Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Hypochondria

I may or may not have called the Swedish Centre for Disease Control to come over in their hazmat suits and disinfect our flat. They may or may not have barked at me to stop calling them every time someone gets a cold. That is unimportant. What is important is that it is day 3 of J's house arrest and I'm getting antsy. 

This brilliant photo by mecredis

Last night I thought I had something in my throat. Something scratchy. This morning I SNEEZED. Once. I've been taking all the necessary precautions not to get ill, of course. I've been crawling on the floor to avoid the virus particle cloud that's floating at about J's height. Eating lots of garlic. Washing my hands before picking my nose. You know, everything the government recommends.

So, as much as it is possible when you share a bed with a sick person, I've been doing everything in my power not to get infected. I've even skipped the gym (a.k.a. disease nursery) this morning and exercised at home instead (ok, that might have had more to do with laziness and the still-fresh memory of last Wednesday's traumatic experience than anything else). I'm 11 km away from breaking my monthly distance record (which, coincidentally, is the length of the run I'm joining AIK for tonight) and my training has been going so well! Why change this winning strategy?

Another thing threatening to put a BIG spanner in the works is (and I'm going to write with really small letters now, because if I write with normal-sized letters it will make it true) a strange sensation of tenseness in my left foot, that may or may not be my imagination and may or may not resemble the plantar fasciitis tenseness I've had before in my right foot. This time, running is not to blame. This time, I'm convinced it's skiing's fault, so I'm putting that particular activity on hold for a few days and see how my foot feels. No, staying off skiing for a while has nothing to do with the fact that Monday's last ski lesson was a disaster and I couldn't learn how to turn and I fell so that I wouldn't fly off a cliff and onto the motorway below and I pouted and crossed my arms like a little girl and swore I wouldn't go skiing again for a long, long time.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Running with semlor

The things I do for love. J is staying home from work today because he has a fever, and I, being the good person that I am and wanting to take care of the man I love, asked him if he needed me to get him anything. He replied ”Semla”. Despite having doubts as to whether buying him a semla would constitute ”taking care of the man I love”, I made some changes to my planned running route so that I could swing by the local bakery and get him one.

Photo by pellesten

A semla is a sort of sweet bun with almond paste and vanilla-flavoured whipped cream on it. I suppose that, if you really wanted to prove that it's good for you, you could pretend that the sugar and fat aren't there and say that almonds and cream have vitamins in them. I'll pass, anyway. I'm on day 29 of my no-sweets challenge, and it's going really well, thank you. Although it was no challenge to resist the semlor. I don't like them that much. Wave a praline in my face, though, and I am not responsible for what happens next. Like the bite marks on your hand.



The 8km run was uneventful and not particularly exciting, due to the fact that I ran mostly in central Skellefteå. The weather was beautiful, though, which made me long for the woods and feel that the run was too short. I ran the last kilometre with a semla in my hand, trying to balance the box it was in just right, so that the precious, delicate contents wouldn't get turned to mush as I bounced up and down. Inexplicably I got some strange looks from passers-by. What's wrong? Haven't they seen a runner with a semla in her hand before?

Monday, 28 January 2013

A surreal run

A menacing wind kept throwing tiny frozen gauntlets at my face, challenging me to keep running despite the fact that said gauntlets had built a thick layer of ice on my glasses and I couldn't see a thing. Not that I was so keen on seeing the endless hill that lay before me. It went on forever. 


I had braved the icy rain and headwind to run up the hill and see what condition the snowmobile track by the lake looked like. Our coach had told me last Saturday that there was a map of snowmobile tracks online, and I had found it, revealing a whole new, exciting world that just waited out there for someone like me to come and explore it. This particular snowmobile track went past the tall hill I've had my eye on the last few days. But when I got there, I saw that it hadn't been used in a while, which would make it difficult to run on. This particular project will have to wait until spring.

That's the one, in the distance. Doesn't look like much, but appearances can be deceiving.

I continued on the road. There was no traffic and I had left the last houses of the town behind me. The wind growled in my face and slapped me with sleet, but I stubbornly fought back. It was a strange feeling, being here all alone. I was close to civilisation, but at the same time I was in the middle of a forest. A bruised sky was hanging low over my head, threatening to bring down doom upon me. I couldn't help thinking about the bear that was said to have awoken and gone for a stroll in the area, and when I saw some big tracks in the snow I just had to stop and look.

It came from the clearing on the left side of the road...

...and disappeared into the woods on the right side of the road.

No idea what animal made those, but it was big. My foot could easily fit in one of them. Not saying that it was a bear; maybe it was a moose. But the thought stayed with me even after I took a right turn onto a westwards forest road. I caught myself looking nervously at the trees around me a few times. Spooked? You bet.


The feeling that I was the last person left in the world and that I was running through a post-apocalyptic landscape persisted. The smell of chopped wood suddenly hit my nostrils, surprising me. I could see no chopped wood anywhere around me. The mystery was solved a couple of hundred metres later, when I came across a cabin, deserted by the looks of it, half-hidden behind a pile of tree trunks.


I have obviously watched way too many horror movies. My imagination was working overtime, creating scenarios about wild animals jumping at me from the woods or ill-willed strangers hiding in the cabin taking an interest in me. I blame the wind. Add some screeching violins and it would have been the perfect soundtrack to a Hitchcockian bloodbath.

I turned and ran back the same way. I could now hear barking in the distance. It sounded like a dog, but with the wind carrying and distorting all sounds it could have been anything. A deer. A snowmobile. As I got back to the main road, I felt how the wind was now on my back, gently pushing me up the hills. When the wind is on your back, life feels easier. Safer. Once I was back among the houses, I smiled a little bit. The run had been fun and exciting after all.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Bear!

