Saturday, August 15, 2015

Different kinds of pain

A few years ago I borrow a book from a good friend by Marshall Ulrich named 'Running on Empty'. Now if you don't know who Marshall Ulrich is I urge you to google him. He is a study in dedication and his deeds are out of this world.

The main theme in the book is his epic run across USA but also covers the story of why he started running and a number of other deeds he had done. The one thing that hit me the hardest was when he described how his wife laying in bed dying of cancer one day asked him not to run that day, something she had never done before, and him going on a run anyway. Knowing nothing else of the man, that situation might give you the impression that he was an cold, egoistic and possibly evil man. But he was not. Running was his only way to cope with the world at the time and not running would have deflated him instantly. It is a feeling hard to explain but I knew why he had to run and I knew how it would it haunt him forever after and I wonder how gutted and alone the wife must have felt.

Love and understanding. Marshall and new wife.

The same situation can be seen in my favorite movie of all time, the big blue. Again if you haven't seen it go see it now .. cause I am about to tell you how it ends. Visually and musically it is an amazing film especially when you take in account that it was filmed in 1988. The character are loosely based on real persons from the free diving scene, though very very loosely and they are always depicted in the extremes of their character. The 'hero' of the movie is a free diver called Jacques Mayol. He is a very loving and friendly person that is clearly stuck in his past, where he lost his father to the sea. When at land he is a fish out of water and even though he has a pretty pregnant girlfriend he still decides to go on one last final dive with the plan to stay down in his hope to meet 'mermaids'. Ultimately it is his girlfriend who pulls the string that starts his dive and sends him on the last journey. I know this sounds really really bizarre but believe me this is also something he simply has to do and she knows it at that point.

Hard to understand who would leave that behind
These are just two examples, but I see the same all around me in different form granted .. but still. I see this in a number of my running friends and I see this in myself. For some it is about using a little energy to gain enough energy to cope with the challenges of their lives, for some it about having something that is their own .. a little 'me time' and the list goes on and on. For some this is their very last battalion before surrender.

It is easy when one is alone to give in to these 'needs' but when in a relationship it can be extremely hard on the other half and come at great costs for both. Blessed be those who are understood and those who understand. The rest have my deepest most heartfelt sympathy. Neither side of the fence is easy.

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I was at the 'pain lady' a few days ago. It had been 2 weeks since I had been there last. The cupping marks had nearly gone but now it was time to get a new set.

that is blood you can see in the cups

As mentioned pain is part of what she does but I think it is only her way to find the relevant spots and she hasn't yet made me black out of pain. There are good pain and there are bad pain. Her pain is good .. except the blood cupping .. I could do without that to be honest but if it works I will convert it mentally to a good pain.

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Friday I was out running with Kaare I meet at AAUT. It was our first reunion since AAUT and I was to show him one of my favorite trails. He himself is a fast runner and we made good speed while talking about running and family. Sadly I lost focus on the trail for a few secs and then I heard a large snap and felt a sharp pain in my right ankle. I have strained my left ankle many times but never my right. It didn't feel good. But the secret to stains is to keep moving them and keep them from stiffening. After a few painful steps I was able to first slowly walk and the run and lastly run nearly normal speed again.

NOT my normal ankle size ;)
As we were once again making good progress and was running up a nice technical hill I was hit in the eye of an insect. Normally they just bounce off right away but this one stuck and then 2 secs later I felt an intense pain in the eye. I grabbed the bugger and threw it away but could feel something still was stuck. This I removed with my nails and found it to be the poison sack of a bee. It had stung me in the thin skin a few mm beneath the right eye. I couldn't believe my 'luck'. I had to laugh afterwards.


Friday, August 7, 2015

A house of dreams for dreaming

Someone very close to me asked me about my dream house. I thought very little about it and replied :
I would love to live close to the sea.
I would love big windows that faced the sea at one end and a huge forest at the other
.. sitting inside watching a storm tearing the sea into white and blue pieces.
I just want to watch the sea .. and my runners heart want the forest.
and my lovers heart want a bed in the middle of it where I can wake up and face it all
wooden floors .. lots of windows .. simple but build with love and of quality
This is a house I have envisioned for many years and even if this house is only one of dreams and its purpose is just meant for dreaming (practicality be ignored) .. just thinking about it warmed me and made me smile. Remember your dreams and caress them. Even if they never will be real .. having them makes a difference.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Embers

Having given it full throttle for a couple of week .. months actually. I have geared quite dramatically down this week. Not really by choice but because my body has been screaming for a break since I visited the 'pain lady'.

