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 a 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 viewable 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 with 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 day's stage. Salt tablets, energy gels .. everything needs 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 portions 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 afterward. 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 within 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 were 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 an 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 passed 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 downhill before my feet started to burn. I didn't want a blister so I sat down and took off 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 me 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 possibly 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 to 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 too 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 into 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 where 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 caused by blisters blacked nails and me failing to realize that my feet was swollen and therefore 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 takeaway 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 too heavy to run uphill and my feet hurt too 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 where I could find it.

My setup had from day one been 1.5liter drinking water in my backpack and a 750ml bottle on my front for cooling down the head and other parts of 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 surprised 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 backpack was now too hot to drink and my cooling water was all gone. I tried to cool down in whatever 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 the 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 talk 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.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

AAUT 2012

It has been a while I know. But I've felt more like training/running than writing about it.

I'm training harder and harder. I'm more fit than I've been for years and just yesterday I made a 19 km PR running on a very hilly trail.

I can still feel my knee but the specialist that I go to says that my symptoms are to small for me to get a free MR scanning. I've come to the conclusion that I'll ignore it. Instead I'll continue to strengthening the joint with exercises.

3 years ago I wasn't running. 2 years ago I ran a lot of half marathons. Last year I ran a lot of marathons. This year my only focus is AAUT. 230 km in 5 days. Very hilly, very hot and very hard.

AAUT 2012 - Stage 1 - 37km - Elevation Gain : 1,182m / Elevation Loss : 830m

AAUT 2012 - Stage 2 - 48km - Elevation Gain : 1,208m / Elevation Loss : 1,069m

AAUT 2012 - Stage 3 - 39km - Elevation Gain : 798m / Elevation Loss : 1,107m

AAUT 2012 - Stage 4 - 68km - Elevation Gain : 1,257m / Elevation Loss : 1,296m

AAUT 2012 - Stage 5 - 37km - Elevation Gain : 805m / Elevation Loss : 1,044m


Sunday, February 5, 2012

19 km @ -15 degrees

Did a 19 km run today together with a friend of mine. It was freezing 15 degrees Celsius when we started at 08:00 AM this morning but we had both dressed up (don't you just long for summer where you can run in shorts a optional t-shirt and nothing more).

The cold air made me short of breath at first but after a few kilometers everything felt fine. The route was part tar part trail. We saw quite a lot of deer, eagles and alike through out the run.

My friend is normally a much faster runner than me but had to slow down even more since I didn't wanted to stress my knee :) Our average pace was 5:46 which is more like my normal 30 km speed.

After the run I took the picture which should give you an idea of how cold it was.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Snow is here :)

When I saw that the earth was covered with snow I got eager like a little child to get out there 'playing' in the snow (running). I recently bought a pair of Salomon Speedcross 3 but have not had a chance to really try them out due to my knee.

Since the doctor at the sports clinic told me that it was okay to start running again I've run twice on a treadmill, short and slow, today was my first outdoor run in a little more than 2 weeks.

I ran about 8 km at a fairly slow pace (6:08) both on and off trail. It was really really great and I would have run for at least 20-25 km had it not been for the knee. I don't want to take any chances. I hope that I'll be up to my normal speed and distance in a week or two at the latest.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Running again .. and eating!

Had my knee scanned yesterday and everything was fine so the doctor said that it was time I started running again. I still went to have a final treatment at the acupuncturist though.

Today I've had a short slow run just to get started. The muscles was still a little sore from the needles but the knee was/is fine.

I hope to be up to my old speed in a couple of weeks and distance soon after. Then the real training will commence.

I don't know exactly why but while I haven't been running I have gained 5-6 kilo in weight and is now 3 digit (~100 kg). This is probably from the strength training and the accompanying large appetite I've seen but was somewhat unexpected.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Short update

I'm currently taking a break from running.. It seems my doctor was a bit optimistic when he said that running wouldn't affect my knee. Last week it started hurting after a run (normally it has just been sore) so I decided to stop running until it is totally ready again. I got checked by another doctor and luckily she agreed with the first one that nothing serious is wrong it is 'just' an inflammation.

I'm currently being treated by an acupuncturist and I hope that it will fix the problem soon. Until then I'm training with weights to prepare the upper body for the back pack that I need to carry during the 230 km race.

Taking a break is hard. Even though it is less than a week ago I ran lastly it feels like a eternity. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Training again :)

After nearly two weeks of resting (=not running) I finally had a chance to get an appointment at the doctor. He gave me a pretty thorough examination and which took a fair bit longer that the designated time slot too bad for the next person waiting ;) He was able to rule out all the knee injuries that I had been reading about and fearing like injuries to the meniscus, cartilage or cruciate ligament.

Luckily it was nothing more that a inflammation in a small tendon to the left of the knee cap. He even said that I couldn't make it worse by running which really really really made my day. He suggested a few things that I could do to speed up healing but stop running wasn't on the list :)

Afterwards I of course contacted my mentor and he gave me a new training schedule right a way. I don't do anything with out his approval. He has the experience and I respect that and I only hope to learn as much as possible from him.

This evening I've had my first training session and it was great :)