much cosier, and the office / gym suddenly has room for even more torture devices exercise instruments.

I even found a place to hang my medals. From right to left: 5Ks, 10Ks, Halves, Marathon and Ultra. Too heavy to the right, too few to the left.

High on this surge of energy that I suppose I always have when I don't spend half the day running (it's been 20227 minutes since I last ran, but hey, who's counting), I then attacked the Plant. The Plant is sitting on our kitchen window and has been spreading out in every which direction, including upwards, with its thorny claws. We've been having nightmares where it leaves its pot and hops over to where we're sleeping, and then wraps its green tentacles around our throats and chokes us. So it was time for it to get a haircut.

I approached it with caution, because, you know, the thorns? I also approached it with a pair of scissors. I hacked away with gleeful abandon, using the scissors to push the thorny branches into the garbage bag. When I was done, I took a step back and admired my work. There were some dry leaves caught up in the tangled mess of the Plant. I may or may not have used the vacuum cleaner to take these away.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Substitutes


This sunny weather is killing me. My lips are a bright red, my cheeks are rosy, my mood is great, but I still have to be a good girl and refrain from running, at least for another few days, no matter how healthy I think I am. Still 4 pills to go in my antibiotic course. That means Wednesday. On my day off - how convenient!

So I make the most of it. I did some strength exercises this morning, though nothing too strenuous. The plank was a bit tough and my heart did get a mini workout there, but otherwise it went really well and my body responded without complaints. I then walked home after work in the diminishing sunshine and soaked up the weak rays that could just about reach me over the rooftops. Not even the constant noise from all the cars endlessly driving past could put me in a bad mood.

I might venture on a long, easy cycle ride by the sea tomorrow. I think my body can take it. Maybe it's not such a bad substitute to running.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The most beautiful music


Still no running for this restless soul. Still coughing up small, delightfully colourful bits of my lungs. Still a few days to go before I can put on my Mirage and make them dirty on muddy forest paths.

This morning I took the bus to work. It was really early when I walked to the bus stop. It was still dark, with just the faintest hint of dawn on the horizon. As soon as I arrived at the bus stop, I heard it: the pandemonium of bird song all around me. How many different kinds were there? Sparrows? Doves? Seagulls? I was spellbound. They were ecstatic.

I remembered similar mornings last year, the air still cool at 5 o'clock, the way the woods smelled, the way I caught fleeting glimpses of deer, the way I had the world all to myself, and my heart ached for that early run. And then I got this irrational fear that I am going to be ill so long that these precious moments will pass and I will miss them. That the first morning light will come earlier and earlier as the year gets older, and by the time I'm healthy again the dawn will come when I'm usually still asleep. I'm a morning person, but I'm not crazy enough to get up at 3am to go for a run.

After work I took the tram into town to meet J for some climbing. I got off at an earlier stop and took a short stroll through Guldheden. I love the houses there. They hide among the tall pines, brown against green. And the crocuses were adding a splash of lilac.



Climbing went less well. I was only supposed to belay J, but you know I had to try climbing as well. I thought I was being smart when I started climbing on the easy 5 and 5+ routes; but not even they were easy enough for me today. My arms were shaking after just two climbs. My humiliation continued when we got home and I vacuum cleaned the flat. I got sore muscles from it. No, really. Less than two weeks ago I ran an ultra. Now I get a backache from vacuum cleaning. Even the mighty shall fall.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Treehugger


Did you guys know that spring is here? Since I was under house arrest for a week and a half, I hadn't even noticed. But I did venture outside for a short-ish walk this morning (6 very easy kilometres), with lots of stops to take photos with my Nikon. My poor Nikon. I've been neglecting it. I mean, modern mobile phones can take pictures too, but if I could take my Nikon with me when I'm out running, I would do that. Every time. I mean, look at the pictures I, a complete novice when it comes to photography, took. My Nikon practically did all the work itself.













In other news, my rant this morning about beauty ideals attracted some unexpected traffic to this blog:



See? Some people think hairy armpits are hot. We're all different, people. (Hey, guy who's into hairy armpits? Sorry to disappoint you, it's not that kind of blog. But I'm ok, you're ok)

When kids have body image issues, you know society's collapse is nigh


A friend of mine wrote on FB this morning that her 5-year old daughter told her that she thought she wasn't blonde or thin enough. That is so wrong, horrible and heartbreaking in oh so many ways. It makes me so sad that a little child would have this twisted, negative perception of herself.

