Tuesday, 29 December 2015

My 2015

So here it is, what you’ve all been waiting for, the thing you’ve written letters to Santa for but he only gave you an ugly sweater (that fat bastard), the Annual Summary Of The Year That Has Gone By ( or ASOTYTHGB ® as it's more widely known).

A million hungry reader voices exclaim in relief: FINALLY. Well, my friends, you have to wait no longer!

It was a strange year. A surreal year. A life-changing year in many ways. A couple of tough months that I'd love to go all Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on. A couple of wonderful months, reuniting with dear old friends who helped me cope with the tough months, and making some pretty cool new ones who have helped me look ahead instead of back. Life skidded off to one direction only to swerve at the last moment and head off into the opposite one. You know, like life usually does. Sometimes you can bury your head in the sand and wait for it to pass, but this year I faced all challenges head on and I want to believe that I came out of it a stronger person. With a little help from my amazing friends and family.

Hey, Karma, that’s not to say that I want you to throw even bigger challenges my way. I’ve had enough drama to last a lifetime lately, thank you very much.

Running-wise it was perhaps my best year yet. I started off strong after an injury, increasing my mileage carefully until I could run 30-odd kilometres on any Wednesday evening unscathed and put in double long runs in a week. Rovön 6H in the beginning of June served as my last long run before the year’s main, 75 km- goal at the end of the month, High Coast Ultra. I took it relatively easy, ”only” covering 50 km during the six hours I had on me. I recovered unbelievably quickly. I was right on track to meet my goal.

High Coast Ultra was an event I won’t soon forget. A race so beautiful, so tough, the hours seemed to fly by and drag on at the same time. I was in a great mood throughout the almost 12 hours I was out there and I made it to the finish line exhausted but happy.  It was a race that taught me a lot about myself and how resilient I can be if I need to, both physically and mentally. I'm pretty kick-ass, really. And modest, too.


Making it to the finish line of HCU made me swear off races despite having enjoyed the experience, only to start thinking about my next goal approximately 3,4 seconds later. I talked to a friend about doing Black River Run in September together, a 80km race, and extending it on my own to shoot for 100km. I had done the training for it and I felt ready. You never know if you’ll ever be as well-trained as you are right at that moment, especially with an injury history like mine. As the weeks passed, however, I felt less and less motivated to travel the 800 km to the town the race took place in considering it was only an unofficial 100. So I ran them on my own, right here in Skellefteå.

That was it. I had achieved what I had always dreamed of. I ran 100 km confidently, like I knew I had it in me. It was great fun at times, boring at other times when the landscape consisted of grey tarmac and fast cars. 


And then I realised that somewhere along those 100 km I got injured.

My feet were destroyed. My hip fell off and hopped away on its own as far away from me as possible. It took me several weeks to convince my body parts to cooperate with me again and help me run. My whole autumn was one long comeback. I finish the year with an average of 200 km per month, my strongest year since I started running.

And now, while we are standing on the ledge waiting to leap blindly into the new year, I wonder – not without considerable apprehension – what 2016 will bring. Some BIG changes are on the way. When it comes to running, I want to become completely injury-free so that I can run far again. The mountains are calling. They are always calling.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Aurora runner

What a show the universe put on tonight. In an impulsive move that will go down in history as one of my best ideas ever, I skipped training with AIK to embark instead on a solo run by the river. I took my headlight with me, thinking I was going to need it on the southern side path where there are no street lamps.

I didn't need the headlight. I ran on snow that many feet had trodden on, even, smooth, perfect. The trees around me almost formed a canopy, barren but for their white winter dress, sparse enough to allow glimpses of the Northern river bank. There, there were street lamps, casting an orange light on the thin layer of ice that lay in patches on the river.

But I spent little time looking around me. My head was turned up towards the sky.

I am completely convinced that, if people spent more time looking at the sky, there would be a lot less fighting in the world. For how can anyone hate when something that is so much bigger than us, eternal, beautiful, takes place all around us, all the time? How can anyone care about pride and power and material possessions when the real magic, the kind of magic we believed in when we were children, is not fairy tales but within reach, if you only put on a pair of shoes and go for a run on a dark, cold winter night and look up?

A quiet dance, a breeze stroking a curtain on a summer day, a rainbow, soundless fireworks interrupted by falling stars. One, two, three, four Geminids. The spruce trees laden with snow, orange light from the street lamps across the river, the sky above an undulating green. My footsteps light on the snow, I am alone, I laugh with tears of joy, I am a child again. I am comforted by the presence of something so magnificent in the face of so much despair in the world. I stop, I look up again, my neck already stiff and I'm wondering how I have managed to avoid falling into the river. Northern lights swirl so rapidly now, their tentacles forming a spiral so tight that it's like a solid ceiling over my head and I can't believe my eyes. I have seen them before, but never like this. You can almost see the particles hitting the magnetic field, like iron chips gathering around a magnet, and you see the pulleys and levers behind the magician's curtain, as if you've seen through the magic. Yet, when you look again, you see only beauty, and you're willing to accept the fact that you'll never understand it all, you are too small, and that's what makes it magic.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Fluctuations

I stepped out into a white world yesterday after work. Snow on the ground and fog closing in around me made me feel like I was crawling inside a cotton ball. It was almost otherworldly, the backdrop to a tense scene in an old-school horror movie, escalating towards a particularly gruesome murder or the revelation of a horribly deformed villain. I ran with my stomach trying to climb up my throat, a sensation I always get when I go running directly after work, as if the day's worries are a physical entity that I can just expel out my mouth like spoiled food. It went well, despite all that. I covered 10 km and could relax after an extraordinarily long week.


