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Clever Or Not?

The terrain race Nordmarkstravern, held in the deep forests surrounding Oslo the first Saturday in September every year, epitomizes everything I love with races in Norway. The track is as entertaining as it it challenging, mixing gravel roads with my beloved forest trails, and the atmosphere of the event is the envy of many a race organizer in the region. I’ve grown accustomed to friendly, smiling volunteers handing out water, cookies and lemonade and I’ve even come to expect the weather to be pleasantly sunny. The finisher t-shirts are outstandingly cool (they stamp a big red X on the chest in front of the distance you’ve run) and the buses that carry the runners out to the start in the middle of nowhere are comfortable and nice.

So all in all, I was delighted when the Queen of Slopes Hedda herself, texted me a week prior to the race to ask if I would be running the full 30 km this year. When I picked her up early on Saturday morning, her eyes were all aglow with eager anticipation. We picked up another one of her friends, Eskild, on the way and drove up to Sognsvann to catch the bus to the starting line. When the three of us arrived at the start next to lake Stryken, the sun had already started to warm our faces. There were more than 700 of us that started out together at 11.00, and the tempo was pretty high from the start. I tried to trail after Hedda and Eskild but had to let go after around 4 or 5 km since they were running in a pace far faster than I could hold up. As you may remember, my heel has been bothering me since March and I have been worried that I would injure it again if I started to venture out on trails too soon. That’s why I’ve confined most of my training to the treadmill. As long as I have taped my foot properly I’ve been OK but I’ve understood that the lack of terrain training has been detrimental. Better to run indoors on a good foot than not being able to run at all. In this year’s Nordmarkstravern, my lack of terrain training showed big time. I rehydrated with water and lemonade at the first pit stop at 7 km and felt pretty OK as things went, but as soon as we ducked in on the first of many trails, I suffered. Badly. Normally my favourite part of any race, my conscious neglect of specific trail training started to show very quickly. I got winded and started huffing and puffing up the slopes and to my great shame I was passed by what felt like hundred of runners. I walked up several slopes, not being able to push myself as I usually do. Uphills are normally my forte. I’m supposed to be the one passing people in the climbs. Not so today. But at least the forest was as beautiful as always and I slowly started to enjoy myself while passing between the small lakes Langvann to my left and Trehørningen to my right. The last two kilometer climb through the brush up to the topmost part of the course at Gørjahøgda (450 m) – exactly at the 15 km-mark – was evil, pure and simple. About one hour and thirtyfive minutes had passed since I set out and my sub-3 hopes were slowly being crushed. I didn’t feel in shape at all and I cursed my stupid summerplan of not running any trails due to my plantar fasciitis.

Posterboy on the race's official Facebook page - yeah!

Posterboy on the race’s official Facebook page – yeah!

Downhill though, I started to feel a tingling ache in my heel. Maybe it hadn’t been such a stupid idea to let my heel rest after all. The thought gave me pause, and unconsciously, I sped up when I hit the gravel road again after 16 km. Nordmarkstravern has a pretty”fair” elevation in that it’s a steady climb from the start to about the 15 km-mark and then it runs steadily downhill to the finishline apart from a small hill at around 20 km. Running down through the forest from Kamphaugåsen towards the drinking station at the end of Skjersjøen I felt invigorated and finally let out a smile. I had passed 20 km in two hours and suddenly felt as if I had a sub-3 race within reach. I reached the pitstop at Skjersjøen at 25 km, just before the path crossed a dam and headed left down onto a downhill littered with small stones and slippery logs. I ran along a river tumbling down toward Maridalsvannet and finally passed several runners on the wide trail and even spared a wave and a smile for the official photographer. The last 4 km were nastily rollercoaster-like and having run the race before certainly gives you an edge over firsttimers that don’t pace themselves. I must admit that I walked up a few of those hills but at least I thundered down them on the other side and for the last 5 km of the race no-one passed me. Well, a few of them did but I soon passed them again. The last kilometer from Sognsvann to Kringsjå Skole was brutal and neverending, despite it being completely flat, but I miraculously managed to pass 9 more runners during the last 200 m before sprinting up the last hill and waving frantically at miss H and Panda standing next to the finish line cheering me on.

 

Exhausted but happy :D

Exhausted but happy :D

Last year I managed to snatch the race badge (awarded to every runner who manages to run no slower than 50% more than the victory time) with ten seconds to spare, but today I missed it by 67 seconds. A shame, but no matter. 2.57.27 was still a lot better than I had imagined climbing those pesky hills at the midpoint of the race. Still, I promise to do better next year. And how Hedda fared? My awesome friend managed to squeeze into the female top ten, managing a 5th place in her class and an 8th overall. Congratulations! And our pal Eskild beat me soundly wih almost 15 minutes, despite never having run the distance before. The best thing about talented friends is that they spur you on to become faster and stronger. Hope they’ll join me for next year, along with coach Stefan whom I missed during this year’s race. Get well soon!

Krizovany Road Runners

It’s been a strange summer. Never before have I had such a long self-imposed sabbatical from running. Four weeks. Sorely needed, though. Not only for reasons of rekindling my motivation, but also in order to give my aching heel a chance to recuperate.

As our vacation finally started, so did my running. And boy, was it tough to get those legs moving again. I had decided I would try out the latest addition to my collection of running paraphernalia. Last summer’s Salomon Trail competitions in Oslo had left me with a crush for the minimal Salomon S-Lab shoes they were lending out for each race. Nimble and good-looking, they were all the things my regular INOV8’s were not. I’ve always been convinced that the head designer for INOV8 is an old lady with severe cataracts that randomly combines colours and patterns in a way that would make the old communist-era concrete apartment buildings of Bratislava look positively colourful. The idea of a sleek shoe such as the S-Lab tempted me sorely and, I am ashamed to admit, led to an act of adultery a few months ago when I ordered a pair of them via wiggle. Emelie Forsberg and Kilian Jornet wear them, so I didn’t really need any convincing. I’m a sucker for famous people.

Åstkyrkja at Øyerfjellet.

Åstkyrkja at Øyerfjellet.

Miss H, Panda and I spent a few days at grandfather Per’s hytte up in Øyerfjellet, not far from Lillehammer. The first run – where I accidently tried to follow the ski-route signs of winter and ended up in the middle of a soggy quagmire – was a semi-partial success, even though it left me completely drained after 29 days without a single step in running shoes. Encouraged, I went out for a 10 k-run along a flat trail the next day. Unfortunately I did what I usually do, i.e. I ran without socks and in half-dried shoes from the previous day, once again proving that my IQ is getting dangerously close to single digits. Barefoot in brand-new shoes. I mean really. I came home with a humongous popped blister encircling one of my toes, as well as prettily pink but painfully bloody chafings on both heels. What a splendid start to my autumn running season. When we got home again the S-Labs were promptly put on the highest and dustiest shelf of the basement and I went out and purchased a brand-new pair of INOV8 Roclites as well as a pair of orange Asics Skyspeed. Fine, the Roclites aren’t as sleek and cool as the S-Labs and aren’t sponsored by famous trail runners. But they are the best and most comfortable trail shoes I have ever run in and when it comes to trail running I will never be unfaithful to them again. Promise. But then again, I probably should give the S-Labs a second chance in a few months. I mean, Emelie Forsberg and Kilian Jornet wear them. Right?

