Sunday, November 24, 2013

Since last ..

It has been a loong time since my last update. Here is what has been up. Right after AAUT I went into a training frenzy I trained 1-2 times a day 5 days a week. I needed to feel like I did something other than taking pills for the blood pressure. I felt like I was in the shape on my life and had nothing to do. I've read about people training for a race that was cancelled in the last moment. I guess this was kinda how they felt like.

Within a few weeks I could fell the medication making changes to my body. My maximum heart rate was soon lowered by 10-15 beats per minute and I was getting slower and slower. It took a few break downs, one of these after only 2-3 km, before I learnt to run in this new body of mine. I felt really gutted but I learned that keeping my heart rate below 150-160 bpm would allow me to run the same kinda distances that I was used too but going above 160 would burn me out instantly.

Eventually I started getting fast again and I joined a small group of people running a each Monday night in the dark in some awesome trails. This reboosted me and helped me see that I, even on medication, had a future running.

Sadly one evening 3 - 4 months ago, before a trial training session I had an stupid garden accident which left me with pain in my right achilles tendon. Stubborn as I can be I ignored it for a month or more still keeping my training regime going. I had gotten my speed back and I wasn't about to take a break. But it grew worse and worse and soon I was limping badly. I decided to run just one more marathon before taking a break. 'Luck' would have it that I also got a cold and a fever but I still insisted on running. I became dead last (5 hours and 11 minutes). The next couple of days was spent sleeping and sweating buckets.

I didn't run for 3 weeks after that. I had hoped for the pain to go away but instead the achilles tendon grew stiffer and I was limping even more.

I started running once a week and it gave me a relief for a couple of days afterwards but on the third day it would return worse than before. I kept this going for a few weeks until running simple became a pain from start till end and I knew it was time to stop and seek some help.

Soo .. I've been treated by a physiotherapist and have been doing a lot of eccentric exercises. They have worked wonders. I've also been scanned. It showed that I had partially ruptured the tendon but due to the rest and exercises it has almost healed up by now.

Now I'm almost ready to run again but my family have stated that they like having me home so I'm not sure that I'll head for the ultra running distances right away plus trail running has really kicked off in Denmark so it might be time for me to try something else .. less crowdy.

Friday, July 19, 2013

AAUT 2013 -> 2014

** disclaimer: this was all written out of memory days after the event ended. I will very likely be wrong about the details. I will include no names but the people involved knows who I am talking about **

The training for AAUT 2013 started a year ago when I bought my first pair of minimalistic shoes NB MT10 to start embracing the forefoot running style that was my natural gait but I that had tried to avoid thinking 'heal striking' was _the_ optimal way to run. AAUT 2012 had resulted in some nasty blisters for me so I really wanted to reboot my running (style, shoes and all).

The instant I tried them on I knew that these were the kinda shoes I wanted to run in at AAUT hopefully to avoid the problems from 2012. It took me ~3 weeks to get used to them and being able to run in them on stony tracks without getting my feet all bruised. I even became a certified Pose running instructor during this year of training.

Every run I have made since then has been with AAUT 2013 in mind even my 100 mile attempt on Bornholm.

My training for AAUT 2013 was a lot different from my AAUT 2012 training. I had concentrated on a lot more technical trail running and speed work with only the occasional very long distance run. I was a bit nervous about how it would turn out but I had broken every personal record I had tried to in the weeks up to the race including my marathon PR (without even trying).

So I arrived at the Hotel in Loja with a smile on my face, really happy to be back and looking forward to this years adventure. My target time this year would be 30 hours which I felt was very realistic. At the hotel I hooked up with my friends from 2012 and it felt like we had never been apart. Awesome people from around the world!

I had forgotten to have my medical check made at home so the day before the race I had to go see the doctor. My first check revealed my blood pressure to be a little high and I had to come back for another check later. Hmm .. that wasn't what I wanted to hear at that point. I wanted to relax with my friends and be checking my gear. I still had 16 kilo of stuff that needed to be repacked into 10 kilos to meet the rules of the race. I couldn't relax and when they rechecked my blood pressure it had gone higher. Now I was faced with the sentence: "we can't allow you to race." WTF?!! I tried to explain that I had seen it that high before and it had never been a problem, that is was probably due to stress, the heat, the salt caps I had taken and so on .. I couldn't believe the bad timing of this problem to show it self. We agreed that they would try to get me a self monitoring device to see if it was lower when I was relaxed. It wouldn't arrive until the next morning but a talk with the race director assured me that I would be allowed to run anyway. I might just had to sign some papers. The only thing that should stop me from running was if the doctor felt it was a matter of life and death. At last some relief. I had dinner and the prerace briefing with the other runners.

Then I started getting ready for the race, packing and getting my race gear ready for the next day. I went to see the race director to get the final GO when the doctor caught me in the hall way. He wanted to take my blood pressure one more time... Okay .. I thought we were past that now but .. okay. He measured it and became _very_ serious. To make a long tail short I was rushed to the local hospital and later the university hospital in Granada by ambulance 100 km away. My blood pressure had reached 220/120 which even I knew was very serious and was potentially lethal .. had I gone running.