Make no mistake. Even little children can have body image issues, deny food, think badly of themselves. Where it comes from is anyone's guess, but most likely it is from their peers. 5-year olds can say some mean things sometimes, but it would be just as mean and wrong to blame them for the things they say. They don't exist in bubbles, in isolation from society. Rather they are receptacles for all the junk society throws at them. Maybe they picked up these body image criticisms from their parents and just repeated them. Or maybe they just saw something on TV or in magazines.

And that's my biggest issue right there. There is a flood of biblical proportions when it comes to skinny, ”perfect” women in magazines and TV. Hell, even the women in children's films look like supermodels (I'm looking at you, Disney). So how is a little child of 5 to apply any critical thinking when they are so bombarded with these images that they think that that's the norm, when it's clearly the exception? That this is what women are supposed to look like? And don't even get me started on Barbie dolls.

There are so many sides to this issue that stretch beyond the scope of this blog; feminist, sociological, psychological. But ask yourself why the skinny, slightly unhealthy-looking, under-aged supermodel look has become the beauty ideal in today's society. Why should women strive to become like that, when the road to get there is a road of starvation and self-punishment? When women exercise not in order to stay healthy or to feel good, but just so that they can get the perfect bikini body? What kind of sick SOB pushes these ideals, and what is their agenda?

When a country that is supposed to be among the most tolerant on the planet has members that publicly humiliate and bully others because they look ”different” (like, for example, because they have hairy armpits – oh noes!), we have a long way to go as humans. There are no easy solutions to problems like these. But, parents, please teach your children to love themselves and others just the way they are. Teach them to think for themselves and not mindlessly accept what the media tells them. Teach them to be open and kind.

Man it's a jungle out there.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Enough!


Enough! I've been writing about how sick I am since, well, since I got sick! I'm sick of writing about how sick I am! And so are you!

One last thing though. Because I want you all to know how ridiculous this flu has been. A few hours after I started my course on antibiotics, I got an ear infection. Kick a person while she's down, why don't ya. 


But like I said. Enough of this. I'm on antibiotics and, despite all evidence to the contrary, I will be healthy again one day. IF I DON'T DIE OF OLD AGE FIRST.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The light at the end of the tunnel


That'll teach me to criticise Swedish doctors. It will teach me in a pedagogic, understanding, turn-the-other-cheek way. My doctor is the nicest doctor I've ever met, like someone's friendly old grandpa or Santa Claus. Not only did he give me antibiotics for respiratory tract infection and sinusitis (thank you Santa!), he also had a look at my knee. He wanted to prescribe a Cortisol nose spray too, but I think I'll be ok with the prescription-free stuff. I'm not a big fan of taking medication (I'd rather let my body fight its battles by itself as much as possible), but boy was I glad that he gave me antibiotics. I want to get rid of this debilitating infection, now. And now I have an army of next-to-invisible little dudes to help me.

I haven't posted a photo on this blog in ages. Here's what I dream about when I'm lost in the mists of fever.

The doctor couldn't find any serious problems with my knee. He twisted it this way and that, and said that it was good that it didn't hurt. He thought I can run on if it doesn't hurt, but that I should stop immediately if it starts hurting. I suppose there is an upside with this illness. My knee gets lots of rest. Now if only my face didn't hurt like 5 morbidly obese elephants were jumping up and down on it...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Cabin fever

So you know how I thought I was getting better? Ha! Fooled you! My temperature went up again, I think I have a sinus infection, and typing this is about all I can do physically right now without collapsing in a heap. No, it's not even running that I'm missing right now. It's the simple things that I took for granted: doing the dishes. Vacuum cleaning. Cooking. Breathing through my nose.

I watched a documentary about Badwater 135, a very tough ultra that is so hot that people train for it in saunas (true story). And I was like, you wanna know hot? Try being in my HEAD. Then I took a painkiller to drive the fever down. I kinda feel like a jukebox. Pop in a coin and I'll sing, but then when the coin's value is up, I'll be just as dead as I was before. Painkillers only give temporary relief.

I haven't been this ill since...well, if I've ever been this ill in my life, I sure don't remember it. It's not the intensity that's unique, because my fever is not that high, but rather how long it takes for me to get better. Will I ever get better? It's not looking very promising right now. I'm just as ill now as I was a week ago. I keep getting this vision of myself stepping out of the flat, finally healthy, and finding out that everyone else on the planet has aged 20 years, Rip Van Winkle-style.

I'm hoping that my doctor will have time to see me tomorrow. If I'm lucky, he'll give me some medication to help me get better. If not, I'll get to hear the famous Swedish-doctor words once again: "Take a painkiller and rest".

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Exclusive interview

So hey, I know there's been an awful lot of book-related posts around this running blog, but don't you worry. I just started a really long book that's bound to take me days to finish. Unfortunately, I see another week or so of resting in my future before I've kicked this flu's butt, so no running to report about either.

