The road to UTMB2016

So I guess everyone participating in an event like the UTMB, or any other 100-mile race, especially for the first time is going to write one of these stories about preparation, being ready blah blah blah … and I don’t blame them, it’s an outlet for some of the built-up stress and writing stuff down can be a good way to sort out one’s thoughts. Whether this makes interesting reading to anyone else, that’s up to you to decide, but at least you’ve made it this far ūüôā

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Early Season

The early season really started around christmas holidays. I took some time off running in December and picked things up a little bit during our trip to Andalucia. I did some nice runs / hikes, including a trip to summit Mulhacen (3,479m), the highest peak in the iberian peninsula along with some other peaks in the Sierra Nevada. It was pretty tough conditions with wind, cold and a good experience in dealing with higher mountains. Things went really well from here and training was good and I was pretty fit at the end of Feb. I did a road half marathon as a fitness test and managed a personal best by far of 1:17:03 and the day was very windy and I got injured in the race which also slowed me down. I guess in ideal conditions something starting with 1:15 could have been doable. This is also where my problems started as I hurt my achilles tendon, which took me our of running for at least 2 weeks.

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Big hills in the Alpujarra

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Winter training with the Andalucian snowman

Training Stats:

Dec – 39 hrs, 220km, 10,658m+

Jan – 35 hrs, 266km, 11,865m+

Feb – 20 hrs, 214km, 5,870,+

Training stats are all just running – this excludes 6-8 hrs / mo of Crossfit during the winter and 4-6h during the summer.

Spring Season

The spring season following the half marathon was a disaster. Once I has somewhat recovered from the achilles problem, I got the flu, which continued to sideline me for another two weeks. Whatever running I managed to do was mostly easy just and I was happy just to be able to get out of the door. At the end of March I did my first ultra of the year, with very little training after all the problems so I knew it wasn’t going to be spectacular. According to my secret “fitness test” routine, I estimated that I’m about 5% off peak fitness compared to last year. It might not sounds like much, but in an 90km ultra that’s a lot of minutes. I finished 7th (I think), with exactly the time I expected to do. I was quite happy with it anyway, considering the circumstances and it wasn’t one of the ‘key’ races for the year.

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Climbing hard at the UTMCD

Then, in the first run after recovering from the ultra I fell really bad and hurt my knee. My plan was to run a downhill section fast after I had done some warmup. I accelerated to a good speed and then pretty soon tripped on a rock at high speed and banged my knee hard. I had trouble walking back home and knew I had to keep moving right away while the knee was still warm. There was almost no running again for the next 2 weeks and it took a long time to be able to run downhill on trails, so I was restricted to some flat running and it really took a while to get training back on track.

The key focus race of the spring season was Transvulcania, in the Canary Islands. I did manage to get over all the problems and at least made a start with proper training again and felt quite positive about upcoming race. I was emotionally invested and really excited to be back on La Palma to do this exciting¬†race. Once we arrived on the island, I went to do an easy run checking out the big descent in the race that is quite technical. It went really well and I felt good both going uphill as well as coming and and I was already thinking in my head what to tell Eetu, en elite Finn also doing the race. While I was having these happy thoughts, I fell really bad again literally just 10 meters before I was going to turn off the trail and go on the road back to our house. This was 3 days before the race and after assessing the damage, I was 90% certain I wasn’t going to be able to even start the event. I was deeply disappointed and really angry with myself for being so sloppy and destroy all the preparation and most of all, eliminate the opportunity to even take part in the event. Well in the end, I did manage to start after some heavy medication and even finished. The knee made downhills impossible to run, but it didn’t bother much in the uphills so I gave my everything in these sections and they felt really good. There was one point in the race where in the uphill portion I overtook 50 runners in a 16km section.

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Top of La Palma (my favorite island in the world) during Transvulcania 2016

Training stats:

Mar – 20h, 136km, 8,181m+

Apr – 25h, 157km, 7,023m+

May – 35h, 262km, 12,961m+

Summer

Training has been good since Transvulcania. I did one local short race, but wasn’t really very ready for it. I wasn’t that fit and also wasn’t very engaged mentally. I finished something like 11th. The next race was an ad-hoc marathon in the Pyrenees. The plan was to run with Maija Oravam√§ki and see if she can win the thing. She did. It was a hard 45km, with 3,200m+ in very technical terrain. I think we finished in 7h 20 or so. It felt pretty easy.

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CRVA – one of the most fun races I have done

One key point in the summer training season was actually a business trip to the US. I had some time to kill, so I trained a lot at the hotel treadmill and gym. I also did a nice long run on some local trails in North Carolina. I also watched the race coverage for Hardrock 100 online. It kind of woke me up that it’s about time to start adding some volume into my training. I decided to train as much as possible for the next few weeks before taper to the UTMB. The plan was to also include one ‘vertical week’, with a vertical km (1,000m+ ascent) ¬†every day for a week. That’s the project I’m doing right now, but more about that later in another post.

So I’m sitting one month away from the UTMB and I’m pretty happy about where I am. I also did a small 21km 1,200m+ night race and won in 1h 46m. Even better than the position was the way the run went. I chased the leaders aggressively from the start and applied pressure until they faltered and then I got away easily and had a good control for the rest of the race. Good boost for confidence.

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Best run of the year

Jun – 26h, 233km, 9,285m+

Jul – will be about 43hrs, 310+km, 18,000m+

So now it’s only about fine-tuning and keeping it all together.

 

Transvulcania Ultramarathon

Transvulcania is not really just a race. It’s a phenomenon. Here’s what makes it so special:

Location¬†on the tiny island of La Palma in the middle of the atlantic. There are only 86,000 people on the island and it’s quite remote. There are no big hotels or mass tourism. The island is just simply amazing, with the southern part being basically desert with volcanic black sand, which makes for totally surreal landscapes. When you climb up, usually you have a sea of clouds on the other side of the island and perfect sunshine on the other. In the middle of the island, there is an enormous caldera that rises from the sea to nearly 2,500 meter. The northern side of the island is lush rainforest. In the middle, there are beautiful pine forests and smooth trails. The race goes through most of this. It’s really breathtakingly beautiful and there really are moments that even in the middle of the race make you stop and dig out your phone to take some photos.

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True skyrunning. Photo by Jordi Saragossa. 

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Sample of palma greenery from the north. Photo by Katri. 

People¬†are special here. They are some of the kindest people I’ve seen. They will always greet you when you walk by, with a smile on their face and they will always help you out no matter what you need. Out of the 86,000 people living here, probably half of them work as volunteers during the race. This event is really important to them and they are really excited about it. Anyone participating in the race is a hero in their eyes and the elite runners are superstars. We rented a small mountain house for the race and the owners were thrilled to have someone running the race staying in their house. I’ve never seen such support and participation from spectators. In the first town the race goes through, just before 7 AM on Saturday, there are thousands of people lining the streets, singing and clapping like crazy. During the race, there are spectators everywhere and they are not just sitting there watching, they are really supporting you and if you just smile, maybe wave a hiking pole or say anything to them, they’ll go twice as crazy. My arm literally got tired of waving at them. It’s great. When you run in the final straight, it’s not just the kids that want to high 5 you, it’s also the adults. The bars lining the street have big speakers and their own announcers explaining what’s going on.

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View from our terrace. I guess living in a place like this helps you be nice. Photo by Katri. 