I woke up this morning to the news that someone a few kilometres up the river had seen what he thought were bear tracks in the snow. Bears are, of course, supposed to be hibernating this time of year. I would too, if I were huge and had sharp claws and could therefore get away with sleeping for several months. But sometimes they do wake up if something disturbs them, and then they go looking for a new place to spend the rest of the winter.

With that in mind, I was happy I wouldn't be running alone in the woods today. I met up with the few of the AIK-members that had defied the -13 degrees cold and we headed west. We would be running in the forest again. I was happy. On our way to the snowmobile tracks we talked about skiing, mainly. It's a subject that's close to most people's hearts here in Skellefteå. The only topic that gets people talking more than skiing is the local hockey team.


In the forest, the track was covered by snow that had fallen over night. The trees surrounding it formed tunnels at places, with branches that were bending with the weight of snow. In the distance we could hear the roar of snowmobiles: there was a Swedish Championship in snowmobile jumping taking place not too far away. Yes, there is such a thing. No, I'm not making it up. We found a single track and followed it up the mountain. The uneven ground made us take small steps and keep a relatively low pace, so when we finally reached the top none of us were out of breath.

When we got back to the hockey arena and people started walking to their cars, I looked at my Garmin. I had to find another 5-6 kilometres. No problem. Back into the woods I went, following another single track that dog owners used, and came face to face with the bear.

Well, alright, it was just a squirrel. The stand-off didn't last long. By the time I had taken out my phone to snap its picture, it had decided that it had stared at me long enough and disappeared up a tree. I followed its example and ran on, with my fingers and my face freezing. 


I left the woods and turned back towards town, and without of the protection of trees around me I was really starting to feel cold. Normally I don't like wearing too many layers when I run, because sweating makes running feel more difficult, but now I wished I had had an extra t-shirt on, or at least some arm warmers. When I finally got home and reluctantly peeled off my clothes, my stomach and arms were bright pink. I jumped into the shower and stayed there for a long while, probably a lot longer than is environmentally friendly. I couldn't understand why I felt so cold. There was no wind to speak of and the temperature wasn't that low. My theory is that I was starting to get tired and hungry. I'm taking some extra clothes with me on my next long run.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Why you should never take me orienteering

I bit my fingernails anxiously. Metaphorically. I don't bite my nails. But I had to make a decision. My training schedule for today said 8 km but I woke up with my sore thigh muscles feeling only slightly better than yesterday. When I started following the schedule I promised myself I wouldn't hesitate to divert from it if I had to, like if I were ill or on the verge of turning soreness into injury.

But sometimes sore muscles feel better if you exercise them gently. Blood circulation helps them to recover. So I made a deal with myself: I would go out and start running, but if it didn't feel good, I'd stop and turn back. Said and done. After a kilometre or two, the soreness was almost gone and I jogged at an easy pace, not wanting to push my luck. The more I ran, the better I felt. The forest where I'd ran last Tuesday tempted me. The day was grey and small snowflakes fell from the sky, but the forest is always pretty, even if it's at its most beautiful in sunshine. I aimed for the horse track, planning on running it the other way around.

After running on the edge of the woods for almost 500 meters and not finding the track, I had to run back the same way. The truth was that I had no idea where that track was. It was only three days ago I ran there and I had already forgotten. Then I saw a snowmobile track that seemed to be going in the right direction and started running on it. And sure enough, after a short while I was on the horse track thinking that I knew where I was going. I came to a crossing, where last Tuesday I chose to run right, and now picked the left path. I was feeling adventurous, ready to explore. Brave even.


That feeling lasted about a hundred meters. Because after a hundred meters I was back outside the woods. I was completely disoriented. My usual point of reference in the sky, the sun, was hidden behind thick clouds. I had no idea where I was. Well, that's a slight exaggeration. I did know I was in Northern Sweden somewhere. Now I had to make a choice, right or left, and since I didn't know where I was, it didn't really matter which way I chose. I had an inkling I had come from the right somewhere, so I ran left and soon found myself on a compacted snow-covered single track which might have been fun to run on but also kind of dangerous because of all the holes in the ground. I was out again as soon as I got in and suddenly I knew where I was. It was nowhere near where I wanted to be, but at least I could find my way home from here and get my 8 km.

My muscles thanked me after this run. It really did them good. So I took them skiing, to spoil them even more for putting up with me. 3 rounds around the ski tracks equalled 9-odd kilometres without a single fall. I even managed to ski past an elderly lady. See, I'm ruthlessly moving up the ski ranks. First I ski past little kids, then I graduate onto pensioners. Next goal: blind skiers.

Cannonball read #02: Running through the wall: Personal encounters with the ultra marathon, by N. Jamison

Ultra running is the sport of transporting yourself over a distance further than a marathon on foot. "Running through the wall" is a collection of short stories about ultra running, written by both amateur and elite ultra runners. Most stories are about 100-mile long ultra marathons (160km). These stories are essentially race reports, but they often go much deeper, into the Why: Why would anyone want to put themselves through such an ordeal? What motivates people to willingly experience such physical and emotional agony? 


Being a budding ultra runner myself, I often seek out such books in order to learn more about my favourite sport. Not so much to learn about the Why, because I believe that each and every one of us has their own reasons for doing crazy things, but about the How: How do these people prepare for such a task? How do they train? What goes through their minds while they're doing it? How do they deal with practicalities, with doubt, with achy legs? The book provides some answers, but it's not a How-to book, like, for example, ”Relentless forward progress” by Bryon Powell.