To make it up to you, I interviewed a previous running addict (who prefers to stay anonymous), to serve as a cautionary tale that, sometimes, too much running can be bad for you. Exclusively for Running for Life, here's the story. Let this be a lesson to you all!

- So, when and how did you become addicted to running?
- Well, Shaman, I, like many others, fell into running by trying some lighter stuff first. Cycling, weight lifting, you know. The kind you can easily get at your local gym. Everyone was doing them. Gateway stuff. You could even get them at school. I wanted to be cool, like the other kids. Then one day they just didn't do it for me any longer. I had to try the heavier stuff.

- What was your first experience with running like?
- Wow, man, I'm telling ya, it was awesome. I felt so light, I was flying, and I had the energy to go for hours. I was high as a kite. I floated. I could see the universe, the stars, the end of the world.

- How did that addiction develop?
- I kept telling myself I was in control. "Just one more kilometre and I'm done", I'd say. Bullsh*t. I was kidding myself. The more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. It was all I could think about. I stopped calling my friends, my family. I lost interest in forming a relationship. I could hardly hold down a job. Basically, I didn't have a life outside running. And talk about getting the munchies afterwards.

- Did you have any enablers?

- Are you f*cking kidding me dude? Don't we all? I met some guys who were into the same kind of sh*t. We did some crazy, probably illegal stuff together. I mean, (whispers) trail running? Do you know what a kick that gives? If you're not hooked by that point, you get hooked! And even worse, man, ULTRAS! Man, we were out of our heads! (laughs) Talk about good times... (stares away into nothing, reminiscing)

- Did you have any tough periods?

- Oh man, don't remind me. There were times I could not run, maybe because I was on holiday, maybe because of the occasional visitor, and then I got the shakes. I tried substitutes, queued for hours at the local store for a magazine handout and stuff, but they weren't like the real thing, you know? They'll tell you it is, but it ain't.

- So how did you decide to quit?
- It went too far. I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into the addiction. Talking about it. Dreaming about it. Everyone could see it happening except me. People told me I should get help. A personal trainer or something. Someone who could help me find alternatives, like yoga. I wouldn't listen. I thought I had this under control. Until I couldn't help but listen. I got a stint in prison.

- You did time in prison?
- It was ugly. I overdosed during an ultra trip, and got the flu, man. I was a mess. Lost a lot of weight, couldn't go outside, watched reality shows...it was the lowest point of my life. But it kept my ass away from running.

- That sounds painful.
- It was! The withdrawal symptoms were worse than injuries. I tried telling myself that it would all be over soon. That the pain would go away. I just had to wait it out. I counted the hours and minutes. Watched YouTube clips about the Western States 100 to get my fix. Finally, I stayed off of it long enough to realise that I was only hurting myself. This addiction was the problem, not the withdrawal symptoms. That's when I decided to quit.

- How did you go about doing that?
- I joined Runners Anonymous and followed their twelve step programme. First, you have to admit that you have a problem. You have to look at yourself and admit it. Then, you have to change your lifestyle. It won't be easy, so you'll need a sponsor - no, not that kind of sponsor. Someone who'll support you, like a physiotherapist, or an orthopedic. Someone who can tell you about the damage you're doing to your body. Then you have to help others see the light. I'm planning on converting my previous enablers. I got so much help from others in group therapy, I'm hoping that they will, too.

- How's life going for you now?
- I've been clean for one week, and so far so good. Of course, I still look upon colleagues that sneak out for a quick round on their lunch break as the lucky ones. I wish I could join them, be as careless as they are. But then I just go inside and distract myself with cake or watch some TV. One day, I know I'll be able to look at runners not with envy, but rather with pity. They don't know what they're missing, that they're wasting their lives. 

Oh yeah. Another Cannonball Read #12: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

Are you as tired as I am of the ratio of book reviews/running stories on this blog? Sorry, it's not about to get better any time soon.

The sofa has become my prison, handkerchiefs my smuggled cigarettes and oh-so-temporary relief. I'm feeling a little better today, but these health improvements come at such a staggeringly slow speed that by the time I'm healthy, the sun will have swallowed the earth.

Anywho. Book review number 12. Spoilers ahead. Don't say I didn't warn you.

This perfect day by Ira Levin (he who wrote Rosemary's baby and Stepford Wives, among other things) is a quasi-science fiction book written in the late sixties. Taking place in a dystopian future, where moods are regulated by drugs and all decisions are made for you by a computer, Chip is getting anxious to break free. He wants the freedom to make his own choices, to pick whom to marry and where to live. This "sickness" soon comes to the attention of a group of people who also are "sick", who also want to stop taking drugs and live life to the fullest. Together with them at first, and later with just one of them, Chip will indeed leave this life for what he thinks is a better one. Only his dreams are crushed when he finds out that the outside world is not really what he thought it would be.

