Saturday, 17 May 2014

Future goal

Saturday, May 17, 2014
I have finally recovered completely from Hammer Trail and started training again, with my target firmly set on Ultra Vasan in August.

Training plan
The training plan is laid out and I know what I need to do, now I just need to execute it. 
Compared to my training in the last half year my major change will be the terrain where I will try and mix in a long run in technical difficult terrain at least once a month. 
My idea is to go to either Møn, Hvalsø MTB trail or Sweden. Hopefully I will be able to mix it up a bit so I can get to see some lovely new parts of the area of the world I live in, while getting a better training for the technical sections. And hopefully I will be able to get a few my running buddies to join on these trips. 
The biggest challenge here will be to get it planned so it have a minimum impact on the time available with my family, especially considering the time I am already spending traveling for work.

Energy strategy
I will try out a slightly different energy tactic based on my partly successful "15 minute" strategy, which essentially consisted of a piece of energy every 15 minutes, but in a cycle which was shot block, energy gel, shot block, mini-snickers.
The thing I want to change is adding different gel flavors and alternatives to the snickers. For example I want to try tomato flavored gel, the win force energy bars as well as a few new cliff bars. I am even considering trying out making my own gels as I spoke to a guy at Hammer Trail who said it was dead easy... But let's see.
And most importantly I need to find a better source for electrolytes.

2015 goal
As mentioned last time, my 2015 goal was starting to take shape and I have now taken a giant leap of faith and signed up for the Salomon Hammer Trail 100 Miles in 2015. 
My original plan was to sign up to push myself and to make it difficult for me to change my mind later, but wait with "announcing" it until I had completed Ultra Vasan in August. However the organizers of the race put it on their Facebook wall as I was the first male who signed up for the distance in 2015, which makes it pretty difficult to fly under the radar.
So when they asked if I wanted to participate in a small group of participants who would be writing small pieces about their preparations for the 2015 race it was difficult to say no.
This of course just provides even further motivation as it makes it even harder to back out.

So now my training plan for the coming months needs to be expanded to go all the way up to May 2015. Continue reading →

Monday, 12 May 2014

Hammer Trail - the mental part

Monday, May 12, 2014
This post is partly about the Hammer Trail race - but more so about the mental aspects about running an ultra when you do not feel like it.

What happens when you try to do too much racing in one season?
Of course the risk of injury goes up (I knew that already) but more importantly I found out that I run into a mental injury, in terms of loss of motivation which affects my physical performance.

This became apparent in my last race of the spring season, Hammer Trail 50K.
The race is a loop race consisting of a 25k loop with a total elevation gain of roughly 900 meters, meaning a total of 1800 height meters for the 50k race. To complete a race like this you of course need a lot of physical training but almost equally important you need to be mentally ready for race day.
In the two weeks leading up to this race I kept feeling uncertain whether or not I was ready for the race or whether I should take a bit more time to recover.
I kept feeling tired and small niggles in my body, such as a slight pain in my ankle, Achilles, knee or something else. On top of that my allergy was really annoying as my nose kept running and I could feel my breathing was affected. Especially during the evenings and mornings.
What I did not understand was that it was actually my body trying to tell my what my subconscious wanted to say: that I did not feel like racing anymore for the coming months.

I completely overheard all the warnings and made it to the start of the race.
I tried to built up some motivation but it was a shallow feeling of joy I felt as I toed the start line.

The build up
Knowing that you have to run for more than 6 hours straight when you really do not want feel like running even 10k takes some convincing. However I was determined to complete the race as I had signed up for it and I do not like to quit unless there is a good reason for it.
A lot of people had dropped out of the 100 and 50 mile races during the night, which only further decreased my motivation for the race as it was a sign that the new route was tougher than last year.
When I came to collect my race number from Kim (one of the organizers) I told him I felt as it was Christmas Eve and I could hardly wait to get the race underway. That was my first lie of the day.
Before the start I met up with a few of my trail buddies, which helped increase my mood dramatically. Speaking to them was really nice however I  still had a feeling that something would go terribly wrong during this race and that I was not supposed to be here. Which is why I told them the second lie of the day: that I was really looking forward to get the race started. However saying you do not feel like a race or that you feel terrible will only make you feel even worse. So I kept my poker face straight and lined up for the start.