After a lovely hytte-start to our vacation, we next travelled to Slovakia for our annual cousin-get-together – Kerestur 2014 – at grandma’s. My dad has six sisters, and they in turn, have raised us 14 cousins ranging in ages from 17 to 46. We 14 cousins have with our spouses’ assistance multiplied into 17 great-grandchildren to our beloved grandma. Isn’t that incredible? We met up with Martin and miss S at Vienna airport and wasted no time in driving to the Klcovansky clan’s birthplace: Krizovany nad Dudváhom, ancient place of legends and myths. We arrived late on a Friday, but not too late, alas, for dinner that my aunt Dana had meticulously prepared for us. The dishes she cooks are delightful and she always makes food for a regiment of people, even if you are the sole guest. I seem to remember that we emptied five bottles of Slovak bubbles that evening. I slept like – well, most definitely not like a baby since babies, contrary to belief, are lousy sleepers – a log and woke up with only the teensiest bit of a headache. The big feast was scheduled for later that day, on Saturday afternoon. Now imagine if you will, the cacophony of sounds from all the merchants, street vendors, hawkers, tourists, locals, monkeys, donkeys, parakeets and mopeds that would assail your ears at, for instance the storied square of Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech. Now multiply the racket you hear by ten, add every single bottle of Champagne that you can lay your hands on at the local Kaufmarkt, get hold of an entire grilled pig complete with an apple down its snout and voilá: a Klcovansky gathering. Of course, my dad wasn’t there, so the noise was considerably lower than if he’d had been, but it was an impressive pandemonium nonetheless.

See? Wasn't lying about the pig.

See? Wasn’t lying about the pig.

Rumours have it there were 44 of us, all in all.

Rumours have it there were 44 of us, all in all.

Krizovany Road Runners! Yeah!

Krizovany Road Runners! Yeah!

Aunts and uncles conversing (my wife calls it shouting, for some reason) over the tables, cousins and their wives and husbands toasting long-not-seen relatives (my brother, in exile for seven years) in wine, champagne and slivovica, and children and youngsters in biblical multitudes racing between the legs of adults and tables alike, kicking footballs across lawns, drying peach juice off sticky faces of younger siblings and getting their faces painted in fantastical floral and animal patterns by cousin Eva. Exhausting and exhilirating at the same time. And in the midst of all this lovely chaos sat grandma, a beatific smile playing on her sweet, wrinkled face. Only a few hours earlier, she’d lost a tug-of-war over her rosary with my one-year-old daughter. Luckily, I had managed to fix the broken chain and return it to it’s rightful owner, notwithstanding the sobbing and hot tears running down the round cheeks of little Panda. It’s a wonder I got any running done at all in Slovakia, but luckily for me there were several athletes in the congregation. Miss S cheerily pulled me out of my warm and comfortable bed early on Sunday morning, ignoring my painful hungover grunts and speedily led the way along the road towards the neighbouring village. Breakfast, morning mass and lunch sped by in a blur and in the afternoon we waddled over to grandma’s for dinner. Next morning, miss S and I were joined on our morning run by Nico Bolt and Andrej Tatra Tea (62%), the latter being a local taking us on a very fine tour across the fields and around another one of the neighbouring villages. And with that, Krizovany Road Runners was born. Four members so far. Not too shabby.

The final week of our vacation was spent together with Jakob, miss M and her inquisitive four-year-old MnM on the beautiful island of Korcula in Croatia. After a full month of rains in the area, we enjoyed a week of fabulous sunshine and a landscape coloured in every hue of green you could think of. Dinner was a constant succession of all things grilled, with one of the highlights being calamari caught early in the morning and truly delicious after a few minutes above the coals. Jakob and I had a few early morning runs along the meandering coastline and for the first time in a long while I felt almost serene while running. Running together with a friend is such a joy, especially when you’re passing through stunning landscapes, but also because it’s one of the few places where one can talk about every topic under the sun, including, but not limited to, boatbuilding, the second world war, motorcycles, water polo, the Balkan rivalries and many, many other things, without being interrupted by the kids and the girlfriends.

So all in all, not a bad vacation at all. I refound a lost love in my INOV8’s, conversed and discussed (shouted, as my wife would put it) with my dear, dear family, accidently founded a running club (we need a logo, you guys – get on it!) and finally got to swim in the Mediterranean again. Lovely.

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The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2014, Race Report

21.00, Saturday 28th June 2014

98 km (2 300 m), close to checkpoint 7 at Passo Giau in the Dolomites

 

What the hell is happening? I hardly have the energy to lift my feet properly to avoid the rocks strewn across the path. I try to summon up some anger to get my adrenaline pumping. I need that adrenaline. I need it to help my airways expand in order to oxygenate my blood. I need it to help my heart rate increase in order to pump blood to my brain and muscles. I need it to help my pupils dilate in order to allow as much light to seep in as possible so I can focus on the dark trail ahead of me. These are thoughts too complex for me to comtemplate in my current state of mind, but my body is a fantastic machine that luckily reacts on instinct rather than conscious thought. The proprioceptors in the soles of my feet, ankles, knees and hips relay information of their location to my brain. The neurons in the vestibular system of my inner ear supply my brain with my speed and position relative to my surroundings. The photoreceptors of my eyes send impulses to my brain of the precious little information they can visualize in the darkness.

 

Only, none of these magnificent systems work. Because tonight, you see, they lack two essential ingredients in order to perform their function properly. Glucose and oxygen. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why – after around 23 hours and 103 kilometres of running – I had to abandon The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail.

 

17.00, Thursday 26th June

Somewhere in the Brenner pass, Austria

 

I had met up with Jakob and my dad at the airport in Munich, everybody flying in from different cities, and we were now driving south towards Italy. The weather forecast had promised ideal weather for our races; overcast skies with a few drizzles and around 14-15°C. We had arranged to meet Tad, an old friend of ours, in Cortina. Tad is an even older friend of Jakob’s dad and has known the Kegel clan since we were all snotty children running around making life miserable for the catholic nuns in our old school. Instead of flying down to Italy, Tad had opted to take the scenic route through the Dolomites with his motorcycle. How. Cool. Is. That. I mean seriously. Was this a boys’ trip, or what? Darkness was falling over Cortina when we drove into town, but we still managed to catch glimpses of the mighty mountains draped in wispy clouds of silk. The four of us went for dinner in a friendly pizzeria right next to Piazza Angelo Dibona in the middle of town before returning back to our lovely alpine apartment just outside the town centre. For Jakob and me, this would be our final full night of sleep before the race next evening.

 

09.00, Friday 27th June

Corso Italia, Cortina d’Ampezzo

 

It’s not a simple task, trying to find a place in an Italian village that serves a proper, solid breakfast. Italians aren’t huge fans of the big, hearty meals we enjoy further north in Europe. German breakfasts are among the best, including several types of bread, cheese and has, offering at least seven varieties of juice and half a dozen choices of omelettes. And that’s not even mentioning the cereals, mueslis and jams. English breakfasts are, for all their deplorable lack of imagination, not too bad compared with many parts of Europe. Sodden tomatoes and oceans of beans aside, at least you have some toast and hash browns to chew on. Oh, and the Canadian breakfasts! I have never come as close to a coronary as I did after ten days of morning meals in British Columbia with my brother. The only thing that saved us from a trip to the ER with chest pains was the enormous amount of calories we burnt swishing through champagne powder in the Canadian Rockies. Thank God for maple syrup, I say. Compared with these nations, Italy is a sorry example of misplaced frugality. Which is kind of strange considering their wonderful tradition of love for food. After thirty minutes of almost tear-inducing despair, we finally found a café at Corso Italia where we could order proper toasts in addition to our cappuccini and cornetti di marmellata. The coffee was lovely. The toasts less so. But no matter. We had our thoughts elsewhere.

 

Breakfast of champions!

Breakfast of champions!

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After breakfast, we went to the Stadio Olimpico del Ghiaccio, site of the 1956 Winter Olympics where the Swedish titan Sixten Jernberg won four medals, including gold in the 50 km cross-country skiing, the most of any other athlete in that tournament. The Ice Stadium was where we were supposed to deliver our medical certificates and pick up our racing numbers. The thing that struck us the most was that the race was shaping up to be one of the better organized ones we had participated in. Having North Face as a main sponsor lends a certain flair to a trail race, and as such, it attracts famous trail runners from all over the world. Among this year’s competitors were Rory Bosio, the light-footed nymph from Lake Tahoe who had smashed all of her competitors silly in last year’s Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, managing to finish inside the men’s top ten – an extraordinary feat, never before achieved by a woman in that race! Another famous ultra-runner we would be rubbing shoulders with at the start (and probably for that instant only in the entire race) was Anton Krupicka, two-time winner of the Leadville 100 and veteran of some of the most famous ultras in the world. After we had picked up our goodie bags and bibs, we sauntered around town for a bit before settling down for lunch in what looked like a classy restaurant with waiters in white dinner jackets. I usually don’t review restaurants in these race reports, but for the gastronomical well-being of future visitors to Cortina, I feel obliged to offer the following warning. Stay well clear of Hotel de la Poste at Piazza Roma. The plates were cold, the portions tiny and the service non-existent. Just because a restaurant looks classy and is expensive, it doesn’t mean the food or even the service is up to standard.