The merit of this book lies within the variety of personalities and backgrounds of the ultra runners. Some are young, some old. Some are experienced, some less so. Some never face doubts, some are plagued by them. This makes the stories easier to relate to. The races these stories are about are also wildly different. From races in tropical forests and mountain ultras to multi-stage races in the desert, each one poses different challenges.

The problem with a collection of stories by people who just write about their passion as opposed to those who write for a living is, of course, that the quality of writing has its ups and downs. Some stories are beautifully described and gripping, full of emotions. Others are dry retellings of events, and you can almost feel how uncomfortable it was for the author to sit down and write a story. Then, there is the fact that most stories, as I mentioned above, are race reports from 100 mile ultras. I was hoping for a wider range of race lengths. My greatest achievement to date is almost breaking 60 km, so it's a great leap from that to 160 km. What comes in between? What's it like to run a 50-mile ultra? A 100 km one? And where do the hallucinations start?

Overall it was a fascinating read that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in extreme sports, or just curious about the limits of human endurance.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Sore muscles from hell

Now I've really gone and done it. What was comatose, unresponsive leg muscles after the lunges I did yesterday morning turned into two cranky old tree trunks after my 11km run with the club last night, and they refused to bend even the slightest without cramping up. It makes going to the loo painful. It makes going anywhere painful. I might have to start peeing in a bottle and train the cats to make me scrambled eggs.

Here's a word of advice for my readers: Using super-heavy weights as a shortcut to super-human strength will only turn you into a cripple. You've been warned.

Suitable activity for when your muscles are sore, as demonstrated by Tidus

So now I stumble around the flat like a zombie. My arms are stretched forward to balance out my butt. My butt is sticking out backwards so as to put as little weight as possible on my long-suffering thighs. I take small, gentle steps on my toes so as to not jar my muscles. I would be lying if I said that this sensation is wholly unwelcome. After spending months working on the machines and feeling nothing, now I'm actually getting something for the work I put in. Granted, pain is what I'm getting for it, but it's still something.

There is a downside, of course (what, you mean the pain isn't the downside?). I wanted to go skiing this afternoon. My ski lesson last Monday went really well and I conquered some endless slopes that used to terrify me. But new-found confidence has an expiration date, and if I wait too long before I go skiing again I might find myself frozen with fear on top of a hill again. So the revised plan is to play games watch series crap! surf the Internet dammit! WORK ON THE COMPUTER today, rest my body and go skiing tomorrow instead, when muscle soreness has hopefully moved on to plague some other poor, over-ambitious bugger.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Why I'd rather run

Determination won over laziness this morning and I finally dragged myself down to the gym. There are many reasons to want to avoid it (for example, if the alternative is a warm bed) but there are also many, MANY reasons to go there (for example, if the alternative is getting my head shoved down a public toilet or getting my teeth pulled by sadistic monkeys with a wrench. What? It could happen). No, but seriously. A good reason is to build a strong body that can withstand the wear and tear of running.

I had been given some new leg exercises that involved free weights by the gym instructor, and I was curious to try them. I might have been a tad ambitious when I did lunges with a 5 kg-dumbbell in each hand but I felt strong. Beforehand. Because afterwards I could hardly walk. Never mind how I'm going to be able to run 10 km tonight. Truth be told, free weights are so much more fun than machines. I might just be able to drag myself to the gym once a week after all.

Or...might I? As I did a set on the abs machine, a gentleman sat on the rowing machine opposite me with his back turned and then I saw it. Half his arse was hanging out. No, not just a little bit at the top – HALF HIS ARSE. I averted my eyes in horror but my morbid fascination got the best of me. Surely he must have noticed he was mooning the entire gym and pulled up his pants? I had to look. Nope. Arse still there. The image was now forever burned in my retina and was going to haunt me in my dreams.

Now I know what you're all thinking. What am I, some sort of fashion police to dictate to people how to wear their clothes? What, am I like the Trinny and Susannah of the gym world? No. No, I am not. I hate that programme and everything it represents. But the plumber look? Doesn't look good on anyone. No one, period. Please put away that thing, mister. I don't want a butt imprint (or worse) on the rowing machine seat! It's...it's not hygienic, dammit!

I'm sorry I had to share this dreadful image with you. Let me cleanse your palate. Look, puppies!

Photo by Elvissa

Ahem. Sorry. Let's try again.

Photo by jay-em-tee

Photo by 23am
Photo by angelapatel

Gyms are clearly not for the germaphobes among us. I'm going to buy my own gym with the lottery money I'm sure to win any day now.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The stuff of fairy tales

I am so, so sorry to inflict another blog post upon you so soon after the one I wrote this morning, but I just got back from a great run and I'm as giddy as a little kid who's eaten waaay too many sweets.

Looking at all those old photos from the Swedish mountains made me ache for nature and adventure and trail running. I wondered if I could find a trail to run on nearby, as I was only supposed to run 8 km today according to my training schedule. After doing some brief research, I headed south. We live very close to the southern city limits, and you can easily get to the forest. A forest that I haven't explored properly. A forest that was waiting patiently for me to discover it so that it could show me its hidden treasures. 

Alright, deer, lead the way...
To my right, a mountain (well, more of a tall hill really) beckoned me closer. 