I spent the night being checked: EKG's, blood tests and stuff like that. Nothing was out of the ordinary except that my EKG showed that I was an 'ultra athlete'. Once they had found some medication that worked I was released and went back to my hotel in Loja. I arrived just in time for seeing the race start with tears in my eyes. The race director told me that whatever I wanted they would help me with, awesome people! They helped me pick up my medication and after that I slept until woken by a phone call many hours later. It was the race director. She asked me if I wanted to fly home or if her mom should pick me up and drive me to my friends. I soo wanted to see my friends.

I was picked up and arrived at the finish line to greet my 'old man' from New Zealand, who had had a bad time with cramps that day. He told me that he had been screaming in pain after having crossed the finish line and I felt lucky that I hadn't been there to hear it. Most of the runners had already left for the campsite and I decided to walk there (1-2 km at the max). The race director had checked me into a small place with a real bed so I could get a nice night rest, thank you! :)

The walk was nice and even though I was tempted I didn't run. Once I arrived I talked with my friends told them what had gone on with me and asked them how they had been on the first stage of the race. Generally people had had a nice day with the occasional problem. Most serious would turn out to be a runner who had hurt her foot due too landing hard on a rock running in nothing but my favorite shoe the NB MT10. She had been in second place at the time but had had to slow to a walk due to the pain. I also started hearing that one of the checkpoints really needed some help. The people at the checkpoint had shown no experience with what runners needed it such conditions (which would be much better at day 2 and forth were they had obviously been better instructed).

Since the doctor had been very clear that I wouldn't be able run this week .. I decided to volunteer for some checkpoint duty. The next day I would team up with one of the most experienced persons and together we would run checkpoint 3. I looked forward to that. Checkpoint 3, stage 2 is a tough one. You have no radio contact and people will reach you after having run a difficult single track section. Last year I believe 3 bags of I.V. was given at that checkpoint.

Had a shitty nights sleep but I guess that was only to expect. Next morning I had a small breakfast with the doctor and a good friend from the crew. We arrived at the start to wish the runners a great day in the sun. As the race began I once more had tears behind those sunglasses of mine. These people was doing what I had come to do.

Me and my crew mate set off to our destination and quickly everything was in place and ready for the runners to arrive. Once the runners started coming I felt useful again. Every runners I saw coming got a cheer and if I could recognize them or spot their name it became a personal one. As a runner I know how nice it is to see a friendly face and know that someone is out there waiting to see _you_ arrive! I asked them right away: 'What can for you?', 'Cold towel?', 'Do you want your cap the the cold water?', 'Wanna sit?', 'Want ice in your bottles?', 'Want me to add electrolytes as well?'. Making sure that only the right amount of electrolytes was added to the water so it would not taste like saltwater and be useless for the runner. Everything done as quickly as possible to allow them to continue right away if that was what they wanted. Never standing waiting but seeking them and asking what I could do to help them. Also I made sure that they knew what was coming, not just the distance to the next checkpoint but also the path there. "It will go uphill for a few km, then you have a nice downhill stretch follow by a long straight dusty road ..." I didn't want people to hear any false or vague information they deserved the facts as precisely as possible. Every time I had a person successfully through the checkpoint my mood would rise. Seeing people that I knew already or that I knew had been struggling made me even happier. Happy to see that they were still in the game. This was me and my crew mate's version of 'Cheers' and everyone of them should feel like 'Norm'. This was the second best thing I could do in this race and it felt awesome!

The rest of the week I stayed on checkpoint duty doing my best to help my fellow runners and the feedback they gave me was priceless. I restudied the course videos to give the best info possible I wanted the best possible race experience for these runners. I had hit rock bottom Monday morning but they had helped me just as much as I had helped them. Every evening someone came and told how glad they were to have me at a checkpoint .. priceless!

I saw many runners in pain, giving all they had to go on. A young man who couldn't bend his knees when he left my checkpoint on day 3 but tried to fight his way up a hill until he had to buckle. A young girl who it turned out had broken a bone in her foot on day one but still fought her way through the race until 30 km into day 4 (which totals 100 miles / 160 km!!). Having reached my checkpoint she was sadly pulled by the doctor after having fought her way up a crazy hill. She was simply risking to do permanent damage to herself which could mean that she wouldn't be able to run ever again. She personally never gave up. Saw a runner nearly purple from running in the sun for more than 8 hours at the time with no or too little sun block on. She roasted out there with her feet in pain but still carried on to the end. Saw a man who had vomited and who had been running on empty for hours but who managed to pick him self up and made it all the way to the finish line getting faster and faster. I saw so many strong runners, so many strong people, so many strong stories that I couldn't help feeling in awe. I felt very proud to be able to help these men and women even if only a little.

The last day of the race arrived and after doing my checkpoint duty with some of my fellow DNF runners (and dear friends) I spent most of the day waiting at the finish line waiting for people to come in. Remembering how I had felt last year when I had crossed that line. Some of the people I care most about told me some really wonderful things at that line, thank you very much.

After the race had ended there was the after party and the always returning question: 'Will you be back next year?'. Well I knew I wanted to. Besides the fact that AAUT is a great race with great crew I had unfinished business but I also knew that I wasn't coming back again just to let history repeat it self plus there is always the question of $$. I would have to give it some thought.

Officially I left at 4:00 AM the next morning but part of me was left behind. Now a week later I have signed up for AAUT 2014 and this time I will take on the race not just myself. My blood pressure is 'perfect' and my training have been upped to 2 sessions a day, feeling stronger, faster and more focused than ever. I know I also got some mental training to do as well. I look forward to seeing those of my friends again who has already or who will decide to come back as well.