The start
The race started and even though I did not feel like racing I had positioned myself rather close to the start-line, to ensure I would avoid too much queuing and troubles with overtaking people on the single-track. Once again I had been able to position myself perfectly as there was only minor shifts in the positions around me during the first few k.

However soon after the start I started feeling way to warm and already after 1.5k I had to stop and change from my race jacket to a race vest - annoying mistake and which just further affected my mood.
At the same time my stomach was starting to feel strange, as if it was kind of bloated . I think it was due to a bit too much food on the evening before the race, however I am not sure.
It was really uncomfortable to run on single track trail paths in a rocky environment with a body and mind that just did not feel like racing.

Picture from around 4k after the start. Showing the definition of a poker player, as even though I felt terrible I kept smiling.

After 6k I passed the Hammerhavn area and considered if I should simply drop out and call it a day, however the thought of having wasted so much time preparing for the race over the last couple of days refrained me from actually stopping. I ran past Mikkel who had moved from the start area to here to cheer us on. I made a big show out of showing how great I felt, even though on the inside my mind was screaming at my to simply stop running. The third lie of the day.
Instead I kept on pushing forward, hoping my mood would improve and I would get into a good rythm. I also slowed my pace slightly to try and give my stomach some time to get in order.

It continued like this for the following 10k and it was not until after 16k when I reached Jons kappel that my body felt really warm and ready for racing. My mind was still not fully convinced I was doing the right thing
so I had to keep pushing forward and focus on the positive scenery.

First round done - quit or not?
When I approached the start area I kept contemplating if I should quit or continue - though deep down I knew I would not be able to quit I could not help myself from toying with the thought of just pulling out and go back home to my family.
But when I reached the goal area my running buddies was there cheering me on saying that I looked great and in perfect condition. I saw one of our other buddies who looked like he too was having a real tough day out there. I simply asked him if he agreed it was a tough day at the office - he looked at me with a face filed with salt flakes from sweat and he said "oh yeah". The first truth of the day.
As I did not feel like I was having an injury or anything like that I quickly refilled my water bottles, grabbed some chips and made my way out on the track again. It really made a huge difference that Sonny and Mikkel was there to cheer for me and provide some motivation-
On my way out for the second round. Notice the smile, this time it was more genuine.

The race is on
Finally I felt like racing and I felt like pushing myself a bit, so I kept a good pace and was in a great mood.
I was able to enjoy the scenery and felt like it was a great race and that I would end up with a really great time. Finally the heavy clouds had left my mind and I "only" had to complete the second round and then I would be done.
This positive state of mind continued for the next 5k and they were by far the best 5k of the race, even though I was starting to feel tired my body still felt great. After a long downhill section this all changed.

Running downhill is extremely tough on your quads. I knew that before the race but I know that even more now.
After coming down from a long downhill section my quad muscles in my right leg started cramping. I could not help but feel really pissed of and annoyed with myself because I had not taken care during the decent and now I had to pay the price.
I was faced with a difficult decission: Continue the race and run the last 20k with a tense muscle that would continue to be on the border of cramp, or turn around and run the 5k back to the start area and call it a day. I decided to try and see if I could not loosen up the muscle by taking it a bit easier on the next few k.
I was able to keep a pretty steady pace for the next 5k even though I had to take extra care of my right leg as it kept threatening to go into a major cramp. However when I reached 35k and my left leg started cramping I was truly in a difficult position. I was faced with the choice of dropping out and trying to get a lift back or push on for the last 15k.
Trying to run with cramps is fun. Trying to smile while running with cramps is difficult.
The struggle
I decided to keep on pushing as I generally do not like quitting. I knew I would remember this race as my "stubborn" race, as it was only stubbornness and "stick to it" mentality that kept me going.
After going coming up from the stairs at "Jons Kappel" I met Santi who enthusiastically asked how I felt, I decided another lie was in order so I told him I felt great. The third lie of the day but I kept repeating it in an attempt to trick my body to believe it as well.