The ground was covered in half a meter of snow, though, and tempting though it was to try and run up to the top on the trail I knew was there, I wasn't brave enough for such an attempt just then. I didn't know if the trail was used in the winter and I was worried there would be so much snow on it that I'd have to turn back almost immediately or risk getting eaten by wolves. I picked the horse track to my left instead. Trail it was not, but it would have to do, I thought. This horse track is a loop and I had only run one of its sides before, so now I turned the other way and a warm blanket of sunlight instantly soothed my nature-lovesick soul. 


The breeze that had been nipping at my cheeks up to that point stayed high on the tree tops here in the forest, and I loved the calming sound it made as it slithered through the branches. It was a pristine, glittering world, and I only had to look up from the horse track to create the illusion I was in the middle of nowhere. Traffic could be heard far off in the distance, but I could easily shut it out by observing the evidence of wildlife all around me instead. Deer tracks stitched a delicate, elaborate pattern on snow-covered clearings, and I wanted to follow them into the forest as far as I could and see the world as the deer see it.


It was a brief illusion. Soon my shoes were kissing asphalt again. I had chosen to run right instead of left at a crossroads. But it is not the last time I will be running there, and next time I'll be choosing a different direction.

In an ultra bubble

The last few days I have been in an ultra bubble. I've been reading my book (”Running through the wall: Personal encounters with the Ultramarathon”), a collection of short race-day stories by both amateur and elite ultrarunners, and I've been so inspired that I've been dreaming ultra dreams. Last Saturday's run on the snowmobile tracks only added fuel to the fire: it may not have been long, but running trails always makes me daydream about long runs in the mountains. 



Lapland ultra is not a trail ultra. Trail poses many challenges that a road ultra doesn't (hills, roots and stones, wildlife – yeah, I've seen those angry lemmings in the Swedish mountains-, lack of easy access to civilisation to name but a few). For my first longer ultra I want to keep it as simple as a 100K race can be, but don't think for a moment that that's where my heart lies. If (and that's a big if) I complete the race, the most important thing that I will have gained will be the confidence to run ultras in tougher terrain. Lapland Ultra is this year's biggest goal, but at the same time it is a stepping stone towards other future goals.

This is where my dad calls me on the phone clutching his heart to ask me if I've gone mad. Madder. So let me explain.



As much as I'm looking forward to the experience of running Lapland Ultra (staying up all night, putting kilometre after kilometre behind me, maybe seeing some reindeer cross the road, fighting the urge to quit the race because of the irritating thick cloud of mosquitoes trying to find its way to my flesh), what I really want to do is to run trails. They don't have to be 100K long (this is where my dad hopefully breathes a sigh of relief). I'll never forget the solo run on Kungsleden I did a couple of years ago. 




It was a magnificent, almost religious experience, one of the most powerful ones of my life, and I didn't even run that far! Imagine running further. Seeing more of the untamed beauty of Europe's last wilderness. Hearing nothing but your own footsteps and the distant, eerie cries of the Golden Plover echoing in the mist. Being in a strange limbo, where time ceases to exist and the horizon extends endlessly in each direction, broken only by weather and mountains. Nothing beats that. Nothing.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Welcoming the new day by running

I had only just left home when I jogged leisurely past two kids on their way to school. As soon as they were behind me, I heard one of them say to the other: ”I'm going to start running!” and so he did, trying to catch up with me. I briefly considered putting in a sprint at that point to show that little rascal, but my past experience has taught me that antagonising little children always ends up in tears.

What can I say, I'm a sore loser.

So instead I flashed him a big smile and said encouragingly: ”You're fast!” whereupon he gave up running and waited patiently for his friend to catch up. The proud smile I got back from him was a nice addition to my run.

I had gone out early, before the sun was up. Not sure why, something to do with having things to do today maybe? If I don't remember what they were, they can't be important, surely. Or maybe they were important, but probably really boring. Selective memory, whatcha you gonna do, amiright?

The thermometer showed -11 and I figured I'd get away with just a woolly hat on my head and a buff around my neck. It worked well enough while I had the wind on my back, but then I turned towards the river and the remnants of that smile I gave the kid froze on my face. An invisible acupuncturist was using my cheeks as voodoo dolls. No wonder. Wind-chill factor was closer to -20. I didn't want to have to stop and readjust my buff, so I tried to push on and ignore the cold. Up the hill I ran and found myself in the paradoxical but all too familiar situation where my body was sweating but my face was freezing. Pinching my cheeks to get the blood circulation going might have saved me from getting a frostbite, but it hurt. A lot.

I gave up soon afterwards and covered my face with my buff mid-run (a useful skill to have as a runner when it's too cold to stop). As I ran over the crest of the hill and turned back towards the river, I saw that light was beginning to break over the horizon. To say that the sky was orange would be the understatement of the year. The sun seemed to be devouring whatever parts of the sky weren't covered in clouds, with a hungry fire the likes of which can only be found in volcanoes.


Out west the sky was holding on to a sober purple.


And now I shall continue with my day. If only I could remember what it was I was supposed to be doing.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Oh-oh...

Running just got itself a rival for my affections. It should have been a rest day for me today, but with -8 Co, bright sunshine and a willing body, who wouldn't choose to head for the ski tracks in the forest ?

There were so many people on skis enjoying the beautiful weather, that J and I almost had to wait for an open slot in this ever-revolving Ferris wheel of skiers. Wobbly small children, elderly superstars, Vasaloppet dreamers, everyone was out on the 3 km- track, some gliding backwards on slopes, some standing still (seemingly doing some deep thinking), some flying past little ol' me struggling there on my borrowed 30-year old skis. Most were better than me, but -more importantly- some were worse than me. Ok, so the latter were mainly three year old children, but still. I overtook them!