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This is from the north … Even the donkey is happy, running alone and free, going who knows where.¬†Photo by Katri.¬†

Organization¬†of the race is excellent. They do an excellent job of creating a great atmosphere for the race. In the local radio, the race is the only thing they talk about. The water bottles are branded with the race logos. They attract top runners from the world, the line-up here is simply amazing every time. The elites also keep coming back, for all these same reasons. There are thousands of people working to make the race happen and most things are perfect. The aid stations during the race are staffed by 30 super excited volunteers and are the best I have seen anywhere. When you arrive into a station, there is usually a little kid that runs to you and asks what you need. They will then grab your water bottle from the pack, run to fill it or deal with whatever other needs you might have. They have constructed makeshift showers in the middle of the mountaintop, who knows how. When you exit the station, they all cheer you on. There are some 4,000 or so people racing in the events, so it’s a big job to handle and it’s done really well. There are some little issues of course, like the 4 toilets set up in the start line. That’s about 1 toilet per 500 people in the ultra and I’m not sure who did that math…

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Transvulcania water. Makes you run faster? 

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Nice touch from the organizers – “The victory wall”, with the winners and ALL of the times from the previous results, including my problematic time of 10:32 from 2014.¬†Photo by Katri.¬†

So how did my event play out? Well, the going-in position wasn’t that great, as you can read from here.

Start of the Ultramarathon is at 06:00 from the Fuencaliente lighthouse. We had to get up at 02:15 to make it to the organization bus that took us there. The start itself is very complicated, with 1,700 runners starting at the same time and going around the lighthouse and then into a narrow, about 2 meters wide trail that goes uphill in the heavy volcanic sand. So everyone will sprint to the start of the trail, where there will be massive traffic jam and everyone who is not in the first 50 people, will get stuck for a long time. We planned the start well with Eetu and decided to get into the start line at the very last minute. We just walked into the elite area at the front, where all the pro runners were. I think everyone just assumed we’re also pros. We started right next to the stars, Sage Canaday, Luis Alberto Hernando, Miguel Heras, Anna Frost, etc. We sprinted with them and were in the elite pack and got excellent positions on the trail. My knees worked well here, the uphill was not a problem at all. However, I did not really want to keep going at the elite pack pace, so once we were on our way on the trail, I backed off and people started passing me. Eetu on the other hand continued with the elites all the way into the first aid station at 7kms. He eventually finished 33rd, an excellent result in this field. My left knee, which I had hurt a couple of days before the race was quite full of fluid and it left like it was sloshing and I went very easy, prioritizing trying to save the knee and I had no idea whether it will hold up all the way. It wasn’t too bad in the uphill though and everything was going quite well.

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There are loads of great pics from the start. I can’t decide which one I like more. You decide. Photos by Jordi Saragossa.¬†

Mid-race¬†was strong, considering my circumstances. I had taken the beginning very easy, just conserving my knees and holding back in all the fast slightly downhill sections. My time in El Pilar, at 24km was 3:10 and this was after a lot of slow climbing (1,900m+), so I was quite happy with that. I was thinking that maybe I could somehow do close to 9 hrs overall. From El Pilar, there is a bit of a boring section of quite flat dirt road, until we start climbing again to Roque de Los Muchachos, the highest point in the race. The flat sections were ok, I was staying in the group I was with, but it certainly wasn’t fast. Things started looking better when we started climbing and I started passing people. In fact, I felt very strong in the climbs, using my poles hard and legs were responding fine. I thought that a lot of people went out very hard in the beginning while I was going easy. I was now catching all these people and I actually went from position 136 to 82 in the 16km section. That’s 54 people! All this gave me quite a confidence boost too and I kept attacking. All was going very well until Pico de la Nieve, which was the beginning of some harder times. There is a hard climb coming out of the Pico aid station and I started to realize I had not been taking in enough energy. This was after 6+ hours of running. The underlying reason for this was that since I didn’t have a support crew (Katri was also running), I only had 1 500ml bottle filled with gels. This was now almost gone and while I was carrying some extra gels, they were in the backpack and not easily accessible. I was going with a good flow, so I never bothered to stop and sort out easy access to energy. I really started to feel this towards the end of this section before Roque de Los Muchachos, at 2,400m+ of altitude where I was getting really dizzy and the strong climbing was just a distant memory. Once I got to Roque, which is a big mid-way aid station, I could hardly stand up. I needed to stop for 15-20 minutes, I ate two plates of pasta, some coke and candy and just had to wait for a bit for it all to get into my bloodstream so that I had energy to stay focused in the massive and complicated downhill to come. I had now dropped from 82 to 107th position. Lesson: Energy needs to be easily accessible and must be a priority.

I stopped just before Roque, took out my phone from the backpack and shot these photos. In reality, they don’t tell even 1/10th of the story, with the 1000m cliffs dropping straight down with clouds far below us … but it was still a great excuse to stop for a little bit to recover some energy ūüôā

THE downhill¬†from Roque to Puerto Tazacorte is of enormous importance in this race. I’m not aware of any ultra in the world that has anything similar. The route drops from 2,423 meters to zero in 18 kms. It’s also mostly very technical. This is where the race is won or lost almost every year, as happened this year as well. Sage Canaday, a very fast american trail runner had been leading the race all the way here, but he lost 15 minutes in this hill to the eventual winner Luis Alberto. In the end, Luis won by 10 minutes over Sage, who actually ended up dropping into third. In 2014, I had a fabulous moment in this hill and flew down like crazy fueled by a massive runner’s high. I overtook lots of people, but then took a very hard fall that destroyed my race and I ended up in the hospital. I had already fallen once in the same hill on this trip and banged up my knee. I knew this was going to be the hardest part of the race with my knees only semi-functional and also very little downhill training in my legs in general. It did turn out like a bad dream and I was slow beyond belief and suffering. Runners were passing me left and right and there was nothing I could do. My agility and confidence totally shredded into bits, I just kept hopping on like wounded rabbit. To put it into perspective, the winner only needed about 1h 20¬†min for this section, but for me it took 2h 15 min. It was also very painful (and not just to my ego), but this is where my knees took the worst beating and I wasn’t sure if they’ll hold up until about half way. This is also where all my hopes about a good time evaporated and I was starting to have some dark thoughts. I entertained myself by starting to come up with curse words to describe this hill. I won’t repeat them here. I wasn’t the only one having trouble here, there were a couple of people being bandaged after taking a fall, one girl was being carried on a stretcher wrapped in a space blanket and crying hard and another guy who was holding his chest / stomach and the firemen were going up the hill probably going to pick him up. I could hear the race announcers down in Tazacorte from far away and this helped mentally and I just kept going, repeating my race mantra “Stop thinking and dance”, that I used every now and then to get my focus back on trail when my mind started wandering.

