Tuesday, 29 April 2014

In the jungle

I am currently spending a week in warmer climates down by the Mediterranean sea. Did I say warmer? Just kidding. The weather has been a mixture of thunderstorms, low temperatures and bitter disappointment, so my bikini has been lying at the bottom of my backpack looking forlorn while frogs fell down from the skies.

Running in the rain is usually a magnificent experience. The air is delicious to taste and keeps your body from overheating. But, in these parts, the rain sometimes hangs in the air even when it’s not cloudy, and it finds its way through your nose and into your lungs so that you can’t breathe, or it hitches a ride on your skin pushing your sweat drops back into your body.

Humidity does not for efficient running make.

Somehow I still managed to squeeze in an interval session plus an easy 10km, running up and down a broad stretch of pavement by the seaside. I should get a medal for my mental perseverance alone. Running intervals by yourself should be as highly regarded as giving your life for your country or at least sacrificing yourself and taking the last chocolate bit so that your dieting colleague won’t be tempted. I am a person with high moral fibre.

I’ve also been scouting the area for trail runs but the un-Mediterranean conditions have turned dirt roads and paths into swamps. Yesterday I almost lost one of my shoes to mud. My other shoe, on the other hand (well, it was actually on my other foot), had gone and gotten itself a 5 cm thick high heel. The difference in height between my two shoes resulted in me limping for several hundred metres, which would look funny if it weren’t for the parental advisory warning labeled words coming out of my mouth at the same time. Good thing there were some beautiful things to distract me.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Nothing is impossible

Nothing in life is certain, except death, taxes, and that I will get injured and/or sick if I decide to enter a race.

A mild case of the cold established itself within my right nostril last Saturday and is currently running amok inside my head. Because of course it would. I was finally supposed to be running my first ”Around the bridges” race for the year tomorrow, what did you expect?

Yes, it could happen that I wake up completely healthy tomorrow. It could happen. Just like it could happen that a stranger stops me while I'm walking down the street and just hands me over ten million crowns, no questions asked, or that my cats suddenly get up from their mid-morning siesta and start singing a moving a cappella rendition of the Peruvian national anthem (or is that "a cattella"?).

It could happen. The universe is a wondrous place, filled with mystery and miracles. Like the fact that intelligent life developed on this planet, or that there are actually people who camp outside stores the night before a big sale starts and then trample each other to death just so that they can buy a cheaper TV made by prepubescent slaves in some Asian country they've never even heard of.

I realise that these two miracle examples contradict each other. There is intelligent life on this planet, I promise. I saw it on my cheap TV once.

ANYWAY. It could happen. It's just not very likely.

Running at max speed while ill would naturally be catastrophically stupid and dangerous, so I will once again miss the race (last week I missed it because of work, if you recall), but I might show up anyway and plod around the course at snail pace just to get a whiff of that second-hand adrenalin.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Back-to-back, part two

My legs were inexplicably fresh this morning. I was a bit worried about how my knee would like running another two-hour session only a day after the first one, but I was otherwise quite positive that I would have the strength to do another 20 km today.

Yes, of course I made a promise to myself to ”only” run 20 km. And, yes, of course I didn't keep my promise. Keeping the running-related promises I make to myself would not be like me. As not-like-me, in fact, as managing to keep any plants I buy alive for more than a month (my personal kill-a-plant record is a week. A week. I can't believe the cats are still alive)

A sane person might have taken the car up to the arena to the AIK meeting point, but a lot of people have questioned my sanity when it comes to running, and not without good reason. It's 4 km to run there from home, so just the run there and back was going to be 8 km, leaving a margin of only 12 km for the AIK long run itself. I had already created a problem for myself, in other words. I blame not paying attention during maths lessons at school. Then, to add to the problem, our coach said that we were going to run a bit longer today than our usual 1,5 hours, maybe a total of 2 hours.

A sane person might have arranged to get a post-run a lift home after that revelation, or cut their run short. A sane person has the common sense to realise that a knee that's already cruising for a bruising is only going to become more aggressive the more you poke it. An insane person (me) smiled a huge smile on the inside. An even longer run than I had planned. I liked it!

