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 year's 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 kilos 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 itself. 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 have 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 pre-race 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 hallway. 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 to 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 where they had obviously been better instructed).

Since the doctor had been very clear that I wouldn't be able to 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 were doing what I had come to do.

I 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 runner 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 was done as quickly as possible to allow them to continue right away if that was what they wanted. Never standing to wait 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 every one 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 himself 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 a great crew I had unfinished business but I also knew that I wasn't coming back again just to let history repeat itself 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 has 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 week's favorite 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.