Most of the skiers disappeared mysteriously about half way.




Succeeding once can be attributed to luck, but succeeding twice must be attributed to improved skills. With better snow conditions on the ground, I glided around the track twice and managed to stay upright both times I skied down the final hill. The track was whole, which made my job really easy, but it was a great mental victory to never hesitate before the slope ahead and just enjoy the breeze on my face.


When we got back to the car, I told J it was time to buy some real skis. I'm starting to feel like a real skier, so it seems appropriate. Don't you think?

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Crazy fun on the snowmobile tracks

I apologize in advance for the shitty photos I am going to inflict upon your eyes. I only had my old crappy mobile phone with me and a strong will to capture the beauty all around me, and you won't get far on that. And Photoshop is a great programme but miracle worker it ain't. Not in my hands, anyway.

Faced though I was with the same conundrum as I am every Saturday (to take the car up to the hockey arena to meet up with AIK, or to run up?), today it wasn't as simple as it usually is to decide. I am on a training schedule, and today I was only supposed to run 19 km. Doing some quick maths in my head I decided to run up, but perhaps leave the rest of the group a bit earlier so that I wouldn't exceed the allotted amount of fun my schedule allowed for.

Easier said than done. We ran westwards, through beautiful residential areas and on quiet roads, until we came to the start of a snowmobile track. That's where our coach said we would run to get back. At this point, I'd already run 10 km, and anyone who's made it past 3rd grade could tell you that there was little chance for me to keep to my planned 19 km. About half of our 15 runner-strong group decided to turn back the same way (that's seven and a half runners. It might just have been seven). So the choice for me now was to either run back with them, or follow the other half of the group on the snowmobile tracks. It sounded tough. We'd leave the lovely, mindless monotony of paved roads for soft snow and terrain, but on the other hand, we'd get to run in the woods.


My hesitation lasted for about a tenth of a second. Into the woods I'd go. While we ran, we listened carefully for the sound of oncoming snowmobiles, and had to stop a few times to let said vehicles pass. Snow-heavy tree branches hang over our heads, and our feet often disappeared in deep snow. The sky was almost completely concealed by clouds, but a wonderful orange-pink light broke through near the horizon. It was magical, a fairytale world. I felt so close to nature at that point, with an intensity almost as strong as the time I ran on Kungsleden in the shadow of majestic mountains. It was hard work at times, like when we had to run up hills and only soft snow under our feet, and lactic acid threatened to turn my thigh muscles into two obstinate children who stood there with their arms crossed and refused to budge, but I was having so much fun that I never once regretted my decision to follow this group. 



When I got home, I had run almost 22 kilometres. Forgive me, Bryon Powell, for I have sinned. You commanded that I would only run 19 kilometres today, but I didn't listen. And I'm not sorry.

Friday, 18 January 2013

A cold day

After having sacrificed several millions' worth of brain cells while concentrating hard on my Sport Psychology test yesterday, I was drained of energy. I didn't know how the test had gone, but at that moment I didn't really care. I was just glad it was behind me. I re-charged my batteries with some coffee, and a couple of hours later J and I were walking to the cinema in -24 Co to see The Hobbit. It was just as cold around midnight when it was time to walk home, and it took a long time after we got back for our legs to defrost.

We continued to choose extracurricular activities along the same theme (”Bloody freezing”) today. Although temperatures had climbed to -14, a wind which the Swedish Meteorological Institute called ”light western breeze” but which felt more like ”Arctic Hurricane”, turned the air I sent down my lungs into steel knives carving the inside of my chest. On my training schedule were 8 kilometres, and I figured I'd run west first so that I'd have the wind on my back on the way home, when I was more tired.

It hurt to breathe. I've run in -20 and it didn't hurt to breathe then. For the first time this winter I wished I'd taken my Lungplus with me. I tried breathing through my nose, but I'm not used to it and I can't draw in enough oxygen to send to my muscles. With no choice but to continue, I bit the bullet and turned my eyes to the sky instead, where shades of purple and pink made me think that the apocalypse must be coming. Oh well. If we are all going to die, at least we'll be able to look at all the pretty colours before kicking the bucket.

Phone camera failed to capture the pretty colours

Somehow I survived the apocalyptic cold to get home and make myself a hot cup of tea. Then it was time for training part deux. J and I drove to the forest, where last year, when I'd tried to learn how to ski on my own, I fell on the same long slope every single time. Since then I've been avoiding the forest ski track for exactly that reason. Now I was determined not to let that hill limit my skiing choices to the boring camping area any more.

Much more beautiful than the camping area

Someone had apparently dipped my skis into a vat of glue while we were sleeping last night, because no matter how hard I pushed with my poles, I got nowhere. To make matters worse, the forest ski track is not like the one by the camping. It's not flat. It follows the terrain's natural ups and downs. I was knackered after a hundred meters. Breathing was once again hard, as the wind had managed to find us even in the tree-thick forest. I tried to double-pole to get warmer, but it was hard work. Finally, I came to the last slope, the long one, my nemesis. I checked to see that no one was behind me except J (a precaution in case I fell) and, without giving myself time to start thinking negative thoughts, I pushed myself down the hill.