This morning, I stepped out into a completely different world. A pale sun struggling to rise above the horizon turned blue snow into orange, and you could almost feel the heat bouncing off the few scattered clouds above. A mean feat when the temperature was as low as -10 degrees. I tried to listen to a podcast on my way to meet AIK and managed instead to push play on one of my most favourite songs, Sad Captains by Elbow. Poetry. Magic. Love. Also, sadness. I've been thinking about a dear friend of mine a lot lately who seems to be struggling, and about how sometimes it's hard to help those that refuse to open up and choose to create their own personal hell and live in it alone. I sang along quietly, letting the words reach my heart and letting my heart mourn what feels lost.

Our coach had asked me to pace the group today, as he had a little surprise for us later on. We were 20 strong, plus two dogs. My sadness took a back step to leave room for other things, discussions about everything under the sun and even a lovely 15 minutes or so of singing Christmas songs while we ran. Well, it was lovely for the three of us who actually sang. Some of the others suddenly seemed to have trouble keeping up with us and lagged behind.

Halfway through the run, we were stopped by Santa and his little helpers. Our coach had warmed glögg (mulled wine), which he served together with gingerbread cookies and candy. The glögg tasted like the sweetest nectar and felt like the warmest blanket. 


We didn't stay long, as the cold was a mighty adversary even for the glögg and found its way into our very bones. We ran back to the hockey arena where we had started and parted ways.

I ran home, my spirits high once again. 23 km will do that for you.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Swedish beauty

Just when you think your running motivation is at its lowest, an amazing almost-long run makes you want to stay outside and cover kilometre after kilometre until the sun sets. Which, in Northern Sweden, is about 5 seconds after it rises. But you get my drift.

I don't know if it was wise of me to go running today, considering that hills made me gasp for breath and old ladies pushing walkers overtook me, but I haven't needed to get hospitalized yet, which I take to mean that I am now completely, 100% healthy after my suspected tonsillitis. I will continue to hold that position until pneumonia hits me. What I do know is that I didn't regret it. 

The light in the sky on my way up to our meeting place with AIK was surreal, more dusk than dawn, with flames of pink and red slashing the dark blue of early morning. Buildings were on fire.


I knew we would run up to Vitberget and the forest, and was a bit apprehensive. Despite its name, Vitberget (White mountain) is only a hill, but it offers some steep climbs if you know where to look. These, combined with the 10 cm snow covering the rocks and roots that litter all smaller paths there, made for some tricky, demanding terrain.

But oh, the beauty. The tunnels of weary tree branches, white and heavy with snow. The views towards Kåge and the sea, under stripes of grey and orange sky. The trails, asking way too much of my injury-weakened feet and ankles but more than making up for it by offering such great exercise in return. I was ecstatic. 


On my way home, I took a little detour but still decided to be happy with ”only” 19 km. I had somewhere to be afterwards, and besides, the weather had taken a turn for the worse with icy raindrops slowly working their way into the soft snow and turning it into ice.

This. This kind of running is what makes me want to sing. Or at least – to everyone's relief – blog about it.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Ramblings of a sick woman

This blog is updated about as often as Halley's comet does a drive-by these days. Last updated: 15th October. Wow. Not much has happened running-wise since then. I have been trying to revive my running career, albeit halfheartedly because of icy pavements and a deep-seated hatred of spikes, only to suffer setbacks every other week.

Take last week, for example. I managed a whopping 24 km long run, bringing the week total up to an astounding 50 km. Yes, I am being ironic, but that was my longest run since September and my hip injury, so I'm happy. And then? Two days later? My motivation to go running is replaced by a pressing desire to lie on the couch and nurse my tonsillitis.

With Saturday – long run day – fast approaching, I am trying to get a sense of how this disease is progressing and if I'll be well enough to run by then. I have obviously gobbled down a golf ball at some point, or more likely a curled-up hedgehog judging by how much it hurts every time I swallow. But does it hurt as much as yesterday? The fever is down and I only get light-headed when I overexert myself, like by crocheting or turning the pages of my book. I am probably good to go!

There are many downsides to not putting in the miles. Restlessness and starting to resemble a Buddha statue are only two of them. Hey! Just because you can't go running doesn't mean you have to stop eating like a runner. When traumatic events, like injuries, occur, it is important that you continue living your life as if nothing has happened. Otherwise the injury wins. But, to be fair, there are upsides as well. There is more time to make pretty things. With Christmas around the corner, making pretty things is such a relaxing activity, as far from the shopping hysteria and stress as you can get. 


With the end of the year less than a month away, I wonder if I should be making plans for 2016. I have only one goal when it comes to running, and that is our annual Rovön 6H. I don't plan on entering any other races, nor on embarking on extravagant own adventures. As the years go by and my legs tolerate more and more of the abuse I put them through, it becomes less and less important to put them through abuse. That's not to say I won't; just that it has become some sort of habit, as natural as the cup of coffee I drink in the morning. I don't have to plan for it, I don't have to give it any thought, but I still have to have it or I will wander around like a zombie with a wicked headache. It doesn't define who I am any more than any of my other interests, but it is an intrinsic part of who I am in a way my other interests will never be. I just don't have to shout it from the rooftops anymore.