This weeks favorit running song: Nightcall by Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Hammer!

I'm starting this post with noo idea of how to express what I experienced this weekend participating in the Hammer Trail 100 mile race.

It has been one of the best weekends of my life.

I traveled by train and as soon as I sat down I was questioned about the Danish flag I wore on my race jacket which lead to a great conversation about ultra running and life in general.

Later waiting for the next train I met a sweet couple, Jan and Lena, also on their way to Bornholm to take part of the 25 km part of the race. We also had some great talks on the ferry to the island and they later showed up showing their support during my race. Even though around 50-60 years old (Sorry Jan if my guess is totally off) Jan was still a fast runner and could probably give me quite a match should we go head to head on a trail. It would be Lena's first 25 km trail run. Both did excellent, btw!

I had a room at a place named Tine's Gjestehûz which is hosted by the sweetest persons that one can imaging. The hospitality and service .. was outstanding. If you are going to Bornholm, please consider staying at their place! I was joined later that day by SLG. We talked a little about nutrition that night. I had b(r)ought a lot and divided it into small bags based on the rule that I wanted to eat about 300 kcals per hour which is more than double what I normally do but I wanted to make sure that lack of energy/kcal's wouldn't be what stopped me. Anything I hadn't bagged was offered to SLG and she grabbed a little and the the next morning grabbed a little more (rather safe than sorry! :)

Lots and lots of energy! The Bloks really rocks!

My Race setup for the first 35 km

Next day we met before and after breakfast and talked a little about the last details. Later Tine drove us to the start (did I mention how sweet she is!!) and gave us her number: "If you need anything give us a call!!" .. Outstanding!!

First thing we went through was the gear check. Everything was in order except that SLG had lost some of her extra batteries. Luckily I had brought extra extras which I gave her. Then a quick look around revealed a bunch of familiar smiling face .. Tomas, Moses, Peder, Dan and later my good friend Kåre. Great company! Everybody was in a great mood. Dunno about other sports but in ultra running strangers helps / talks to / smiles to strangers. 

SLG and I doing a silly pose for Dan

Soon it was time to start the race and Jan and Lena had come to cheer me on (thank you!!). First we set out on a prologue which was about 7 km around Hammer light house. Lots of bedrock and steep hills with the occasional fine sand. I had walked this part the day before and had concluded that I wouldn't bring my poles for the first lap at least (~35 km) Bad mistake ;) After the prologue we set out on the first of six laps on a ~26 km course which included the same path that we had run on the prologue.

There had been a one hour time limit on the prologue and it came as a chock to me that the clock said 0:52 when we ended it parsing the main aid station / start / finish of the race. I realized that there wouldn't be any time for messing around in this race. I didn't stop a the aid station I just continued out on the first lap just like Kåre who I ran with at the time.

I constantly ate from my energy stash which consisted of Clif bars and blocks and GU gels. I had to eat whenever it was possible to get all the energy I needed per hour. I constantly was on the verge of vomiting with all the food in my stomach but managed to keep every thing inside and it never became a performance issue. I never had a energy problem during the race at all due to this approach! \o/

First part of the lap took us the same way as the prologue except a little extra trip around the highest part of the cliffs next to the 'Opal søen'. Next we went South parsed the Hammers Hus ruins and headed up the 700+ stair steps. Awesomeness! Down again, Up again .. bedrock, rocks, green fields with scattered bedrock, beach, stairs .. and a little bit of tar. At some point we came to stretch they have added only this year. A the start it had a dedicated warning sign saying something like 'Be aware dangerous path coming up' (shorter and to the point though!). I didn't like that path at all. It was very narrow and steep. I'm a big tall man that needs room :) If it had been raining it would have been slippery and muddy as hell .. luckily the weather was great :) It was a major slow down point for me though. At this point SLG suddenly parsed me from behind. I think she was a little surprised to see me there, but I had started out faster than she had obviously.

Once I reached the bottom of the path I noticed a familiar cup laying on the ground. It was SLG's. I knew that meant trouble since the cup was part of our mandatory equipment and it was needed to get any liquid in the aid stations. I quickly picked up the cup and started the hunt. I saw her a number of times through the next km's but never managed to catch up with her. Instead I told the first official I saw about the cup and he made sure that she was informed at the next aid station were I would leave it for her.

During this hunt the path took us through the largest gravel pit hill I have ever seen (in Denmark). I totally wanted that to be placed in my local gravel pit where I do a lot of my training :) Soon after I reached 'Jons kapel' the seconds after SLG had left. 'Jons kapel' had a long very steep stair that took you down to the sea where you had to ring a bell and then return to the top and the second of the two aid stations in the race. There I dropped the cup for SLG to pick up later and could start running my normal cruise pace again.

The path back went North to finish the lap at the main aid station where the race had started hours earlier. Constantly changing from one awesome scenery to the next. Technical challenging but _awesome_ to the max.

