Fire in the eyes

With any competition, whether it’s running, running a business or cooking, I believe it is absolutely vital to have great motivation and determination to do something great. I call this “Fire in the eyes” and I first thought about it after my first win at the UTSM, when a team member told me that when he saw me in the route around km50, he said that I had fire in my eyes and he knew from it that I was on my way to so something special. I remember the moment well, it was at the top of a quite big climb, but I was getting into very good flow. In these moments, I’m usually 100% focused on the trail and the race, often not seeing much around me. A bit after this I heard that I was in 3rd place, which was a surprise and at the next point, I heard that I’m also catching up with the lead. I could smell blood, which just pushed me on even more.

I love racing and these moments are some of the defining factors for me and key reason why I do trail races. Some people say that they do that because they “enjoy the trail / mountains”. At least in key races, I don’t do that. I usually don’t really remember much about the places we’ve gone through. I don’t stop to take selfies. I’ve done all that in training. It’s like a karateka saying that they do karate competitions because they like to get punched / punch people in the face (I guess some people might like that too). It’s about the preparation and then doing your best against the course / opponents. After the race, you shake hands and are the best friends, but during the race I want to hunt down each one of them.

You don’t get this fire going every time. Emotional engagement with the particular competition is very important for me. I think about the event much in advance, preparing that fire for the right moment. It’s not possible to do this too often and not all races are like that. Some ones are special where I might do the mental build up for months in advance. Some I go to ad-hoc just to go have some fun and in these I usually have a pretty average performance. One of these was Vandekames a week ago, where I lost 5th (last podium) place just 2kms before the finish when I was overtaken. I just looked at the guy go and thought that I have nothing in me to fight for that spot and just kept on doing my own thing. In a “Fire in the eyes” moment I probably could have switched on the turbo.

I had a “Fire moment” yesterday in a VK race. It wasn’t a big and popular race, but it was organized by our club and the route was special, going up a very steep and technical way up the Montsant mountain and that was special for me. I had done some scouting in advance and had an idea of the time I thought I could do. Already in the warm-up, I felt very good, everything just responded much better than before when I had done my scouting. I had a bit of a break between my warm-up and the start of the race and kind of felt that my legs had gone to sleep a bit. A lot of people always have this kind of little doubts before races, despite everything supposedly being perfect. You never know until the race starts.

When my turn to start came, things kicked off pretty well and I was moving up the mountain, breathing hard, but had pretty good control of my feet and an effort I thought I can keep up consistently. I then thought I was catching up to the runner who had started 2 mins before me, first from the sounds of the volunteers helping him through some tough spots, then I could see him up ahead and minute-by-minute, I knew I was catching him. Because of all the fire in my eyes, I didn’t really see anything around me. There were probably around 10-15 volunteers on the route and they were all cheering as I went by, but I literally did’t see any of them. I didn’t even recognize their voices, I was just staring ahead, picking my route and tracking the distance to the runner ahead. Only after I had touched the rock at the top of the mountain, I came out of it and could focus on what’s going around me. It was probably a perfect race from me, finishing in 17min 12 s, more than 1,5mins faster than I thought I could do it. I was kind of glowing for the rest of the evening too.

fire eyes

Is that fire in the eyes? 

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Range

There is at least one great benefit for being an ultrarunner. When going on holiday adventures, we have great range to explore a lot. We just spent a few days in the Pyreness in the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park. I was pretty much able to explore the whole place and run through all the major trails and sights.

Having the ability to run easily for 10 hours and 40+ kilometers without having to really think about it too seriously helps keep things flexible. So I had an open plan going there, with a vague idea of what I wanted to do. This is how it shaped up.

Day 1 – check in

We drove to this place in Aragon about 3hrs from home. We left right after work and the trip was smooth. We checked in and had a nice dinner at the hotel. Several nice vegan or vegetarian options in addition to the usual ones. Then just get the gear ready for the next day and go to bed. After a bottle of wine, of course.

Day 2 – Getting a feel

So the plan for the first day was to go hit the bases of the key high peaks, but not go all the way up and just scout stuff and plan for a nice fast trip for the next day. I still wanted to do a good amount of kms and vertical, so wanted to go to 3,000m+. I especially wanted to check out one of the peaks where it was said that it’s not doable without ropes. (I thought it looked doable, but difficult and not something to try alone).