Because here's the thing. It's way too much fun to run long runs. Especially with AIK. Maybe because they, or at least some of them, don't think I'm insane. They get my crazy. Some people might say that none of us are quite sane, getting up early on a Saturday morning to go for a 2-hour run. That's why I can get drunk-person-at 3am sentimental about them sometimes.


We ran down by the river and through some areas on the west parts of town that were new to me. The sun only made some intermittent appearances. A persistent headwind whipped us almost constantly on our way out, but helped us along on the way back. My knee got grumpy now and then but it never got so bad that it hurt.

My two hour run lasted for more than two hours and a half. It went well, much better than I had dared hope for. I got off easy. Again. Now, two rest days to let my body heal before my first ”Around the bridges” for the year on Tuesday.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Back-to-back, part one

Last night's rainfall faded away into nothing some time in the early hours of the morning. When I got up, I opened the balcony door to let the wet earth scent seep into the living room. I was greeted by a bird choir, perched on a tree right outside the house. Nature was finally awake after its long winter slumber and was triumphantly singing at the top of its lungs.

The sun didn't break through the clouds until later, and the wind was still chilly when I and 6 other runners from AIK met up. I had asked if anyone wanted to join me for a Good Friday long run and luckily there were several who wanted to run with me.

We headed east, keeping to the north side of the river. We ran as slowly as we possibly could. This was supposed to be the first of two long runs, on two consecutive days, for me and a couple of the others. I was going to do back-to-back long runs, today and tomorrow, in order to get some more mileage while keeping the risk of injury relatively low.

Our conversation flowed freely, and revolved mainly around - you guessed it - training. The clouds dispersed and I marveled at how blue the sky can be. We haven't really been spoiled when it comes to sunny days this winter, and I made sure to enjoy every single photon that touched my body. We caught glimpses of the ground under the pine trees and spruces as we ran by a wooded area, and it was bare. The trails are probably still covered in ice, but it's not going to be long before that, too, gives in to the warmth of the spring sun.

Photo by E. H.

Two hours later we were back at the parking lot. The low pace we had kept throughout the run meant that my body wasn't particularly tired, but it also might have been the cause of the niggle in my left knee.

Very few things beat a long run on a sunny day. This is life at its best.

Thursday, 17 April 2014


I drove up to the arena through a deserted town, under a heavy black sky. The reason for the empty streets was hockey. The town's hockey team was playing in the finals and everyone was assumingly glued in front of their television sets.

When I arrived, ready for this season's last indoor training, the doors to the track were locked. The whole building was dark. It wasn't long before people started showing up, but in the end we were only a handful instead of the usual 15-20. I guess the others were watching the hockey game or were away for Easter.

Our coach had promised an easy session, and easy it was. We only ran drills: bum kicks, high knees, and much more. But the highlight of the session for me was running with our eyes closed. Trying to run in a straight line, we shut our eyes and listened to the signals our body was sending us. Were we leaning to one side? Did we strike the floor harder with one foot than with the other? Were we about to have a close encounter with the person next to us?

We ended the evening with a cup of coffee and some Easter sweets which our coach treated us to. My spirits were high, I had really enjoyed this session and gained some valuable insight into running technique, which is going to help me at my next race. But, as I drove home and the first drops of rain hit my windshield, I couldn't help feeling a little blue.

The Thursday indoor sessions were a new element in my training this last winter, the first time I incorporated a second quality session in my training week and the first time I trained on track. Although it was usually very tough training, I found myself looking forward to it every week. As much as I have longed for trail running, the outdoors, the forest, the dirt under my shoes, longed for it so much it aches, I am going to miss winter Thursdays. But there is a time for everything, and summer is for trail.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Not quite as fun as running, but the next best thing

Working from 7.30 to 16.00 and then from 17.00 to 20.15 is exhausting no matter what you do for a living. Ok, maybe if your job is testing matresses, it's not that exhausting. But for the rest of us that have REAL jobs, 11-hour work days can feel like an eternity.

When days like these coincide with the premier of the ”Around the bridges”-race series and I have to miss it, you bet I get cranky. Sure, there will be a race next week, and the week after that and every Tuesday until the end of May, but this was the premier. I've been training all winter for this. But no. I didn't get to run today. Pout.