 

Jakob and I went to bed for a few hours in the afternoon. The race would start at 23.00, which would be a novel experience for us. We had discussed a race plan during the day, trying to estimate how long it would take us to complete the race. 119 km was longer than any continuous race we had ever attempted, even though the climb of 5850+ m would be almost 900 less than in Gorges du Verdon. The Factor X of this entire enterprise would be the altitude. Cortina d’Ampezzo lies at an elevation of 1 224 m and several of the peaks we would climb were more than 2 400 m above sea level. I had never experienced altitude sickness before, but who knew how my body would react to the altitude under duress? We would have to wait and see. Hopefully, we would only run through the one night and – if we were lucky – finish the race within our own set time goal of 24 hours, the maximum time allowed being 31 hours.

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I managed to sleep only fitfully for a couple of hours, and when we woke, Tad drove the four of us to another nice pizzeria in town. We were all beginning to be a little nervous and were probably not the best of dinner companions for poor Tad who was the only one enjoying a glass of beer. Jakob and I only had around three hours left until the start of the race, and dad had to go to bed early to catch some sleep before his own race, the 47 km long (2 650+ m) Cortina Trail that would start at 08.00 on Saturday morning. Returning home, we started to get ready for the race. We taped our feet, pinned start numbers to our chests and made sure we had extra batteries for our headtorches, all the while preparing mentally for the long night ahead. Giving dad a good luck-hug for his ultra marathon debut the next day, Jakob and I shouldered our backpacks and headed down to the car. Tad drove us into town and dropped us off close to the church tower of the parish church of Cortina, where a big arch marked both the start and finish of The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail.

 

22.57, Friday 27th June

Just outside the Basilica of the apostles S. Jakob and S. Philip, Cortina d’Ampezzo

 

Bang! Three minutes early, the gun went off for the start of the race. Being early is not a classic Italian trait, I admit, but I’m guessing that the trigger-happy organizers were impatient to get the race started. There’s something special about running into the night in the middle of a sea of runners. There were almost 800 of us, swarming up the main street Corso Italia between the sponsor banners and waving to the huge crowd who had met up to cheer us on. We waved to Tad who was taking photos and made our way north through town, running easily on the black asphalt until we reached the edge of town and ducked into the woods and started to walk up a sharp incline among the trees. In front of us a train of bobbing headtorches like a necklace of fireflies glimmered between the trees. The pace was swift and easy and we felt comfortable climbing the first 5 km all the way up to Passo Posporcora at 1 720 m where the path made a sharp turn east and started to slant downwards along the Pian de Ra Spines. It was an eerie feeling, running on a stony path with a perfectly visible rock face to our left and an impenetrable black void to our right. At a few places we glimpsed the tops of trees close to the right edge of the path, meaning there was a steep fall not a metre away. I cast a glance at Jakob, he nodded thoughtfully and we both moved away from the precipice. A tall, long-legged girl whizzed past us in an uncontrollable fashion, almost tripping us up, panting ”Sorry!” in a foreign accent before disappearing down the trail. All in all, people were generally more considerate than in Verdon, which surprised us. There had been a lot of shoving and ”Out of my way, imbeciles!!!” in France. No. Not really, but close. The smaller races we’ve run are quaint in a cosy kind of way, and there’s a lot to be said for the volunteers and organizers of such races since they tend to be extremely enthusiastic and friendly, even though there aren’t that many competitors. The NF Lavaredo Ultra Trail, on the other hand, is considered a large race, if not as huge as the UTMB and a few classic races like Marathon des Sables. If nothing else, it showed in the huge number of volunteers and the choice of snacks at the aid stations. We chewed and swallowed our first bars and after a few minutes we passed the girl who had almost knocked us over. She sat grimacing with pain on the side of the trail with a couple of runners helping her drink some water. Her ankle was swollen, and from the looks of it her race was over even before it had had a chance to begin. Poor girl. Zig-zagging down the serpentine path between tall pines, I followed another coordinationally challenged runner who tripped and slipped at least once every 30 seconds. Why didn’t he lift his feet properly? There were roots, snags and rocks slick from the afternoon rain all over the trail and if he didn’t take it easy, he too would soon join the list of DNF’s. After another hour, we reached the first checkpoint at Ospitale next to what indeed looked like an old abandoned hospital. We had only run around 18 km, but both of us felt increasingly nauseous and I had to admit that I had been careless with my energy intake, only eating a couple of bars since the start of the race. I gulped down a Red Bull offered by one of the officials, and made a small video of Jakob commenting on our progress so far.

We filled up our camelpacks with water, threw away our bar wrappers in a dustbin and continued up the slope towards Rifugio Son Forca at 2 218 m. It was still dark, but we could tell that we were in fact walking up a skiing slope that didn’t want to end. To our right and far above us we could make out the pitch black ridgeline of Crépe de Zumèles rising up and painting a faint silhoutte against the slightly less black night sky. When we finally reached the top close to the Rifugio, the path changed from a wide gravel road to a small, hard trail where we could only run single file. Encouraged by finally running downhill, I foolishly increased my pace, risking the same fate as the girl with the twisted ankle. Jakob followed close on my heels as I tried to catch up to a man with a white jersey 20 metres ahead of me. Suddenly I slipped, a moist root sending my left foot out towards the steep slope on my left. I managed to twist my hips and shoulders in the other direction, sending my right foot to land on the path again and my butt perilously hanging out over the edge before I found my balance again. I kept my stride without breaking pace as I heard Jakob gasp behind my back. ”Do you realize how close you were to flying of that cliff back there?” It hadn’t seemed that dangerous to me, but Jakob had had a perfect vantage point, illuminating my back with his headtorch and seeing clearly what had happened. The ridge plummeted sharply down at least 200 metres to the bottom of the valley before slowly turning up towards the next peak ahead. We could make out small white headlights bobbing forward a few hundred metres below us and I thanked my guardian angel that she hadn’t let me bounce down the cliff. It wasn’t a sheer drop down to the valley floor from where we were running, but it was sufficiently steep and rocky to scrape my elbows, knees and ass down to the bone. And with my butt being pretty generously padded, that would have been an impressive feat.

 

04.30, Saturday 28th June

33 km (1 400 m), Federavecchia

 

We reached checkpoint two just as our surroundings started to brighten weakly, the rising sun slowly turning the inky black sky into a deep blue. At this point we caught our first glimpse of the surrounding mountains, and they were nothing short of spectacular. Quite simply breathtaking. And this was only the beginning. Still feeling lightheaded and more than a bit nauseous, I took the lead out from the checkpoint and we started our climb up a small forest trail that quickly turned into a steep, but pleasantly inclined asphalt road. We had 15 km to go to our next stop and one of the biggest climbs of the race ahead of us.