I wouldn't call myself a science fiction enthusiast, although I have read a few books by Asimov, Dick and others that I really enjoyed. I like science fiction films a lot, especially the ones with dystopian futures. I couldn't get past how this book seemed to lack the science fiction bit, although it is for reasons that I can't put my finger on. It was simply written, lacking the vision and atmosphere that other sci-fi books I've read had. The subject is not original, but that wouldn't have mattered if it had been written in a better way.

The fact that I couldn't feel any sympathy for Chip only made things worse. I couldn't see what his motives were most of the time, other than lust, and there was no personality to speak of. Except when it came to his violent tendencies.

Seriously. "Rape"? You "rape" a woman and, because of that, she suddenly comes to her senses and wants to join you in your rebellion? And then you go and put "rape" in quotation marks as if it's not a real rape your character is committing? I just can't overlook that. I hated Chip and Levin for this. Is that the freedom Levin is advocating for as an alternative to your life being regulated by a computer? Greed, violence, selfishness? Or does he really think humans aren't better than that?

It's not a book I will be reading again, nor one I am recommending to others. The only redeeming thing about it was how quick a read it is.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Relativity theory


Patience and boredom are both relative to their context. Take a 6-hour race, for example. You run around the same loop 50 times and time still flies. You think you'd be bored, and sure, there are moments when you think that you'd rather be watching reruns of the weather forecast for Khujand, Tajikistan, than run another lap, but on the whole you are so deep within yourself that time ceases to exist.

Spend even 10 minutes watching daytime television, on the other hand, and you know boredom. Especially when your ill health prohibits you from doing anything constructive, like crawling to the bathroom and gauging your eyes out with a pair of tweezers. I think the highlight of my TV-watching experience yesterday might have been the Shopping Channel's ad for supportive bras. I didn't know how big boobs can get. Fascinating.

I settled into a routine early on. Blow my nose. Cough. Drink water. Blow my nose. Take temperature. Marvel at how the fever does not badge at all. Blow my nose. Read a couple of lines from my book. Cough. Log on to Facebook, which is completely dead because everyone's at work. Blow my nose. Consider amputating nose because surely there must be something wrong with it. No normal nose can produce so much snot. Lather, rinse, repeat.

No, seriously. It's not as glamorous as it sounds.

Today I shall not let my illness get the best of me. Before I collapse on the sofa, I shall be prepared. Movies. Books. The latest issue of Trail Runner Magazine (yey!). And time will just fly until I'm healthy again.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Cannonball read #11: And then the vulture eats you by John L. Parker J. (editor)

One of the very few good things about being ill is getting the chance to read a lot. How much of what you're reading you understand while running a fever is up to discussion, but just having finished the inventively titled "And then the vulture eats you" by John L. Parker J. (editor), I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and it's not just because of the fever.

Essentially a collection of short stories written by ultra marathon runners, the book covers this wide world of 6 day races, adventure runs, grueling 100-mile races and more. Being more of an adventure runner myself, in it to experience the world around me, I naturally thought that kind of story was the most riveting. That's not to say that the rest of the stories were bad. Written more often than not with humour, the whole book kept me entertained for the three hours that it took me to read. Still, my favourite stories have to be "Road Warriors", about a group of friends running through Indiana and "Le Grizz". This is the kind of feat that appeals to me, to run for days with friends, absorbing the scenery, or to run through a nature reserve.

The only flaw I could possibly find with this book (apart from its appalling cover) would be that it wouldn't be for everyone. You have to either be an ultra runner or interested in people who push their limits to appreciate what the writers go through. Otherwise it is just too easy to call them crazy and put the book down. But if you'd like a peek inside an ultra marathon runner's head, this book will give you plenty.

Cannonball read #10: We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson


I didn't want to write a review right away when I finished this book. I wanted to wait a while and let it sink in.

We have always lived in the castle, written by Shirley Jackson in 1962, is a story about two young sisters, Constance and Merricat, that live with their uncle in a house outside a village. They are seclusive, avoiding all human contact, fearing the whispers and even the taunting of the villagers. The reason for that is that their family died of arsenic poisoning a few years ago, and the prime suspect was Constance.

The book is quirky and charming, yet creepy and disturbing at the same time. The two sisters are portrayed as two opposites, one impulsive and selfish, one caring and thoughtful. The titular ”castle” is one of the main characters in the story, so majestic in its sinister history, a shelter for the young women, always under attack (or perceived attack) from the villagers.