Twice I went around the 3 km track in the woods. Twice I managed to get down that hill without falling. I may have let out a triumphant ”Woo hoo!” the first time, and I may have flashed a big smile at J. The second time I just looked smug. But inside I was jumping up and down with joy. Completely exhausted, I climbed into the car and turned the heat as far up as it would go. That hot shower was long overdue.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Goal setting

Studying for my Sport Psychology test tomorrow got me thinking about the training goals I've set. I have one big goal right now (Lapland Ultra) and some smaller goals (to maybe do a marathon in April). But, according to Weinberg and Gould (Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2011), it is important to set not only outcome goals (like to win a race or to climb a mountain), but also performance and process goals. Performance goals entail focusing on improving certain aspects of your -you guessed it- performance, like setting a new personal record, while process goals are things that you need to do in order to improve your performance, like technique training, visualisation etc.

Performance and process goals are shields against obstacles and stepping stones on the way to the outcome goal. They are the road, so to speak, to reach your destination. They help you stay motivated and can make a daunting task shrink to normal proportions.


I have been focusing on my outcome goals a lot, without giving so much thought to what I need to do to get there. But if there is one thing that past experience (read: injuries) has taught me, it is that I need to concentrate more on the building blocks and less on the result. Otherwise it becomes too easy to get swept away by enthusiasm, forget to enjoy the process and end up mindlessly chasing after kilometres.

So, here it is, my revised plan for the six months that lead up to Lapland Ultra:


Outcome goal: To run Lapland Ultra, or at least as much of it as I can, and have fun doing it.
Performance goal: To increase my weekly mileage according to my schedule.
Process goals: To build a stronger body by training at the gym and running. To build a stronger mind by doing mental training (you won't get far in an ultra without it). To treat my body with kindness and give it the fuel it needs to perform and feel good. And to practise more on my running technique by doing at least one of my runs each week in VFF - weather permitting.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Ta-da!

A wind instrument quartet of angels burst out in a triumphant fanfare. Cats and dogs and other mortal enemies put their differences aside and enveloped each other in a warm embrace. A snowman walked out of the pits of hell with a big smile on his pale, fluffy face with nary a drop of sweat on his body. It was happening. The moment the whole world was waiting for had come, and for the first time in human history, we dared to hope, nay, we knew that things had changed. Things were great.

And why?

I loved my second ski lesson. After a disastrous first one, which was not so different from some sort of medieval torture (if that sort of torture had been less physical and more mental), I vowed to give it one more chance. Just one more. And, if the second lesson went as badly as the first one, well then I'd either quit the ski lessons and try to learn on my own, or I'd quit skiing altogether.

Luckily, I didn't have to quit anything. I ended up in a small group with a very understanding instructor, who knew that the way to learn how to ski downhill isn't by just shoving someone down a hill while laughing sadistically, but rather by giving them instructions on how to do it and then gently encouraging them to do it. Seeing as they're instructors and all, I would like them to give me instructions. This is how I roll. So up a little slope we went, with a perfect track to ski on. With a perfect little curve at the bottom of the hill. First try went really well, and not only did I manage not to fall, I even managed to brake when the track ended. The next two tries didn't go as well. The tracks were now broken, after my group had skied on them a few times, so we all fell. One by one, we flew out the track and off the curve without meaning to, and then fell. 


I was happy. I wasn't the only one! Everyone fell! Even the instructor was close to falling a couple of times. And I realised that the only way to conquer my fear of hills was to keep falling. Follow a strict diet of climbing up that hill, skiing down and falling, over and over again until it's gone through my thick head that it's really not as big a deal as I've made it up to be. And that, by falling, I would rise.

I was so happy with that life-changing realisation that, when the time came to try a different skiing technique (three-step), which requires great coordination and which thus far had made me look like a newborn deer trying to stand on its legs for the first time whenever I tried it, I did it perfectly. J had come to pick me up and was watching me from inside the car. He said it looked really good. I beamed with pride.

Earlier on that day...

...here be ski tracks. But I was just running past.

Doing well at the ski lesson last night wasn't the only good thing about the day. First, I found out I had passed one of my photography assignments, which I was absolutely certain I'd have to work on some more. Then I did my scheduled 10K under a clear blue sky, with a fierce sun turning the snow yellow. Later on I met up with my gym instructor. I was prepared to break the bad news to her that I found her gym programme mind-numbingly boring. But before I had a chance to say anything, she said: ”How is it going? I bet that every time you come to the gym you're thinking about how you could be running instead”. That lady gets me. When I revealed my plan to run Lapland Ultra, she said I could cut back the gym visits to once per week at the end of February. Yeah, she gets me.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Obsession

The mind is a funny thing. A strong, powerful thing, but a funny thing nonetheless. Here I sit, waiting for the sun to come out so that I can embark on the first running session of the training programme I am going to be following for Lapland Ultra. I've already studied two chapters' worth of notes for my Sports Psychology test (which is on Thursday), but I still have a mountain of work to do. I'm also meeting an instructor later on to see over my gym training plan, and later this evening I'm heading to my second ski lesson. All of the above are activities that I would rather avoid.

So instead of stressing about all the things that I chose to inflict upon myself in a moment of madness and can't get out of now, my mind has chosen a different strategy: pretend they're not there. Why think about doing involuntary cartwheels down a slope in front of 30+ strangers tonight, when I can daydream about more pleasant things?

And the thing I find myself thinking about a lot lately is (you guessed it) Lapland Ultra. 


I study my training plan. I talk about the race with N, my running friend and enabler partner in crime in this endeavour. Read and re-read the information on the race website. Look at photos of the midnight sun over endless stretches of forest roads. Lakes, mosquitoes, reindeer. Fatigue, camaraderie, transcendence. The longing for this adventure is overwhelming.