Checkpoint 2, Federavecchia

Checkpoint 2, Federavecchia

With a bit of trepidation, we turned onto a narrow path on a sparsely forested hillside and continued our climb through the woods. My good spirits were returning with the morning sun and for the first time in six hours, I felt energized and enthusiastic. I chattered on about this and that, but at the moment poor Jakob was proving a very unreceptive audience. He admitted to feeling ill and after a few minutes, we stopped for a minute so he could step off the path, stick a couple of fingers down his throat and force a vomit. Drying off his mouth, he stepped back on the trail and smiled feebly. ”OK, let’s go. I’m feeling better. What’s an ultra without a puke or two, eh?” I smiled, patted him on the back and dropped behind a few paces in order to let him take the lead and control the pace. I was feeling a lot better, the nausea evaporated with the darkness of the night. How come we had felt so queasy and lightheaded? I couldn’t remember a single time during training or competition that I had felt like this, apart from when I had been on the verge of an infection or had overdosed on salt. We analyzed our race so far, but couldn’t come up with a proper answer. I hadn’t eaten as many gels and bars as I normally used to, but I felt fine both stamina- and energywise. Jakob had eaten at regular intervals and we had both taken salt tablets and reminded each other to drink regularly. We were even taking a leak around every third or fourth hour, which meant we were properly hydrated. Was it the altitude playing tricks on us? Or were we both coming down with a viral infection? A cold or something? Well, not much we could do about it at this point but to trudge on. And so we did. We moved through beautiful landscapes and I couldn’t take my eyes off the jaw-droppingly gorgeous white-capped peaks, the dazzlingly clear mountain lakes and the beautifully vivid azure sky. The climb from Federavecchia up to Rifugio Auronzo at the foot of the triplet summits of Lavaredo that give the race it’s name was a killer. Pure and simple. One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other. And. Repeat.

 

09.15, Saturday 28th June

50 km (2 450 m), Forcella Lavaredo

 

We had been given a chance to change to dry clothes at Rifugio Auronzo a couple of km further back, and I had chosen to change from long tights to my preferred shorts. We had taken a longer break of about 20 minutes where we had sat down and gulped down a cup of hot noodle soup each. There was no dawdling, though, and as soon as we had filled our camelpacks outside the rifugio we were off again. Now, we were walking along a wide path right next to the foot of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, and the view from where we were running was positively stunning. It was in the middle of the morning and the sun was gently but firmly chasing away the mists and clouds that were retreating down the mountains. Even though we were at almost 2 500 m, the highest point of the entire race, the tallest of the three peaks – Cima Grande – loomed high above us at 2 999 m. We were sorry for the elite runners who must’ve missed these beautiful sights since they had most probably run the passage in darkness.

Dad starting out the Cortina Trail at 08.00, Saturday morning.

Dad starting out the Cortina Trail at 08.00, Saturday morning.

At the same time, we sent a prayer and a thought to dad who was an hour into his own race and was probably climbing Passo Posporcora as we were descending down into Val della Riénza. The route of the Cortina Trail would initially follow the same path as our own race, but at Passo Posporcora it would cut sharply west along the foot of Col Rosa (2 166 m) and descend down the mountain before starting the longest climb up Val Travenanzes to Forcella Col de Bos (2 331 m), and dad would then effectively overtake us as we ourselves would not reach the bottom of the valley earlier than after 80 km. At the very top of the path we asked a Chinese competitor to take a photo of us with Val Travenanzes and Monte Rudo (2 799 m) in the background, and he happily obliged.

Standing by Tre Cime di Lavaredo (2 450 m).

Standing by Tre Cime di Lavaredo (2 450 m).

The long run down from Lavaredo to the checkpoint at Cimabanche was the second steepest of the race and we were overtaken several times by the same group of Greek runners who had trouble deciding in what pace to run. They thundered dangerously past us at all of the narrow passages where a slight misstep would at best only twist your ankle and at worst send you hurtling down into the tumbling stream below the trail. Then, annoyingly, they took long breaks, winded as they were, at irregular intervals and at wider sections of the trail where we had no trouble passing them. I really hated – sorry – misliked these inconsiderate idiots – sorry – egotistical nitwits who were recklessly flayling with their running poles while trying to keep their balance, a monumentous feat of coordination, clearly overloading the sorry capacity of their single brain cells. The trail widened into a broad gravel path with the stream alongside it on the left which grew step by step into a tumbling river. We caught up with our Chinese friend and chatted for a bit before we sped on past him. We ran all the way to the bottom of the valley where finally the slope levelled out and we followed the river to Lago di Landro, a lake of cloudy jade green with Monte Piano (2 305 m) towering right behind it. This was the flattest portion of the race, and we settled into a leisurely pace in order to reach the next check point with strength to spare before the next two climbs. At the next checkpoint, Cimabanche, we were surprised and delighted to see Tad whom we had texted earlier in the day to let him know that everything was going as planned. We had managed to run according to our most optimistic plan (averaging a bit more than 5 km per hour in order to finish the race in 24 hours) and reached the aid station in good spirits. Tad patted our backs in encouragement and acted the offical photographer and indeed, the best photos we have from the weekend are thanks to him and his camera. We talked for a bit, and feeling highly motivated we headed off.

Checkpoint 4, Cimabanche.

Checkpoint 4, Cimabanche.

After a few minutes, it started to rain softly and we stopped for a few seconds to put our windjackets on. We’d been lucky so far, but from now on we were sure to run a fair bit of the race in rain. We crossed the road that Tad had driven to get to the checkpoint and waved back to a pair of small girls waving to us by the forest’s edge. The path disappeared up Val de Gótres towards the top of Forcella Lerosa (2 020 m) and it rained almost the entire climb up. Jakob was hurting in his knee and I had very surprisingly started to feel a dull ache in the back of my left knee, which was very odd. That knee had never bothered me before. I pushed it out of my head and as we reached the the top of the pass we picked up the pace and passed several runners who had passed us on our way up. Once again, it was a zig-zag path down until we reached checkpoint five at Malga Ra Stua where we filled our hungry bellies with hot soup and cold Red Bull. Not an obvious combination, I’ll grant you, but you wouldn’t be so fussy either after having covered 76 km on foot.

Climbing up through the entrance to Val Travenanzes.

Climbing up through the entrance to Val Travenanzes.

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17.30, Saturday 28th June

82 km (2 000 m), Ru Travenanzes

 

”I think we’d better to take our shoes off. It’s raining and pretty soon we’ll be soaked through anyway, but lets keep our feet dry for as long as we can.” I stuffed my socks in my shoes, stood up and took a tentative step towards the clear stream. I plunged in and gingerly stumbled over to the other bank where I hastily sat down, wiped my feet with my socks and put my shoes back on again. The water was F R E E Z I N G! Jakob followed suit and waded quickly over to my bank. It had been raining for the better part of an hour and were halfway up the toughest and rockiest climb of the entire race. 1 000 vertical metres in less than 10 km in the spectacular Val Travenanzes. The valley was narrow and straight, hemmed in by steep, steep cliffs of purest dolomite rock reaching up to 3 244 m (Tofana Mezzo) at it’s highest point, more than 1 200 metres above our heads. The wind, rain and heavy skies formed a sensational tapestry of breathtaking beauty and it was quite simply the most wonderful rain I had ever run in. Have I ever told you that I love running in the rain? A million times, probably.