Does any of this make sense? Because I think my fever is coming back. Dammit!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Filling the void

Children love building towers of blocks. Some of them enjoy looking at them for a couple of seconds and then swiftly knocking them over. They find that hilarious. The power to construct something only to tear it down makes them drunk with excitement. As they get older, they start wanting to save what they've created. Savour it. Show everyone, beaming with pride.

By the time kids grow up to become adults, most of them have gotten over the phase when knocking things over is fun. The rest of them? They become demolition men or the main income source for the local shrink. Some of them become runners. I guess.

See, when you are a runner with a long history of injuries and you finally get a long injury-free streak, you don't think ”Hey, maybe I should cherish this injury-free streak and not do anything stupid”. You don't think ”I spent months getting to the great shape I am in today, maybe I should just be happy I am able to run without pain regularly”. No no no. You think ”Gee, I wonder what would happen if I took this here hand and swatted at this great tower of blocks. What if I ran 100K?”

And that's what I did. I took a big swing at my poor old defenseless tower of blocks. Good thing I am a runner and not the main income source for the local shrink or I'd be seriously broke and/or in jail.

Unlike the child that never grew up to appreciate the work it took to build the tower of blocks, I found no joy in destroying what I had built. I had succeeded in my goal to run 100km, yes. But now I was injured again. And that's no fun!

My chiropractor set my foot bones back in their right place and the pain faded away. Only to be replaced by pain in my hip instead.

I took all this in my stride. I rested for 3 weeks. I found new hobbies. Strangely coinciding with the fact that I had decided to work part-time and have Thursdays off, an avalanche of new extracurricular responsibilities landed on my lap to fill this new void in my life. Weekends were busy with family and friends, both old and new. I didn't miss running.

What scared me most about this was how it wasn't scary at all. I was okay with reading for hours on end. I felt great working on a crocheted throw. I had a blast going to the movies and trying to stop myself from eating all the popcorn before the film started. And I guess it was kind of entertaining trying to stave off that drunk guy who said my hair looked like ”falling stars” at the bar the other night. He wasn't referring to hair loss. I think.

All of this was great. This was who I was. A creative woman who loves reading and watching films. I had time to pursue my hobbies, hobbies that I had neglected what with spending all my free time either running or too tired to move.

But...

But there was one crucial puzzle piece missing. I did not feel entirely like myself. I grew increasingly restless. My body was stiff and ached, suddenly in a state of disrepair and neglect. My thought patterns were altered. For example, I briefly considered switching to shorter distances next running season. Fortunately, this was only a momentary lapse of sanity and not, like I feared at first, the result of a forgotten blow to the head from the fall I took in the woods a few months ago.

I started jogging again. Apprehensive and loathing running because it held the possibility that my hip would act up, I tentatively began building a new tower of blocks. The first couple of blocks kept tumbling down but I didn't give up. After a few days, they stuck. So I added some more. And then some more. I am up to running 10 km with no more than a niggle in my hip and currently content with the way my tower is shaping up. I do not intend to knock anything over in the foreseeable future, even though I do wish I had more time to devote to my other hobbies. This running lark is taking up so much of my free time already.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A hundred kilometres later

Last Saturday, I ran 100 km.

I ran from six in the morning to seven in the afternoon, alone, with only a couple of visits by J, who helped me keep my water bottles filled. 


I ran because I had put in the training hours and it was now or never. I ran because 100 km had been my dream almost ever since I started running. I ran because I could.

My thoughts drifted to all sorts of things during the thirteen hours I was out there, only occasionally to how mind-numbingly boring (and dangerous) running on roads was. Like the proficient introvert that I am, I kept myself decent company. With no one else there to dictate the pace, I ran when I wanted to and walked when I wanted to. I ate when I needed to and drank when I needed to.


Upon hearing what I had done, a colleague of mine said I was a machine. I suppose that wasn't too far from the truth. That is sort of what ultrarunning is about. Putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line. Even when it hurts. You push the pain aside, you observe it from a distance and you keep going until you're done.

From dusk til dawn

And it hurt. Almost from the get go, it hurt. My feet took a pounding and I don't know how long it will be before they heal.

A brief smile as I was covering the last hundred metres to round up to 100 km was all the happiness and satisfaction I felt. I've heard people talk about the post-race blues, the emptiness you feel when you've finally achieved something you've been fighting for, but I'm not depressed about it. On a cognitive level, I am satisfied. I recognise that running 100 km is a big deal. I just don't feel it in my gut. It was this exact absence of exaltation after High Coast Ultra as well, only then I had already set my sights on running a hundred. Mentally, I was already moving to my next goal. This time I have no other goals. I don't intend on running any further than that.

With 20 km left to go

It's not easy figuring out where this almost flippant attitude comes from. But I think a clue might lie within the first thoughts that crossed my mind, regarding future plans. I really want to keep doing ultras. It's who I am. However I don't want to have to shoot for a certain distance. Perhaps what happened was that achieving my goal deflated the importance I place on numbers. After all, they are not what running is really about for me. I want to experience things. Discover new places. Explore. Learn. Grow as a person. Watch the sun rise and set in my running shoes. That's the kind of running that makes me happy, the kind that makes my heart swell with a sense of wonder for life.