Yesterday I went on a mid range run looking for new trails. I choose a semi flat and very non technical path since I knew I didn't have the energy to be constantly focusing on where to place the next step. I needed something easy and soothing.


Dressed for a nice trip in the forest

Sun was out

I had reversed the direction of one of my normal trails and I ended up checking up all the side tracks to be found on it. One of these let me to a real gem. A closed trail that suddenly open up to the view of a lake filled with old tree stubs and birds in the hundreds. I was in awe and spent a little time at the place taking a few pictures and taking in the beauty.


First sight
Through out the run I was very observant not to burn off the little energy I felt I had left. However when the run was finally done .. I felt drained.

Today I went out again. This time to a much more technical trail. I aimed to run without thinking of anything but the trail. First few km went as they should, I made excellent speed and was dancing on the trail. However once in while the mind dozed off and my legs stopped running. My heart was pounding in my chest and I was soaked in sweat. A week ago I had run this trail in 53:42, my best time of the year. Today I was 20 minutes slower. I need to rest and face the runners low that I know is waiting for me.

Luckily, I know that on the other side there will be joy and energy once more. This is life.



Friday, July 31, 2015

I'm on fire

After AAUT I rested for 3 - 4 days and started running again. I have been very observant on my body since I don't want a injury. But I am clearly feeling a 'runners high'. I have been running every other day since then.

The first week I went to Jutland and ran some of my old childhood trails. That brought back a lot of sweet memories. I hadn't run many of these trail since I was a small boy in school. The hills seems so high and so long when I was a kid .. now .. not so much ;)

The forests were wild and to a large extend untouched. The air was full of the salty smell of the nearby fjord. I had forgotten these details and the revived memories filled me with both joy and a tiny bit of sadness from having been away for soo long.

As the legs felt great and shape felt strong and I went on to tackle some of the much harder local trails. What they lack in distance (~10k) they add in hills and technical difficulty. I was very pleased to see that my times were nearly matching my all time fastest.

This bodes well for the rest of this season and I am glad to be back to a pre medication performance.

The distance I currently run is only a fraction of what I did up to AAUT but since the distances are much shorter and faster it is much more rewarding.




Yesterday I went to visit a lady who performs a mix of healing arts, physically and mentally. Fully certified. Not because I currently have any 'problems' but i like to keep it that way and the 2 hour session is very thorough. She uses a mix of massage, pressure point stimulation, electric pulses, heating blankets, needles, vacuum cups and more.


She is very insisting that I must tell her when the pain is TOO much .. but pain is a very large part of what she does. After yesterdays session I left her VERY high on endorphin.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thoughts of late night

There is a nearly full moon tonight. It is raining and the moon hides from time to time but once in while it shows it self.

Since the race I have had some good talks with a close friend. Many of them until late night. Tonight was such a night. Both of us are runners .. ultra runners. Pain seeking, hardcore, relentless ultra runners, with missing nails and scars .. in a number of places.

As I have mentioned a few times we tend to find something out there on the trails when we are feeling lowest, battered, broken and empty. For some this comes unexpected for others is this what they seek and might be the sole reason why they do this.

For many of us there is for sure a pain hidden beneath what we do. It might be buried deep but it is there. I think that only a very very special few does this just because they can.

It leaves me in awe to see how strong people can be and yet so delicate and fragile. People who find the strength to carry on with blistering feet, hours after their body started screaming at them that they should throw them self down and stop this madness. Yet, these people might in an unexpected moment be seen with wet eyes just because they realized something or think of something close to heart. Finally allowing them self to get in touch with feelings so pure and uncontrollable that it comes as a surprise to even them self.

Many people have asked me how I am able to run such and such distances .. but what they don't realize is that for many of us it is not a burden it is a relief.



Monday, July 20, 2015

AAUT 2015 - Furnage edition

Disclaimer: All this is written from memory and might be full of errors, misunderstandings and a ton of spelling errors (I am Danish not English). Photos: Jesper Kramer, Fred Coppens, Meese Geert, Francoise Therin, Joe Green and me.

I came back from this years edition 2 days ago and are currently laying in bed with my youngest watching Tin Tin cartoons.