Even though we were both cold, we were enjoying every minute. We had climbed through the forest guarding the entrance to the valley and had crossed several high-spanning wooden bridges over cascading waterfalls, probably not unlike the one Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes went down after their little tussle. We had even carefully traversed a few snowcovered slopes on our way up. Sadly, our merriment didn’t last long. We were required to cross the river not once, not twice, but three times in less than two kilometres, and to tell you the truth it went on my nerves there for a bit. Mumbling curses through my teeth I set a pace that was probably a bit too quick on the slippery stones, but when we finally emerged from the valley at Forcella Col dei Bos (2 331 m), I had calmed down a bit. As we turned back around to take in the view of the valley behind us, an amulance helicopter swooshed above our heads in the direction from where we had come. It made an elegant turn around the highest peaks to the west and then went down for landing far below down by the river, just as a few rays of sunlight pierced the rain clouds to the west and illuminated the landing zone. Next to where we stood, there was a semi—checkpoint with a couple of volunteers standing sentry and handing out chocolate biscuits to the passing runners. I asked one of them in Italian if something was wrong and if anybody was gravely injured, and he replied that some poor guy had slipped and probably broken his leg. It wouldn’t have been possible to evacuate him with a land-based vehicle from the valley, since there were no roads, and walking up or down from either of the checkpoints was out of the question, both due to the distance and to the difficult terrain. Helicopter evac was the only option. Disaster lurked around every corner, but we couldn’t really do anything else than continue on our way, sending a small prayer skyward for our unknown fallen comrade. It took a good while to reach the next checkpoint at Rifugio Col Galina at 93 km and 2 000 m. We went up some serpentines, and we went down some other serpentines. And then we had to climb up again, even though the elevation chart said we only had downhill running left all the way to the checkpoint. I felt this to be pretty irritating, to tell you the truth. My outburst by the river a few hours earlier should have given me ample warning of my energy reserves, and my current mood certainly should have been. Oblivious, as one tends to be at this point of exhaustion though, I trodded on, drinking water and ingesting salt regularly, but eating far, far too little. We arrived at the Rifugio at half past seven in the evening, which meant that dad only had half an hour to go before the deadline of his own race, with the maximum time limit being 12 hours. I checked with the time-keeping official next to the timer mat where we had entered the aid station, but he couldn’t find anyone else with my surname having passed the checkpoint. I have to admit that at this point, I started to get more than a little nervous. I asked him to check again, and just as before he drew a blank. Then he hesitated and asked; ”Wait a second, which race was he running again?” ”The Cortina Trail. He should have passed here ages ago!” ”Ah! I’ve typed in the wrong race. Here he is. He passed the finish line in Cortina not two minutes ago.” An enormous weight lifted off my shoulders. My dad is fit and an experienced runner, but this was his first ultra and he had never run in conditions and terrain like this before, so I had been worrying for him ever since we had arrived in Italy. But now he was safe, and I could focus on Jakob’s and my own race. Fantastic! We only had 26 km left to the finish line, and even though we had mucked up in the valley and missed our chance at finishing in 24 hours, we still had a good shot a finishing sub-26. Or so I thought. Setting out from the aid station, my left knee started throbbing wildly and it quite suddenly felt as if it had swollen to the size of a melon, despite Jakob’s assurances that it hadn’t. The first kilometre went slowly, despite the level terrain. And our pace sank even further as we started to climb the trail next to the skiing slope up towards Rifugio Averau (2 649 m). For a long time, we had a bearded young Italian in a black long-sleeved shirt just ahead of us, but we were simply too slow and he soon vanished behind the hills. Darkness started to fall as we emerged from the trees above the treeline and made our way up, up, up. I started to feel dizzy as I groped for my headtorch and beanie in my backpack. I could not for the life of me increase my pace, but I got a little bit of energy from the hot tea served at the Rifugio at the top. We made our way down the slope on the south side, and suddenly the markings vanished completely in the curtain of fog that was climbing up the hill towards us. We had to be very careful not to lose sight of the red-white streamers, but somehow one of us always managed to find the next one shortly after we had passed the last one. We were running downhill in a comfortable pace and I felt a feeling of peace descend over me. The trail markings indicated a sharp turn to the left up a steep slope, despite the gravel road continuing forward and downhill. I cursed again. We were supposed to be running downhill all the way to the checkpoint. Could this be correct? I manouvered in among the big rocks and started to follow Jakob who held a steady pace among the boulders.

Earlier in the day, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.

Earlier in the day, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.

 

21.00, Saturday 28th June

98 km (2 300 m), close to checkpoint 7 at Passo Giau in the Dolomites

What the hell was happening? My muscles were suddenly out of power. My mind, willing my legs to take one step forward at a time, was the only thing that kept me going. I was spent. Completely and utterly spent. I was completely rational about it, meaning my brain was still working properly. The brain is the last part of your body to shut down in a crisis. It consumes more glucose (blood sugar) per gram of weight than any other organ in the body, and is to be protected at all costs. OK, so thank you My brain is working but my legs aren’t? Splendid. Just splendid. I realize what’s about to happen, even if I can’t – won’t! – admit it to myself. And what’s more; at this point, I don’t understand how it can happen. I have never, ever felt like this before. It’s as if someone had just turned off the ignition in a car.vI ask Jakob to slow down as I trembingly sit down on a rock next to the path. I can hardly bend my legs. I tell him that it’s going to be a very slow walk to the next checkpoint, asking him to have patience with me. I have had difficulty pulling enough air down into my lungs and have been panting harder than I should have for more than an hour now, but I suddenly realize that it feels like I am only breathing with one lung. At long last, we arrive at checkpoint seven at Passo Giau, the penultimate checkpoint. I ask for a blanket and Jakob hands me his own survival sheet of aluminium foil. It works well and keeps the chilly winds off my legs at least, in the open tent where the volunteers are serving food and water. I gratefully accept an offer to sit in the ambulance for a bit in order to recover. Stepping into the heated car is like passing through the Pearly Gates of Heaven. I’m completely immersed in heat, but it still takes me long to warm up. The medic takes my pulse and blood pressure, both of them fine. But my oxygen saturation, which should be up at at least 98-99%, is slowly beating a rhythm of it’s own at 88%. Even with the altitude taken into account, that’s pretty low. The partial pressure of oxygen at higher altitude is lower than at sea level, meaning the air up here contains less oxygen per milliliter air than say, in Göteborg. It takes a full thirty minutes for the indicator to rise all the way to 94%, but then it parks stubbornly at that set of numbers, not budging an inch. Feeling better after water, warmth and an energy bar, I wave to Jakob through the window of the ambulance and open the door. It’s like I have opened the door to a freezing Antarctic plateau in the dead of winter. I take a deep breath and tell Jakob that I want to try to continue. We’ve run 103 km and only have 16 left, for the love of God. Come on! Jakob gives me a crooked smile and a pat on the back, and we start walking towards the next streamer we can see down the road. Towards Cortina and the finish line. I make it 10 meters before I have to stop. I simply don’t have an ounce of energy left in my body. It’s all gone. I should feel like crying, but I don’t have the energy to feel sorry for myself. I only feel… empty. I turn to face Jakob, look into his eyes and utter the unthinkable words: ”I have to abandon the race. I can’t go on and if I’m honest, it’s dangerous to try and conquer this terrain in the dark in my present state. I’m sorry.” ”Well, if that’s how you feel, I won’t try to convince you. You really look exhausted, you know. Well. Where’s the fun in running alone, eh?” And he abandoned the race together with me. And at that moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

Ambulance pit stop.

Ambulance pit stop.

 

Sunday 29th June

Pezie, just outside Cortina d’Ampezzo

 

We had breakfast at the same friendly café as two days previously. Wonderful Tad had driven up to the top of the pass to pick us up and had driven us home to our beds after we abandoned the race. I more or less crashed into my bed immediately, only hugging my dad for a quick bit, congratulating him to his extraordinary achievement. Dad has been running as long as I have, and in that time, he’s run two marathons (Athens and New York) and succesfully finished a difficult ultra race. For a 62-year old, that’s pretty damn impressive. Discussing the race with dad, Tad and Jakob, I slowly came to realize (it was pretty obvious once I’d had a good night’s sleep, but when it happened, I didn’t have a clue what was going on) that what I had done was simply ”hit the wall”. My conclusion was annoyingly simple, but it made sense, and that was enough for me. Our famous Factor X – the altitude of the race – had quite probably given us nausea, as evidenced by Jakob’s vomiting early on in the race and myself narrowly avoiding to hurl in our rental car on our way home after abandoning, which in turn had prevented me from consuming the calories I had needed to eat during the race. Adding up all the bars and gels I had eaten revealed that I had been short on energy. Woefully short, even with the extra calories in the guise of drinks, cookies, nuts, nutella, salty chips and hot noodle soup I had found in the aid stations. Jakob, who is always hungry during these races, has a different type of hunger signal in his brain to trigger an eating response. Mine is lacking. Now that I had my answer, I could relax a bit. Jakob’s girlfriend Marija arrived by train in the afternoon and we all had a lovely evening at our local pizzeria, enjoying the quarter finals of the FIFA World Cup and celebrating dad’s monumental performance the previous day. Congratulations, dad!