Sitting at a meeting for three hours didn't seem like a great alternative to racing either, as I rushed home at 16.00 to get some food before I rushed back to work. But I was a woman on a mission. If I couldn't run the race, I could at least be a spectator. You see, the race takes place close to where I work. So, on my way back to work, I found a place where I could stand without being in anyone's way and waited for the runners to come.

I wasn't expecting such a huge crowd. I stood there for a good ten minutes while people of all ages ran past me – and that was only the first heat of four! I cheered whenever one of my club mates appeared, and smiled at everyone. Although I did have to put on a frown, a very very stern frown, at one point. A cheeky little boy, sweaty but otherwise completely unaffected by the effort, asked me as he ran past if he could borrow my bike. ”No way”, I told him, trying not to smile at the mop-haired rascal. ”Keep running, you're doing great!”

(Later, I found out that he needed my bike to get to a burning building in order to rescue a kitten that was in grave danger thanks to my pathological lying when it comes to how far I intend to run on any given day. Not really, but I can't help thinking, WHAT IF I WAS WRONG ABOUT HIS INTENTIONS??)

As I cycled back to work to face a three-hour meeting, I felt like I had drunk the strongest cup of coffee. Being a spectator is not as energy-giving as running the race, but it's the next best thing. And next week – fingers crossed – it's my turn to run.

Saturday, 12 April 2014


Did you know that cats are on the verge of extinction? That's because every time I lie to myself about how far I intend to run on my long run, God kills a kitten.

Take this morning, for example. It was the first time since last weekend that I woke up feeling completely healthy. But (and it was a pretty big but) I ran 30 km last weekend and, well, sometimes you need to take a step back in order to go forward. So, as my nose grew longer and longer, I repeated this mantra to myself:

Only 20 km today. I will only run 20 km today.

As I am often wont to do, I blamed the weather for my catastrophic failure to keep my promise to myself. I am a very honest person when it comes to my interactions with other people (I am also the master of Freudian slips and suffer from foot-in-mouth disease, so that makes me the queen of all things honest and true). Yet when it comes to being honest with myself and my training, all you need to do is throw some sunshine my way and promises go out the window along with my self-constraint. I'm like a puppy, except I only pee myself with excitement metaphorically.

So after I ran up to meet the other 30-odd runners who showed up for today's session with AIK, spent an hour and a half chatting with them while we roamed around town, got interviewed by the local paper (no big deal, happens to me all the time, seriously can't they just leave me alone, do they have to camp outside my house?), paused to try and convince an old NHL hockey legend to sell me his house at a reduced price, well, the damned sun was still out, still shining and I had already run more than 20 km.

I also still had to get home somehow.

No, I can't really blame the sun for making me take the scenic route on the way home. I can't even blame my two club mates who wanted to continue running a while longer. Because it was actually me who decided to join them and suggested we take the long way back. It was me who wanted to continue enjoying having a healthy body on a beautiful day. It was me who made God kill yet another kitten.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Desperately seeking trail

You know the feeling. Because you've been sick, you haven't been for a run in years (or at least it feels like it). The sun is shining for the first time since October, but you're stuck at work. When you finally get off work, the sun is gone. Thick clouds cover the sky and a chilly wind is set upon uprooting every single tree that's had the bad luck of growing on the wrong side of the river. The weather forecast threatens with snow. Finally. My first run in days. Yey! 


That was yesterday. My resting pulse had gone back to normal but I didn't dare run intervals with AIK just yet. I had a vague plan (while stuck at work, gazing longingly at the blue sky outside) that I was going to go for a long run in the evening, in the warm seven o'clock light. But as the weather took a turn for the worse, my motivation waned. The long run became 15 km. Then 10. Then just a quick run around the bridges and then home as quickly as possible so that I could see how high I could turn the shower dial before my skin fell off.

It was just as well. Already after a few steps I knew that I wasn't healthy enough to be running any long runs just yet. I had to keep a low pace. The wind was so strong that I felt like I was running in place. It was time to regroup and count my losses.