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Part of the endless downhill. It would actually be fun to run, if it wasn’t infinitely long and with properly functioning legs. Photo by Katri.¬†

Finish¬†was very good for me. The positive outcome of not being able to run the downhill properly meant that physically I had recovered and had a lot in reserve for the final 4,5km or so section from Tazacorte to the finish. There is still 350m of climbing left and I remember that in 2014 it felt very hard. I was so pissed off from the downhill that I could not wait for the flatter / uphill section to be able to push again. There is a big aid station in Tazacorte and a lot of people stop here for final fueling and rest, but I surprised the volunteers by just sprinting through the station telling them I’m fine and I have a race to finish. I also checked the clock here and realized I have 37 minutes until 10hr race time, which means that with the climb and the difficult terrain, I would have to run hard to make it. I got down to it and the legs moving again. The first part was in a very technical and annoying riverbed, which didn’t go all that well, but I was certainly still catching everyone else. Then I got into the uphills, which I pushed hard, running up most of the hills and if not running, I was powerhiking with the poles as hard as I could. It felt really good to really put everything I had down on the trail. I passed and surprised a lot of people by running hard up these hills. All these people had just passed me in a sad state in the downhill and probably didn’t expect to see me back. I made it up the hills and into the long final straight, about 1km long with 5 min or so to spare. I wasn’t sure exactly how long it was to the finish, so I hard to keep going hard. I was pushing with my poles, running in the flat asphalt and still putting in everything I had to make it. I told all the runners I passed that we all have a chance to finish under 10 hrs and I tried to cheer them on to also push. The finish line is really fun, there’s loads of people that all want to high5 you, but I didn’t have the time for that, plus I was going hard with my poles so I had no hands to do that anyway. I made it to the orange carpet before the finish in good time and saw that I had made it, with still about 1 minute left in reserve. I made a nice sprint through the carpet and then just collapsed in the finish. There was a lot of cheering going on, but I was pretty dazed so most of that escaped me.

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Since I don’t have any photos of my finish yet, here’s one of Sage Canaday, 3rd place. Photo by iRunFar.¬†

In the end, my experience of the Transvulcania felt like a really good one. Three days before I told Katri and Eetu that my chances of even starting were probably 10%. My race execution was good, I did the best I could with what I had to play on that day. Of course it would have been great to really compete and see what I can do in this race, but my biggest worry was not being able to complete the route. I wanted to experience the route and FEEL Transvulcania and you can’t really do that from the sidelines. I certainly met this objective and really, I’m very happy with the outcome.

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Giving my love to La Palma. These trees are amazing btw, they have very thick bark that makes them resistant to forest fires. 

I really, really highly recommend this event to everyone. La Palma is also amazing and is now officially my favourite island in the world. I encourage you to visit, but please do not ruin it.

Focus

I’m writing this post 2 days before the other big focus race of the year – Transvulcania Ultramarathon in the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands. However, my race is already over.

People say that you learn most from your mistakes, not from your successes. I’m pretty hard headed and sometimes it takes a few beatings for me to learn my lessons. I believe I have now learned one.

So what happened? Back in 2014, I did the same race and fell very badly in the gigantic downhill that drops down 2,500 meters in 18 kilometers. It’s the longest downhill in any race that I’m aware of. It’s fast and it’s technical and I love it. So on the first day on the island, I go for a nice little shakeout run to test the legs and I was lucky enough that we’re staying just 1km away from access to this massive hill. The run goes great, legs feel strong going up and my knee that was injured seems to be good and I feel agile. I’m dancing on the rocks, taking it easy and avoiding any falls. It goes so well I start to think about what to tell my friend Eetu, who is also racing. I’m thinking how well this hill suits my abilities and how him and myself probably have an advantage over most other runners in this hill. I’m kind of lost in my thoughts and take a wrong turn. I notice this quickly and trace back. I’m almost at the end, happy as ever to be back in La Palma and enjoying the beautiful trails on a great day. Then I fall down, hard.

I quickly see there is damage everywhere. Hands, elbows, both knees. I curse loudly. I’m 20 meters away from the end of the trail where the asphalt road begins. I limp back into the house and tell Katri that I fell again and I’m very angry at myself. After some time, it turns out the other damage is superficial, but I have banged up my left knee very bad and it’s swollen to the size of a tennis ball. After a couple of hours, it becomes pretty clear that it’s in no shape for racing on a course like this.

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The knee, about 2 hrs after the incident

So what’s the lesson I learned? Well, I have been very worried lately because I have been taking lots of falls. My other knee just got better after a similar fall about three weeks ago. In the last ultra, I fell twice. I’ve fallen a couple of times in easy training runs. ALL¬†of these falls have happened in easy sections of the trail. I NEVER fall in the hard parts. Now I think I know why. Whats common to pretty much all of these falls is that in the easy sections, my mind easily starts to wander and I start to think about irrelevant stuff like what will I do when I get home, some work issues, etc. I’m no longer present in the trail, not giving it the respect it deserves, lacking focus.

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Sample of some of the easier La Palma trails. Dangerous stuff. 

So from now on, when I’m on the trail, I’ll take care to make sure my mind is also with me.

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It can be easy to be distracted in a beautiful place like this

And the plan for Transvulcania? The knee is a little better and I have been able to do some easy hiking today. Downhills hurt, uphill is ok. I will start the race and see how it goes at the first checkpoint. I can then decide to drop, continue or wait for Katri and run the rest of the half marathon race with her. Any serious racing is not going to happen, which is a damn shame because things were finally starting to look good after all the problems so far this early season.

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People sitting well above the clouds at the 2,500m peak, Roque de Los Muchachos, watching the race in 2014. 

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Puerto de Tazacorte, at the bottom of the monster 2,500m- hill. Probably won’t get to see it again in the 2016 race …

2015 race video.

2016 race preview.

Ultra Trail Muntanyes de Costa Daurada (UTMCD) Race Report

I have lots of experience with the UTMCD course and it’s been a bit of a nemesis for me. I have finished the half twice, the first one being my first ‘ultra’ trail distance where I struggled massively with energy and learned the importance of proper race fueling. There were some rough moments in hypoglycemic stupor with high wind and vertical sleet coming in my face at higher altitudes. That race also taught me some respect for the mandatory gear in these races and I was very happy that the organization had added some extra gear due to the difficult conditions. At the start line, I was still thinking it’s ridiculous that you have to run with all this stuff when it’s nice and warm. The second finish of the half race was when I had injured my ankle and somehow struggled to the finish. Last year was my first attempt at the main 90km, 4,500m+ distance, which ended in Mont-Ral at km 68 after stomach problems that had prevented eating and drinking properly from very early on. I also completed the course over three days last year with a¬†Finnish friend and there were some challenging moments running at night in freezing rain …

In reality, the course is really not that hard as long as you are prepared and don’t do silly mistakes.

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Getting ready before the race. Photo by Jordi Santacana. 

The going-in position this year was also a bit tough. I have been injured since the Cambrils half marathon, where I did do my personal best time of 1:17:03, but destroyed my achilles tendon in the process (might have been the last road half I do…). Just when I got back to some light running, I got sick with the flu and all this combined meant that there was almost no running for three weeks. I then had one proper training week before this race and just wanted to get the legs back to it and focused on getting some kilometers and vertical in at low intensity. Finally, 3 days before the race I did a “fitness check”, running my usual route from the house to the Hermita de Puigcerver, exactly 5kms and 470m climb or so. I was 1 min 15 sec off my record from last year, which is about 4%. This, in a 11h ultra race would mean a loss of about 26 minutes. Last year’s winning time was 10:57, so I calculated I could maybe manage 11:23 .. the ballpark I had in mind was that I’d finish between 11 and 12 hours. The main objective was to finish the race and time and position were completely secondary.