A view of Cinque Torri from our apartment window, a point Jakob and I sadly never reached.

A view of Cinque Torri from our apartment window, a point Jakob and I sadly never reached.

The athletes and our official photographer Tad with Marija's handpainted sign.

The athletes and our official photographer Tad with Marija’s handpainted sign.

 

23.30, Saturday 19 July

Torshov, Oslo

 

Today, three weeks have passed since The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail and the more days that have passed, the more disappointed I have been that I was forced to abandon the race. Not only because of the race itself, but for the lost three qualifying points for UTMB. I had it in me to finish, but due to two different reasons, I hadn’t. The first one, that I should have had under control, was nutrition. The second, unfortunately less under my direct control, was the altitude. Ideally, we should have arrived a week earlier to acclimatize to the climate, altitude and surroundings of the race. Sadly, I have other duties at home that take first priority, and sometimes you can’t prepare for every single eventuality since you don’t always have the control you need. If that’s the case, all you can do is train, prepare to 99,9% and then rely on your body and mind to carry you through.

 

My thirst for revenge and another shot at proving to myself that I can, indeed, win three more qualifying points for next year’s UTMB, have led me to search for another ultra this year. So keep your fingers crossed!

 

On another note, you awesome people have helped us raise $ 2 325 (15 000 SEK) for our charity Reece’s Rainbow!!! As always, your generosity has touched us deeply and rest assured that your money will come to very good use in helping a child with Down’s syndrome to find his or her new family. If you haven’t donated yet, please lend a helping hand right here:

 

http://reecesrainbow.org/76374/race-sponsorship!

 

Thanks for reading and God bless!

 

Jakob, Jakob and Jozef

 

The three musketeers :D

The three musketeers :D

A Few Photos From The Dolomites

We’re working on a race report from Cortina, but meanwhile, here are a few photos and an awesome video from our fantastic weekend last week. Also, in order to illustrate my state of mind the day after the race, please let me leave you with a quote from one of our favourite athletes.

 

“Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated

can reach down to the bottom of his soul

and come up with the extra ounce of power

it takes to win when the match is even.”

Muhammad Ali

Dad picking up his race number at the expo.

Dad picking up his race number at the expo.

Cameras, cameras, always the cameras...

Cameras, cameras, always the cameras…

Fifteen minutes to go until the gun goes off.

Fifteen minutes to go until the gun goes off.

Dad at the start of his race, the Cortina Trail.

Dad at the start of his race, the Cortina Trail.

Taking a sip of water from the spring.

Taking a sip of water from the spring.

Checkpoint 4, Cimabanche, at 66 km.

Checkpoint 4, Cimabanche, at 66 km.

And We’re Off!!!

Dad has been running for four hours, Jakob and I have been at it for thirteen hours. Right now, we’re running through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the Alps. The forecast for the day is overcast with a bit of rain and around 10-12°C. As long as it doesn’t pour down torrents of rain, it’s close to ideal conditions. We’ve hooked up our Facebook-accounts to a live GPS-update which should give you guys a ping every time we pass a checkpoint. If you want to follow us more closely, hook up to the official results site, choose either The North Face LUT for me and Jakob, or Cortina Trail for dad, and then type in our names. If you haven’t donated to our charity Reece’s Rainbow yet, please do! You have helped us raise $2,115 so far. Help us reach $2,500!!! God bless and keep your fingers crossed!

Three Days Left

Actually, it’s three days and 2 hours as the race starts at 23.00 on Friday evening. On Thursday morning, the three of us will meet up in Munich, Germany, where we’ll rent a car for the final 320 km trip to Cortina d’Ampezzo. We just wanted to let all of you know that so far, you amazing people have donated $ 2 085 to Reece’s Rainbow!!! Will you help us reach $ 3 000 on race day? Also, I have signed up for Facebook to connect with my race GPS, meaning that all of you will have the chance to follow Jakob and me as we pass the checkpoints. Dad, bless him, doesn’t have a Facebook account, but we’ll try to keep you updated of all of our progress nonetheless.

 

We Love Skiing Slopes

Two weeks and counting. 14 days to get every single race detail just right. Friday 27th June at 23.00, Jakob and I will start Lavaredo Ultra Trail from Corso Italia in Cortina d’Ampezzo and head for the first peak Son Forca at around 2 100 metres. A few hours later, at 09.00 on Saturday morning, dad will follow suit, heading for the same peak in the ultrarace Cortina Trail. With only a few days left, the training has settled into a calmer rhythm, and the many kilometres and extreme climbing sessions are over. For now. It’s only a matter of keeping our legs and feet fresh. I still feel some pain in my heel from time to time, especially when I push it during tempo increases at our interval sessions with Urban Tribes. But I’m not worried. It’ll hold up just fine, I’m sure.

The last month has progressed pretty well with regards to training, especially considering the fact that I was injured for two weeks a mere month ago. My heel didn’t take kindly to long runs on asphalt, and – curiously – liked trail runs even less. I was at a loss and had some trouble planning my training sessions. Running on my old friend the treadmill has, a bit surprisingly, worked just fine. It’s been the only “ground” I have been able to run on where my heel hasn’t given me any trouble whatsoever. I have been dreaming about green and lovely forest trails all winter, longing for the days when I’d be able to leave the air conditioned gym behind, but alas. But at least the cloud had another silver lining, apart from helping me train up my heel again: I’ve been listening to Antony Beevor’s The Second World War and am finally almost finished. The book itself is a brick and the audio book, read by the brilliant Sean Barrett, is a whopping 39 hours and 19 minutes long. That’s a lot of running.

Them audio books are mighty fine for treadmill runnin'

Them audio books are mighty fine for treadmill runnin’

Last week during my top training period I managed to run 118 km and 2 300 vertical metres in seven days, stepping it down to around 70 km and 1 800 vertical metres for this week. I’ve been inspired by Jakob who’s working from Malta at the moment, and who’s told me about this stretch of road that climbs 200 metres in only 2 kilometres, and where he’s spent his long runs during the last month. The best place to do proper hill training here in Oslo is the skiing slope Wyllerløype in Sørkedalen, the venue for Oslos Bratteste in September. Since I wasn’t sure that my heel would survive four and five hours of planned long runs last week and this week, respectively, I decided to spend those long runs climbing the slope up and (trying to) run down as many times I could manage. The four-hour session started out with a less than inviting torrent of rain pounding the windshield of my car while driving into Sørkedalen. And then it got worse. It rained non-stop the entire evening and I was soaked even before I made it halfway for the first climb. Good training. You can never know how the weather will be in the Alps, and it could rain during the race as well. Even snow, in fact.

Heading out to Wyllerløype. Inspiring.

Heading out to Wyllerløype. Inspiring.

Logging 1 750 vertical metres and 22 km during 4 hours, I managed to climb the slope four times in those slippery conditions. This week, I had hoped to climb it five times in as many hours, but the conditions couldn’t have been more different with 25°C and a merciless sun trying to boil me alive. This time, I was soaked with sweat and had emptied half of my Camelpak before I even got to the top for the first time. Clearly, I would have to fill it up with more water after climb number two, and I hadn’t brought any extra water. Fortunately, I convinced the personnel at the ski/bike rental a few hundred metres from the top of the slope to fill her up. And then I promptly managed to overdose my salt tablets, forgetting for a moment that I was in Norway and not in the Sahara (happens all the time). Instead of the single tablet every one to two hours, I popped two at the same time. Not even three minutes later, I started salivating and suddenly felt nauseous, finally managing to throw up on the side of the trail. Taking a while to compose myself, I simply sat by one of the tall sprayhoses for artificial snow and enjoyed the view of the setting sun over the valley. Simply marvellous.

OK, this wasn't the view of the sunny day, but it's what it looked like during the foggy rainy evening the week before.

OK, this wasn’t the view of the sunny day, but it’s what it looked like during the foggy rainy evening the week before.