If there is one gift running a hundred kilometres has given me, it is the confidence to know that I can. So was it worth it? You betcha.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Pause for thought

Recovery after a race should be all about basking in the glory of your achievement, taking it easy and letting your body rebuild itself. My recovery time coincided with a trip back home, giving me ample opportunity to take it easy and recharge my batteries. But it has also meant I've been living out of a suitcase. I haven't stopped to think about High Coast Ultra. About what it taught me. About the experiences I gained. About how it affected me and the way I see myself as a runner.

Sure, I talked about it with any friend who would ask me, but I did it in a detached way, like I was describing a movie I had seen or something I had read about in the paper. I told them about the demanding terrain and the weather and the people I'd met, and they nodded and made appropriate noises.

I told a good friend of mine about the race and she answered emphatically: ”Yeah, but that's a lot of kilometres”. Right there. That's when the penny dropped for me. She must have sensed in a way that I hadn't realised what I had done. She must have felt my detachment when I was telling her the story.

When I got back, I didn't rest. I immediately started thinking about my planned adventure to run on the King's trail in the mountains a day or two later. Onwards, forwards, ever moving, never stopping. Then, reports from the cabins in the area spoke of way too much snow left on the trail, rendering it impossible to run. My plans would have to wait for another year. All dressed up and nowhere to go.

Yearning

I sat at home, watching the seemingly never-ending rain turn paths into rivers, and made new plans. I spoke to an ultrarunner friend about what my next (bigger, badder) ultra challenge should be. He suggested I join him for a race in September. I started looking at ways to get there. Reading about recovery between ultras. Wanting to take on a new goal with my whole heart.

But High Coast Ultra? Does that achievement not deserve any pause for thought on my part? And what about Rovön 6H three weeks before, when I ran 50K? Shouldn't now be the time to stop and enjoy the fact that all the hard work I put in last spring paid off, instead of instantly setting higher, tougher goals for myself? Is this really personal growth or is it number fixation?

Running in general and ultra running in particular has always been, for me, more about the journey and not the destination. The journey was a lot of fun but it stopped the minute I crossed the finish line, when it really should have gone on for days afterwards. I don't need confirmation that I can race a certain distance (although it's nice). I need reflection. I do it to find out more about myself. I do it to get out there and feel more in touch with nature. So what is it that makes those race sirens so seductive?

Monday, 29 June 2015

High Coast Ultra 75km

No one said it would be easy
But no one said it'd be this hard
No one said it would be easy
No one thought we'd come this far
Oh, and look we've come this far
- Sheryl Crow

6 months. 6 months of focused training, of worrying about injuries, illness and earthquakes, floods and meteorites devastating the planet. I had finally made it to the start of High Coast Ultra 75 km healthy and strong, and the planet was still as intact as it had been 6 months earlier.

7 AIK runners had driven down the day before, arriving at the Nordvik hostel/student residence hours before the scheduled pre-race pasta dinner. We unpacked, then re-packed our drop bags. Looked at the weather forecast, chose clothes, then changed our minds 2 seconds later. Talked strategy, hydration and food intake, shoes. I wandered around the hostel, taking photos, admiring the open fields and trying to pet unwilling horses. I felt calm and composed. We ate dinner at the hostel restaurant, a delicious mushroom sauce over pasta for us vegetarians. Then, more strategy talking and looking at maps before it was time for bed.


My bed was crooked. My matress wavy. The room was too bright, too warm, too cold. My pillow flat. I was overtired, getting nervous, tossing and turning. I slept a grand total of 3 hours, 3 very restless hours, and woke up with a headache, too tired to even register what that could mean for my race.


After a big breakfast, we got our things and climbed onboard the bus that would take us to the start at the foot of Skuleberget. We got there an hour and a half before we were due to start. Rain was hanging in the air and we sought shelter inside the visitors' centre. We used this time to get the final details in order: attaching the bib to our clothes, re-tying our shoelaces, eating and scrawling mantras on our arms. Getting ready for what was to be -for all of us- our longest race yet.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Witches brew

Tapering means suddenly finding yourself with a calorific surplus and no easy way to get rid of it. Add to that the fact that the weather went from ”All this rain is making my brain rot” to ”Wow, what is that bright yellow disk in the sky?” (which made ice cream manufacturers finally breathe a sigh of relief as they watched their sales go from zero to a gazillion within the matter of three days and me be responsible for at least 1/3 of those sales) and you'll understand my conundrum.

No? Here, let me illustrate with a handy chart:

Charts. Making bullshit look like science since 1895.

This problem was only intensified by the fact that the unexpected good weather coincided with some other happy events in my life, events where it is encouraged, nay, expected that one engages in consumption of foodstuff of questionable nutritional value, for example cakes and sweets, all washed down with wine of course.

It's all fun and games until you can't fit in your favourite jeans anymore.

My attempts to compensate for this weekend's festivities have been as futile as trying to keep the flat clean (as the exasperated owner of two cats, one of which with luscious long fur, I never feel like more of a nihilist as when it's time to vacuum clean. I mean, in the great scheme of things, what does it matter? The flat will be just as dirty again two seconds later). 

I made a list to see if calories in < calories out but I don't think it adds up:



Not included in the list above is the energy I spent preparing this concoction:

Looks like piss, tastes like piss but piss is not one of the secret ingredients. Maybe.

Its secret ingredients DO NOT include viper venom from the 540835783rd viper I saw on Vitberget yesterday. Nevertheless, I do hope it's a potent potion against real and imagined colds threatening to DNS my arse on Saturday. Because it doesn't taste as good as ice cream, so it better be worth it, dammit.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Tapering

With less than two weeks left to High Coast Ultra, I catch myself listening very carefully. I listen to my knee joints. I listen to the back side of my thighs. I listen to my throat.