My legs were constantly on the border of cramping, and running down (yeah, you are right - I was walking) the granite quarry at Vang I constantly felt my legs being ready to go into cramps. It is difficult to explain how annoying it was having to walk down that section and allow multiple runners overtake me.
When I hit the flat section at Vang harbour I tried to run for a longer period of time, but my legs started cramping after about 500 meters. I had to stop and do my best to stretch my quads without my calf muscles going into cramps... At that point I saw a few spectators further up at the harbour area which I had seen at a few different sections of the course as well. So I knew they had a car and I suspected they would drive on towards the finish area shortly. In short, they were my "get out of jail" card. But I simply could not throw in the towel, even though my legs were in a mess and I knew it would probably take me 2 hours more before I was done. So as I passed them and they got into their car I did my very best not to focus on the possibility of simply getting back to the finish area within 5 minutes. So instead I kept moving forward, one small step at a time with two legs just waiting to go into full-blown cramps.

The cow path & final stretch
One particular section of the course is interesting as it is very narrow earth trail with a heavy incline. For some strange reason I feel very much at home on this particular stretch. Maybe it has to do with my friend Rene really just gave full throttle at this section back in October when we here on the trail camp. I was running behind him at the time so I simply followed him... as they say - the best way to be better at something is to learn from someone who is better than yourself, and Rene is absolutely BRILLIANT at running downhill sections. Anyway, when I approached it this time we had to up instead, but I still felt very confident and comfortable on the trail, so I was able to overtake a few people on my way up. But as soon as we made it to the top they quickly regained their positions, as my legs where still in a mess and I had to take it easy to avoid getting stuck on a trail with two legs that refused to take me any further.
It continued like this for the next hour or so, until around 45k where Santi overtook me. He showed great spirits and told me his legs where also terrible, but he simply had to get this over with as soon as possible. That kind of gave me a second wind, so even though we were now back in the most technical section of the course I started putting in longer run sections and actually kept a pretty good pace (all things considered).

Finally I made it over the last ascent and carefully found my way of that last decent as well. I could hear the buzz of the finish area and the people clapping. As I got round the last corner and could see the finish line I actually felt like sprinting, but there was no one to catch so I (wisely) decided to simply keep a steady pace and get over the line.
Across the line - the relieve on my face is real.
Once over the line Kim and Lene (two of the organizers) were ready with congratulations and a nice finisher medal. My trail buddies was also standing ready to congratulate me, already with beer in hands. I finished in 7 hours and 15 minutes which was around 45 minutes longer than I had hoped for, however had my legs not played tricks on me I actually think the 6h30m time would have been achievable. And still, 7:15 put me in the top third part of the field so I do not feel too disappointed considering the struggles I went through.
Trying to look as if I am super relaxed even though I feel like vomiting. (Santi on the left, already with beer in hand).

After finishing I felt as if I could have pushed my legs just a bit further, however at the same time it took me about 15 minutes to really get my body under control. After running for such a long time you have to force yourself to get something to eat and drink as you do not feel like it, but your recovery will just be so much better.
I called my wife and told her I was okay, but I could hear she sounded a bit concerned, most likely due to the fact I was feeling terrible and had not really enjoyed the race but had to fight my way through it. And I was done lying, so when she asked how I felt I had to answer I felt terrible. The thought of having to drive a car for one hour to get home was not something that really improved my mood.
However when I called her after another 45 mins or so I was in much better mood after some food and relaxation at the finish area. The organizers have a big BBQ for all participants and supports which really is a great way to end such a race!

Next year?
When I got back to my wife my immediate reaction was "never again", however after a shower it changed to "I have to do it again next year to proof I can do better if it's my focus race". After one nights sleep it had changed to "50 miles distance sounds tempting". And after yet another night it was changed to "100 miles is only 4 more laps than I already did"!
For now my focus is on Ultra Vasan but the goal of next year is starting to take shape. I can strongly recommend the Hammer Trail events (both Winter and Summer). Tejn IF is doing an excellent job hosting these races and Kim, Lene and Jakob are the perfect ambassadors for the club and the trail running sport community!