This is the difficult peak … but this is not the route that looked doable. The path to the left from here looked easier.

Ok not quite 3000m, but close enough 🙂

It was a good day, I made good time up the mountain and it was beautiful. I did feel a bit dizzy when powering up after 2,500m and had to slow down and even stop a few times to get rid of it. It was good to know for the next day. Some of the sections above 2,200m started to get quite technical and slow too. Went up to 3,000m, stopped where the sign said “dangerous path” (which didn’t look too dangerous). Then turned around and went back down before this big group of teenage explorers coming down the  mountain …

Looking down into the Ordesa Valley

Closer to the valley

Probably the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen

But really there were waterfalls everywhere

It ended up being 32km or so and 1,800m+. Mission accomplished and I had a plan for the next day.

Day 3 – Monte Perdido

So now I knew how to get to the top of the big mountain, Monte Perdido, the third highest in the Pyrenees at 3,355m. I didn’t expect any challenges with it, but knew the final climbs would be hard based on the previous days experience. I wanted to take it easy, but still made it to the refugi in 2,200m in exactly the same time as the previous day. It was explained for not stopping to take any photos and speaking to Katri for 10 minutes…

Marmots started making an appearance above 2,000m+

Glacier going up to Perdido

The higher sections went a lot better than the first day and overall I was feeling great, much better than the first day. The final climb was fun, it was super steep 45 degree climb in loose rock, so it was 1 step up, 1/2 steps back. Some other groups were having tough time getting up there and I was gliding past everyone … Great views at the top, where I enjoyed my picnic. There was a family with some very brave little kids of maybe 8-10 years old that had made it up also and looked like they do that every day …

Perdido Summit

It was a glorious bright day

Coming down was the highlight of the day… the steep rock downhill was great, I was sliding on the rocks, past all the people going up or down and made super fast time down and hit the glacier below. The glacier was also 45+ degree angle and coated with nice soft snow.. I could see some tracks on the snow and jumped in there and slid down some 400 meters and 150 vertical in about 30 seconds. It was great, went so fast that had do slow down with the shoes and this shot up tons of snow. People probably though I was a bit mad. Nobody else took this route… 🙂

Here’s a bonus, my conversation with a marmot

I then met Katri a bit below. We had kept contact all day with our radios, which worked great in the mountains. Even though we were at times 7 or so kilometers apart, me at the top of the mountain, Katri somewhere in the middle, we were able to talk all day. I had been encouraging her to make her way with the dogs up to the refugi at 2,200m. We finally made it there both at the same time and had a bit of lunch together. I wanted to get some more kilometers, so I went exploring one part of the mountain that looked interesting and did a couple more kilometers and an extra hour and then ran back down to meet Katri down the mountain. We then walked back to the parking lot together, which took absolutely forever and the day ended up being 8h 23 min and 37,5km and 2,300m+.

Day 4 – “Rest Day”

As an old man, I wanted to take it easy and not break myself by playing in the mountains too hard. I wanted to have an easy day and then another bigger day. So the previous day I came across another “dangerous trail” that I had planned to take. It also said not to start if after 15:00 in the afternoon. I was a bit tired the previous day and decided not to go there that day as I didn’t really have a clue what I’d encounter, but of course it sounded interesting. So today I wanted to explore that section. It started with a 650m climb in 2,5km. My plan was to go easy, but I felt quite good and once I got started with the climb, my speed just accelerated. At some point I thought that this climb is probably a Strava segment, so I wanted to try to rank a good time (I ended up 4th ranked time overall in that climb). The trail was absolutely great, really nice views, fun trail to run in and far less people than in many other parts of the park. There wasn’t anything dangerous, although the trail is a bit difficult in the other direction with the big downhill which was slightly technical. I ran up to the nicest waterfall in the park, had quick snack and ran back the other side of the valley. Otherwise the day was great, but the downhill was getting a bit boring and legs didn’t feel that great at the end. 20km and 823m+.

Day 5 – Round Trip

I had planned to do a long day and had scouted a route of 55km and 5,000m+. In the end, looking at the route more closely, it had a few parts that looked quite hard and I didn’t want to go into the unknown and try to bite too much in terrain that I don’t know that well. So I decided to cut it a bit.. Katri gave me a ride to a trailhead that allowed me to cut a few kms from the beginning and start with a big 1,500m+ climb. I also cut two round trips to some high peaks, one which I had done already.