I get the impression that the book is a window into these two women's lives, that exist in suspended animation, in a timeless vacuum that they themselves created. I write ”women” but until Constance's age is revealed later in the book, I thought of the sisters as teenagers. They have truly created a bubble for themselves, where nothing, not even time, can affect them. They don't need to age, if they don't come into contact with the outside world. We grow up and become adults partly through gaining wisdom from the conflicts we face in every day life. Take away these conflicts and you're left with eternal childhood.

The book's main conflict comes in the form of a cousin that threatens to upend the ”perfect” existence that the sisters have created for themselves. Constance is tempted to move on towards adulthood; but it's not that easy. Love prevails.

I loved this book. I hesitate to recommend it to others, however, because it is quirky and quirky is not for everyone. On the other hand, it's a short, easy read. Even though I'm not a fan of Neil Gaiman myself, I'm sure this book would appeal to Gaiman fans.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Sickness and Sirens


This dry-lipped, lung-chunks-coughing, pale, pathetic little creature is a far cry from the superwoman who ran almost 60 km a few days ago. The woman who had strength left to ”sprint” the last few minutes of the race is now a ghost, wandering through the flat wailing and rattling her throat lozenge bottle. A rotting zombie, only instead of brains I'm moaning for peppermint tea.

Still, today I'm feeling better. And by better I mean that my extraordinary snot production (one might call it...ULTRA snot production. My new-found status as an ultra runner has many perks) is slowly grinding to a halt. Yesterday I wasted a Brazilian rainforest in tissues, today I think I might get by with only a recycled toilet paper roll from Willys. But my throat is a mess. Obviously envious of all the attention I showed my nose yesterday, it decided to step forward and remind me that it was, in fact, it that it all started with. My voice is a deep baritone. So I'm trying to think positive here and decide how to put this to good use. Prank call my friends? Take up opera singing? Mess with my mum and tell her I started smoking? Get a new career answering telephone calls from lonely-- 

On second thought, never mind.

Luckily, the flu came at a fortunate time, during a period when I would have been resting and recuperating from the race anyway. I had a thought after the race to take a couple of weeks off from running and do other things instead (climbing, cycling, swimming), to give my body a chance to heal (read: mainly my knee). Although it is kind of frustrating that any ache from the race was miraculously already gone by Monday, and that the spring weather we're having in Gothenburg right now is doing its best to lure me outside the flat, I know that my knee is not 100%. So it's just as well that I'm sick. It saves me getting tempted to turn a blind eye to the elephant in the room and go running anyway.

However long this rest period might turn out to be, a small exception is planned for this Saturday (my health permitting), when I'm booked on a running technique follow-up course with Markus Stålbom. Markus helped a lot last year when I started transitioning to minimalistic footwear and better running style, but then I went and neglected to keep working on it. Millions of different injuries ensued. So now it's time to take another long, hard look at how I run and correct my mistakes. Let's hope I'm well enough to participate.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Cannonball read #09: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

And so the Hunger Games trilogy is concluded. With a book that leaves me confused. Did I like it? Did I hate it? Was I indifferent?

Obviously, this being the third part, spoilers are to be found below for those that haven't read the first two books.

Katniss Everdeen is now in District 13, among the rebels. She feels trapped and is driven by her hatred for President Snow. At the same time, she feels that she is manipulated by the rebels to become their Mockingjay, their symbol of rebellion. For the first half of the book, her goal is to free Peeta, who's being held captive by Snow.

Katniss is a strong character. But despite her passion, her motives are unclear. She is truly on fire when it comes to her emotions, but at the same time she can appear to be cool and distant. Can she feel love? In the first book, she volunteered herself for the Hunger Games to save her little sister. In this one, judging by her behaviour towards her family and friends, she's an empty shell. Her behaviour consists of knee-jerk reactions. It is often mentioned in the book that her actions have caused other people to die, still she doesn't learn from that but keeps going on with her personal vendetta: not to heroically avenge others, but to exact revenge for her own suffering.

The first half of the book feels scattered, aimless, just a bunch of events thrown together for no obvious reason other than to create tension. They seem like pointless distractions. The book picks up speed in its second half, when suddenly the goal is clear and everything the characters do is for that purpose. It is exciting at times, although other times I got angry at the writer for coming up with completely unnecessary plot devices that felt like cheap thrills and contributed nothing to the story.

Mockingjay was certainly an entertaining book, but it felt shallow and messy. It was definitely the weakest part of the trilogy.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Now what?