Start

I started the race nice and slow running and chatting with Gerard Anton. We were quite far back in positions and just kept going at a consistent and conservative pace. This was really pleasant time and the first 30km flew by fast. There were some other runners with us every now and then and I thought that some of the group was going a bit fast for me and I held back a bit and focused on eating and drinking. I felt like I was struggling more than the others in the climb to Siurana and I was worried the group might completely drop me. Things changed in the next downhill, where I was a bit faster than some of the others and lost contact with Gerard.

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Start, Gerard Anton on my right. Photo by Blanca de la Sotilla. 

Mid-Race

After Siurana, there is quite a long uphill, not too steep, but tactically challenging as the¬†gradient is not clearly one that you’d run up or walk. So I did a bit of both while some other folks around me mostly ran. I didn’t really lose that much time and by the time we got to the aid station at the top, the two guys I was in contact with were there and I actually passed them after filling my water bottle a bit faster. There was a longish downhill after this and after 20 seconds of the downhill I didn’t hear them behind me anymore and did not see these guys for the rest of the race. This was around km 36 or so and the start of the ‘high moment’ of the race, where I was feeling very good and was catching up with other runners. There was a small strategic section after this with a dirt road of slight uphill for several kilometers where I knew that a strong runner could make up a lot of time, so I used the good feeling I had and kept a good pace. I passed two more runners, before starting the downhill to the big aid station half way into the race. I arrived at the aid station about the same time as last year and almost exactly at the time I had expected. I was still in good shape, so I thought the race was going quite well. I was somewhere near top 10 at this point.

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One of the most beautiful parts of the race early on, close to Siurana. Photo by Jordi Santacana. 

I had a drop bag at the aid station, with my special salmon soup which I gulped down hungrily. I also added the extra mandatory shirt into my pack and left my gloves (mistake). I also changed shoes here, from Salomons to Inov 8’s, hoping to get a bit more extra space for my swelling feet (another mistake).

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Fooling around, just arriving to the half-way aid station in Vilaplana. Photo by Blanca de la Sotilla. 

The hardest climb of the race was next, with 650m+ in 3,5 kms. However, I live 6km from this place, so I have done this climb a million times and know that you just need to be patient and take it easy. It was time to put on some music and just keep going. The uphill went well and I passed another runner.¬†The sun was now out in full and I did notice that I was quite dehydrated. I drank my main 600ml water bottle in the first km after the aid station and soon had to stop and take out my backup from the backpack. This one also was gone in the next few mins and I had to stop eating anything until I get more water. There was an aid station at the top, where I drank another full 600ml bottle. I drank about 1,5 liters in that 3,5km section. It helped though and I was soon able to eat well again and the worst thirst was gone. I knew I was still dehydrated, so I paid a bit more attention to drinking and also stopping to cool down in the streams and fountains that I saw. In the next downhill, I passed this one guy that I had already passed once in the previous downhill, but he was faster through the aid station. I didn’t expect to see him again in the race.

utmcd climb

Climbing … and feeling it. Photo by eSportFoto

Final kms

Some problems started before the next aid station. I fell pretty hard on an easy part of the trail and landed on my running poles. I heard a little crunch and was afraid that I had broken a pole once again. I also got a massive cramp in my left calf and it took a while to get rid of it. At this point, the runner I had passed in the downhill caught up to me and saw me lying on the ground with my calf cramping rock hard. He asked if I broke my leg :). I told him I’m fine, it’s just muscle and that he should keep going. He took off and my cramp also cleared quickly and I was able to continue. I wasn’t feeling weak or anything, so I wasn’t sure why I even fell. Then I fell again, hard once more only 500m after the first place. This is usually a bad sign and I was getting quite pissed off at myself for not paying attention. It was again on a very easy trail, where I stumbled on the only root or rock that there was… Anyway, on we must go.

 

It’s always great to have so much support on the trail. I’m quite well known here after some good results and probably also because I stand out from everyone else and have a unusual name. So at every aid station or where there are spectators, they are always shouting my name and giving me support. It must be annoying for people that run with me, but it always gives me a bit of a boost and a reason to put on a smile. This is especially the case with the team C.E. Trail Tarraco and the “manada”. They are often staffing aid stations and it’s a big help. The biggest supporter of all is Vicenz Laiz Marin, who shouts “Come on Kai” about a kilometer away every time he sees me :).

So I get a bit of a boost from an aid station where I see lots of friends and also see the guy I had already passed twice and now did it for the third time. There was again a downhill where I knew I was faster and I was thinking that I really don’t want to see the guy again before the finish. Just to be sure, I put in a bit extra to put some distance between us. There was again a long easy downhill, which can be a bit tough for the legs though because it’s the same kind of movement for many km’s and this can stress the muscles a bit. I started doing some math in my head here, I was about at km 60 so 2/3 of the race was done and I thought that was good. I then looked at the race time, which was something like 7 hours. That meant that I still had 4-5 hours of racing to do. At this point I decided it’s better to stop thinking about such silly things and focus on getting to the next aid station and just worry about each stage at a time. This can be quite an important factor in ultra racing, because the distances and times can sometimes feel intimidating, so it’s better not to think about it.

So I focused on the next challenge which was the second toughest climb in the race and perhaps the hardest, because it is so late in the race. It’s also very long. I have always struggled with this part, so I was a little afraid of how it would go. It started well and I was able to run the mellow uphills in the beginning and passed one runner who had dropped out here and was heading back to the previous aid station. I then caught up to another, who is a friend Eloi Ortiz and I stayed with him for a bit. He was walking quite a lot, so soon I told him I’d move on and kept moving a bit faster. In this hill, I did realize that my pole had indeed broken when I had fallen and the stick was now half useless. I was happy that I had a spare pair in my race bag and Katri was waiting with it at the top of the hill, so no big deal. The rest of the hill went quite well and I was able to sit down a bit at the aid station and eat. The race doctor warned me about the dropping temperatures and it did indeed feel a bit chilly. I was starting to wonder how smart it was to leave my gloves at the half way point …

utmcd tired

In the final third of the race… and you can see it. Still going ok! Photo by Jordi Santacana

As I left the aid station, THAT GUY that I had passed three times already came in. I really did not want to see him again. The next section was again quite technical, so I expected to be faster there, so again I pushed a little bit to make sure he doesn’t creep up on me again. There were quite a lot of runners from the half distance and I scared a lot of them by flying past quite a lot faster than some of them. Sorry.

I now had to start dealing with a new problem … I have a problem with my hands that they get very cold very easily and it was now getting quite cold in the higher altitudes and I was worrying about the sun going down too fast. The parts of the trail that did not get sunlight anymore were already very cold and I had no gloves. I did have a buff, so I wrapped that over one hand and my running poles, so at least one of my hands was warm. This solution was ok, I kept switching the buff between my hands every now and then and that worked well enough for now.

I was quite happy, I had already told Katri at the previous aid station that everything is going well and that I am very likely to finish. I was thinking that I could perhaps also catch some more positions in the end since I had been running quite conservatively. It really had been a very pleasing race, with no big problems and no desperation and dark thoughts like I sometimes may have at the end of a long race. I went through the last bigger aid station and had a little chat with the race referees there and then went on my way, hoping to finish before the dark and cold really hit. I still had the highest point in the race to go through and was a bit worried that it would be ridiculously cold there. There was one more climb to do, but compared to the previous ones, it hardly counts as a climb. When I got to the top, the organizers told me I was in sixth position (this wasn’t true). It was hard to keep track of positions because there were now runners from three different distances mixed in the same trail. From this point on, it was 10kms to the finish line, which in an ultra like this is really almost nothing.