Easy part of the 1st climb

The first climb went really well, it was long but it felt easy and nice. The path crossed into France and on the french side, there was a parking lot close by in around 2,000 meters and quite a lot of people were coming from there. The path went quite high for a long time and the views were great and the trail was fun. It was pretty crowded so where I could, I climbed up different sections from everyone else and at one point climbed a big waterfall which was fun. The trail went to another refugi, which was in a magical valley with a great waterfall at the other end and a big glacier at the other.

Nice valley, with the waterfall that’s hard to see

The path then crossed over to the Spanish side, over the highest ridge where all of the french hikers stayed for their picnics.

Up another glacier

I was the only one who crossed to the other side, where there were no real paths, big rocks, very technical. The next couple of kilometers, although downhill, took me probably around 20 mins / km and I wasn’t trying to be slow. In this whole 10km section I encountered 3 other people. The area was like a big open desert in the middle of the big mountains. Very tough, rugged and empty. It was great,  just me and the marmots.

Yeah, that’s a my kind of place

Soon I saw the refugi where I had met Katri earlier the other day and knew exactly where I was again. I now decided to take the “dangerous path” and do it in the other direction and face the hard downhill. It was hard and I felt a bit like in an ultra trail race. I now only had an easy section along the canyon with easy trail and really amazing waterfalls. Towards the end I started to feel like I was bonking a bit (running out of energy) and realized I had not eaten anything in 3 hours and 20 kms and even then my snack had been two oreo cookies and two fruit loops. No wonder I felt a bit weak. In the end it was 7 hours, 36kms and 2,000m+.

So …

Trail running didn’t seem to be a big thing in this place. I just wonder why … with running, you can see so much more. I also took a lot of time to just chill, walk around and stare at the mountains, have snacks in great places and really get a very good picture of a place by just running around everywhere. Most people like to hike around and they cover a fraction of the place like that. A good plan is to just run sections that are not so interesting, then take it easier when it’s great. Then you can start linking together peaks, valleys, waterfalls etc. And when you are in shape, all the exercise feels great and not so hard that some people might expect from the numbers. After the trip, with so many kilometers and hours, my legs and body didn’t really feel tired at all. Highly recommended.

My unusual plan for the UTBCN 101km

So what do you do when you get injured before a key race and are just barely able to start. Go aggressively for the win, of course. Crazy, you think? Well, hear me out.

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So only yesterday, I was very unsure whether I would be able to even start the race. I was in a very foul mood (just ask Katri). Ultra trail racing is a sport of consistency and long term planning. This adds a tremendous amount of mental influence as well. This next race is something I have already been planning and preparing for months. After a perfect training block for two hand a half months, the thought of not being able to even start really hurt.

I have actually been following advise from Jason Koop, a top ultra coach. He says that people should pick races that they feel inspired about. Sometimes inspiration happens unexpectedly. For me, this actually started sometime after the UTMB. While I can get very excited about races, big events like the UTMB can also mean that there is a mental hangover. After a big party like that can kind of drain motivation. After such an event, it was a bit hard to find the drive to train really well or be inspired about racing. I recognized that and just took things off after the trail world champs in Portugal. My plan was not to run at all, until I really felt like running again. That all kicked in around December and I just started running a ton and started thinking about races I could do.

After not running for a bit, I felt like I want to do a faster ultra race, rather that something super difficult and slow. I had done the UTBCN marathon distance before and knew there would be quite a bit of easier running. This race course isn’t really very spectacular in any way and kind of has a bit of a bad reputation. I didn’t have a great experience last time, but still, after this break, it really started feeling like the race to do. I started thinking about it more and more, adding race-specific training to my routine and really became committed to train to do well there.

So I have definitely been quite emotionally engaged with this event for a long time now. I think I had a great big training block in the beginning of the year. I just finished that and started my 3-week tapering for the race. Just then I realized I have a serious problem in my ankle. I had a badly swollen ankle after doing 27k of the race course in advance and it really hurt to walk. It’s a bit of a mystery injury, I’m not sure if it’s a stress fracture, or if I banged the ankle on something. It’s the inside ankle bone of my left foot, the one that always gets hits by rolling rocks on downhills. I don’t remember any particular big hit, but it gets banged up all the time. Anyway, the result was a lot of pain and inability to run for 3 weeks. Now I’ve managed to do a couple of 5k runs without too much trouble, although I can always still feel it a bit afterwards.