So the day finally dawned when I can look at myself in the mirror and see an ultra runner. A sprinter by ultra standards, but an ultra runner nonetheless. And now what? Do I still find ultra distances challenging and interesting? Or has my thirst for running been quenched by this achievement? Was it just about checking a box for me?

As I'm sitting here nursing the fever that inevitably followed the somewhat risky running-with-a-sore-throat shenanigans last Saturday, I am still drunk with happiness. This was a long time coming. From my first foray into the ultra world at a training run in November 2010, to my missed chance at participating in Skövde 6H last August, to the Ultra Intervals last autumn, it was a long time coming. Not only did I run the ultra, but I ran much further than I had ever dreamed of. But now that I've achieved my goal, what happens next? Should I take up the seedy, underground activity of stamp collecting instead? Join the porcelain figurine appreciation society? Seek new thrills at a bird watching club?

This was a test of strength for me. I wanted to find out just how much I'm capable of, so that I know what to aim for next. I know that I was tauntingly close to 60 km. I know I could have run it if only I had walked a little less (I should have listened to H). Still, right now it's not my kilometre addiction that's driving me towards new heights. The biggest kick I get out of running is from being close to nature and seeing new places. And that's precisely what I want to do next. I want to have an adventure, be it in a race or just on an average Saturday running with my friends. Now that I know what I can do, I have a springboard of confidence from which to daringly jump onto greater things. My thirst for running is far from quenched. On the contrary. Skövde was like a salty snack. A hot day in the desert. It only made me want it more.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Skövde 6H


I could finally breathe a sigh of relief when I sat on the train on my way to Skövde yesterday morning. I wondered why I put myself through this agony of entering races that are days away, and then worrying about all the things that might go wrong before that. And things could have gone wrong. My throat had been acting up and it was like a whole bucket of gravel was stuck in it. Was I well enough to run this? I had slept a total of 10 hours the last two nights, partly because of our brain-dead neighbour having a party on Thursday night and partly because I was anxious that something would happen and I'd miss the race.

Finally

For those of you that have never heard of a 6-hour race, here's the gist of it: you run around a loop as many times as you can within 6 hours. The Skövde loop was 1200 metres long. When these 6 hours have passed, you hear a signal that means that you have to stop where you are. Then someone comes around with a special measuring tool that calculates how far you are from the start, and adds that to the total. 

The race centre was still pretty empty when I got there

I arrived at the race centre a couple of hours before the race was to start. All my negative thoughts disappeared. I picked up my bib number and chips, relaxed and let myself observe all these ultra people around me. There were people of all ages, but I do believe there was a majority of the over-50s. Experienced ultra runners that have done this for donkey's years. I read a little to pass the time, loaded up with a sandwich and water and talked to H from the group, who arrived a bit later.

Four minutes left to the start


When it was time, we joined the rest of the 170 runners at the starting line, and then the pistol went off. It was a bit crowded at first, but we soon spread out. The sun was shining and it was warm enough, despite the best efforts of a persistent wind that was only going to pick up even more as the day went on. The surroundings were pretty; we were running in a small park in the heart of the city. The first 10 km went by very quickly. Sometimes I ran past people, sometimes they ran past me.


My knee started bothering me. Strangely enough it seemed to like running uphill. There is a famous slope in this loop, affectionately called the ”Murder slope”. My knee must be a masochist. Any efforts to get rid of the irritation, be it by changing my running style or by walking, was pointless and in one case even painful. But after the slope it always got better and finally it disappeared. 

Murder slope

I took a break every 5 km to drink water and to eat. I had a few minutes to spare every 10 km, as I kept a sub 6min/km- pace. The good thing is that, even when you walk, it counts in your total. Walking kept my legs fresh. After 25 km I decided to drink some coke from the cornucopia offered at the aid station. It was a mistake and a valuable lesson. I got such a stomach ache that I almost had to stop. I pushed on for another half hour until it felt better.

My motivation to keep running started disappearing after 30 km. I wondered what the hell I was doing running on a hamster wheel. Talking to some people I know helped, but in the end it was the music I played in my earphones that gave me a big kick in the butt and I picked up some speed. Well, for maybe 50 metres. Then I remembered how tired I was.

When I had run a marathon, which was my most basic goal, I saw that I had made a new personal record by 2 minutes, despite my walking breaks, my sleep deprivation, my aching knee and my cough. I moved towards my next goal, 50 km, and what I considered the ultra boundary. My motivation was low again. I knew I could make 50 km, there were almost 2 hours left to the race and I only needed to cover another 8 km. Unfortunately H had had to drop out, but I was very happy to see that he stayed at the side of the track and supported me.


