Elverum

Today was the final Norwegian gymnastics cup, in Elverum. Gjovik’s under 11, was represented by Lidia. And, over 11 was represented by Emilia and Emilie. Emilie is 14, and she is already in group 1. She did pretty well, scoring high and securing second place overall, which, given that all other clubs had in excess of 10 girls in their teams, is pretty awesome. Lidia and Emilia did well, although the reduced training hours do show in their performances. It went well, even though some minor imperfections made their scores lower that it could have been, they both were pretty pleased with their performances. Emilia shortened some of the routines, because she has not practised enough. It was the first cup this season for the girls, but the last in the series. We will see next year.

Gymnastics is an interesting sport, in which the confidence and self-awareness are as important as the skills themselves. If you select elements in your routine that you cannot fulfil, you will score suboptimally. But, if you pick too easy elements then you will score below your abilities. Judging what should be tried, is the key. You should select elements that are at your very limit. And this is hard. Running a marathon is similar – if you overestimate your capabilities, and run too fast early, you finish with a worse time compared to running slower. But, if you run too conservatively from the start, you will not achieve your true potential. You have to run just with the speed that aligns with your limit.

 


Poznan marathon: October 11

Poznan marathon story

Before the start

I was supported by my dad. We got near the stadium around 40min before the start. It was hard to find a parking spot. Cold morning. It was around +4C when we started driving. My dad had to scrape frost from the windshields. While walking through the Poznan trade centre towards the hall I’ve done a quick warmup. The hall was packed with runners, and the inside of the hall was nice and warm. We walked through the Hall #3 and exited on the other side. There were long queue to the toilets. Lots of people everywhere. I’ve run back and forth a bit, trying to keep warm. The time passed quickly. The last 10min of waiting I spent already in the crowd, near the start line. Jumping. Screaming. Getting the adrenaline pumping. And then – the run just started.

Before the 18th km

I started relatively fast, trying to get in front of the slower runners to have space to keep my own pace. I have not started far from the start line. 10 seconds to be precise. I kept the fast pace. Unusually fast. My heart-rate was in the excess of 180, hitting 190bpm. All due to adrenaline rush. I wasn’t actually running on my limit – quite to the contrary, I felt relaxed. 5min into the race and the heart settled on around 165bpm. I have never run that fast before. Usually, I start quite conservative for the first 10km or so. I try to pick up the pace later. Early fast start means early build-up of lactic acid in the muscles, which means trouble later in the race. Because the last two marathons I’ve finished with the power reserves, I wanted to know how it feels to run faster. The pace was set, and even though the pace was fast for me (4:15min/km), I was able to keep it up reasonably well. I’ve joined the group of runners with the 3:00 pacemaker, and running with that group felt great. I could see some of the runners in the group doing well. Others showing early signs of struggle. I was in the latter category. I knew I will not be able to keep up that pace till the end of the race. The first crisis came at about 18th kilometre.

After the 18th km

The running with a group means you have to keep the pace of the group. It is both: good and bad. The good thing is that you have less air resistance and that the group keeps you motivated. This particular group was quite densely packed, to a point that even small variation in speed was hard to execute. We all were so close to each other, that slowing down means everyone behind you have to slow down with you, and speeding up is not easy because there is no space. I decided I need to vary my speed a bit more than the running in tight group allows me to do. I slowly dropped to the tail of the group. I wasn’t much slower than the group, but I’ve noticed that moving forward towards the centre of the group became impossible. I just couldn’t move forward anymore. I continue running with slightly slower pace then. In the group I managed 4:13min/km, and then by dropping to the tail, I’ve dropped also to 4:15min/km. But, that was the speed I should have to achieve 3hrs mark anyway, so I was actually quite happy. Running at 4:15min/km felt somewhat easier, and I could vary my tempo more freely. The relatively happy running was then interrupted at around the 26th km, when I started feeling quite bad. The run suddenly became super HARD.

The pain

The right quadriceps started aching shortly after 10th or 11th kilometre, and I had to favour my left leg for a while. This soon elevated the pain of the left calf to a point that it was aching more than the quadriceps before. With both left calf and right quad aching quite badly, I tried to vary the gait so that other muscles put in more effort offloading the two that starting showing signs of damage early. I have also started pushing more with my arms, hoping that the tired leg muscles will have just a bit easier. Once the pain sets in, it never really goes away, but when a new pain in new muscle appears with ferocious intensity, you somewhat forget about the previous pain.  It is like climbing the staircase, where each new step is just a bit taller and harder than the previous one. While you overcoming step 3, it feels intense and hard, but once you at step 8, looking back to your efforts and troubles at step 3 you get a completely different perspective. The leg pain actually faded into minor once my back and shoulders started aching from intense arm workout that I was putting in. I tense too much, and the hard fast running was taking its toll.