So why do I have this strange plan? Well, all the training and planning was because I wanted to be competitive here. I still want to do that and that’s the biggest motivator for me. I want to have a little battle at the front of the race, get a feeling for the other runners, their strength and weaknesses. Hang out with them and see if I feel like I belong to the same party. It’s probably very unrealistic to think that I will win the race, be on the podium or even finish it, but I want to get a feeling of what I could perhaps have done if everything had gone well. So I want to stay in some contact with the lead group for as long as I can and it makes sense. When things get too hard, I will hold back and just carry on doing my own race and try to finish with the best results possible while doing the least amount of damage to myself.

We’ll see how things turn out, but I can already tell that I’m a lot damn happier now that I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to line up at the start and have a go.

See you on the trails!

Running Projects

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of running to places from my front door. I’ve been doing it too and the longer the better. Now in Alforja, I live in 480m of altitude at the intersection of two mountain ranges, so I have endless places to go to. I’ve been planning to run from home to a friends house in L’Ametlla del Mar. I knew parts of the way from running in these mountains before, but had to figure out perhaps 60% of the route. I patched it together by scanning routes in WikiLoc and my experience. The original idea was to run the last part with my friend, so that he could guide the final kms near his house. In the end he didn’t feel like it, so I was on my own. I already planned to do only part of the route and play it safe and stop before the final 28km or so. That idea sounded pretty lame, so just a day before the run I thought I should just push all the way and do the planned 65km or so. I put it the unknown parts of the route together in my Suunto Spartan Ultra and had a bunch of separate routes loaded, which should help me navigate all the way.

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All ready, clean and optimistic

I still had a bail-out point in the last village before the final 23km stretch that has no roads or villages. I told Katri that I will try to go all the way, but to watch her phone in case I need a ride out. I also told my friend I’ll be trying to do the whole thing.

So I set out in the morning just after 10 AM. It was pretty foggy and even misty, but a beautiful quiet morning to go running. I enjoyed the first 40 mins climb up to the Hermita de Puigcerver where I was planning to have my second breakfast, hobbit style. I had another coffee and half bocadillo con queso. From here I continued at a quiet pace through the foggy high parts of our mountain. It was all very pleasant and interesting with all the fog. After all the coffees and drinking, I had to pee all the time. I had to stop 6 times before the first 9 kms. It was crazy.

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Early fog

I had a tiny mishap in a new part of the mountain, just past the point where the Rally de Catalunya ends, going up to another pretty steep ridge. The trail was pretty non-existent in the side of the rocky mountain and I got lost a tiny bit. I had to track back up the mountain to find the trail, but the Suunto did a great job getting me back on the map. Running by the ridge was great, there were straight drop-offs of 200 meters and it was all very dramatic with the clouds, wind, misty rain. It felt like high mountains, although it was not. I was well prepared with clothes and gear, but didn’t have to put anything extra on, other than using my Buff as a hat.

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These scene was amazing.. the best part of the fog cloud had passed by the time I found my phone

I kept up a nice, consistent pace with no stops almost all the way to Colldejou, where I stopped to grab a Nutella sandwich from my backpack and walking a bit while eating it. In Colldejou, km 22 or so, I filled my water bottles and stopped down for a couple of minutes to activate the next part of the route in my watch. I had some trouble with the route, because after switching it, it was just showing the same route I had just done. I thought there was something wrong with the Suunto, so I tried stopping the run, re-starting and trying again. Still the same route. After some messing around, I realized I had screwed up myself and loaded the same route twice. I now had to run the next 10km blind. Crap. The only way from Colldejou to Pratdip I knew for sure was a dirt road. The best plan of action I had was to follow that. I texted my wife and friend with a status update, telling them that everything was looking good and I was moving on. Just before arriving at the dirt road, I came across a trail sign by chance and was happy to see it was pointing to Pratdip, where I was going. Ok, change of plans, I will take the trail and hope it’s well marked. It was and pretty soon I came across parts that I had ran before and I knew pretty well where I was. The trail was beautiful, running through the forest and it was pretty easy with just some moderate climbing. I soon arrived in Pratdip where for the first time I thought I can now feel the run in my legs, after km 32 or so. I had high confidence I can make it all the way, so  it was time for a brief stop to refuel and then move on.