The final section consists of a rolling dirt road, with a couple of slightly bigger climbs and semi-technical descent from the highest point into the Prades village and the finish line. I felt good at the finish and did a nice sprint, only to find out I was going the wrong way. They had changed the finish line from last year ūüôā

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Happy and dazed at the finish line. Photo by Katri (I think)

What was really interesting was that I had estimated my finishing time exactly to the minute based on my test run a few days before. I wasn’t watching my time at all in the race, but hit the exact time last year’s winning time was, but deducting my 5% lack of fitness from it.

All in all, I finished in good spirits and was happy with the result, considering the circumstances.

 

 

Confidence

… or the lack of it. I’m currently sitting at a very low level of confidence, following a crappy injury and the flu. My achilles tendon is still hurt after running a PB at the Mitja de Cambrils. After all this, I would guess that I’m at 80% fitness at the moment and every step still hurts the tendon. Too bad, because training in the beginning of the year was good.

Last year, I had one moment of very low confidence and then another of very high. The low moment was at the Trail World Champhionships, which I was running after a DNF @ Ultra Trail Muntanyes de Costa Daurada (UTMCD). I just wasn’t sure of my abilities or fitness and ran too conservative. It wasn’t a bad time, but I could have done a little better.

A high moment was at the UTSM. I knew I was better than last year and that carried me through the race in good spirits. At 80km, I was quite sure I will win and was just enjoying it. This is the kind of starting point you want to have before a big race.

The first ultra race of the years is next weekend. I have gotten legs to work ok after the injury and illness. I have a chance of finishing and perhaps a shot for top 10? Strategy is to survive until some late moment in the race (Mont-Ral) and then see what can be done about racing other people. This is the “Low confidence strategy”.

ascent

I have managed to run a bit and get some vertical

However, ultimately this next race is a mental training race for the UTMB. Finishing is super important, because otherwise it’ll be a seed of doubt in the head for the main race of the year. Alternatively, finishing well would be a giant boost after some tough times.

Suunto Ambit 3 + Stryd – powerful combo for trail running

I have been collaborating with these two companies and I think there is a change happening with analyzing trail running training and races.

So let me run through the basics of the technology:

Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical

I have been trying out the Ambit 3 Vertical and don’t yet have a lot of experience with it. However, it seems like a small evolution of the usual smart GPS watch. I’m very happy to see focus on vertical training and this is a great watch for anyone interested in being able to easily measure their vertical training in any sport in a simple package. I emphasize the simplicity factor here, because there is so much complexity going on with the data and the User Experience (UX) of the technology today leaves quite a bit to be desired. The Vertical does a good job here and shows the vertical profile of any run on the watch screen after any run. It also shows monthly and yearly statistics of how much vertical training you have done. These key metrics are really at your fingertips.

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Here’s the elevation profile of a short 5 km run from the house up and down a mountain and back. I also get my weekly totals, which are not that impressive in this example (I average about 2,500m+ weekly). Easy.

What the Ambit 3 also does, uniquely today, but I’m sure not very long is that it allows power meters to be connected with the watch in the running mode. Historically, power meters have really only existed for cycling, but now there is a new product that does this for running and the Ambit 3 has this data available in an easy format for you.

… so that brings me to Stryd.

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Stryd – power meter for running

This is a ridiculously clever and seemingly simple device, but it works. What it does is that you put in your key body metrics and then the device measures your movements in 3D and calculates the power output you need to execute those. It then translates all this data into a single number: your running power. All you have to do is to wear the device using the chest strap that then also gives you HR. It’s just a little bit bigger than any normal HR sensor. There are no buttons, you just put it on, start your exercise in the Ambit 3 and go running.

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The Stryd sensor and belt

Why does it matter? (for a mountain trail runner)

It matters a whole lot. As a mountain-athlete, I don’t have very many meaningful numbers to go with for training and racing. What most people have available is:

-Pace – almost completely meaningless in the mountain environment as even the slightest hill throws this off

-Distance – doesn’t mean much, because¬†you can’t really correlate the same distance on flat asphalt to mountain trains at all. You can easily spend 2-3 the time doing the same distance. Last summer, I did some 30+ minute kilometers in some technical parts in the Pyrenees and I wasn’t slacking.

-Elevation¬†– this is a key metric, but alone it doesn’t really tell you much

-Time – doesn’t tell you how hard you went

HR – this is normally the best available measurement, combined with time. I know that 150 BPM is about my ‘ultra race pace’ and 170 BPM is my ‘road half marathon race pace’. There are many flaws in going with just this metric however: it only responds with a significant lag, which is a big deal in the mountains as terrain is always changing. Your HR goes up in the uphills, but only after a time, so you’d find out too late that you’re going too hard and by the time you find out, the hill may be over and you risk going too slow by staring at your HR. Your pacing will be off. HR is also dependent on many things like how did you sleep last night, so it doesn’t really tell you what kind of output you’re getting out of yourself.

So power gives you the metric that is far more meaningful as a single metric than any of the above for evaluating your training and pacing for races.

I did a test earlier this week, running continuously for 10km @ 3:40 / km pace to test this pace for my half marathon this Sunday. I ran the half today at this page (3:39 avg/km, 1:17:03 total).

My HR and power for the training run:

HR_training.pngPower_training.png

My HR and power for the race:

HR_race.pngPower_race.png

Otherwise all stats are comparable… pace was the same, route very similar with almost no elevation change on smooth asphalt. I think it’s showing me very expected results: in the shorter training run, I was able to put out more power at a lower HR, so I guess I was running more efficiently than in the race. In the race, I managed to keep the same pace with slightly less power output, but higher HR, so I guess I paid more for it. The only meaningful outside bias for this is that the race was a bit more windy than the training run, which could explain some of the higher HR.

The key is to analyze and interpret this data and then take appropriate action in training and races. That is not going to be exactly easy (and I’ve simplified things for this article).

I’ll just leave it there for this post, but my initial reaction to these new tools is very positive and I will start analyzing this more and incorporating it into my training. This is after a long time of training without paying too much attention to any metrics and it is very interesting.

Anyone interested in hearing more, please reach out.

 

What I do on Friday evevenings

Someone at work asked me how I have the time to do all this. I work quite a lot of hours, so it is sometimes difficult to fit in everything. To be honest, I have very little life outside some daily routines, like work, train, sleep.

So how do I fit it in? One of the workouts I have been planning to do for some time, in preparation for the UTMB was to do a long night run from our cabin to the highest point in Montsant (Roca Corbatera, 1,160m). I estimated it to be around 50km and 2,000 meters of vertical gain. It would take me about 6 hours to do it. I did not want to ‘waste’ a weekend night for this, so I thought that Friday after work would be the best time to do this run.

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Montsant, near the highest point, on another day (photo by Katri)

So, last Friday, I exited the house at 6:14 PM (about the same time as UTMB start), while there was still some light outside and I was hoping I could make it to the first village over the first set of mountains I had to cross. I didn’t quite make it there as there was a bit of trail in the forest and that was just a bit too dark to run in already. I had my first little break watching the final rays of the sun set behind the mountains. This is also where I stopped using my headphones as there are lots of wild boar around and I wanted to be able to hear them in the dark.