I found myself getting very restless the other day. The weather was beautiful but I couldn't go for a run because I'm supposed to be tapering. A walk did nothing to get rid of the excess energy. My body was still but my mind was racing. I tried reading, watching TV, chatting with friends, but I only got more restless. I think that, if I could see the future and knew that I'll come out of the next 10 days healthy and whole, that I'll be able to stand on that starting line on eager legs and a clear head, I would be able to relax. But I can't. And right now, with tapering giving me a lot of running-free time to notice such things, everything is just background noise.

Have you ever stood in an empty room and thought it was quiet, only to really listen and realise it was not quiet at all? The fridge buzzed. The ventilation hummed. The traffic outside the window sang out of key. A floorboard creaked or a single drop of water left a leaky faucet to plummet all the way down to the sink.

On your computer screen, more noise. On your news feed, static. Celebrities, reality shows, diet plans and scandals are the soundtrack of our lives. The faces may change but they are all interchangeable.

It's never quiet, not even when you think it is.

When people talk about mundane things, like royal weddings and wallpaper patterns, I disconnect. I turn inwards. I examine my own thoughts. But, without running to pad the walls of this particular isolation room, the much needed silence is not there either. I listen to the sounds of a body that is trying to adjust to the shock of lower weekly mileage, trying to resist an onslaught of viruses and bacteria, trying to avoid getting injured or sick, because now is the time to get stronger, not weaker. I eat more fruits and vegetables than I usually do (and that's not even counting the vanilla in my ice cream). I try not to breathe too much in public. I wash my hands an extra 20 times per hour. Still, I worry that my worrying about getting sick and missing HCU will make me sick and miss HCU. It's a tapering-fueled, hypochondriac SOB of a vicious circle.

I want it to be quiet. I need it to be quiet. 


I visualise. I dream of the time after HCU, of my next adventure, of running in the mountains where the only buzzing you hear are mosquitoes, the only humming the wind, the only singing birds, the only leaky faucet streams and rivers. My footsteps gentle on the paths, brushing against tall bushes. Raindrops on my jacket, balancing on the seams. Breathing in, breathing out, then holding your breath to allow for all the other sound waves around you to reach your ears undisturbed. Being alone with my thoughts, thoughts that don't try to predict the future, thoughts only of surviving each step that carries me towards my goal. A still mind in a moving body.


Solitude. Silence. Simplicity. Stillness in motion.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Rovön 6H - 2015 edition

The day of our unofficial 6-hour race was finally here. They say that how your day starts sets the tone for how the rest of it is going to be. Well, I started my day by accidentally pouring energy drink all over my clothes, 2 seconds before I had to leave the house. An hour or so later I knocked over a big bottle of Coke all over our snacks table. Coincidence? I think not. 


Those were not the only things to go slightly awry yesterday (or even ”ohshitohshitohshit”-awry) but the good stuff far outweighed the ”20 years from now we're gonna look back at this and laugh”-stuff.

There were 8 of us organising this event, and we worked together perfectly, each person knowing exactly what they had to do when we met up at 7.30 to set up the start/finish/aid station area. I turned up 5 minutes late because of the energy drink incident, sticky and smelling like lemons, to find that the others had already put up one of the party tents and hung a line of flags over it. I wanted to hug each and every one of these crazy people. They're the best. I felt a familiar wave of pride and excitement wash over me. I was close to tears with joy.

Anja helped us dig a hole for one of the signs.

Damn right we're international.

A little over a year and a half ago, I asked some of my running buddies from AIK if they were interested in starting up a 6-hour race, seeing as nothing of the sort existed in Northern Sweden. It wouldn't be official, at least not yet. It was to be an experiment to see if people in the area were interested in this kind of thing. To my surprise, they said yes. And thus started a journey that was smooth sailing thanks to these amazing people and their hard work and enthusiasm.

Now, our little baby was growing up so fast. Last year, 24 people ran the event. This year, the number was up to 40. Some people (a few of them eminent, experienced ultra runners) traveled to Skellefteå to run it. The rainy weather did not seem to deter them. Nor the mosquitoes that feasted on our energy drink spiked blood.

Runners started gathering a few minutes before start

I ran the first 5,5 km round with my Camelbak on my back, the water splashing around in there and causing a racket because I had forgotten to empty it of air. When I came back to the aid station, I decided to take pity on my fellow runners and my poor knees and left the Camelbak with my other stuff. The reason I had it with me in the first place was to practice carrying some weight for HCU but I figured that could wait until a shorter run.

When you run for hours, you go into a sort of trance. Faces, voices, places all melt into one. I remember running with some friends from AIK. I remember running alone. I remember running with J. I remember we laughed and talked about serious stuff and made plans for the future and made plans for dinner. I remember that the question I asked and got asked most often was ”how is it going?”. I remember meeting the AIK group that was running in the opposite direction from us and cheering us on. I remember my arms feeling cold, then warm, then cold again, depending on the wind and rain. I remember trying to do math in my head to see how many rounds I had left and failing miserably. I remember looking across the river and seeing other runners and shouting hellos. 