Training
As mentioned in my previous post I have followed the same training scheme as the last 4 years. This year however I was starting from scratch. I hadn't run for nearly half a year due to a number of circumstances including work, family life and side effects from some of my blood pressure medication (mentioned medication is now in the trashcan).

Basically training this year started with 20 km a week with was increased with 10% a week until I reached 85 km. Running was a mix of interval, tempo and slow distance running. I normally combine it with strength training as well but this year I didn't which sadly resulted in slower accents and slower speed hiking than usual.

Travel
I reached the airport 2 hours before the planned takeoff but due to problems with the baggage system and a dropped boarding card I wouldn't be aboard the plane until 4 minutes before take off and that involved a number of sprints back and forth through the airport.

After 3+ hours the in the plane I arrived in Malaga airport and was meet by Steve, Megan, Fran and Simon who would all race with me as well. I knew Steve from last year but the rest was new to me and the race but as I would learn the next following days they were all sweet and wonderful persons that fit the usual AAUT template.

Me, Fran, Simon and Megan

Pre race
Strangely we arrived to a Malaga that was covered with clouds and we even saw a few drops of rain on the way to Loja. First time I have ever experienced rain in Loja in the 4 years I have been there in July.

Once in my room I was greeted by a note from my roommate Kaare a fellow Dane that I didn't knew from earlier. He proved to be a wonderful guy and we shared the same humor :)

Hi Roomie!!
The rest of the Saturday was basically spent drinking beer with the old friend in front of the hotel and making new ones.

Denise, Kirsty and Graeme
Kaare, Charlie and I
Fred, Orla, Tony, Richard and Karin


Sunday started with breakfast and the traditional run to the base of the first mountain to test the form and the temperature. This year I ran with Kirsty, Denise and Graeme, who are all wonderful people. It felt great and my pace was fine and unhindered by the temperature. After this it was time to hit the pool with Jesper, Hanne, Susanne and Vibeke who had arrived from Denmark. The pool was a nice break from thinking about mountains, gear and running .. and once there we meet a lot of the other runners.


Pool :)
In the evening it was time for the pre-race briefing I think all runners was reminded about the ultra running rule number 1 : "Be humble".

Stage 1
Traditional Start at 9:45 and straight to the mountain. Climb went fine actually .. much better than 2014 and nearly as good as 2012. Reaching the top and having passed a couple of the old friends I actually felt pretty strong .. then started the downhill. One thing I haven't been able to sort out this year is my shoes. Normally I run in minimalistic shoes that have a natural fit. But I have run in Asics Kayano half a size above normal size all the years and I had decided to do it this year as well.

In 2012 it ruined my feet (3 nails 8 blisters) but in 2014 it went perfectly (only one tiny tiny blister) so I thought I had it nailed .. but I hadn't. Every day left me with 15-20 km of running before my feet was killing me with hot spots. If I am ever going back it will NOT be in those shoes.

Running down hill I immediately felt the problem beginning and morale going down.*sigh* On top of that it was *extremely* hot and to be honest the heat became my biggest problem that day. The week would include the highest temperatures on record for the region and means really really hot. There is nothing really you can do about it either you cope or you don't.

I found it hard to force myself to run and ended up doing more walking than I had hoped due to the heat. On the way to checkpoint 3 I was thinking this is too hot I wanna quit but drinking 7-8 cups of coke and what else they had changed that (as always ;) and I found my way out of the checkpoint again. I teamed up with Benny who's knee was bust and we ended up walking most of the last 9 km but still doing OK time wise. Benny was great company and we had some great talks but I also learned from this years race that I should never team up with anyone when I am feeling 'tested' unless they are faster than me, it gets too cozy .. and slow.

Temperature in the sun
The start
Megan and I at the base of the climb
Orla, Denise and I climbing
Nothing can describe the climb
4 years later, Fred and I met at exactly the same spot
Finally the finish

Stage 2
As in 2012 I cannon balled it. Full speed ahead until checkpoint 2. This actually put me way more up front than I had expected and came as a surprise to some of my fellow runners when we met out there. To be honest my speed declined a bit after checkpoint 1 but I was still going faster than in 2014.

I knew that I would be walking all the distance between checkpoint 2 and 3 due to the problems I had had last year on that stretch. I did this in company with Denise but what I didn't realize was how hard it was to get going again. I let Denise go on her own and a few km's later I was caught up by Jesper who I then again left go shortly after checkpoint 3. I simply couldn't get those feet going.