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Sunset … time to put on the headlamp

My plan was to run pretty slow and easy, take breaks and have fun. This was actually quite difficult and running slowly felt quite clumsy. In the first bigger downhill I almost fell twice and I had to stay very focused. In a race, this kind of clumsiness is usually the first warning sign that things are not going so great. Well, I was finally down the first hill and had another break here, at one of my favorite spots and I was here now at night for the first time.

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Chilling at my favorite waterfall

Next was a big long climb into Cornudella de Montsant and then up the steepest (and very technical) climb in Tarragona. When I got into the village, I had the hardest climb ahead of me and had spent something like 2hours and 20 minutes so far. Quick math told me that finishing in 6 hours would be a stretch, so I started planning a more efficient return route to win some time. I didn’t want to spend the entire night in the mountain and still wanted to go into the sauna before bed. The sauna was a big motivator here… ūüôā

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Our sauna was calling me … (Photo by Katri)

My first headlamp gave away during the first climb, maybe 2hrs 40 minutes into the run. I had it in full setting, but still the battery life was a disappointment. I needed to stop and swap in the replacement battery and then carry on. I was a bit worried now, with no more battery reserves, so I kept the light at the minimum setting (which was perfectly fine).

It was quite a cold night, below 0 temperature and some wind at the top. I was running in full length pants the whole time and had my jacket on here and warm gloves. Still, I only spent a few seconds at the top and wanted to drop down away from the wind. I chose an easier, but much longer route down from the mountain as I didn’t want to face the technical descent in the dark being already a little tired. I think my elapsed time was something around 3:35.

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Ok, mandatory photo done, now back down!

The easier route was much more pleasant to run. It was very cool to look around, on a clear night with almost full moonlight. The mountains and the villages looked very pretty. There was a bit of pain in the knees and legs in the downhill, so at the bottom I took one painkiller just for convenience and to be able to run a little faster for the rest of the way (sauna was waiting).

I took a faster route back that had a nice, long continuous climb on an easy road so I could just clip away with my hiking poles. It felt like really good practice, really pushing with the sticks and keeping a good rhythm. I kept quite good pace all the way to the end really.

My final time was around 6 hrs 20 minutes, so I was home well before 1 AM and still had time to have a good sauna and relax. What was really promising was that the run didn’t feel that difficult at any point and when I got home, I wasn’t really very tired or weak. I had eaten minimally, perhaps 1 gel / bar per hour and probably spent something like 3,500-4,000 calories. I just ate enough not to totally bonk and this worked fine (take one gel / bar whenever you feel weak… you’ll first feel it in the brain, then 10 minutes later you’ll be fine again).

Here is a nice Suunto Movie about the run

Ok so I don’t spend ALL my Friday evenings this way. I have had to run a few times from the cabin to the coast (28km) because my wife had taken the car. It must be convenient to have a partner who is an ultrarunner as you can just dump them anywhere¬†and know that they’ll find their way.¬†Really usually on Fridays, we go out for a dinner or drinks to wrap up the week and they are dedicated to switching from work-mode to weekend-mode.

Run stats

 

 

 

 

New partner – Suunto

suuntologo

Very happy to announce a new collaboration I have with Suunto Spain. Suunto is a company with headquarters in Vantaa, Finland, about 15kms away from where I’m from. When I still lived in Finland, I used to drive past their offices on the way to school and work, every day. I was thinking that it would be damn cool to work with / for them one day. I’ve been a huge fan forever, they also make the best scuba computers and really top hardware for sports watches today. I’ve been using a Suunto Ambit since it came our as well as the Ambit 3 Peak once that was announced and I’ve been really happy with those devices. My trusty Ambits are what guide me along new trails, keep on on track in races and help plan and keep a training log.

ambit vertI’ve now had the opportunity to directly collaborate with the Ambit Product Manager in Finland and share my views of the products. Perhaps I will have a small impact on how they will develop in the future.

I’ll be writing more about these products in the future and how I specifically use them myself. For now, you can check out my Movescount account.

 

2015 Key Races Summary

2015 was a wild year in many ways and by far, the most successful in terms of athletics achievements. I did train hard and quite smart, but still some of the results were a big surprise. Below is a brief look back into what happened:

March – Ultra Trail Muntanyes de Costa Daurada, 90km, 4,500m+

This is really a home race for me, with the route passing only some kilometers away from where we live. I train on these trails on a weekly basis. However, this race has always been difficult for me, with some tough grinds to get through even the half distance version of this race. The shorter version of this race was my first mini-ultra distance race (46km) and I really struggled with energy and tough conditions, with vertical snow / sleet higher up during some of the toughest moments of that race. In 2015, despite good preparations, my difficulties continued, this time with rare stomach problems / dehydration. Something unexplained was off right from the start. I fell once before 20km and this was the first real warning sign and then after the first major aid station after 22km or so, I started having real difficulties with not being able to eat or drink and being out of energy. My racing strategy changed here, I expected this to be a normal bad patch that would get better if I just take it a bit easier. That did not really happen and I struggled on, slowly, with not being able to each much and also running out of water. At the half way point, ¬†had to sit down for several minutes and try to get some soup into me and this helped things somewhat. I had dropped to something like 14th place, but this didn’t really matter much anymore. I continue on, feeling better and facing the biggest climb in the race. I struggled slightly, but managed to get to the top and felt a bit better in the downhill. Here I had the best moment in the race and actually started passing people. I fought my way into 7th place and probably would have been on the podium if I had managed to continue this. However, I still couldn’t eat much and I started losing energy again. My pace slowed and in the next big climb, I could hardly stay upright and had to stop and sit down several times before I made it to the top and met my support crew again. Here, I tried to eat some pasta, but managed to do so at the rate of about one piece of pasta per minute, despite waiting for 10-15 minutes to try to recover. I had done 65km, with 25 to go and without being able to properly eat, I decided to call it and drop out. Even today, I don’t fully understand what happened.

UTMCD

UTMCD Start – everything was still good

Result: DNF

May – IAU Ultra Trail World Championships, Annecy, France. 85km, 5,200m+

This was the main event of the year, representing Finland in the national team with 8 other runners was a big honor and really a highlight of all my running career so far. We’re now in the Alpes, facing a pretty tough course with really long climbs. The race started at 3 AM and we had 1,200 meters to climb over the first 21 kilometers. That means climbing, non-stop, through the first 3 hours or so of the night. When you know that in advance, it’s actually not that bad.

Team Fin

Getting ready for the opening ceremony… which was hilarious, but that’s a long story…

A big question mark going into this race was my fitness / ability / issues … with the previous race ending in a DNF, this was a big thing in my head. Retrospectively, it was much bigger of an issue than I first thought. Rather than to compete at the best of my ability, my race plan was not to end up in a catastrophic failure. The race started at a crazy pace, with people running well under 4-minute pace in the first kilometers. I stayed back with teammate Janne Hietala and we dropped almost into the last positions. I was going a bit WTF at this point. Do I really belong here?

annecy morning

Sometime in the morning, just warming up

The first climb went quite well, I was taking it really easy, but still left Janne behind at some point. I had a silly plan, starting the race with quite minimalistic shoes with the plan to change these at the first aid station at the top of the mountain. First mistake. First of all, I gained nothing with that, second, I lost a of time in this (and Janne, who stopped for about three seconds, went past me and built a gap) and third, my hands were freezing and I struggled to tie my shoelaces properly.