I started the race in a pair of New Balance MT110 but due to the very open mesh they filled with sand during the prologue. I had noticed this early on and had planned to replace them when I returned to my drop bag and decided the ignore the discomfort it gave me until then. After 30 km I could feel that the problem shouldn't be ignored anymore. My heel was burning and when I removed the sock I could see a nice blister forming. I quickly covered it with Vaseline and hoped it wouldn't get worse before I get to my drop bag. During the next km's I could feel the burning decrease \o/. The Vaseline had done its magic :)

Just before I reach the aid station I had a quickly hello with SLG where I told her about the cup. "Ahh that was you!" "Yep, who else would have recognized the cup and hunted you down to get it to you, SLG ;)"

Once in the aid station I quickly got something to drink and replaced the shoes, socks and shirts. The sand had worn large holes in the socks .. and I wasn't impressed by the design that New Balance had chosen for that shoe. Instead I jumped into a old pair of Asics Kayano 18 with my feet covered in Vaseline :)

I was told that the next cut off time was 9 hours which I quickly calculated into the fact that I had to run the next lap 20 minutes faster than the one I just had finished. With no time to eat the sandwich I was offered I quickly raced out of the aid station and ran up the hills like a bat out of hell. Oh .. and I brought with me my poles :) Jan had come to greet me and tried to take my picture but I had to run as fast as possible and hadn't any time to pose (Sorry, Jan!).

I gave it all I had. I hadn't brought with me a GPS so I couldn't keep a precise count on how far I had run and how far I still had to run to make it in time. One of my friends who had run it before had told me that the second aid station was about half way on the lap. So when I arrived there with 2 hours before the cut off time I thought myself safe. Sadly as mentioned they had changed the route this year and which meant that instead of the 12 km I thought I had left ... I had closer to 18 km. As I got closer and closer to the main aid station which I knew I had to run past and complete the part we had used for the prologue I realized the mistake. The sun had already set as I ran past the aid station. The owners from Tine's Gjestehûz was there and greeted me and asked how I felt .. I wasn't feeling to good at the time. I was starting to get cold and I knew that I in no way could make it in time for the cut.

photo: Tine's Gjestehûs

As the night sky went black and I had to turn on my head lamp (which I had tried to avoid to save the time it took to find it in my bag) I was feeling really really cold. I ran when possible but that section was very technical and I had to slow down to a walk many places. As I got closer to the aid station I met the runners going out on their next lap including SLG. She asked how I was and I told her the two things I had in mind "I'm cold and I've passed the cut off time". She looked awesome .. like a amazon warrior queen out on a hunt .. totally focused and with a surplus of energy. I don't think she understood what I was saying between the lines (I'm gonna get cut) or maybe she did.. anyway she gave me a little cheer and then we went opposite directions again. I had been shivering af cold but I got more and more numb and after a while I couldn't really feel the cold anymore .. which was a weird feeling since I knew I was cold.  As I got closer to the aid station I met Kåre. He asked me how I was and I told him that I just needed to get some food and some heat and I would take it from there.

I reached the aid station and that *short* talk I had had with Kåre had given me new hope that I might avoid the cut... but as soon as I had reached my drop bag I was contacted by one of the race directors who said what I already knew. "This is how it goes. In 10 minutes you have to be out of here!" I looked at him and said that that wasn't going to happen, since I really needed to get some heat / dry clothes / and food before going somewhere. "That is your choice!" and so it was. I helped him take the chip of my shoes while I heard someone else saying .. "Kim, I'm also out". I got handed some hot food and got some blankets warped around me .. and then I started freezing again ;) After the first meal I got some really hot soup and I started feeling great again but by now I was out of the race.

I packed my stuff, picked up my drop bag .. said good bye and walked back to Allinge. I was satified that I had done my best and didn't regretted how it had gone. What a great day it had been!

Once back at Tine's Gjestehûs I did my best to give SLG's friends a update how she was doing before getting a bath and some sleep.

Next day I was informed that Kåre had also been cut along with a lot of others. He was in a much better shape than me and was far more experienced. The race this year was truly harder than ever.

Not even for a single moment have I regretted any thing that went on during or after the race. It was a great experience with some great people. SLG made it all the way to the finish and I am very proud of her.

If I'm ever gonna have a chance to finish the Hammer Trail .. I have to get faster .. a lot faster! :) I had expected it to be more of a grind than a race.. Maybe next year.

Heading home with Kåre

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The suffering

So it has clearly been a while.

A lot of things have happen both at work and privately. I've found it harder to get the amount of running done that I would like to. Most days I've been the one turning the lights off at the office and my girls growing up needs their dad to be present just as much as I need them.

I recently ran my third official ultra. 60k from one corner of Bornholm to the opposite. Parts of my performance was great but mentally I wasn't ready .. by far.

During winter I had lost my team of 5 employees. People I had worked with for years and whom I trusted to solve any task and face any problem with me. But due to a number of different reasons I had found myself suddenly alone. These had been my friends as much a colleagues and the unwanted solitude hit hard. Perhaps harder than I realize even now many months later.

The ultra was my first official race for half a year and hadn't it been because of a dear friend of mine (SLG) I wouldn't even had joined it. Most of my runs had been short'ish (20-35k) and had been run in solitude and at  what ever pace felt good that day. Running an official race and paying for it .. had seemed a waste of time and money. Put on the shoes and run out the front door to return 2 hours later was the type of running that made sense for me.

I traveled to the race with SLG and her husband SR in their car and we even stayed a the same 'motel' during the race (not the same room!). What a lovely couple! They are clearly nerdy when it comes to running (and life in general) but something about them made me feel at peace.