I reached 50 km with just under an hour left. I walked one lap with H, who then asked me what I was doing walking. ”Shoot for 60!” he said. I thought he was nuts. But maybe 55 km wasn't so crazy? Not having put over 50 behind me, anyway. Not now. But a few hours ago I would have thought it was impossible. I started running again. One more km. Walk, run, walk. Suddenly I've crossed 55 km and I'm still going strong. Keeping an eye on the clock, I pick up some speed, and have run a couple more when they sound the signal. I stretch while I wait for them to come and measure my distance. H comes running and lends me a sweater so that I don't freeze while I wait, but I'm shivering because I can't believe my eyes. I am one of the top ten women in the country.

A cold shower later (with 170 people trying to use the shower at the same time, it's not that strange that the water was cold), we sit down to eat and chat. Then it's off to the train again. I have no words. I am tired but overjoyed. One of my craziest dreams came true. I am an ultra runner.


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

What I talk about when I don't talk about running


Some obligatory rest is good sometimes. You get other things done. Take today, for example. In just a few hours, I've done the dishes, cleaned the litter box and baked a spinach, olive and feta pie.


Oh, and I also had time to eat two portions of the aforementioned pie.


What? I'm carbo-loading.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Done


So I took the plunge. I counted how many people had entered the race in Skövde and as of this morning there were 124. The limit is 160, so I started feeling the pressure. What if I waited too long and it got full? On the other hand, what if I entered the race and then got sick? I don't think the entry fee is refundable. It never is.

But I entered anyway. My desire to run this race overpowered my stinginess. My plan to survive the biological warfare that is currently taking place at work is this: I shall not take a single breath until Friday afternoon, when I come home. I shall wash my hands thoroughly every time another human being comes close. In fact, no human contact whatsoever. If some bugger tries to breathe on me, I will tackle him/her (while holding my breath). And then I shall wash my hands again. You can't be too careful.

Commence the crossing of fingers now, please!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Tapering and chinese methods of torturing a runner


Isn't it wonderful that it's still light outside at 6 in the afternoon?

I ran home from work in the sunshine, choosing the shortest way (a mere 5 km) because this is a taper week before Skövde. Besides, with my luck I would probably stumble and break my leg the day before the race. I'm still not letting myself believe I might actually get to run the race this time, after I got sick the day before the race last time. Anything could happen. I might catch a cold. Get mugged on my way to the train station by an ultra running thief that hadn't booked any train tickets and now the train was full. Pink Floyd might decide they want to honour my life-long adoration for them by playing a live gig in my living room. The sky might fall.

So now I'm avoiding walking under ladders, breaking mirrors, the number 13, working on a Sunday and crossing paths with our black cat, Sote. In fact, I think I might lock him up in the storage room, where his evil voodoo power cannot harm me. And if that doesn't help, at least I'll get a good night's sleep.

Don't be fooled by his "who, me?" expression. He's pure evil.

I started my preparations for the race by going out last Saturday and drinking. Not heavily, but a couple of glasses of wine are enough to get my nose running and make me believe that I'm getting a cold. My friend S, who's currently taking a course in training and well-being, quickly turned the conversation to my favourite subject: me. Well, running, but it was my running we discussed. She has been following my injury history and BAM! That's when she dropped a bomb on me. She (and I can't write this without my eyes welling up, lips all quivering, I mean how could she say something like this, she's supposed to be my friend), she said that all those little annoyances I've been feeling are just precursors to injury. She said --

Let me catch my breath for a second. I just started hyperventilating.

She said that with overuse injuries like mine, you have to rest for --

Ok, Shaman, you can do this. Deep breaths.

3-6 weeks. She said.

I proceeded to cover my ears with my hands and sang loudly at the top of my lungs. La la la.

I could see her lips moving. LA LA LAAA, I sang. Even higher. In a high-pitched, shrill voice.

After I calmed myself down with some more wine, and she managed to convince me she meant well and that, despite appearances, she wasn't really trying to make me have a heart attack, I listened. And realised that she was right, only this wise advice was coming at the wrong time. I can't rest now! I should have done it in December, when the training season was over, when I could afford to take some weeks off. Not now, with all my important races taking place this spring!

After I uncovered my ears (cautiously, because who knows, she could still come up with some way to torture me. Despite the haze of alcohol I was in at that moment, I vaguely remember her mentioning something about *brrr* Military training), she told me she could take a look at my training logbook and see if there's any cause for concern. And if she finds any, I'll make a solemn promise to rest for a couple of weeks. This summer. Or when my injuries stop me. Whichever comes first.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Cannonball read #08: Relentless forward progress by Bryon Powell


Relentless forward progress is a guide book about running ultra marathons. Ultra marathons are distances, as the name suggests, that surpass that of a marathon. Races commonly start at 50 km. As a budding ultra runner, I looked forward to reading this book and learning more about this extreme type of running. Of course, in the age of the Internet, such books can easily feel redundant and unnecessary. You can find all the information you need on the countless websites that are out there. The key here is to separate the wheat from the chaff, find which sources of information can be trusted and which kind of information is relevant.