Things got a bit better and I caught up to Janne again, who had gotten slightly lost. We ran together for a little bit, but he was better in the technical downhills. Later on, this man from Finland, who has a highest peak of 60meters to train on, commented that “People here don’t know how to run downhills” .. I don’t know what their secret is, but I couldn’t stay with him.

After this there was a flatter section, which suited me well and I was moving good. I got to the next aid station, where I again spent several minutes, taking a long break to visit the bathroom, etc. I made a comment to the support crew that I feel good and will surely climb up in results from here.

Annecy day

Just rolling through the fields

I continue on, feeling quite ok and just taking it quite easy. I knew the next big climb was ahead and that I’d be climbing for the next 2-3 hours again. This one really challenged me and I struggled towards the end, with energy getting quite low. This extended into the downhill that followed, which I pretty much cruised down at what was quite a comfortable, but pretty slow pace.

After this, one more aid station and the final climb and downhill. Here I started to struggle quite a bit. The uphill wasn’t too bad, I was feeling rough, but I was passing people and nobody passed be here. After 70kms of running, it’s normal to feel a bit beat up. Once I got to the top, I really struggled to keep my balance and was very weak. I was really leaning into my poles and without them, probably would have fallen down the cliff. The final long downhill really, really sucked and I felt I was slower than a turtle. Some people passed me, but later I realized they were the leaders of the open race, who started on the same course a little bit after the competitors in the world champs.

struggles

Struggling at the top of the final climb. The race went around the beautiful Lake Annecy in the background. 

Final stretch into the finish line and I pretty much collapsed on the ground and stayed there for 20 minutes, just eating chips, cheese and whatever other goodies I grabbed from the aid station. I was literally laying down next to the finish line with a pile of chips next to me when another runner, a female Pro from team USA also finished, collapsed next to me saying that this looks very inviting and we shared my pile of chips together. This was really a golden moment ūüôā

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Almost there … somehow I managed to not look as bad as I felt

I finished in 112th position, with time of 11:07, which isn’t too bad, but I could have done better. I was running too conservative, I had an idiotic plan for the aid stations and I still didn’t manage my nutrition right. I had confidence issues from the previous race and without these, I think I would have approached the race differently. Live and learn.

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Get OUT of my way, I want to finish!

Result: 112th, 11:07

June: Reus-Prades-Reus, 55km, 2,500m+

This is actually not a competitive race, it’s something called a ‘caminada’ … weird concept where people hike this sort of distances, taking forever. There are always a handful of competitive runners in this event also. There are 600 participants or so, so it’s quite a big event. This was only 2 weeks after Annecy and I decided to run this the evening before and signed up the morning of the race. Annecy left me feeling a bit dissatisfied, feeling that I had left something in the tank. Not something you want to do when you’re supposed to represent your country. I almost felt like I needed to punish myself and go out and run really hard. My ‘strategy’ for this race was to really step on it from the beginning and do what I felt I should have done in Annecy. I did just that and was leading from the first moments and running really pleasingly well, despite the +30 degree heat and full sun. I was moving so fast that I surprised a couple of the aid stations by showing up so early. I was pretty confident I had built up a bit of a lead, but just kept my foot down all the way to the finish. I finished with a good time of 5:05 or so, 17 minutes ahead of the second place runner, who is a 2:40 marathoner so against that benchmark, it was a stellar result. I did exactly what I wanted to do and got a bit of a confidence boost and left the Annecy issues behind.

Result: 1st place, 5:05

August: Ultra Vandekames, 85km, 5,200m+

This race wasn’t in my plan initially. Then the president of our running club, C.E. Trail Tarraco asked me “Kai, are you doing this race” and I surprised myself too by saying “Yes”. This race has a very technical, rugged course that doesn’t really suit me at all, but is something I want to improve in. The other reason was that it started at midnight and I really like running at night. Anyway, I find myself at the start line without much preparation for this one. My only plan going into the race was to take it easy, knowing it’s a really difficult route and I wanted to for once really focus on enjoying the race without having to worry about competing. The race started in very humid and foggy, hot conditions. I started according to plan and just hung behind the leading pack of runners. I wanted to stick with them, gaining a bit of help from not having to follow the course markings and just stay with the headlamps in front of me. We got to the top of the initial climb and I was maybe in 5-6 position at the start of the downhill section. A couple of the runners were really too slow here and after staying with them for a little bit, I lost patience and went past them. I ended up in second place, with the leader not in sight. I was a bit worried that I’m going too fast because I was in such a position unexpectedly, but I was running at the pace I wanted to run, so I just kept going and expected the other guys to catch up at some point later on, which was fine for me.

vandekames favoritos

Before the race, someone made a post about the favorites. I was surprised, but pleased to be named among them, but really went into the race with zero expectations.

Maybe one third into the race, before a medium-sized climb I heard from the race director that the leader was just some minutes ahead of me. I told him that this is fine, I’m not really in a hurry and just stuck with my pace and plan. Not very long into this climb, I heard some huffing and puffing ahead and I could see that the guy in the lead was really struggling. I actually felt bad for the guy, he looked so rough and I was in great spirits, the dark, foggy night was really my element. I was now in the lead, but still kept going at my own easy pace. I did start doing things a bit more tactically though. For example, I wanted to make sure the runners behind me will not benefit from being able to just follow my light so I built a gap. Route finding was really difficult at the top of the mountains, where the fog was the worst and visibility only a couple of meters and sparse route markings and no visible trail (it was all rock). Other than this, I was just rolling through the kilometers and still not really competing.

Things changed at the halfway aid station. It was now the morning and I got better updates about the racing situation. I heard I had about 15 minutes lead. I made a proper stop at the aid station, eating some pasta, sitting around drinking and chatting with the staff for a bit. When I left, I was thinking that I’m somehow managed to work up to this lead, so it would be silly to mess that up now. This is when my plan changed from just enjoying the race to actually winning it. There was a big climb ahead and I powered into this quite hard, wanting to extend my lead to something I could then just manage for the rest of the race. When I got over the mountains and into the next town, I heard that my lead was now about 45 minutes. It’s funny how the mind works, I felt that my shoelaces were tied a bit too tight, but I also thought that I can’t afford the time to fix them and just went on with some pain in the feet.

So with 45 minutes in hand, I felt I can pretty much do what I want and even I can’t mess up that kind of a lead. I took the next section really easy, there were some really annoying thorny plants and other crap I didn’t like so I just walked a lot. At the next station, I heard that my lead is now only 25 minutes, so I panicked and picked up my pace for the next section. I knew the runner behind me well and knew that he’s a really solid, consistent runner, but that as long as I don’t melt down, I can manage the lead in my favor. “Don’t melt down” was the plan I then followed until the end.

vandefinish

I managed a good sprint through the finish line

I don’t want this to sound too easy, the race was a really tough technical one and I had to dig deep to get through it. The technical downhills at the end really challenged me. I fell once, was saved by my hiking pole, which unfortunately snapped in two, but I guess that is better than falling on my face.

vandeaftermath

I did feel pretty rough

In the end, I was really proud to win this technical race and this was a very big surprise as the terrain here doesn’t suit me at all. Some of the top racers also not starting for various reasons made it just a little bit easier to be at the top.