A few key learning points for myself: electrolytes, train for the terrain and do not race unless you are "hungry" for it. And being stubborn is not always a bad thing. Continue reading →

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014
I was lucky to be offered a free entry to the local "Vikingesporet", and who can say no to a local half marathon on your "home trails"??

The route was following the fjord out to the forest and then the paths in the forest as well as the MTB single track in the forest, so I looked forward to a race on trails well known to me.
In the week leading up to this race I was starting to feel tired and my legs were heavy, most likely due to the "fyr til fyr" race as well as my minor injury a few weeks back. So I was starting to doubt if I would be able to complete Hammer Trail the week after and therefore I decided to try and gun it at this race.

I kept a great pace after the start as I wanted to avoid problems with overtaking people once we left the harbour area. It proofed to be a good tactic as everything was pretty quiet around me but after the race I heard people doing minor complaints about how difficult it was to overtake people in the beginning. Most likely these people are not used to running single track and therefore it came as a surprise to them that they could not simply run their own pace without thinking a bit ahead.
In general it was clear to see this was more a city trail than the other races I had completed, meaning the usual "camaraderie" on the trial was missing and people seemed a lot more self focused than usual. However it was still a great race.

I kept my pace and heart rate high throughout the race, my average heart rate was 174 which is the highest I have tried to complete a half marathon in. The time was "only" 1h 52m however given the layout of the course it is actually a really great time. I was able to try out a new breathing method that I my brother had mentioned: instead of trying to take deep breaths or get enough air, try to suck the breath down in your stomach. It really worked wonders for me and I felt as if I had a lot more kick in me, even though my heart rate was really high.

The tricky thing now is that my legs actually felt great so I may just have ruined my chances of a good race next week... Time will tell. Continue reading →

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Fyr til Fyr

Tuesday, April 08, 2014
It was finally time for the main goal for my 2014 season: "fyr til fyr" (lighthouse to lighthouse) race on Bornholm. A 60k trail race following the coast line halfway around the island. The race is divided into sections on sand (beach), single trail, rocky paths and also a few asphalt sections where the rocks make it impossible to follow the coastline.

I first heard of the race one year back (which was the first time it was organized) and I immediately signed up for this years edition without hesitation. Whenever I spoke to people about it they would look at me as if I was crazy, because who would want to run 60k on rocky trails... However it just seemed perfect to me so I just kept running and training.

Finally the race weekend arrived and I felt the usual race nerves gather in my body, but I could also feel my experience in racing was starting to pay off. I was excited but I was more at ease than usual, even though I would be entering unknown territory as I had never run longer than 4 hours and I was expecting this race to take between 7 and 8 hours.

The day before the race I tried to get plenty of water and get a solid lunch and a nice dinner consisting of tortilla wraps with chicken and salad. I finished the day with eating a cup of oatmeal just before going to bed.

On the actual race day the start was at 7 AM so I got up at 5 AM to quickly gulp down a bowl of oatmeal and some water before trying to get a bit more sleep. Of course I was too tense to sleep at that time but it was still nice to just lie and relax and visualize the race ahead of me. It felt strange that I was finally going to capitalize on my many hours of preparation over the last many months. However I still felt really good and confident that I was going to have a great race. My main goal was still just to finish and enjoy the experience.

As I could not sleep anymore I had my cup of coffee at around 5:30, and by this time my wife called me to wish me luck. She was at home with our 10 week old son so she was not able to be there with me unfortunately.

When I arrived at the start area at 6:30 I immediately noticed the great atmosphere which is so special to trail runs in comparison to "normal" asphalt races. The trail community is still a fairly small community and a lot of people know each other from other races and so on. I quickly found a few people to chat to and it was not long before I spotted the group I knew from the trail camp from last year and we slowly made it to the "start line". An interesting note about the race is it is from the southern lighthouse to the northern lighthouse, so the race actually starts with you touching the lighthouse and finishes when you touch the lighthouse at the other end of the island, a great symbolic way of highlighting that this is a race more focused on the experience than on the performance.

The Race
As the race got underway I tried to keep my pace steady and avoid going out too fast, however it is always difficult to keep your head cool in the start box.
The route started on the white sandy beaches of Dueodde and it was an amazing sight to see the sun hanging low over the water and the long row of runners on the beach. The sand was hard and compact making it easy to keep a good pace and get a great warm up before the more hilly and technically difficult sections of the course.