Today was a different issue. Despite the wind being just as strong as it was yesterday, I didn't feel demotivated at all when I laced my shoes after work. It probably had something to do with the sun being out and all. I left the house with the jacket on, I came back with it tied around my waist. For the first time this year. Hallelujah, spring is finally here!

Can you tell I was excited by how many pictures I took?

I chose to run down by the river, where I knew the ice had thawed. Of course, with spring and thaw comes mud and water puddles. I didn't care. I even took a detour to run on a soaking-wet grass field, just to be able to feel earth under my feet again. Asphalt has been so hard on my joints, not to mention on my trail-loving spirit. And with Vitberget still covered in ice, a girl can get desperate.

They were going to get dirty eventually anyway

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Careful what you wish for

Okay, maybe I didn't explicitly wish to get sick, but last week, in the throes of mental exhaustion, the thought might have crossed my mind that I was long overdue for the flu or something. Something that meant that I could let go of all the ”musts” in my life for a day or three and just watch reruns of Gilmore Girls in my pyjamas. I had a couple of minor infections at the end of last year, but they weren't bad enough to keep me home from work.

Yesterday, I dragged myself to work and regretted it almost immediately. I tried to brave it out but had to admit defeat and go home after lunch, with achy cheekbones. It looked like I had gotten what I'd wished for. I had a fever.

What followed were endless hours of boredom. Free time rocks – if you have a healthy body with which to enjoy it. Having to lie on the sofa because as soon as you get up you feel like you're going to pass out is not as much fun. And what is there to do on the sofa? Daytime TV is about as entertaining for me as a visit to the dentist. Reading a book is hard when your eyes are only half-open. That didn't leave me with a lot of other things to do.

Except think.

I thought about the evening's training session that I would miss, the final ”Round the bridges” test run. Then I thought about all the runs I will get to go for, all the races I want to do. I thought about the summer adventures we're planning and the Wednesday trail runs that are so hard but so, SO much fun. I missed my club mates, the friendly jabs and competitive spirit, the help and encouragement when it's tough. 

Yeah, yeah, carpe diem, I know. But it's hard to seize the day when your arms are too weak from fever to seize a second, let alone a whole day.

But it's ok. Sometimes, the body needs to rest and regain its strength, so it can come back even faster. And staying at home with nothing to do except dream about the future is maybe just what the mind needs to recuperate.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

No good run goes unpunished

I had been waiting for this day for weeks. Some of my club mates wanted to extend the usual Saturday run into a three-hour session in preparation for a marathon they're running in May and asked me if I wanted to join them. Of course I did! Problem was, I have been putting in two quality sessions per week in addition to my long runs lately, which have been getting longer and longer. Now, I'm not an expert, but something tells me that increasing your speed and your weekly mileage is a recipe for disaster.

Cue my worries earlier this week.

Despite my legs itching to go for a longer run, I decided to keep a cool head and wait until this morning to see how my body felt. I had taken a couple of days off from training to let my legs recuperate but I had a thigh muscle that was tight and a moody respiratory system that didn't want to get out of bed in the mornings.

I woke up with a partially blocked nose. I rolled carefully to my side and looked at the clock. I found my pulse and started counting heartbeats. I counted a second time just to make sure. I was not liking the results so much, so I counted a third time and got a slightly better result. Five heartbeats over my normal fifty beats per minute. Not completely ok, but acceptable. There was probably an infection in my body but hopefully not a serious one. I would run up to our meeting place with AIK and see how my thigh felt.

My thigh still felt tight but it didn't hurt. The overall feeling in my body was great, better than it had been in weeks. The infection signals faded away the closer I got to my destination and soon disappeared completely.

We ran westwards and into the headwind that rushed to meet us. Time flew as we talked about upcoming races, injuries, shoes. Some 15 kilometres later we were back where we had started. My club mates asked me if I was going to join them in the extended run after all. Of course I was!

With the wind now on our backs, we ran eastwards. I sent an sms to J warning him that he might have to come and pick me up in the car, but then I did some calculations in my head and decided to turn back after 24 km to save him the trouble. Running home after that would bring me to an even 30 km, my dream goal this day. It's been over six months since I last ran that far.