It was great being away from home (and work) and being with people of a kindred spirit (not just SLG and SR but all the people we meet).

So what happened a the race .. well. I fucked up. When I ran I ran and did it great. But I didn't handle the problems I met all that well. I ran in my minimalistic shoes (New Balance Minimus MT10) and 15k in I managed to kick the bedrock. Instantly it left like I had broken a toe and even though I kept running it kept bugging my consciousness for the next 10k .. instead of just ignoring it. After 30k I meet 'the wall' and started feeling the transition from burning sugar to burning fat. I really need to get better filling my body with food/energy during the run. Later I started getting stomach cramps and feeling a painful jolt to the stomach with every step I ran. Instead of just ignoring the pain and make a fight of it I gave into it and tried to ease it away by walking and eating some fruits I had brought with me.

When I entered the only aid station at 38k my stomach was killing me and I used a shitload of time eating and drinking before hitting the trail again.

For the next 10-15k I was flying but then .. instead of fighting my way through the last 5-10k I eased them out by slowing to a walk far too often .. especially when I had become lost (which happened a bit too often).

When I finally made it to the finish line I wasn't really a happy camper. I felt everything sucked and couldn't really remember why but blamed my energy intake and the lack of markings. My Garmin said that out of the more than 8 hours (nearly 9) I had used .. I hadn't been moving for nearly an hour.

The next day I went on a spontaneous 9k run with some of the others (most of them top 10) and felt great. Something told me that if I could feel this great the day after feeling that bad mentally. I probably hadn't pushed myself hard enough physically.

Running 9k in jeans, jacket and 3 layers of shirts. (photo by SR)

In the days after I got home doing runs where I really pushed myself physically .. to remind myself that suffering is OK even for km after km.

I've set a couple of PR's lately.

None the less I in no way fell ready for my first 100 mile race which is taking place in less than a week. I have however committed myself to run and keep running until being cut. I can't imaging that I'll be able to reach the finish line in time since last year only 4 people did but I'm ready to reset what suffering really is.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Snow of awe and horror

I recently was in Norway to run in the Norwegian mountains with a local colleague who wanted to show me the most beautiful parts of this wonderful country. It would be a trip that took me to the darkest edges of my mind. I had never realized how deep my fear of heights was. Having been both a sailplane pilot and boulder climber I was very surprised to feel it as intense as I was about to feel it in these Norwegian mountains.

Rondane, Norway. In awe!
Heading out for a run expecting single tracks.
Hitting the first climb. Thinking hmm .. where is the track?
White out! My colleague had left me behind thinking 'we are running let me keep up the pace'.
The climb maxes at 60+ degrees. The rocks are slippery with snow.
I have NO idea where to go or what is coming.
My fear of heights kicks in and turns into 'horror'. I could not believe it.
What had I got myself into? I had NO experience climbing in these conditions
and felt my feet slip time and time again.
Going down was not an option .. only way is up! A few steps at a time.

First peak reached. Vinjeronden, 2044 meter above sea level.
Rejoined with my colleague I'm doing my best to ignore my fear of heights.
At the moment of this picture I still hope/thought there is as track down but actually the only
way forward is up. Soon I'll have to move on and face my fear again.
It is impossible to explain how gutting a 'phobia' can be if you have not tried it.
I felt numb to the core of my soul, every step was a mentally challenge.
Rondeslottet, 2. highest peak in Norway, 2178 meter above sea level.
I wish that I had been able to enjoy this at the time
but I was totally focused on keeping my fear of heights
under control. I had clung to every rock I passed on my way
up having expected to loose my foothold every second in the snow.
Never having been here before I trusted nothing beneath my feet.
It had been snowing that night and after we had been there
people was advised not to climb this peak due to the snow.
White out. Wrong turn heading for Styggebotn = trouble.
Feeling relieved heading down thinking the worst is over. The weather
was constantly changing from clear to white out (being inside fog/a cloud).

Time to eat. Chili con Carne! First water of the day,
fresh from the mountains behind me. After we ate we headed west
only to discover that the Styggebotn valley ended in a deadly
2-300 meter vertical drop. The nice thing about this valley was
it gave us a chance to actually run again :)

'Dead end'. With 2 hours left before sunset no flash/head lights
and with yet one peak to cross turning back is NOT an option.
Trying to make it cross a slippery and very steep mountain side
(the one you can see behind me in the next picture) is the only
way out. Fear was immense but it was clearly the only option.  

Behind me is the mountain side we crossed. As you see it don't look that nice
but we made it across and down. We quickly ran back south and
started the final climb of the day.
Checking the map to see what is coming.
It it getting darker and darker as the top gets closer but at
least there is an actual single track = no fear! The trigger
of my fear of height is when I loose confidence in what is beneath
my feet not the height it self. 

Heading down. Really tired after 10+ hours on the move.
I thought we were heading for a run on single tracks like I knew
them from my run in Spain. I never had expected what we
ended up doing. My colleague being an experienced 'Fjell' runner
never saw it as a problem ;)

What a trip. 22 km, 2000+ elevation gain. Only thing that
kept me from 'panic' was a constant mental focus on doing
what was needed.