It was Sweden's national day

After almost four hours I was running with E and G from the club. I wondered where J was. He hadn't run more than 15 km since last year's Rovön 6H, and more often than not much shorter distances than that. But he had not gone home and he was not at the aid station. The results board told me he was still out there soldiering on, and the next time we passed the aid station he had finally decided to give up. He had run an amazing 33 km on legs that had ached from the get-go. I felt so proud of him, so happy, so impressed. Undeniably one of the most fantastic performances of the day.

On the South side of the river, with the headwind picking up

A lot of people broke their personal distance records

I went on running. My goal was to run between 40 and 45 km, as a last long run before HCU. I didn't want to risk running longer than that and cause an injury. But I should know myself well enough by now. When I passed the aid station again after 44 km on legs that weren't sending any warning signals worth taking seriously, I decided to continue. I ran the last round first by myself, then joined once again by G, who was about to break her personal record by a staggering 20 km. When I had run 50 km, I stopped and walked back to the aid station where I proceeded to stuff my face with chips, chocolate, biscuits and coffee. I wasn't hungry at all, but I knew it would be hours before I got the chance to eat dinner.


With just under a half-hour left to the end of the race, I put on every last bit of clothing I had taken with me and tried not to mind the mosquitoes that attacked my bare calves. I talked with people, cheered other runners on, packed my things and put them in the car. When the race was over and all runners had gone home, it was time for the circus to move on. Down with the party tents, down with the flags. Empty the water and energy drink cans, throw the garbage away. Collect all signs and tapes, dismantle the makeshift toilet booth. All of this under a persistent drizzle that soon turned into proper rain, chilling us to the bone.

An hour later, 13 of us were sitting at a pizza restaurant with a calorie-rich pizza in front of us and a beer in our hands, toasting each other. I laughed so much that the only body part that didn't ache (my jaw) also got a great workout. At that moment, tired and overwhelmed by months of planning and hours of running, I couldn't see myself participating in the organisation of another Rovön 6H next year. But this morning, after I'd had some sleep, ”no” had turned into a ”maybe”. And I'm already starting to think about what further improvements we can make. Better weather is only one of them.


HCU is less than three weeks away. It's time to start tapering for it and let my body recover. I am so relieved and happy that I could run 50 km without my knees collapsing.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Dances with reptiles

After a month of seemingly constant rain, a period so long and miserable that I thought moss would start growing on me and my running shoes started smelling conspicuously of mold (and looked like they were covered in it, too), we finally got a day so marvelous, a sun so fiercely devoted to drying our soaked bones and drenched hearts that everyone in the whole city dazedly crawled out of their houses like snails and stared disbelievingly at the blue sky.

About 15 of us in AIK ran a route I had never run before, which took us past one of my most favourite spots in the whole world: a weekend-house neighbourhood by a nearby lake, a place so picturesque, summery and, well, Swedish, it could have been the inspiration to an Astrid Lindgren book. Time flew faster than we could run as we chatted and laughed. Before we knew it, we were back at the hockey arena where we had started, 17 sunny kilometres richer.




I went on running after we had said our goodbyes. This time, I sought the shadow of the woods, having almost run out of Tailwind and needing the terrain mileage and elevation gain. The ground was sometimes soggy, even completely submerged in water at places. But some parts were as dry as a sun-baked stone in Death Valley. And there, while I was busy daydreaming about trail running in the mountains and summer days in warmer latitudes letting salty waves cool my legs, I heard it.

A hiss. That's all it took to make me produce a most pathetic little whimper. I turned around and realised I had narrowly missed running on a viper, that was lying on the right side of the double-track I was on, sunbathing and probably it, too, daydreaming about whatever adventures vipers embark on with their viper pals. Slithering up the mountain and biting unsuspecting runners, I'll bet. Or whispering in your ear that you should just eat the damn apple. Sneaky sods.


This is the second viper I encounter while on a run this week. The first one was a relatively small viper, cocky and pissed off (ergo most likely a teenager). The one I unwittingly almost got very friendly with today was probably an adult one. A grandpa, even, judging by the way it harrumphed and slowly crawled into the bushes after having warned me to get off its lawn.

Me and snakes, we get along great. Like cats and dogs. Remember the time I danced on with one?

Luckily the rest of my run was uneventful and I managed a not-too-shabby 30 km on happy legs. One tough week left.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

I walk the line

The line between success and disaster is a very fine one. One that an ultrarunner has to learn how to balance on while an abyss of pain and disappointment lies beneath her feet, no safety net or harnesses. One false step and she falls, and there is no one there to catch her.

With one month left to High Coast Ultra, and just over a week to my last really long long run in preparation for it at Rovön 6H, I am starting to get nervous. I place my feet down extra carefully when I negotiate roots and stones on the trail. I listen extra carefully to my body's signals and massage my thighs at the slightest niggle. I fight the demons saying I can't do it with every bit of mental strength gained on previous races and runs. I keep expecting something to go wrong. I imagine myself standing at the starting line and what I feel most is surprise. Did I really make it here?


At the same time, the time for tapering is not here yet. Two heavy weeks left, two weeks to collect precious terrain kilometres, chasing single track and hills, in shoes caked in mud and on feet pruney and cold. Experience points to help carry me through endless miles of elevation, rocky paths and, possibly, apocalyptic weather. This needs to be done. Two weeks left before I can breathe out and let my body start repairing itself for the real challenge. Suck it up buttercup.