What I had forgotten was that the way back meant a strong headwind. I almost had to lean into the wind to be able to move forward and my thigh started sending me ransom letters claiming it had taken my knee hostage. I tried running faster, lifting my knees more, anything to give my tired muscles a break. It seemed to pacify my disgruntled thigh.

I was surprisingly fresh when I got home, except for some light-headedness that I attributed to the wind. No good run goes unpunished, of course. So I am expecting I will be bedridden with a fever all day tomorrow.

Thursday, 3 April 2014


Oh boy. You would not want to meet me in a dark alley the way I looked and felt yesterday. It's been a tough week at work, culminating in yesterday's record-breaking crapfest, which turned everything into a cause for irritation.

The sun was too bright.
The sun was not bright enough.
There were too many cheerful, inspirational quotes on my Facebook feed.
There were too many depressing articles on my Facebook feed.
My cats ran to the door to meet me when I got home.
My cats ran away when I felt like squeezing them.

And so on, and so forth. Everything was wrong. And I made sure the world knew it, by wearing the most pouty face I could contract my face muscles into and complaining loudly to anyone who would listen. I didn't get much sympathy for the bicycle spot outrage.

Running is the best therapy. My legs were heavy before the usual Wednesday run with the club, and – no happily-ever-after ending here – they were still heavy during and after the run too. But my mood got a lot better.

Yet, there was still a cloud of worry over my head. Why this irritation? Sure, my work week has been tough. Long hours, intense, unforgiving. But it is often like that. Why has this week in particular been so tough? And why were my legs so slow to recuperate after last Monday's run? I started dreading having to be at practice at a certain time. Not the training in itself, but having yet another item on my to-do list when I got home from work.

I suspected the worst. Overtraining and other psychological stress factors in tandem with each other, caught in a gravitational pull, spinning around each other forever in a sick co-dependant relationship.

Overtraining symptoms, according to Wikipedia, include:

Persistent muscle soreness (eh, not more than usual)
Persistent fatigue (mentally, yes. Physically, no)
Elevated resting heart rate (haven't checked in a couple of weeks)
Reduced heart rate variability (I don't even know what that means and I'm too fatigued to google it)
Increased susceptibility to infections (nope)
Increased incidence of injuries (I'm guessing there will be if I keep putting in 280km-months without rest periods)
Irritability (who the hell are you calling irritable?)
Depression (If there was increased incidence of injuries, you bet I'd get depressed)
Mental breakdown (not yet but give me a couple more days like yesterday and I'll get there)

So, not much in the symptom list applies in my case. I can probably breathe a sigh of relief. That's not to say that I'm indestructible. Therefore, I am playing truant from tonight's interval training and giving myself an extra rest day. Both mind and body are thanking me already.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The powerful human mind

”Round the bridges” training, part two last night. I felt tired beforehand, having waken up way too early in the morning, too early even for me who always wakes up early. It was also because it was going to be the last training session of a particularly heavy month, both distance- and speed-wise. I needed help to get around, a nice back to follow that kept a fast, yet not neckbreaking pace.

I found a couple of such nice backs to follow. The course was divided in two this week, with a 2-minute rest stop in the middle. Coming up the hill just before the rest stop, my speed dropped by 20-30 seconds and my heart raced. While I struggled upwards, I was convinced that I would never be able to return to the pace I had kept the first kilometre or so.

After resting for two minutes, we set off again, and now we had a little downwards slope ahead of us before the ground evened out again. The backs I was chasing increased the pace, but I was prepared to let them go. I went inside my head instead, and tried to remember what I had learned on my sports psychology course. I visualised. I saw myself running with a proud posture, imagined myself looking strong and shut out the tiredness signals. Because my shoulders have a tendency to tighten up and become tense, I pretended my arms were wet noodles. Instead of looking at my watch for speed guidance, I let my body decide what kind of pace felt comfortably fast. And I kept the backs within sight.

I ran to the finish line, very tired but not shattered. I was certain that the other half of the course had been much slower than the first one. But when I got home and looked at my times, I was in for a surprise. My min/km speed during the first and second half was exactly the same but for one second. Mind over body?