A fear of heights is as many other phobias irrational and very hard to control. I was constantly doing my very best at keeping panic at a distance. I knew that I had to move on no matter how large my fear was. The height it self was never the issue, the trigger point is not feeling able to trust what was beneath my feet. When I felt stranded alone on a very steep, snow cover, mountain side without know what was coming or where my colleague was and feeling stones slightly move when I stepped on them, I felt a blow to my guts. I had to sit down and gather my thoughts. Panic was never and option, neither was going back. Only way was forward even if it was step by step.

This trip was hard in every way mentally and physically. But is was more rewarding than anything else I can imagine. I hope to be back someday and I hope that I will have even more control of my fear. At some point I might even be able to feel no fear at all, climbing up a steep mountain side covered with snow, stepping on constantly sliding rocks and looking up to 800 meters straight down.

I am very grateful to my colleague for showing me this wonderful place and the anger I felt on that very first climb where I was left behind have long gone. He didn't knew my fear (how could he I didn't even myself) and  since we had talked of running he gave it all he had climbing as fast as he could. He had put a lot of time, energy and even money into making this a great weekend. Thank you, Frode.

Frode and I. His ability to run fast on top of rocks are truly amazing.
I guess that it is partly from being Norwegian and having been
running around the in the 'Fjell' since age 7. Anyway .. he rock!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

AAUT 2012 .. WOW!


First time I heard about this race was in December 2011. My friend Jacob who is an experienced ultra runner let me know that he planned to run the race and looking at its homepage I quickly wished that it was me. I had dreamed of MDS for some time but this race was much more to my liking with only a small number of runners allowed in. I was in no way able to run such a race though but Jacob told me that he would help me getting in shape. I was on!

I had fallen a few weeks earlier and had broken my arm what I didn't know at the time was the fact that my knee had been injured as well. After the first week of training with Jacob it became very clear that something was wrong though. My knee hurt in a strange way and it took 4 months plus a number of visits to doctors and specialists before I was given a clean bill of health and was allowed to train full throttle.

At that point I was at 30 km per week and by adding the safe 10% each week I quickly reached my target distance of 75-85 km per week. These were a combination of interval training, tempo runs and long slow distance running. On top of that was a great deal of strength training of my core. I felt really great and when I first meet some of the other danish runners I was at least at par with them.

Then came a new injury. I don't know exactly what happened but my right foot started to hurt a lot after running and I decided to give it a 2 week break. Just as I should start running again I was hit by an serious  infection which resulted in yet another 14 days without running. Having not run in almost a month I was suddenly put way back in my training. My running partners had been able to train while I was laying still slowly decaying. I could no longer follow them and I was very much in doubt if I could manage to get back into shape in time with only about a month to go. Within two weeks I was back at my target distance but I was clearly much slower than before.

I began to loose my energy and lust for training. I was working late nearly every day and often had to start my training at 9 PM. Strength training was no longer an option. The last 2 weeks before the race Jacob told me to run only a fraction of what I had run so far namely 45 km and 10 km. I trust in Jacob and was happy to have a break from doing nothing but work and running.

I left for Spain early Sunday morning and once I got out of the car at the hotel it became obvious how hard this race was going to be. 1.) The air was extremely hot .. kinda like a hair dryer at medium setting. 2.) The mountain (~1 km) that we should climb during the first 11 km of the first stage was quite view able from the hotel.

Did a test run that evening and man .. was it hot!

Next morning it was time to run.

Stage 1

39km with 1400m ascent and 990m descent. I had bought a set of poles that I hoped would help me on the inclines (some up to 25 degrees). The race started at 9:30 AM which meant it was still fairly cool compared to the 38C from the evening before. I started out with 2 other Danes but when we hit the mountain (you might call it a hill but any Dane would call it a mountain) I could fairly easy run faster than them and we split up. To run uphill for 8 km is hard to grasp when you come from a flat country as Denmark but that was what we did. It became hotter and hotter and I started to slow down. I was unfamiliar to these conditions and didn't wanna burn out on the first day.

Photographer: Fred Coppens

Before we reached the top in ~1:45 all the Danes was more or less gathered and had done quite well. Now followed a long downhill section. I'm not good at downhills and the heat started getting to me. I had to start walking at times and got pretty dizzy. Strange but I became afraid that any of the others should notice my condition and replied firmly "yes" when the other asked if I was ok. Every time you passed a runner you'd ask if they were ok. It is important in these conditions to watch out for each other. No staff would pass you on a motorbike or in a car unless you had given them a thumbs up. I was passed a lot during the distance from checkpoint 1 to 2. After having been cooled down at checkpoint 2 and having eaten some electrolytes I started to feel a lot better though.

There was about 10 km between all the checkpoints in the race. The shortest was within 7 km and the longest 14 km.

Shortly after checkpoint 2 I passed an Australian girl and for the rest of the stage we ran more or less together. At times she was in front at times I was. The last 10 km I was pacing her though since she expressed that she was totally out of energy. When we hit the town in which the finish was located she said that it was ok for me to leave her behind and I ran for the finish line. Paul Bateson who have designed the race likes finishing uphill and this was no exception. On top of a long hill I was met by clapping, cheering and music. I had reached the finish line! One of the other Danes had been waiting for me and handed me a nice cool cola :) The finish was located in the town center and there was a small party going on. We snug down and soaked our legs in a fountain. That worked wonders for the tired legs!