The route went straight past my fathers summerhouse, but it was still too early for any of them to be up and cheer. However I was enjoying the race so far running with a few of the people from the trail camp and having time for a nice chat. We left then each after around 8-10k and the rest would now be on a mix of trail and rocks with sections of asphalt thrown in the mix.

The route kept hugging the coastline and we saw some beautiful trails all the way up to the first aid station, which was in Svaneke after 20k. I had lost my trail buddies as they all had to stop for toilet breaks, perhaps due to the pizzas they had the evening before? Once  again a great reminder why you should try and limit the uncertainties before a race.

After a quick refuel of water I was on my way again, and I continued to keep a good steady pace and heart rate. My heart rate was around 3-5 beats higher than I had planned for though so there was a small portion of doubt as to whether I was being foolish and pushing it too hard in the beginning of the race, however everything felt perfect so I just kept at it.

I had tried the first 40k of the route before so I knew what was ahead of me when leaving the first aid station, however the section between 40-60k was unknown territory for me and it was supposed to be the most hilly section. So when leaving the second aid station in Gudhjem I was still feeling great. And even though I had run 40k I still felt more than ready for the challenge.

The Challenge
However, this would proof to be the most challenging section for me, partly because I started having pain in my right knee (due to not balancing the load evenly on the left and right leg when going up/down on the rocks) but mainly due to a drop in energy. I was running on my own with knee hurting and 15k to go. My heart rate dropped even though I was short of breath, which I was a bit alarmed by so I decided to use my emergency kit: A snickers.
I munched down the snickers while I kept walking and focused my thoughts on all the positive sides of the race: it was beautiful weather, the course was magnificent and I was having a great day so far. Further I "only" had 15k more to go.
It took about 5-10 minutes for the sugar from the snickers to hit the blood, and it had a great effect! I felt as if I had a second wind and I was able to keep a relatively good pace by combining walking/running sections in a ratio of about 100m walking. 300m running.

The kilometers was slowly but steadily ticking by and I felt as if I was back in control of my race. At around 50k I tried to calculate my finish time and I could see that almost regardless of how slow I went I should be able to go below 7 hours, which would be better than my expected finish time. So I kept alternating between running  and walking while keeping my mood up.

The Finish
When I (finally) reached Hammerknuden and I knew there would be less than 5k to go I felt a third wind get over me and I was able to push myself to doing longer running sections. And when I could see the great lighthouse I pushed for a nice finish. The last 250 meters or so was on a really steep hill side which forced me (and everyone else I suppose) to a slow crawl up the cliffs. I was almost at the top when I heard my family shouting my name cheering me the last bit. I was not sure if they would be there already as I was way ahead of my estimated time schedule so it felt really great hearing and seeing them. My father tried to run ahead of me on the last 100 meters towards the lighthouse, but he was unable to keep up with me. A pretty fun feeling considering I had just completed 60k and he actually goes out on a few weekly runs.

The Conclusion
After running 60k the rough cool surface of the lighthouse felt exhilarating as my hand touched the surface. I stumbled away from the lighthouse in an attempt to regain my breath after the tough climb and sprint to the finish and for a while my head just felt empty. I did not think of the accomplishment I had just done, I did not think of the pain in my chest or my stiff legs that was fighting to keep me upright. My mind just felt completely blank and at ease. For me, it is the purest and greatest feeling I have experienced in sports. After a few minutes as I regained my senses I knew this would not be my last ultra and that I had truly been bitten by the sport.

I ended up completing the race in 6h 28m which was way better than I had expected, and I believe I would have been able to shave off around 15 minutes if I had kept a better energy strategy. This was my key learning point from this race and something I will try and do better next time. Continue reading →

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

WC Half-marathon

Tuesday, April 01, 2014
This had been hyped as being the biggest and most festive race in Denmark, and it did not disappoint. 

It was one week before "fyr til fyr" so I had to keep my pace slow and just enjoy the crowd and the atmosphere.