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This flag has the best views

In 7km or so, I arrived in Masboquera, the final bail-out point, after which the trail would just be high ridges, no villages or accessible roads. All was good, so I ate my last Nutella sandwich, texted Katri and friend again that I will go for the final stretch, 23kms or so, ETA in 3-4 hours and that I would be following the GR-192. Things were actually feeling pretty good and I was happy and pushing a little bit in the next big climb to the ridge. It was great going up with the running poles, trying to jog along strong, but not redlining it. At the top, it was pretty technical for a bit, but then opened up on some dirt roads, which were great as I could feel I’m making nice headway and the next kilometers flew by.

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I could now see the sea and the sun was out, as was the wind and I was just about to find out about that

I was pretty high again and closing in on the sea side of the mountains. This was great because I could see beautiful views, with the afternoon sun shining over the sea. The downside was also that I was now very exposed to the wind, which the peaks funneled into these crazy wind tunnels that made running on the technical rocks very hard. I was leaning to the wind and running at an angle, but every now and then the wind suddenly stopped when I turned a corner and it was hard. Fighting the wind and balancing every second was also a very good full body exercise and probably burned a lot of energy. The final part of the ridge was the hardest, the trail disappeared completely and it was just rocks, bush and wind. I kept following the line my Suunto was showing me and made my way down the mountain. I was soon in a canyon and protected from the wind, which was a big relief.

Coming down the mountain was very hard, but it also allowed my system to rest a bit. When I got to the canyon, I was actually feeling great. All of the pain and stiffness that I had felt earlier was gone and I was flying. This was the runner’s high, the feeling that only happens in long efforts and that you’ll want to cherish and make it last. I could have gone very fast, but pulled it in a little bit and kept drinking etc, knowing that there would still be a few more km’s to go. Pretty soon I hit a dirt road and I knew the rest of the way would just be like that with a brief stretch of asphalt. The final part was a bit confusing, it was now dark and I was running with my headlamp and had to navigate through some olive tree groves to find the way that would lead me to the urbanizacion where my friend lived. Again, the Suunto did a good job and I found my way with no issues. The final challenge was to find the exact house of my friend from his giant complex of houses. I needed to resort to the map on my iPhone and when I put in the address, I was pretty happy to see I was just around the corner and actually just looking to my left, I could see the party lights on in his garden. Yay.

jps house.jpg

A bit more dirty and bruised than in the morning, but otherwise quite ok

My route was a bit shorter than the expected 65kms. I was able to navigate the route very efficiently (thanks Suunto) and some of the paths were shorter than what the GPS tracks showed. The total stats were 58km and 2,800m+ and it took me 7h 50 min. I did the run with my new Topo Athletic Terraventure shoes, which was half a size too big, but otherwise they performed very well.

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Beer & cooking calcots

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Bon Profit!

Katri and my friends were already waiting and finishing their cooking. They expected me to be shattered when I arrived, but I was feeling pretty all right, but very dirty. After a nice hot shower, it was great to be with good friends, with a beer in my hand and good food waiting in the table. It was a really beautiful journey with a great ending.

The Art of Failure

Not everything always goes according to the plan … many would say this is the norm rather than the exception. Sometimes we feel bad about our failures, so they might not be the most publicized stories, especially in sports. However, there are usually really important lessons in almost any failure, so there is value in sharing them. Here are some of my favourite errors.

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One of my favourite race photos (by Jordi Santacana) and I remember this moment well. I was taking a moment to take care of myself and loved it. 