Bryon Powell is a reliable source. He's an established ultra runner himself, with many years' experience behind him, which he's eager to share with his audience. If that doesn't convince you, the guest spots he offers to various experts on several issues will. The book also covers a wide range of topics, from the basics of training for an ultra marathon to more specialised areas, like racing in extreme climates and barefoot running.

I learned a lot from this book that my online browsing hadn't taught me, because I didn't even think I needed to find out. With my first ultra coming up in just a week, I feel better prepared. If I could find a fault with this book it would be that its wide range of topics comes with a cost: he doesn't go in too deep. Still, Relentless forward progress is a great guide for beginners.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Bliss


If anything could chase last night's ghosts away, it was this morning's long run. There were 6 of us that met up in Skatås and lazily jogged around for 22 km. I had asked the group if we could keep a low pace, because with only one week left to Skövde I didn't want to push my luck and get injured. Still, I somehow ended up taking the lead, got carried away talking to a friend and put in a few faster kilometres on the hilly terrain of the Skatås 10K. The others had to ask me to slow down. That doesn't happen very often. It's usually me who has to ask them to slow down.

It couldn't have been much better than this. The easy pace kept my body strong, so after we were done I felt that I could have gone for another round. The sun warmed us up. We were running in the woods, something that I had missed doing all winter, so I was so full of joy that I could finally do it. My knee started complaining a bit towards the end, but it never hurt.

When I got home, I made some lunch that I hoped would fill my body with nutrients. Quinoa, kidney beans, corn, tomatoes, avocado and Brussels sprouts were laced with Västerbottensost (a strong, salty cheese), oregano, chilli and cayenne. I finished it off with a splash of olive oil. I could eat this dish every day and never tire of it. It truly is my favourite. Hopefully it will also help me resist the onslaught of viruses at work.

This isn't a food blog, but come on. Look at these colours.

But you can't build a strong immune system only on nutrients. Your mood and how stressed you are can make a huge difference too. You have to take care not only of your body, but of your mind as well. I started my day in a great way, chatting with my running buddies and soaking up the sunshine, and tonight, when we go out to dinner with friends, I'm bound to get some abs training from all the laughing that usually takes place when we meet up with them.

This morning's nightmares are but a distant memory.

Nightmares


I woke up from a nightmare at 4.30 this morning. I suppose it isn't so strange that my brain is still trying to process this crazy week, nor the anxiety that the next one is bringing. With tons to do at work (what else is new), the Skövde 6-hour race at the end of it plus some personal stuff, my mind is finding outlets for its worry any way it can.

In my dream I was in Skövde. I had taken the train there and I was now waiting for the race to start. My friends from the group were also there, and we were sitting there, chatting and taking it easy. Then, suddenly, I look at my watch and realise that the race has already started. An hour has already gone by. I jump up and tell my friends, while at the same time I frantically try to get ready. Their response is to sit back even more. ”There's no hurry”, they say. ”We're still going to make the 50 km”. Easy for them to say. They're fast, they can cover that distance in 5 hours, but I can't. I am going to miss my race.

I manage to fall back asleep. Another dream. I am on a cruise ship with lots of people I know. Family members, colleagues, others I know through work making guest appearances. The sea is stormy but the ship is big and sturdy. Still, it is worrisome, the way it sways, rises and falls on the mountainous waves. Inexplicably, the way it can only happen in a dream, buses drive past, but right before they pass us, it looks like we're on a collision course. I sit down to eat at an empty table, when suddenly this creepy stranger comes and sits right next to me, despite the fact that he could have chosen any other chair. And then he leans over and rests his back against me. I feel very uncomfortable, but I also get very angry and ask him what the hell he thinks he's doing. He leaves.

I call that dream ”Cruisin' for a bruisin'”.

My usual bout of pre-race hypochondria has already started, and I am closely monitoring any hiccups in my body. Does my throat feel sore? Is my thigh tense? Stomach feeling a bit weird? I've never wanted to run a race more than I want to run Skövde next week. My ultra début.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Battle wounds


I'm in such a ridiculously good mood today. I'm not sure why, but I'm sure the pain-free 10km in the spring sun helped. 


The battle wounds are healing. There's an ugly scab where they used to be, and when that falls off I'll have the scars to show for it, but what the hell. It only makes me look tough. Even if I'm all soft inside.