The heat was getting to me and the feet hurt. It was quite a shame because the downhill section after checkpoint 3 gives you 5 - 6 km where you can go full throttle downhill without loosing control. I just couldn't start the engine. I started thinking about why I was doing there and how much I rather would be at home with my girls instead of redo a run in this crazy heat.

I really hit a mental low and I am not sure why. Anyway I got my arse to checkpoint 4 and got refilled with coke and got my head cooled. Kirsty had left a few moments before me and I soon parsed her. She offered that we could team up until the finish but I was mentally preparing myself to get into gear again and didn't wanted to team up with anyone (nothing personal just couldn't manage anyone besides myself at that point).

I got my speed up and at the top of the next hill I could see the next runner, Fernando, how I soon intercepted and then next one, Jesper, who I passed just before a hill. Since Jesper is a friend from Denmark I felt it hard to run past him so close to the finish and I shouted something like: "Sorry, but I am on a roll have to keep running". On the top of the hill I spotted yet another runner, Denise, who I passed while she yelled at me : 'You are NOT doing this to me' (she was joking) and then just before the finish (meters) I sprinted past Norman. A few seconds later without a chair in view I just threw myself on the ground .. The two doctors started giving me some attention and them being professional ignored me trying to tell them that I was OK. I was better than OK at that point I was sooo happy to having gotten the engine started again.

Through the gorge

Out of the gorge full throttle ahead
Finally through the goat track
This screams for downhill running
Just waited for a car to pick me up here .. luckily no car came ;)


Stage 3
Staggered start. I was in the early group and gave it full throttle so did Tom and Norman and we reached checkpoint 1 within seconds / minutes of each other. After that followed the climb checkpoint 2. Earlier years this have been one of the places where I gain on people but not this year. I don't know why but my climbing was slooow and I was catched up by a number of runners going up this hill.. this was a new to me and quite a shock to be honest. When I reached the top I was going into a dark spot again. I passed a few of the runners on the way to checkpoint 2 but I remember feeling shaken and annoyed with myself.

After checkpoint 2 there was quite a climb which was just step enough for you not wanting to run it but not much worse than that. Reaching the top I tried to run but within 50 meters I stopped again. This was one thing I hadn't trained enough .. Hardness. I didn't wanna run, why should I. It was hot and I knew I could easy make it home without fearing the cut off time. Not my proudest moment. Runner after runner passed me. Jesper teamed up with me for a few minutes and I shared my dark thoughts with him as I had the day before. He gave me his understanding and did the only thing reasonable .. ran off as fast as he could ;)

I felt better as I got to the uphill to checkpoint 3 and got the legs running again. The checkpoint was fine and after that yet another uphill section which included a much needed overtaking the time came to run downhill. I managed to do this in very short bursts only and Fran and Steve came flying by. Argh, why couldn't I get the move on ... oh, what the f*ck. Why was I even there.. Then suddenly a runner showed up with more problems than me (from behind). We teamed up for 4-5 km. It was nice and good company but we were both feeling dark and probably shouldn't have spoken a word.

I took a fall in the forest single track but after the forest I got my legs going and to be honest they were a bit eager to get moving at that point. Reached the finish line in fine shape and many the runners that came after me looked much much worse. I just sat for myself for a long time after that and cleansed my mind. It was what it was I was going to do what it took to make it through and that was going to be enough without me beating myself with a stick.

New addition to this stage. Very nice, Paul!
Runners approaching checkpoint 2
Leaving checkpoint 2
Beautiful scenery
No pictures of me .. but I was running there as well :)
Megan, Liz and Sarah. This years super women!

Stage 4
Cannon balled the start together with Mario and Steven. Teamed up with Denise after the first climb and that lasted more or less until checkpoint 2. At that time I had developed a hot spot and I needed to take care of it right away since I didn't want a huge blister under my foot like in 2012.

I had reached the checkpoint in excellent time and took the time I needed to fix the foot. Graeme got a little impatient with me (you can't use to much time sitting here) but nothing could rock my boat I knew what I had to do. A few km after this we had a huge climb that have taken its toll on runners though the years. Long, step and hot. Even though I once again noticed I wasn't as fast climbing as in 2014 I did well and even sang Norman a little song .. a gesture he still has to return :)

Vaseline #1 hot spot killer
Checkpoint 3 was nice and I felt fine both entering it and leaving it. Thereafter follows what best can be described as a looong downhill section which were killing my feet. I did run once in a while but generally I tried to save them as much as possible. I made a mental note of refixing them once I reached checkpoint 4 but until then just take it easy and run what they allowed me to. Norman catched up with me shortly before checkpoint 4 and even though I ran the last few km's I simply couldn't follow him on those downhill sections.