As all of you know, we are raising money for Reece’s Rainbow during this race, and you lovely, generous people have already donated $ 1 105! Let all of your friends and families know and encourage them to visit our charity site to donate! My cousin Maria, her husband Nic and their two beautiful daughters managed to raise € 350 for their own charity during a market day in their village of Leynes, France, last week, so take up the gauntlet and help us reach $ 2 000 before race day!!!

A little teaser from the race...

A little teaser from the race…

The Eighteen, The Swedish Mile And A Little Loop

I was back in lovely Göteborg again last weekend, surprising dad with a round of golf at Torreby and an overnight stay at the spa Vann together with mom and Martin. For all of you people out there who don’t consider golf to be a proper sport, I invite anyone to join us as a caddy during our next round, carrying our golf bags for the 10 km or so that we walk during a round. Not only do you need strength carrying your bag and swinging the clubs, but stamina is also big part of the equation. If you’re not reasonably fit, you’ll start hitting your balls all over the place after the 12th hole. Depending on the people you’re playing with and how fast or slow the group in front of you is playing, a game can typically take around four to four-and-a-half hours. What I like most about golf, though, is walking around through meticulously and often beautifully designed landscapes, enjoying the view while chatting with my friends, all the while blissfully disconnected from everything instagram, facebook and mail accounts. And the more I play, the more I realize that golf is very much a tactical game. All in all it provides a nice counterpoint to my running.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early and a few minutes past seven, I climbed out of my car at Skatås, shrugged into my backpack, started my Suunto watch and set off down the gravel road. It was the first time I was attempting to run here without the company of Jakob, and I was initially a bit worried how I would find the right trail since the last time we were here, we started out with our head lamps illuminating pitch black woods during a chilly and early December morning. Skatås has a 2,5 km track, a 5 km track, a 10 km track (called Milen, since a Swedish mile is 10 km) and an 18 km trail, each of which is marked by a differently coloured diamond painted on the tree trunks lining that particular track or trail. As you can see in the photo, the 10 km is marked by green diamonds whereas the 18 km is marked with black-and-white diamonds. The plan for today was running 30 km, combining the 18 with the Mile and then some. I hadn’t run that far since I injured my heel, and I had definitely not run that far on trails and gravel roads for quite a while, apart from my disastrous 20 km run in Nordmarka by Sognsvann a couple of weeks ago. But my heel had felt pretty good and with exactly four weeks left until our date with the Dolomites, I had to give it an honest try. Last week marked the start of the three toughest weeks in our training programme topping out with a four hour run this week and a five hour run next week.

The coloured diamonds signify different distances.

The coloured diamonds signify different distances.

The Salomon shoes I ordered from wiggle have unfortunately not been very good for my heel, and I had been forced to return to my old, trusted INOV8’s of Sahara fame, and I was amazed at how at home my feet felt in them. They really have an unparalleled grip and the traction is superb. All the tracks at Skatås start out together, with the 2,5 km veering off back towards the start pretty quickly. The 18 km in fact – I was a bit surprised to finally realize – runs along the Mile track for a bit more than 5 km, then finally turns into a proper trail where the path disappears in among the birches and then goes on for about 8 km before it rejoins the Mile gravel track at the exact same spot it left off, finishing up with the final 5 km of the Mile. Even though the 8 km of trails are beautiful and the Mile is pretty challenging with loads of up-and-down-hill-running, it’s feels a bit sloppy and lazy having them run together for so long. Couldn’t the designers have fitted in a bit more trails for the 18 km? It’s not as if there’s a shortage of forest around the area.

Following the black-and-white rabbit.

Following the black-and-white rabbit.

In order to imitate the conditions during which we would be running in the Alps, i.e. walking during impressive climbs and trying to run during flats and descents, I tried an approach of pausing every 5 km for water and a chocolate bar and walking up the steepest hills, which worked out pretty well. My heel didn’t give me any trouble whatsoever, but after about 15 km I started to feel an ache in my right hip. I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong, but unfortunately couldn’t understand why it was starting to hurt. I tried to rectify my gait, but to no avail. And when these troubles start, it’s kind of hard for them to disappear. I don’t know if I was running in a crooked way, if I was unaccustomed to the terrain, the weight of the backpack or simply not having run in my INOV8’s for a long time. The weather was perfect with a light breeze, overcast skies and a temperature of about 15 degrees. I was even cooled down by some drops of rain for twenty minutes. I love running in the rain. All in all it was a pretty tough run and I didn’t run as quickly as I had hoped, also in some small part due to two unplanned toiletbreaks, but as I was finishing up a final little loop in order to reach 30 km, I felt pretty good. My hip hurt a bit and I was sore and tired, but very happy that I had managed the distance without my heel troubles flaring up all over again. Martin helped me with my aching hip later in the afternoon and yesterday evening it felt as good as new. So keep your fingers crossed.

On the theme of trynig to accumulate as many vertical metres as possible before our race, I’ve decided to turn my long runs into long climbs. This week’s planned 40 km and next week’s planned 50 km will be turned into slope training sessions with four and five hours respectively being spent in the slalom slope of Wyllerløypa (the place of the famous race Oslo’s Bratteste), trying to walk briskly up and down the slope once an hour. Hopefully, it will lead to 1600 and 2000 vertical metres for the two sessions. If anybody would like to join me for part of or the whole of this week’s climb, I’m planning it for Thursday after work.

A pretty piece of trail in Skatås.

A pretty piece of trail in Skatås.

Today it’s only 25 days left to the North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail and Cortina Trail in Italy. If you haven’t visited our charity site at Reece’s Rainbow yet, please do and donate as much as you can spare. And for all of you fantastic people who have already given $ 1.105 to our charity: a huge thank you and God bless!

My Brother’s First Race

Earlier during the week, my brother called me to ask if it would be OK if he came for a visit for the weekend, since he wouldn’t have a chance for quite some time during the next couple of months.

“Absolutely,”, I replied,”and as long as you’re coming, you might as well run a short race with me on Saturday.”

“Well, we don’t really need…”

“Think about it, it’ll be your first ever race with a starting number!”

“Yes, but…”

“Awesome! I’ll sign you up!”

Which, unbeknownst to me, sent him into a mild hysteria for the rest of the week. Even though the gym and tennis court have always been his preferred haunts for his daily dose of training, he’s picked up running during the last year. We’ve seldom found the time to run together, but this time I thought it’d be awesome to try one of the famous Norwegian uphill races together. Grefsenkollen Opp, as it’s called, is short alright; only 4,5 km. But what it lacks in horizontal length it more than makes up for in vertical height climbing 270 metres from start to finish. I kind of neglected to mention this to my little brother. Didn’t want to upset him unnecessarily, you understand.

"I hope this isn't our seeding number..."

“I hope this isn’t our seeding number…”

Oslo is surrounded by several hills and even though I’ve run up a few of them, I had only been to the top of Grefsenkollen once. The weather forecast had promised a coolish 19 degrees with overcast skies and even the possibility of a light drizzle, which would be close to perfect running conditions. When Martin and I arrived at the start by the green football fields by Sinsenkrysset, it was closer to 25 degrees with a blazing sun and not a hint of wind. I.e. not very perfect running conditions. We picked up our racing numbers and noted that we both suffered from nervous bladders, a well-known phenomenon for me before races but not so much for Martin, as this was his first one. I always have to pee at least seven times the last hour before a race, making it hard to maintain a proper hydration. Not that much of a problem in a short race, but still. We did a few warm up-laps around the football pitches as Martin confessed that he’d had a bit of trouble sleeping the night before, due to nervousness. When he’d found out that it was in fact an uphill race, he’d threatened to throttle me and call the whole thing off. Luckily, thinking it over had convinced him of how cool it would be to run his first race together with me.