HTMCD 2013 – Energy. This was my first ‘ultra’. It wasn’t a long race, only 47km or so, but 2,800m+ climbing. I did a number of mistakes, but the biggest one was that I had no idea how to fuel for an ultra. My experience was from road marathons, so the plan was to have a couple of gels and pick up some stuff from the aid stations. I was bonking crazy hard by half way point and then finally figured I need to eat lots, so I gorged on some Nutella croissants and other crazy stuff, until I felt really sick. It took a long time before any of that helped and I was in the high point of the race, in a snowstorm with sleet raining in my face vertically. I have never felt so weak and I had to put on ALL the mandatory gear I was carrying and was very happy that I had it. I had been joking with several people about the ridiculous list of stuff we had to carry when it’s +15 and sunny (at the start). I decided to drop out of the race as soon as I possibly can, but still had to make my way to the next aid station. Several people stopped and asked me if I’m ok. I told them I’ll survive and I’m just walking to the next point to drop out. After maybe 1hr, the food kicked in and I felt all right again … once I actually got to the aid station, I saw no reason to quit and just carried on and finished. That was my first experience of getting over a serious bonk, really getting back into the race from a very deep, miserable state. It was important.

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Broken … but still determined to get up. Kiki looks worried. 

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Dehydration looks like this

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And can easily lead into this

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… and then it’s hard to get up

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But if you do, you can still get the job done!

UTMCD 2015 – stomach / water – Still not 100% sure what happened here. I started the race conservatively, but didn’t feel that great from the start. I fell at km16 or so, in a very easy part, which was the first warning sign. My fueling plan was a weird mix of all kinds of stuff, which probably wasn’t a good idea. I didn’t feel any better after the first aid point and things just slowly kept getting worse. I was going pretty slow, but it felt hard and I couldn’t figure out why. I usually did far better in training, but now everything was just hard. I realized I was having dehydration issues and then ran out of water. I drank a lot at the next aid station, but perhaps it was too late. I struggled on, made it to the half way point and sat down properly until I could eat something again. I got some stuff down, but it was very hard to eat or drink and just felt pretty bad. After spending quite a bit of time at the aid station, I moved on and felt a little bit better. After the next big climb, I had a nice good moment in the race and picked up lots of places and was getting near to the top 10 again. It was still hard to eat and drink and I was running on fumes. The next big climb then got me and a lot of the people I just passed flew by while I was having hard time just staying up. Once I made the aid station, I tried to eat a bit, but after 15 minutes or so, managing to get 1 piece of pasta down per minute and still 25km to go in the race and still at 0 energy, I decided to call it quits. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I was dehydrated from the start and ate too much too early and didn’t drink enough water. The proper solution would have been to stop eating and just drink pure water. Again, I learned something that has helped me since then.

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In one race, I had so bad cramps I could not change my shoes, so I had to take 5 minutes of massage. I still won in the end. 

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Nuuksio, Finland. In a race where I think I fell down 4 times. 

Transvulcania 2014 (and 2016) – stupid falls. I experienced a proper runner’s high for the first time in Transvulcania. I had gotten over a low point in the race and was back with tons of energy, heightened senses and strong legs at km 55k… the start of the legendary monster downhill (21km and -2,500m or so). I was flying past people, yelling and feeling invincible. Then I fell in a soft spot and had a bit of a WTF moment … but I still felt great and figured I’m still a superman and can just keep going at close to autobahn speed. Then I fell really bad on some sharp volcanic rocks in full downhill speed. I instantly knew things were pretty bad with blood everywhere (chest, knees, hands, arms..). After taking an inventory of my body, I realized I was bleeding pretty hard, but that my knees and legs were still ok. I was in 1,900m altitude still in the middle of the forest with several kilometers until the next aid station. The only option was to keep moving and to my surprise, I still felt great and could move pretty fast. I was still passing some people, while being pretty much completely covered in blood and I though it was pretty comical. I was probably giggling as I went past these people. I made it to the aid station and was immediately taken to the first aid tent and was attended by 4 doctors / nurses simultaneously, who did a super job of cleaning everything up and bandaging it. We were still in 1,200 meters and the nearest hospital was sill 9 or so km away. They asked if there is any way I can continue going down. I was thrilled, I just wanted to finish the race and was pretty happy that they would let me continue. They fixed me up as well as they could and got the bleeding more or less stopped and then let me go again. It was +30 degrees hot and full sun and I had stopped to eat an drink since the fall and I kind of forgot to start that again. I made it to the coast, but was now totally out of my mind from dehydration, shock, low energy, but it was such a great race that I was still having a good experience. I grabbed some watermelon and water from the next station, but otherwise just ran through .. people were shocked to see this bloody, giggling guy still continuing.

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In the hospital, about to get stitched up. 