Once I did reach the checkpoint everything felt fine except the feet. Richard joined me while I rested for a while. He is a stronger runner than I but he was digging deep that day. I decided not to fix the feet anyway but to wait till after the coming water crossing. I knew there was no downhill sections until that point and hence the feet wouldn't suffer.

I ran off and for a few km's I managed to keep up with Richard with was unusual and tells a little about how deep he was actually digging. Once I did reach the water crossing I made 2 fatal mistakes. #1. I didn't take off my shoes when I crossed it, thinking they will dry quickly. #2. I didn't stop to fix my feet since they were now wet and hence all the vaseline in the would wouldn't make any difference. Very very stupid.

Graeme and Orla, who had both exit the race due to medical problems, greeted me and shared some much appreciated coke (cola!!!) before a long climb to checkpoint 5. Even at checkpoint 5 my feet was feeling very wet and I delayed fixing them once again.

After a few km's it was too much and I had to give it a shot. I sat down on the rear end of the doctors car which had conveniently stopped for another runner. I applied vaseline to the hot spot but the feet was very wet still and it didn't work out. After only a few hundred meters I decided to take of the socks and sole and walk with the shoes like that while the mentioned items dried in the wind. It took the remainder of the trip to checkpoint 6 to dry them out. I was very cautious to run like that but once I did it actually felt fine.

At checkpoint 6 I reassembled the shoes and reapplied the vaseline. As the next runners came into view I ran off. I had noticed at the checkpoint that something was wrong with my left leg near the ankle. It hurt like hell right where the compression tubes ended. I had tried to re-adjust them at the checkpoint but it hadn't helped. I ignored the pain for a few km's then I gave up and started walking still at pain.

I kept this going for 4-5 kms before I re-investigated the problem. All it took for me to fix it was pulling up the tube a further 3-4 cm on the calves. Instant fix to a very painful problem. I ran what I could after this but I was very used and feeling very empty at this point. Hanne, greeted me 1-2 km before the finish waiting for Jesper, but all I could do was crumbling down and giving myself a short break before running downhill to the finish. Last year I ended this stage with a sprint .. this year it felt like a crawl. I felt empty and drained for energy.

Thinking take it easy ..
Forgetting everything and going for it :)
Wow
Doing what I love
Norman and I one the way to Checkpoint 3
We saw a lot of this :)
Sorry, but this was NOT the awesome steak from 2014!! :/ :/

Stage 5
Cannon ball start ;) Nothing much to write about. Everything went fine. I walked 'a bit' more than I would had like to but I still made it in OK time and at this point I didn't really give a sh*t. I was going to make it and nothing could stop me short of a heat stroke! I finished with a long sprint and the legs felt both fine and strong.

After the race I went for a shower as the first thing. I didn't really feel like celebrating and I didn't feel that I had done as well as I ought to.

Off we go. Taking it easy for 3 minutes and then ....
Not in the race ;)
Awesome scenery
Reaching checkpoint 3
Made it .. time for a shower
Megan, 3rd woman and 16th overall. Impressive!
Charlie, 3rd man and overall. Equally impressive!
Hanne, Jesper and Kirsty at the Gala dinner. Jesper did awesome
Kaare :)
Susanne and I
Me .. being just me

Post race
So every year the same question: 'Are you coming back?'. No, as of right now I am not. Don't get me wrong it is a wonderful race and from what I hear it is better organized than much of what else is out there. But the last couple of years this have been THE race that I did and I have basically being redoing myself. I have none at home that are cheering on me so when I do this I only do this for myself. I know the problems I need to fix and I know that it makes no sense coming back before I feel that they are.

To be honest .. I think my largest problem this year was the ton of un-handled mental sh*t I brought with me from the past year.

From this years race I take with me a lot of memories about my friends .. old and new. If you were one of these, thank you for sharing those days with me.

I also got some insight into what makes my clock tick and what does not. They say that you find something out there on the long hot trails that you won't find anywhere else. I came to find it once again and I did. Now I need to handle what I found.