I also started reading a book about ultra marathons, which doesn't help me to concentrate on what I'm supposed to be doing, but it does help me to concentrate on my goal. The book is ”Running through the wall” and it is a compilation of short stories by both amateur and professional ultra runners. In other words, more fuel for my obsession.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Cannonball Read #01: Variable star, by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson

Yey! Let Cannonball Read number 5 begin! Even if it is with a disappointing book...
 
It's hard to review a book and do it justice when you've read a bad translation of it. It was such a bad translation that half the time I didn't know what was going on. I kept trying to translate it back to English so that it would make sense. It's even harder to know which parts of it were bad because of the translator and which because of the author.

Variable star is a science fiction book by Spider Robinson, who wrote it based on notes by the late Robert A. Heinlein. Joel, a struggling musician, is crazy about Jinny. She wants to marry him, but he can't bring himself to propose to her before he can earn a good enough living to start a family. Jinny, in her desperation, reveals that she's secretly the granddaughter of the richest, most powerful man in the universe, and brings Joel to grandad's hideaway to meet him. Grandad wants Joel to marry Jinny and take over the family business, a prospect that makes Joel panic, reconsider his feelings for Jinny and finally board a starship carrying 500 humans on their way to colonise a newly discovered planet.

It was an amusing enough book at times, easy to read (if it weren't for the translation issues), even captivating enough occasionally to keep me reading. However I felt that the suspense was uneven throughout the book. The middle sags, with some isolated incidents that don't seem to have anything to do with the story in general. The book's redeeming feature is its last fifty pages, where action suddenly picks up and things get interesting. My only complaint about an otherwise satisfying ending is...


*SPOILERS*
Jinny suddenly turning into an evil bitch, where at the start of the novel her only crime was lying about being poor to make sure Joel loved her for who she was and not for her money. Understandable behaviour, no? Then Evelyn's significance: Joel spends little, if any, time thinking about her, and when he does think about her it is mostly as the little girl that helped him escape. But now, within two minutes of seeing her, he's fallen in love with the barely-adult Evelyn who suddenly appears before him? I had difficulty buying that. It was mildly disturbing.
*END OF SPOILERS*


I can't help feeling that the book would have benefited from cutting out some of the middle and extending the last part instead. Space travel is an exciting thematic area to explore, and I wish that Robinson would have taken more time to do that. I haven't read any books by Heinlein, so I can't tell if Robinson did him justice. All in all, an average book that I would recommend to a Heinlein or Robinson fan, or someone who wants a quick read (despite it being 350 pages long).

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Let the sunshine in

Despite having spent more hours awake than asleep last night, what with our upstairs neighbours perfecting their ”Riverdance” routine at 1am and me then having to get up just before 5 to clean up after our cats (YES. Again. Only this time it came out the other end. Because that's what I want to see first thing in the morning), I didn't suffer during the long run with AIK this morning. Much.

New places to discover.
And the reason was this:



It's always great when the sun makes an appearance on a long run, and it has been gracing us with its presence a lot lately, but today was different. It felt different. I couldn't put my finger on why it was like this, but, if it hadn't been for the biting cold (-13 and windy), it would almost feel like spring. And then, when I ran up the last little hill on my way home and saw the sun shine with all its might over the houses in the distance, it hit me: the sun was higher up in the sky than it was last week.

The sun is not just peek-a-booing, blink-and-you'll-miss-it-cameo'ing over the horizon any more. It actually makes an effort to get out of bed and make some breakfast, even if it doesn't quite make it all the way to work. And the good news is that this improvement in the sun's enthusiasm to get up in the morning will be escalating pretty damn quickly from now on, until it reaches its glorious, maniacal, daylight-almost-24 hours-per-day zenith in June. And that makes me ridiculously happy.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The donkey is back

A world of possibilities opened up in front of me last night, when J told me he'd taken Friday off. I had already booked a Core session early the next morning, but after a horrible night with little sleep that included getting up at 3 o'clock to clean up after Tidus, who'd thrown up in the hallway, I didn't fancy getting up at 5:40 to run to the gym.

So my alternatives for this particular day were a) run or b) go skiing with J. Why not do both? I thought, and went for a short run while J ate his breakfast. A couple of hours later I was putting on my skis at the ski stadium. Not wanting to try my luck any hills, I kept to the camping area, which reduced the distance I covered with each round to just over one kilometre. I practised braking by ploughing and glided down some gentle slopes. I was quite pleased with myself. 


The experience I gained while doing the 6-hour ultra in Skövde and the Ultra Intervals must have taught my brain how to deal with boredom, because suddenly I looked at my Garmin and I'd been skiing for an hour without even noticing. Round and round the short track, lost in my thoughts, the monotony of the bland surroundings hardly affecting me, I thought about J, who was going to try skiing 20 km further up the mountain. We had discussed beforehand that, when I was done with my training, I could wait for him in the warmth of the car. I'd even taken my camera with me, in case I felt like walking around a bit and taking a few photos. But instead I wanted to keep going. One more round around the track. And then one more.

The tracks were fresh. How could I resist?

When J finally showed up with 20 km under his belt, my Garmin showed almost 13. My shoulders were starting to burn and I was so tired that my brain had jumped ship (as evidenced by the fact that I even started considering skiing down some hills, cocky from not having fallen down once thus far. Obviously hallucinating I was some kind of proper skier). This was the furthest I had ever skied. I suspect it's not such a good idea to break such records the day before a long run. Hope my legs can carry me tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

We all live in a fluffy submarine

Rest day today, and, like all normal people, when I rest, I clean the flat. As anyone who's ever dropped by our place without calling a week in advance to tell us they're coming can tell you, I don't like cleaning. But I do like having a clean place to live in, which poses a terrible existential dilemma that keeps me up at night. What to do, what to do.