Trail world championships (2016) – logistics / water issues

This is a very humiliating story. The race in Portugal started well and I was well positioned at km30. Katri, my wife and our team aid station manager tried to hurry me through the aid station quickly (as was her job). I wanted to hear who’s leading, how the other Finns are doing etc, so it was quiet a chaotic pit stop. Just 5 minutes after I moved on, I realized I had forgot to fill my other water bottle. I remembered that there is a stream that the course crosses some distance ahead, so I planned to just fill my bottle there. This little snafu was the beginning of a race-ending disaster. I proceeded to fill the bottle as planned, but was a bit worried because there was cow shit all around the fields nearby, so I wasn’t 100% sure about the water quality. I thought I would replace all the water I now had in the next village if I could see a water source. Arriving into the village, I spotted a water fountain with some tourists around it, so I went there, poured all the water I had on my head and went to fill the bottles. The tourists tried to help me, but it turned out the fountain didn’t work at all. I cursed, having just poured all my water away. The only thing I could do was to take some water from a not-very-clean looking pond. I had to move on and face the biggest climb of the race in the full sun with no drinkable water. I was looking for water everywhere, houses, people, but nobody had any. I begged water from the organizers, who were very reluctant to give me any because of penalties in the rules. I told them I don’t care, I’m not sure if will get to the next aid station at all. I got a couple of sips from them (and was never reported). I dreamily looked at mud ponds, wanting to go see if I could drink that somehow. I stumbled on for kilometers and kilometers and it felt like a desperate life-and-death battle. When I finally reached the next aid station, I had to stop and drink and eat for 10 minutes. All this made me very sick and for the rest of the race, I could hardly walk straight and had to finally drop at km65 and quickly fell asleep in the sun in one of the villages. This was a really a freak incident and shows how a series of small errors can lead into a total catastrophe.

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In Portugal, shortly after finally finding water again. I would drop an hour or so later …

I like to have a positive viewpoint to most things and the silver lining with all of these has been that each failure has made me a better runner. I’ve learned from these far more than from the smooth races. And in ultra mountain trail racing, avoiding problems is often the most important thing and I’ve become much better at it.

IAU Trail World Championships, Portugal

If all things go as planned, I will be running in the Finland team for the second time and competing at a top international level. What sets these championships apart is that the average level of the runners is very, very high. The top competition is the same as in many big international races and I have been in races with the very best before. Getting even into the top 50% is not a walk in the park (for me, at least).

Things have been a bit weird since the UTMB. It certainly took something out of me. Especially mentally, it was such a huge engagement that the tank has been empty. I entertained myself during the last kilometers of the UTMB by thinking how I will immediately cancel all of my upcoming races because I hate running so much. Especially this one marathon relay race I had signed up for. Well, I didn’t do that, of course. Just 2 weeks later, I ran the race and did surprisingly well, keeping a 3:41 pace for my 10,5km leg in a pretty slow course snaking through a village. I also did a 25km, 1,500m+ super hard mountain race where I had a good fight for 3rd position and until half way in, I was quite sure I would get it at the end, but then calf cramps got me and I had to hold back. While these were both good results, I didn’t feel all that good during the races and I had to dig quite deep. I had no superman-like moments in there.

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Running in Vinyols, photo by Blanca de la Sotilla

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Trail ‘running’, Pratdip style, photo by Miguel Sanchez

A few days ago I also had a disastrous training run, where I could hardly walk a 6,5k route and was really trashed at the end. Last weekend I did a 31km, 1,600m+ training run, having lunch in the middle and then turning back. While there were some nice moments in there, a lot of the run was a bit of a struggle, especially coming back. It just feels a bit like the fall is coming and there isn’t that much energy around. Some little things, like the fact that my toes are still mashed into pulp and I have lost four toenails and they hurt can be a bigger deal than it is. Physically, it hasn’t helped that I started Crossfit again after the summer break and really jammed up my legs and glutes. It felt like all the power had gone from the legs.

But then today, things felt good again. I could feel that when just warming up and taking the dogs for a little run. I was dancing down the trail again. Training after that felt good and I was powering up my usual hills very well again. I did a silly mistake and left my headlamp home and ended up in the dark, but that didn’t really bother me. It feels like the run today changed my whole perspective. UTMB is now in the history books and it’s time to tackle the challenge in Portugal. We’ll be facing 85km and 5,000m+ climbing. The profile and terrain seem very similar to what we have at home, so that sounds quite good. The Finland team is strong, we finished 4th last year and I know the top runners in the team have improved.