We soon left for the location where we were to sleep. Our tents had been placed indoor in a sports hall. Time to hit the showers, get the clothes washed, get some quick food and a massage. Later that evening we had a real meal in the town .. and a beer (by Jacobs order). All my nights ended with me making my gear ready for the next days stage. Salt tablets, energy gels .. everything need to be exactly the right amount and place.

Stage 2

48km had 1640m ascent and 1500m descent. I had been in doubt about using the poles but decided to bring them. We were leaving through a gorge and my legs felt awesome. The poles meant that I could keep up speed on the hills were the others had to slow down. The first part was filled with hills some were quite steep so I managed to get a really good placement quite fast. When we hit checkpoint 2 I was probably number 15-17. Then started a very long and very technical uphill section. You ran on loose stones close to the edge.

You really had to concentrate. I had never run on anything like it. It seemed to go on and on and on. I was passed by 5-7 people on this part who was more technical runners than I. It is very hard to explain the mixed nature of this part but it left you in awe. After having finally reached the top a much simpler downhill started and a few kilometers later I reached checkpoint 3.

At checkpoint 3 another runner was sitting already and was really pale and mute. I asked him how he was doing and he replied that he was struggling with the hills. When I left he was still sitting there and I later heard that he had gotten worse and had had 3 potions liquid in a drop before he was okay again.

Having left checkpoint 3 I started a long speed downhill. I managed to overtake a French runner that had left checkpoint 3 before me. When the downhill section finally ended a long dusty road reached for the horizon.

I was quite hot and had to walk again. The French runner reached me and we ran like this for the next 4-6 km. Shortly before checkpoint 4 we had to cross water and hence get wet feet/shoes. This was a welcome feeling though one might fear for blisters afterwards. The French runner had left me since I had run out of water and had chosen to walk to conserve energy and not to overheat. At checkpoint 4 I had all my containers filled up with water and left the checkpoint with a Czech runner. He was running on empty and a 3km uphill run meant I soon left him behind. I didn't see him again until shortly before the finish. I had taken a wrong turn and when I finally realized this and got back on the track he was in front of me again. Having lots of energy I made a sprint of it and took back my position as number 22 with in a few hundred meters and soon after reached the finish.

We had dinner in a local village that night but the food wasn't all that great and all I could think about was getting home and prepare for the next day before it got dark. My fellow Danes was worried for me and asked if I had gotten all my electrolytes that day, but all that was going on was me focusing on the race and what needed to be done.

Stage 3

39km with 980m ascent and 1035n descent. The stage started with a long stretch of running on a tar road. Everybody was running quite fast and my cannon ball strategy from the day before didn't really give me the edge that I had hoped for. I saw people out running me at full speed on downhill sections where I would have stumbled if I tried to run any faster than I already did. I knew then that I need to train downhill running.

Once we reached checkpoint 1 the tar running was over and soon after started a uphill section. As with all uphill sections in this race it was long and steep. I was glad I had decided to bring my poles once again. When we finally reached the top I had overtaken quite a few but not as many as the day before. Checkpoint 2 was waiting for us at the top. I sat down and used my time at the checkpoint. This was a little luxury I had allowed myself after checkpoint 3 on day 2 and a thing I did on nearly all checkpoints for the rest of the race. Once I left the checkpoint quite a few people had parsed me but I didn't really care at that point. It was hot and I was feeling more tired than I had hoped for on what was meant to be an easy day before the 'long one'.

I managed to overtake a few of the runners that had passed me while I was sitting at checkpoint 2 but soon after started a long downhill section. I probably hadn't run more than a few kilometers down hill before my feet started to burn. I didn't want a blister so I sat down and took of my shoe, socks (wearing 2 on each foot) and put some anti hot spot lotion on my foot. While doing this a runner from Saudi Arabia passed my and asked if I was ok, "yes" I replied! The lotion helped for a few hundred meters but after that I had to walk. I wanted to do everything possible to avoid having blisters. Blisters were my number 1 fear in this race.

Before the downhill was done I was overtaken by 2 more runners an UK runner and a Spanish runner. I was very angry with my lack of downhill skills so when the next uphill section started a few hundred meters later I ran past them while they were walking. On top of the hill I reached checkpoint 3. Not sure how many they had seen that day coming running up that hill but I kept that strategy the rest of the race, if I couldn't run downhill I had to run uphill instead (as much as I possible could).

Both the UK and the Spanish runner passed me at checkpoint 3 but straight after checkpoint 3 was another uphill section and the UK runner was soon behind me again. It wasn't until the top that I saw the Spanish runner again though. She was on her way downhill when I saw her. I found out that running on the rocks reduced the burning beneath my feet so I started doing so and every time she ran I ran and when she stopped I stopped. I quickly gained on her and within 1 or 2 km I had passed her. I thought myself flying now but then another Spanish runner came running past me cheering me on to run faster we had only 3 km till the finish. I tried follow him but had to let him go. I desperately waited for the last uphill to show up letting me possibly pass him again. The last uphill came to late for that though and was a very technical single track where I was close to falling many times.

When I finally reached the finish I was really really tired and my feet hurt.

That night some locals came and made paella for us but personally my mind was on the nearly 70km stage coming the next day.