I am ready. I am not ready at all. A fine line between well prepared and under-prepared. Between top form and injury. And I walk the line.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Pushing my luck

Spring in Skellefteå is like a surprise visit from an old friend: It comes suddenly, you're overjoyed to see it and it only lasts a short while.


Within a couple of weeks, the last of the snow finally melted and the buds on the trees turned into leaves. Icy, slippery slush got burned down into water puddles by the sun and transformed the frosty, brittle earth into soft, hungry, shoe-stealing mud. Life is awakening from its deep slumber.


Like a migrating bird, I have returned home to the trails. My legs heavy from the last few weeks' increased mileage, my lungs burdened by a ball of yarn, I covered a total of 57 trail kilometres in 4 days. 

My knees were shocked by this ordeal and threatened to pack up and leave if I didn't quit this whole trail running business. They didn't approve of the altered running style or the elevation gain. I, on the other hand, thought my adjusted running style was doing a great job keeping me from falling on my arse and that every metre of elevation gain in training is probably vital in order to survive High Coast Ultra. 

Sticks and stones may break my bones...

Wet, wet, wet

Obstacle course.

It's not the first time me and my knees don't see eye to eye, and probably not the last either. No one ever became an ultrarunner by playing it safe, KNEES.


To celebrate the fact that the sun deigned to grace us with its presence today (after yesterday's short-lived snowfall) and that I survived yet another bout of back-to-back long runs, I forced myself to eat three scoops of ice-cream at a cafe.

Disgusting.

Thus commenced a 4-day rest period that I suspect my knees (and lungs) are going to thank me for.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Say yes

Finding out I have a condition that may make it impossible for me to run in the future led to a mini mid-life crisis that I must have forgotten to have when I turned thirty and thought to myself ”Eh, it's not that different to being twenty nine”. Running is a huge part of my life, my social circle here in Skellefteå consisting almost entirely of other runners, my free time when not running spent largely helping out with AIK-related activities (co-coaching the beginners group, for instance).

This realisation stopped me in my tracks. What would I do without running? Who am I if I can't run? What will I have left?

The answer is: not much.

It was a very scary thought. Sure, I have other hobbies. I knit. I read. I watch movies. But they're hobbies, not a way of life. And they always take second place on my priority list. Because, let's face it, would you rather be in a dark theater or running here:


Take yesterday, for example. I ran 36 km, a wonderful, pain-free, life-affirming 36 km, which, however, left me so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open. My vague plans to go out with friends for dinner and a drink were promptly cancelled. How could we go out? I had just gotten run over by a bus. I tried reading my book but I kept reading the same sentence over and over again, my brain having suddenly lost the ability to turn letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into meaningful language. I was done for the evening. I put on a film and watched it without really understanding what was going on (although, to be fair, that might have been the directors' fault rather than mine, WACHOWSKIS).

I was held captive under the blanket by a fearsome feline.

A couple of hours later, J reminded me of a gig I had wanted to go to. A friend from AIK happens to be an excellent musician as well as a gifted runner, and I had wanted to watch him perform for a while. I told J I was way too tired to even think about getting dressed and heading into town. Besides, it was getting late. Way past my bed time. Yes, I am 90 years old, thank you for asking.

J shook his head and laughed. I'd like to think he laughed with me rather than at me but I suspect the latter was the case. Which got me thinking. Was I really that tired or just lazy? My legs worked, surely I could cycle the two kilometres into town. My eyelids were heavy but open eyes are not a prerequisite for listening to music. Or drinking for that matter. And we didn't have to stay long. One drink, then straight to bed.

With my condition-related thoughts at the back of my mind, I said yes. It proved to be a lovely evening, with great music, great company, and a great big smile glued to my face. I even managed to keep my eyes open. We stayed longer than just one drink. All this I would have missed if I had said no to going out.


I made a resolution to start saying yes more often. It can lead to wonderful experiences during this wild ride that's called life. And who knows? Maybe those crazy people that claim that life is more than just running are right.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Difficult words and grim prospects

A few months ago, the palm of my right hand started itching. After a couple of weeks, a lump appeared under the skin. I ignored it at first. I had just taken up knitting, and because I hold the yarn in such a way that it rubs against my hand exactly there, I told myself it was an allergic reaction to it.

The lump proved to be pretty persistent. It didn't go away. It didn't hurt, but I caught myself rubbing it absentmindedly with my left thumb sometimes, so it was obviously at the back of my mind.

I finally decided to see the doctor about it. He compared my right palm to my left, rubbed them, made me bend my fingers this way and that until he was satisfied with his diagnosis.

What I have is a benign, often slow-progressing condition called Dupuytrens contracture. Try saying that quickly three times. What it means is that tissue builds up under the skin of your hand, which pulls at your fingers and can cause the affected ones to become bent over the years. Advantages to getting this condition include, but are not limited to, amusing guests at parties with your Captain Hook impressions. I need to work on mine. I only drew a polite smile from the doctor when I tried it. Maybe it's because I can still straighten my fingers? It's not authentic enough.

Apparently, it's more likely that you'll somehow get teleported to Mars and then promptly get hit by a bus driven by mutant sloths than I, a woman under 60, should get afflicted with this condition. So, despite my usual optimistic disposition when it comes to medicinal issues, I am not entirely sure that I won't be one of the few lucky ones who also develop a lump in the sole of their foot.

I don't need to tell you what a painful lump in the sole of a runner's foot would mean for said runner's future running prospects. I don't need to tell you what a scary thought that is for someone who, when not running, is thinking about running.