Milling about at the start, we tried to figure out which runners were likely candidates to win the race, but it was easier said than done as everybody looked extraordinarily fit. The list at the start numbered 357 participants, probably with a strong bias towards seasoned uphill runners. When the gun went off, the entire field of athletes surged forward like a furious tsunami and we were a bit taken aback by how fast the top runners set off. The winner time, in fact turned out to be 17.04, which is incredibly fast. Since both my brother and I had woken up with a touch of the flu with sore throats, troublesome stomachs, fever running into the high forties, delirium and broken legs, as it were, we had pretty modest aspirations for the day. Joking aside, I had had an awful long run in the Nordmarka hills two days before and was still feeling stiff all over, and Martin has been suffering from hip troubles for the last month, so the goal was to finish the race running nonstop, preferably with a smile on our faces.

1,5 km down, 3 to go. All smiles!

1,5 km down, 3 to go. All smiles!

The steepest part behind us.

The steepest part behind us.

We had decided to run together, firstly because it’s more fun that way, secondly in order to snap photos and push each other up the hill. We ran left and right up a few streets lined by villas and even had a 50 metre dash downhill before a sharp right turn onto Kjelsåsveien. We passed a man in a fatsuit, cheered on by his friends who were saving his bachelor party for posterity by filming it, and were aiming for a slow but steady pace up the hill. The sunny day was lovely and the higher we climbed, the more could enjoy the beautiful view to our left, gazing northwest over Maridalsvannet. The onlookers could have done with a field trip to New York Marathon to learn proper cheering skills, but at least the kids waved at us happily. We spent most of the race chasing a slim girl wearing a white wedding dress (no, really) holding a very good pace up the hill in her matching green and purple sneakers. We never actually caught her, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. She was simply too fast for us today. With 500 metres to go, my brother asked me to push him on and overenthustiastic as I was I started pelting him with loud shouts, only for him to ask me to bring the cheering down a notch. I wonder if my pace group runners in Urban Tribes find my shouts as irritating as well. Probably, but I’m the coach. So there.

High chest, eyes up, hip pushing forward. Good technique. He has a good coach.

High chest, eyes up, hip pushing forward. Good technique. He has a good coach, that guy.

We sprinted across the finish line together, having run faster than we had hoped and not even coming in last as we had feared. Immensely proud with my little brother taking on a classic Norwegian uphill challenge as his first ever race! Huge congratulations! He even surprised me later that afternoon, saying that he was already thinking of finding a race to run with his missus later in the summer. Awesome news! We’ll make a marathoner out of you yet.

All smiles!

All smiles!

Cool finisher shirts.

Cool finisher shirt.

View of Maridalsvannet in the distance.

View of Maridalsvannet in the distance.

 

Nope, Still Hurting

Last weekend Oslo played venue yet again for the enormously entertaining Holmenkollstafetten, the world’s largest relay race. The competition had broken all previous records and featured almost 45 000 runners running for 3 000 teams. Once again, I had been invited to run for Nyfødtintensiv (the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) at Ullevål. Last year I had had a pretty easy leg, but this year I was upgraded to the longest leg of all running from Holmen Bru down to Frognerparken via 2 850 m of asphalt. As you know, my heel has been aching from plantar fasciitis for the last several weeks, and I’ve had a self-imposed running sabbatical of two and a half weeks. Leg 10 of Holmenkollstafetten was to be my test run to see if it would hold.

As I stood among the throngs of people, craning my neck trying to see Tor Einar with the baton, I felt an almost palpable level of excitement. I always get extremely nervous when wearing a number pinned to my chest, regardless of competition. This was one of the shortest ones I had run, but exactly because of that, you want to run as fast as you possibly can. I’m not used to these infra-races, if you will, as opposed to ultra-races. Trying to get as close to your lactate threshold and then holding your pace for as long as you can is a challenge. Luckily, that’s exactly what I’ve been training for with our interval classes with Urban Tribes at SATS. I adjusted my green surgical cap and looked up the road towards Gressbanen again, and there he was, sprinting towards me like shot from a cannon. We’d opted for the caps in order to be easily recognizable during the change-overs, and it worked pretty well.

Why hasn't anyone else thought of this? Classy AND recognizable.

Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this? Classy AND recognizable.

I started running with my hand outstretched behind my back before he reached me and felt the cool baton being placed in my hand accompanied by a panty “Come on!” by Tor Einar and off I sprinted. The leg was downhill for the first 1 000 m before making a sharp right turn along the ringroad, ducking in under it by the fire station and then running back on the other side of the highway slightly uphill to Monolittveien before turning south again for the last 1,2 km. I had met a couple of fellow Urban Tribes-coaches, Andreas and Margrethe, on my way to my starting line, and inquired about the specifics of the leg, as Andreas had just finished it with an impressive time of just under ten minutes. I got a bit carried away running downhill but quickly regained my composure as I realized I had almost 2 km left. Annoyed at all the runners passing me, despite my own good pace, I realized that this was the leg most of the teams had saved their best runners for as it was the longest. Emerging from the tunnel under the highway, I managed to squeeze past my first opponent in the uphill (I LOVE running past people uphill!) and whizzed past another three or so before turning right for the final part. My legs were burning in a way they normally never do during a marathon or an ultra. Not from fatigue or exhaustion but from the beginnings of lactic acid, a HUGE no-no in long distance running. If you start accumulating lactate in your muscles during an ultra, you’re done for. But in a shorter race, it’s supposed to be OK. I was panting heavily and my heart was quite possibly beating a rhythm pretty close to my maximum pulse when I finally glimpsed the towering monolith at the centre of Frognerparken where Eivor would be waiting to relieve me from the baton. A cruel final uphill prevented me from increasing my pace, but at least I passed a couple of runners (ha-HA!) before I glimpsed a green cap and handed over the baton to an already running Eivor. Panting and with burning legs, but happy with my achievement (clocking in at 10:50 when I was hoping to run sub-12), I started jogging back to my car.

Part of the 15-man/woman strong relay team of NICU Ullevål.

Part of the 15-man/woman strong relay team of NICU Ullevål.

Encouraged by my result at the relay, I was hopefully optimistic yesterday when I ran with a careful, measured pace towards SATS Vinderen for my first Run Tough-class for three weeks. I ran through a light drizzle and across pavement moist by the rain, testing my heel carefully. Everything felt as it should and when I met up with my runners at the gym, they asked me how my foot was doing since they had heard I was out with an injury. Lovely people. New running drills and a brand new interval set was the itinerary for the evening. Our new head coach Tim had a brief, but inspiring introduction, and then divided us up. I led my pace group (4.10-4.20) through four 100 m sprints before we started the intervals proper; 5 sets of 1 000 m with decreasing rest between from 75 seconds down to 30 short seconds before the last set. I felt strong and I had an awesome pace group running with me, including a very interested fellow whom the pace didn’t seem to bother at all. He went on and on about physiology and asking me questions about lactate thresholds throughout every single interval and rest, leaving me pretty winded when we got to the last two intervals. I must learn to talk less. I still held the pace for the group, but it was – ahem – closer to 4.20 than 4.10, apart from the last interval when everybody started racing like crazy pushing us down towards 3.50. AWESOME and talented runners! High-fiving all of them, there were a lot of pats on backs before we gathered at the meeting point with coaches Stefan, Tim, Axel and Charlotte. Yep, coach Stefan of Nordmarkstraver’n fame, for the regular readers of the blog. Jogging back up towards Vinderen with my own little tribe, I started feeling the familiar aching in my heel and it got stronger by the minute. I started to despair a bit but was thankfully distracted by chatting with my runners. Reaching the SATS centre the heel was actually throbbing and I was now getting a bit worried. Worried enough, in fact, not to run all the way home but to catch a bus instead.

Head coach Tim starting things up in a beautifully green Frognerparken.

Head coach Tim starting things up in a beautifully green Frognerparken.

Coach Stefan making sure I'm paying attention :D

Coach Stefan making sure I’m paying attention :D

This morning, the heel feels a bit sore, but not at all as bad as it did a few weeks ago. Since my calves and thighs were also hurting yesterday after the intervals, I have decided to put it down to muscle stiffness and anxiety. Resting day today (again…) and then I’ll try coaching Run Speedplay tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed, guys!

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