The weather was perfect which brought out the smiles on the participants as well as a good bunch of spectators. Standing along the road cheering for 30.000 people is just a lot more fun when the sun is shining. I managed to keep my pace down and enjoyed the race a lot.

 Unfortunately I had made a mistake as the inner lining of my shorts had not been sitting properly which had created a rather large wound between my legs. So after I had cooled down from the race I was walking like John Wayne (or a guy who had s*** him self). Not the best preparations for a 60k trail run! 
Luckily I remembered the remedy I had found after my first marathon which had left me with a similar injury: zinc lotion. I applied it multiple times a day for the coming days and luckily it helped the wound to recover completely in an amazing time. Continue reading →

Friday, 14 March 2014

On the borderline

Friday, March 14, 2014
So my training for the 60k trail run is finally nearing a completion. Last week around this time I was out on the roads on my weekly long distance run which caused me to reflect a bit on the reason for doing this.

I spent my Friday evening running. 43 kilometres. Alone. In the dark.
Looking in through the windows of the houses I was passing I could see people enjoying a nice Friday evening with their family. It looked cosy and nice. But instead I was out in the dark evening on my own.
I had planned the route from home via Google Maps and transferred it to my Suunto Ambit 2 to ensure I would not get lost. I was planning on doing around 40k. I had taken into consideration it would be dark by the time I would hit the 25k mark, so the last 15k should be on a larger road to avoid dangerous situations. What I had not considered was the shoulder of the road was not that wide. The first 5k went okay as the sun had only just set. However after that it was pitch dark as there were no street-lights. Another thing I had not considered. Running alone in the dark without proper lights/safety west is not advisable. Doing so in a narrow shoulder on a highway where the cars pass you with 90-100 km/h is definitely not advisable. But I tried to keep my spirits high with the fact it was great training as the conditions were far from ideal.

However when I hit a section of about 3 km with a solid incline and rain started to hit my face it was difficult to stay positive. That I had run out of water did not help. And the fact that my watch was reading 35k and I knew I had more than 7k to go definitely did not help. I had been tempted to diverge a bit from the planned route earlier on, to explore a really nice trail. At the time it seemed like a great idea but by now I felt like never running further than 10k ever again...

I was starting to feel really low on energy and my legs were feeling heavy. So I saw no other option than to take out my phone and call my wife. I have never had to drop out of a race and have only had to cut a training run short once, which was due to an oncoming injury from over training. So when I called my wife to tell her I would be late for dinner it was surprisingly easy to decline the offer of getting picked up by her - even though my brain screamed at me, trying to get me to say yes to the offer.

I made it into a populated area, found a house with kind people who would fill my water bottle and I would now be running the last stretch in well known (and well lit) territory.

Getting home after a run like that is special. It leaves me exhausted for a while, but at the same time it leaves me with such great joy and feeling of accomplishment. The purpose of a long run like this is to prepare you for the mind games which will be the major challenge in a long race and I can honestly say it successfully did that. When you are out there alone in the dark with no-one but yourself and the next kilometre ahead of you everything just seems so simple. 

Now I only have about 3 weeks to go before the race, and I can hardly wait to face those inner demons again. I know... the border between being a runner and a crazy person is paper thin - and I may have passed it many kilometres ago. Continue reading →

Friday, 14 February 2014

Baby steps

Friday, February 14, 2014
So I am now officially a father. On 31 Jan I had a lovely and healthy son. People had asked me upfront what I would do with my training once the baby was born and my answer had always been it would not make any difference and I would simply keep my training plan.
Now it is 2 weeks ago and I have only been out on 2 runs, and none of them were longer than 10k. Oh what an illusion I was living in before when I had expected it would be no problem keeping to my training plan.

I am however determined to try and not let this interfere with the race plans I have for 2014 and beyond. After all, juggling a life with a wife, newborn baby, international career and a 50k+ weekly training schedule should be possible, right? At least I am going to give it a try. The good thing about training when you have a newborn in the house is it always feels like you have been out on a long run the day before no matter when you train, so every run feels like a back-to-back run. Sleep deprivation does that to you I guess... Anyway, better get out there on the trails. I have yet to hear about the runner that got better by writing about running instead of actually running. Continue reading →