I don't worry often, but when I do, I usually worry about the past. About things I've done, things I haven't done. Things I've said or should have said. I don't worry about the future. But this? This worries me. It might take years before my fingers get affected. I don't care about that. Worst case scenario, I can't open jars and have to wear mittens instead of gloves during the winter. Clapping my hands might become a challenge. But, even though it's a remote possibility that it might ever come to that, I worry about my feet. My brave warriors that have carried me through forests and on beaches, on mountains and through golden fields.

Sure, there are worse things in the world. The Big C. Ebola. Multiple sclerosis. Boy bands. But thinking about how some people suffer even more doesn't make me feel better. It makes me feel worse. And hey, don't worry! I could still get all those things! (Except boy bands. I don't think I'll ever ”get” boy bands.)

You want me to try living without running? You try living without oxygen. If you're a runner, you understand.

When I told her about my condition, my colleague gave me the following advice:
”Run all you can, while you can”.
And that is exactly what I intend to do.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Getting better every day

When the wind is howling outside your window and snow is pouring down from the sky, it doesn't help to shake your fist at the sky and yell ”But it's spring!”. There is no one up there who cares, unless you're into anthropomorphising weather. It's hard to believe that summer is but two months away.

Then, the weather turns. The wind lets off. The sun comes out. Suddenly, you find yourself running a long run in a t-shirt with the corners of your mouth apparently stitched to your ears, because that's just how good it feels to be experiencing this run on this glorious day together with friends. No hills, no ice, no mud can wipe that smirk off your face, because you're high.

And when the planned group run has come to its end and you've had a chance to refill your energy levels with a muffin and some coffee, you want to keep going. And your body responds with an enthusiastic cheer, because it's been missing this so much it hurts.

When you get back, tired but not exhausted despite the 30 km you've just covered, you notice the birds in the trees and you hear their lovely spring song. Life is beautiful and summer is most definitely on its way.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

TLC

The fact that a whole month had passed since my last long run was painfully noticeable during the last couple of kilometres of my 27 km run yesterday. My legs, that had recovered beautifully after Thursday's heavy gym session, were now wet noodles, and my breathing was laboured.

What was neither painful nor noticeable was the ache in my right knee that had forced me to cry ”Runner's knee!” four weeks prior and had kept me away from my beloved long runs. Nothing. Not even the usual niggles I always have, and have to ignore in order to be able to run.

My left knee, on the other hand, was miserable.

”What is it?” I asked it, feeling very concerned.
”Nothing”, it replied, doing a very convincing impersonation of Eeyore.
”No, really, what is it? I can see you're upset”
”Oh, don't mind me. I just want to be alone for a minute”
”It's hard to leave you alone. You're attached to the rest of me”

Then it would pull itself together and help me move forward without a sound. Until it couldn't take it anymore and started mopping around again.

My knee's obvious attention-whoring was subsequently met by indifference on my part. I think it was just jealous that I'd given my right knee so much tender loving care these past few weeks.

The rest of the day was spent in the company of good friends. Even my left knee was happy about that.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Ride into the sun

A couple of magpies are currently busy building their dream home on a tree outside my window. Another, unidentified bird is singing its lungs out somewhere nearby, as ecstatic about the coming of spring as I am. The ice is melting, folks.


My bike has survived spending the whole winter outdoors covered in snow. I took it to the gym this morning, on roads and pavements clear of gravel, while the early sun blinded me. Motivation to go to the gym doesn't come easy for me, but this beautiful morning I was bursting with so much energy, you could have convinced me to do a whole body workout. And I did.

I had the whole gym to myself. I put a hard rock CD on. I turned the volume up. I picked the heaviest weights I could manage and lifted them until my arms shook with exhaustion.

The heaviest weights I could manage were also the lightest ones there were. 3 hours later, my arms are still shaking with exhaustion.

No matter. My knee feels better and I could even run 7 km yesterday without pain. Who cares if I have the upper body strength of a 90-year old?

Friday, 13 March 2015

Dream a little dream

Last night I dreamt that I was walking the streets of my hometown. It was late spring, the light breeze was warm, people were smiling and I had summer clothes on. The warmth seeped into my heart and I loved the whole world.

Then I ended up at a crossroads. The only way leading forward towards my unknown destination was through dark alleys, over fences and down great heights. I hesitated, went for it, ended up at a dead end.

This was a dream about my right knee. How, up to four days ago, I floated around on clouds, feeling lucky and happy that my training was going so well. And then, out of the blue, I was trapped, trying to move forward but finding only obstacles.

What I suspect is yet another bout of runner's knee showed up at my front door last Monday morning as an embryo and developed into a full-blown adult over the course of a few hours. I walked home from work with said adult on my back with an over-pronounced, almost theatrical limp.

The gradual onset of this problem baffled the physiotherapist I asked the day after. That I hadn't run in two days when it happened baffled him even more. But he needs to examine me in order to know for sure what it is.

As the dream dissolved into reality and I woke up, the dream of running High Coast Ultra faded away. But hey. Who says I have to run it? I can always walk it and see how far I get. I wouldn't want to miss it, even if it's enough of an obstacle course even without a bad knee. Even if it's just another dead end.

I almost forgot. In my dream, I was also cuddling a dachshund. But that had nothing to do with HCU and everything to do with my wish to replace my cats, who decided they'd have a karaoke night at three in the morning, with an animal that sleeps through the night.