Result: 1st place, 12:51 (the longest race in time that I have ever done, says something about the technicality of the course)

October: Ultra Trail Serra de Montsant (UTSM), 101km, 4,200m+

Despite some really pleasant results, I actually didn’t feel that any of the ultra victories I had managed until this point were really deserved and were because of my own abilities or execution of a race. There were always some external factors, like extreme heat, top competitors dropping out, etc that left some doubts. I had won the UTSM in 2014, but this was a race with 30+ degree heat and with more than half of the competition dropping out. I felt that I was basically the fastest person who didn’t screw up their race. Not screwing up is a big part of ultra racing, so I’m happy to accept such a result, but I’d rather feel like I also deserved it because of my own abilities. So, despite the win in 2014, I felt I had something to prove to myself. I had several goals for the race, but the main one was to go under 12 hours (2014 time was 12:19), secondary goal was to just improve my time from last year and only then I would start worrying about my position in the race.

UTSM getting ready

UTSM – Getting ready and in good spirits

I started executing my plan very well, really just sticking to my own race and time, chasing the splits I had set to myself. A bunch of runners were well ahead of me early on. At the first aid station, I was slightly ahead of my planned times and everything was good. If I remember right, I was somewhere around 5-8 position, but I really didn’t care about that. I was very pleased with myself for mentally being able to focus on the main priority of executing my race plan and not chasing anyone or getting stressed about the position.

The UTSM course is quite strategic, relatively early on there is a 25km section of beautiful, slightly rolling downhill in a canyon next to a river. For an ultra-trail runner I’m pretty fast in this kind of sections, so I wanted to use this to my advantage and try to keep up a nice pace. I tried to do this now also, but didn’t actually feel that I was moving that fast, although I felt quite good.

UTSM gameface

Execution Mode: ON!

I had learned from Annecy that aid station strategy is really important, thanks to Janne’s 3-second stops. I really kept things simple and managed to execute my stops pretty much Formula 1 style (thanks also to Katri for managing things so well). After this 25km section, I was still within the times I had set for myself, although there was some confusion about the splits I had calculated (in reality, I was well ahead, but I did not know it at the time). I was slightly disappointed for not having done better as I thought I had ran faster than the year before. Slightly after an aid station, I noticed that I had dropped a glove and cursed myself for it. Just a couple of minutes after this, another runner surprised me by going past and handing me my lost glove… Again, this created some doubts in my mind .. what’s going on, I feel like I’m going fast, but my time is not so good and I have runners passing me. Anyway, I soon dropped the friendly, glove-saving guy in the next uphill.

UTSM drink

Having a little drink from the fountain (Photo by Jordi Santacana / Naturetime Events)

I remember from 2014 that my race really started at around the half way point. There is a little spring / checkpoint just before this and this is where in 2014 I learned that I was in 3rd and this year, I was in the same exact position. I heard that I was 10 minutes from the lead.

When I got to the halfway point, my friend and the aid station manager told me that I arrived at the exact same time as last year and that the leader is 10 minutes ahead of me. This was again a slight disappointment, as it confirmed that I was behind my planned times and also showed me that I’m not catching up the leader either. Again, in reality, this information was wrong and I was well ahead of my time …

UTSM aid

I really like this photo… Ultra racing is not just running.¬†(Photo by Jordi Santacana / Naturetime Events)

One very positive sign that gave me a boost was that I felt a lot better than the year before. There was a semi-big climb after the aid station, where I had really struggled in 2014, but this time I went through this smoothly. I wanted to try to secure my secondary goal of improving my time, so I tried to keep up a good pace. I had pretty much waved goodbye to my sub-12h goal.

At every checkpoint, I heard that I was the same, frustrating 10 minutes behind the lead. I didn’t worry about that much, just tried to do what I can to catch some time to make sure I can at least finish with a better time than the year before. Then, really out of nowhere, I see a runner ahead of me. I’m wondering if he’s from a different race, or what’s going on. It turned out that he was the leader and when I got to him, I saw that he was destroyed. I felt a bit bad for him, so I gave him a little pat on the shoulder and some comforting words. After this, I turned on the turbo and sprinted past him, up the hill in the village just to make sure to send a message to him that there is no point in trying to follow. This was a great racing moment, it happened in the middle of a village and there were some spectators that took photos of it that then were spread in social media providing people watching the race a glimpse of actual racing.

UTSM climb

Near the top of the final climb, this photo was in the newspapers the next day (Photo by Jordi Santacana / Naturetime Events)

Getting into the lead then definitely gave me a big moral boost after earlier disappointments about the time. I definitely wanted to secure the lead and around km 65-70, I really felt great and ran really well for 10 or so kilometers. I then started feeling slight cramps and actually called Katri to ask for a race update. She went to work trying to figure out what kind of gap I have. I soon heard that I have at least 17 minutes of lead. This allowed me to slow down a little and manage myself a little better. The execution was really very similar to what happened in 2014, except that I was feeling a whole lot better.

I started catching up to some runners that were running some of the other distances in the same event and when most of these realized that I’m the leader of the main ultra distance, I got a lot of encouragement from everyone. In one hill, a couple of girls from Mallorca wanted to take selfies with me and they were thrilled about this. These were really great moments in the race, I was smiling a lot and had surprisingly lots of energy and this showed. One of the spectators commented in the live feeds that I just went past full of confidence of victory, with still 20kms to go. I have to say it was true, it was one of the real “runner’s high” moments.

UTSM Finish

Really one of the top moments in my life really … it was magic

The rest of the race was really just race management. Crossing the finish line was really a magical moment, I managed to do an amazing sprint with a final jump over the finish line, which ended up on a great video:

I had screwed up the split calculations and was actually well ahead of my split goals all day and tried to catch up to them. In the end, I improved my time almost 40 minutes, finishing in 11:40:20. This time, the race was also competitive and the main competitors stayed in the race and for the first time, it felt like a fully deserved victory.

Result: 1st place, 11:40:20. 

November: Transgavarres, 52km, 2,500m+ (or so)

UTSM was such a great experience that I felt like doing one more ultra this year. This one was only 2 weeks after UTSM, which didn’t leave much time to recover. However, I had done really well in the Reus-Prades-Reus with also just 2 weeks of recovery, so I thought I could pull it off. Also the route seemed really favorable for me, being quite fast and no tough climbs.

transgavarres

The trails were great, my race was not

Well, my legs were not there this day and my strategy was off again. I was in the lead until km 10 or so and actually pulled ahead of the main pack with another runner, who then told me that we should take it easy and that these guys will run very fast in the second half of the race. They did exactly this and by km 15, I could no longer follow them and by km 25, I was in total survival mode and was planning on just cruising to the finish and enjoy the trail. Even that didn’t help and I just felt like crap for the rest of the race. I did not really enjoy this experience, but I guess I must have learned something from it.

Result: 10th place, 5:25:21

That’s it for 2015. Time to take a break from training and focus on other activities and charge all systems for 2016.

Welcome to the site!

Hello World,

So finally, instead of invading other people’s sites with my stories, I’ve started my own website / blog. This site is dedicated to my personal / athletic adventures. For my work / professional side of my life, please visit¬†our Company Website¬†or¬†my LinkedIn profile. For more about me, check the¬†About Me page.

utsm_water

Photo by: Jordi Santacana / Naturetime Events

This is a channel that I will use in the future to post ramblings about trail running / mountain adventures, with occasional posts about random topics.

Thanks for stopping by.

Kai