Like all normal people with a healthy aversion to cleaning, when J and I were deciding what kind of cat to get to keep our older one company, I, the person most blessed with the gift of foresight in this relationship, suggested getting a long-haired, fluffy cat. That sheds. A lot. So cleaning is even more fun! Because not only do you have to vacuum clean all his hairballs off the floor every other day, you also have to vacuum clean the sofas. And the chairs. And the bed. And your clothes. And everything that can produce static electricity and attract fur. If you drop by our place when we haven't vacuum cleaned in a week, you'll be forgiven for thinking you've stepped into another, magical world, where people are really really small and live on the skin of woolly mammoths.


When I do clean, however, I do it with conviction. I'm thorough. I go all in. I get so committed in my task that I am willing to sacrifice body parts to get that rug clean. So I managed to get my little finger jammed on the vacuum cleaner hose (not in it, thankfully) and now have a nice little bruise there to go with my sore thumb. Which I, by the way, contracted while doing the other thing I love apart from cleaning: skiing down a hill. Or falling down while skiing down a hill, to be exact.

Something I forgot to mention in this blog is that I'm currently doing a challenge. No, not to thoroughly clean the flat every week, although I'm sure that all its current inhabitants would appreciate that. Except maybe Sote, who's obviously been trying to clone himself by shedding his weight in fur. Or knit a sweater for a planet out of it. Maybe for one of the outer planets of the solar system, the ones that are freezing because they're so far from the sun? Like Pluto! Poor Pluto. Not even a planet any more. Here's a sweater made of cat fur for the cold, lonely days of your existence, while you're orbiting out there all alone, wistfully looking at the cool kids. Jupiter. Uranus. And that temptress, Venus. You're not one of them any more. But maybe, maybe if you were wearing a cat fur sweater, maybe then they'd see you for the cool guy you know you are and welcome you back into their posse.

No. I'm doing Pasi Salonen's 100-day challenge (sorry, in Swedish only), which means abstaining from eating sweets and chips, and drinking alcohol and soda for said period of time. Now, I'm doing this in my own way. I don't eat chips anyway, neither do I drink soda. Alcohol consumption is at a very low level already. So there's no challenge there. Sweets on the other hand are, like the airbags I developed on either side of my bottom will tell you, more of a challenge to quit. Like a lot of people, I've put on a few extra kilos over the holidays, mainly because I've been FORCED by mysterious powers to consume a big batch of failed cookies all by myself, but I don't believe in diets and forbidding yourself to eat certain things. I believe in eating properly, indulging in some chocolate from time to time. Eating properly is especially important for me, not least because I'm a vegetarian, since I run a lot and need good energy to keep going. But there is an exception to every rule. Cookies, sweets and chocolate need to go, at least for a while. At least until I shed those extra kilos that do nothing but strain my knees when I run.

Well, alright, they're not completely useless. They do provide some protection to my body when I tumble down all those hills while pretending to know how to ski.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Shaman's recipe for turning that frown upside down

Ingredients
Original recipe makes one serving

- Running, 17km
- Yoga for runners, 20 minutes
- A hot shower

Directions
1. Put on your shoes and run up to the local swimming hall to meet up with your running club for an hour of high-paced distance training, talking about everything under the sun. Throw in some snow flakes in the mix towards the end of the session for a fuller taste. Run home alone after the group session with music in your ears, singing along to Cornflake girl, and pick up your pace while running past weird guy talking to himself.

2. Once at home, play this video and follow the instructions:


3. When you feel nice and relaxed, all soft and stretched in your running muscles, jump into the shower, turn to ”hot” and stay there long enough to feel your eyes getting heavy and your thoughts drifting to your warm bed.

Tips: If you're not smiling at this point, you're probably just too tired. But trust me, inside you'll be smiling. Because this is comfort food for your soul.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Bleh

So. Bad day. A bad day that started yesterday, really, and crescendoed early this morning. I am not going to go into details, because dog knows I've already talked about it to death with J and, besides, talking about it only makes it worse. Suffice it to say: Yesterday's ski lesson sucked, as in ”I never want to go skiing again”-sucked, and this morning I got an email telling me I didn't get the job I thought was perfect for me. My job soul mate, so to speak. Not even an interview.

On today's schedule: burying my head in the snow. I'm hoping it will help cool it down.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Good girl

Monday evenings usually mean interval training with AIK, but as I wrote last Saturday, ski lessons start tonight so I had to do some speed work on my own. And boy did I do speed work. I started at a high pace and then threw in some spurts here and there. At some point I looked at my watch at the end of such a spurt and saw that, at my quickest, I'd run at something like 3:58 min/km. That's not fast by a lot of runners' standards (say, Bolt's), but that is near death experience-fast by mine. I was running so fast that I forgot to breathe. I was running so fast that my feet hardly touched the ground. I was running so fast that I almost missed that the sky was blue and the sun was shining low on the horizon.


You see? That's why I choose to run slowly. Not because I couldn't run any faster if I wanted to, but so that I can have the time to observe the beauty of the world around me. Yeah. Let's go with that.

Speed work is not for the faint-hearted and I was relieved to look at my training schedule, which starts next Monday, and see that no speed work will be required for the first month of it. Coincidentally, that's pretty much how many interval training sessions with AIK I'm going to be missing because of ski lessons. It's great timing. Speed work is so much easier when done in a group.