Stage 4

67km with 2031m ascent and 2083m descent. I used the same cannon ball strategy as stage 2 and 3 and since we had been split up in two groups with the slower half starting first I had the lead for the first two checkpoints. The Czech runner was the one closest to me and it wasn't until a steep downhill at about 25km he passed me. Soon after was a really impressive uphill section were everyone had to walk except perhaps the top 3-4 runners. I had hurt my left foot 2-3 times during the first 20km on rocks and when we reached the top on the hill and checkpoint 3 I had to take off my shoe and numb my foot with ice. Quite a few runners passed me while sitting there. When I left I was close to a UK runner who I followed all the way to checkpoint 4 and 5. This stage had some of the most impressive uphill and downhill sections you can imagine. I'll never forget the feeling of going uphill for checkpoint 5 leaving it and then keep going uphill for checkpoint 6.

I was out nearly 11 hours for this stage and was many times in tears. The pain in my feet was immense and was part cause by blisters blacked nails and me failing to realize that my feet was swollen and therefor need to untie my shoes a little. Some of the late downhills sections had me reduced to a crawl going slower downhill that I could walk uphill.

Especially the last 2-3 hours was hard. I felt so extremely tired. Km by km went by without me taking notice. Once in a while there was a checkpoint or a support car with cola that could wake you up a little but most of the time you were a mere zombie putting one leg in front of the other without giving it any thought.

When I finally reached the finish together with the Saudi Arabian runner I was in tears and completely drained physically and mentally.

As soon as I got to my senses I had the doctor check out my feet. They were bad. Especially a blister on the big toe was big, bloody and painful. 8 blisters, 3 bloody nails (one of which had been kicked further into the toe) and generally swollen sensitive feet.

Dinner was short, sparse and chaotic. I don't know what went wrong but for some reason there wasn't enough food for us at the place where we were going to eat and after running 70km runners need food. Michelle the female staff member #1 reacted quickly and brought us some of the most delicious take away food I have ever seen.

That night I sat in the dark and prepared my gear for the next day. It had become so late so I gave up on washing my stuff. I would run in some of the spare gear instead.

Stage 5

37km with 1120m ascent and 1500m descent. Woke up and had my feet race prepared by the doctors. Used the same cannon ball strategy as day 2, 3 and 4. I saw no one until 15km in were a US runner passed me, shouting "I can't stop I have to keep running" :) At that point there were some heavy downhill sections going on and I had slowed to a walk. My legs were to heavy to run uphill and my feet hurt to much to run downhill.

Midway between checkpoint 1 and 2 I ran out of water and had to drink the 300ml water I had brought with me for cooling down the head. 300ml for 4km isn't a lot in that heat and I sought shadow were I could find it.

My setup had from day one been 1.5liter drinking water in my back pack and a 750ml bottle on my front for cooling down the head and other parts on the body.

Every time a runner passed me I was confronted with the question "Are you okay" and every time I answered "yes, it is just my feet that are killing me". Was walking 40-50% of stage 5.

Checkpoint 2 came and runner upon runner passed me. 10km later came checkpoint 3 and from there on it was to the finish.

Downhill nearly all the way .. couldn't run had to walk. About 3-4 km before the finish I reached a small town. Jacob had told me to always bring some money to be able to buy some cold cola. I passed a bar that was open and thought it was now or never. So I went in and said "Cola!". The bar owner was suprised and talked to me in Spanish not sure what I meant. But when I managed to find the money he was all with me. He ran to the back and brought out a cola with glass, lemon, ice and all. It went down in 10 secs and I thanked him and gave him 5 euro to keep. He was very happy and when I tried to leave he came running with yet another cola which I drank straight from the bottle even though he tried to serve me up with a fresh glass of ice and lemon.

That was just what I needed and I ran the next 2 km feeling refreshed. Then came an uphill section and I had to slow to a walk. That day was hotter than the rest. 42C in the shadow, sadly there was no shadow and with me having had to walk a lot I was out there far longer than I should have been. The water I had in my back pack was now to hot to drink and my cooling water was all gone. I tried to cool down in what ever shadow I could find but there was very little. Luckily the runner who had had a bad time on stage 2 passed me and asked if I need anything. I told him that if he had any fairly cold water it would be great. He had a spare bottle which he poured into mine. Now I was able to get out of the shadow and head for the finish.

My fellow runner from Saudi Arabia ran / walked with me until I left him about 1 km from the finishing line. The heat was immense but the sight of finish line and the sound of the people around it was even greater. Just a few meters before the finish line I looked at our photographer counted to 3 and jumped. This was something we had done all week and there are more picture of me flying than running from this race :)

Photographer: James Goldsmith

After the finish line

During this race I meet some of the most inspiring people I've ever meet. I have left out the names of all unofficials but you know who you are. We didn't talked a lot but we shared an extreme adventure and most of the time we only need to look at each other to know what was going through the head of the other. We watched out for each other. We helped each other. We cared! What we did was so out of this world that if I had stopped to think about it I would have said I couldn't do it. If Jacob hadn't trusted in me it would have taken years before I would have tried on my own.

*disclaimer* This was all written from memory!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Leaving tomorrow

Tomorrow I continues a journey that started last year in December. AAUT 2012. It has been 7 months of disbelief, training and injuries. I'm in awe. 

Tomorrow I leave my house and will not return as the same man. Stronger, in pieces or not at all.