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.

sage jordi saragossa

True skyrunning. Photo by Jordi Saragossa. 

palma green

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.

palma terrace

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

palma horse

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…

IMG_5891

Transvulcania water. Makes you run faster? 

palma winners

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.

ultra startultra start Jordi

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 🙂

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.

palma downhill

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.

sage finish

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.

palma tree

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.

polvi

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.

easy trails

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.

palma katri

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.

roque

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

tazacorte

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.

utmcd getting ready

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.

utmcd start

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.

utmcd Siurana

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).

utmcd vilaplana

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 🙂

utmcd meta

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:

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My HR and power for the race:

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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.

 

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.

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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