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Feeling good again here, photo by Blanca

I guess my lesson is that no matter how crappy things might feel every now and then, it’s all likely to pass. No need to panic, or force things if the motivation isn’t there 100% of the time. Things have a tendency to fall into place, so what is to be, will be.

Happy trails and wish us swift legs for Portugal!

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UTMB 2016 Race Plan

It is UTMB time. This is by far the biggest athletic challenge of my life. Even in the best case scenario, I will be running about twice as long as I have ever done. So it’ll be a journey to the unknown. It’s not exactly easy to plan for that, so I’m going to keep it pretty simple.

The going in position is very good. Training since May has been good and there are no significant problems and I should be and feel fit. Mentally things are also very good, I have a positive outlook into the race and confidence is quite high. I have been racing very little this year, but my last (night) race I won and it was all good.

So my race outcome objectives are really to go and run a good race and try for a good time. My plan A is to loosely target a time in the 25-28 h range. 25h would be an amazing time. I think the best Finnish time is just under 28 hours. I’m not going into the race to slow myself down and with the attitude ‘to just finish’. I want to run efficiently and will try to be smooth and consistent. Surely there will be low moments in the race and these I will treat with humility, respecting the course and will use whatever time it takes to fuel and fix whatever problems come up.

There are a few challenges I can foresee that I try to account for:

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  • The first part is very easy, I have no concerns about that. I was lucky to get into the elite starting area with my ITRA ranking points, so I will go with the flow and run at a nice, efficient pace. Many people go very fast here, too fast.
  • The first 31k are really easy. Then at around midnight, we start the long climb quite high up. I’ll meet my crew in Les Contamines at km 30 and they’ll help me get ready for the night.
  • Night-time strategy is usually the same for me… take it easy, don’t do anything silly and just get into the rhythm. I love nighttime racing, so I don’t have any concerns about it.
  • The concern with the night part is that it is very long. I’ll probably be out there for 7 hours and it’s difficult to carry enough calories with my setup for that long. There is a lot of mandatory gear, so my pack is really full. I will need to have the patience to fuel well at the aid stations during the night.
  • In the morning, I’ll see my family again in Courmayer. Many people take a lot of time at this aid station to transition from night running to the day. I’ll need to do the same, put on suncream etc. I would like to be out in 15 minutes or so, but will take the time I need.
  • After Courmayer, there is a big climb and then a flattish section in altitude. This is probably going to be quite hard, after running so long. Important to fuel well in Courmayer.
  • The previous section is followed by another climb, even higher, to the highest point in the race. I could envision this to be one of the most difficult moments in the race.
  • There is a long downhill from here that is most likely going to destroy whatever is left of my quads.
  • The aid station following this downhill where I see my crew is probably going to be important to regroup, fuel up and get ready to face the remaining distance.
  • The last three climbs are going to be hard. I’m not sure which I’m more concerned about, the uphill or the down. We’ll see.
  • In addition to the course challenges, I will probably have some trouble with my shoes. I’ve made some sizing mistakes and don’t really have an ideal race shoe. I will go with the Salomon S-Lab wings normal, not the soft-ground version. This is likely going to be slippery in any mud, but otherwise a nice fast shoe. All my other alternatives have some kind of compromises for this kind of a race, so I’ll just have to deal with it.
  • Nutrition will be really key. I will go mostly with gels during the run and try to consume soup and other real food at the aid stations. Need to drink loads, all the time. If my ‘running time’ is 25 hours and I take 3 gels per hour, that’s 75 gels. Disgusting…

Now that you know my plan, feel free to show your support. The race will start at 18:00 on Friday evening and there is likely going to be a system that posts  progress on Facebook. You can also follow the race on http://utmbmontblanc.com/. I think there will be a continuous online broadcast of things. My bib number is 222. You can send me messages via FB messenger, whatsapp, text and I will check these out every time I meet my crew. Any info about the race situation, encouragement, whatever is always welcome. There is still one more week to go before the race and the first objective is always to get to the start line. From there, I hope to be able to tell you the full story about how all of this will really play out in reality.