After the wall

I hit the wall around 26th km. Suddenly, I just felt extremely weak. I pushed harder, trying to wait it off, but the pain, tiredness and lack of power never went away. In fact, my leg muscles felt weaker and weaker. I had to push harder still, yet, watching my tempo slowly dropping down. 4:16min/km. Push push push push like never before, just to realise, it is now 4:18min/km. I tried real hard to find the power and energy and pushing even more. 4:20min/km. Yes, the intensity of the wall was somewhat crushed, and running for a while at 4:20min/km felt good again. Stable. Perhaps I could keep that pace? Nope. The thing is that the time between the walls actually shrinks the longer you run, and the new down period set in. Pushing you more into the hell. I felt quite good overall. Sure, I was aching everywhere, but the leg muscles stopped complaining, and went numb instead. I couldn’t feel much pain, just a total inability to generate energy. The leg muscles felt really slow and weak. The arms could pump something but that was rather painful. My back was hurting from the workout my hands were doing. I monitored my heart-rate and it was steady at around 165bpm. I asked myself: can I do 170bpm? And the answer was: NO. No matter how hard and fast I tried to run I simply couldn’t push my body beyond the 168bpm. Strange feeling. I new my heart can do more than that, I new my mind can withstand more pain that I was in, yet, for some reason, I just couldn’t push harder. Was I on my physical limit? I’d like to think that, but I probably wasn’t 😉  I did not feel that I was. Have I reached my physical limit?

The finish

When there were 6 or so kilometres left, it became even harder to run and to keep the pace. And then, on the last 4 km stretch we all had a head-wind pushing us back. Making the forward progression became even harder. I remember slipping slowly back in the pack, being completely depleted, and having no power for a strong finish. I was empty. Crossing the finish line have not delivered a strong emotional kick. It just felt the job was hard, and now, the job was done. I was pleased to reach the same time as before, which is 3:10. This time, without any power reserves left. And with the whole body in pain.

My dad was waiting for me at the finish line. My wife and kids where cheering my back home, watching the entire race through internet broadcast. They knew I went well for the first 15km or so, but I was slipping in position from then on. I eventually finished on place 334th.

About 20min after the finish, the endorphins kicked in, and I became overwhelmed with a good feelings 😉 That good feelings stay with me for about 2 weeks solid after every long run. (Writing this entry I have a grin on my face.)

Because I have already achieved 3:10, it turns overall into a bit of anticlimax. With all the prep and no improvement in the actual “result”. But then again, i’m not sure if the result in terms of time is the key, or if the experience is the main reason why I do it. The experience is worth the effort. The 13th marathon story ended.

 

Some stats

There were 7052 runners taking part in the run. 6242 finished. That means more than 10% tried to do something and gave up at some point.

The oldest man finishing was 74 years old (Piotr Silkin). He finished with the time of 4:14. The oldest woman was 73 (Wiera Stasiewicz). She finished with 5:28.

Poznan marathon results


Marathon: what it is.

Marathon: what it is?

It is not really about fitness. Or your legs. It is all about your head. And your heart.

The run starts with lots of euphoria and enthusiasm. It is extremely elevating to be able to participant in one of the old running events. Events that inspired so many people in the past, and continue to inspire more. The event that goes back to the ancient Greece and the story of the Marathon. And it feels awesome to be surrounded by thousands of like-minded people, that undertake the challenge with you. Awesome. Truly elevating. You start. The rhythmic noise of people’s feet hitting the road puts your mind quickly into ease and meditation-like state. The first 10k passes rather quickly. You keep the pace that you set yourself for. You feel great. You have been overtaken by faster runners. You have overtaken the slower. And you felt great doing it. You settle to the group of runners that are LIKE YOU. Some might be slightly slower. Some slightly faster. But the same t-shirts, the same shoes, the same faces start building a family around you. You might talk with some. You might be running in silence. But you are part of that family. And you feel it. The rhythmic sound of shoes hitting the road accompany you.
With relatively happy thoughts you hit the half mark. You start thinking, that you might be able to DO IT. The half wasn’t that bad, right? It continues to feel good. You keep the pace. Things seem to be going according to your plan. And then, suddenly, it happens. Perhaps 25th kilometre or so. You slow down! Just a bit. But enough to notice. And you have to make a huge mental effort, to push your body to run. To return to the pace that you should have. And it happens again. You slow down. Just a bit. And again you have to force yourself to run faster. You repeat that for a while. You get used to it. You know it is a cycle. You pick-up, you give-up, you pick-up again. Easier. Harder. Easier. Harder. You get into the cycle. Your legs start to ache. Your entire body starts to ache. And you start feeling tired of the effort. In your head. You JUST want to slow down. But people around you help. You tag along a group. Or perhaps just one runner. They keep you moving.

You hit 30km or so. You start seeing some people that slowed down. Some start to walk. Some are giving up. You may shout to them. Or pat them on the back. Or encourage them to FIGHT. This is not the end. There is WORK to be done. And you suddenly feel good again. You feel that you might have what it takes! You keep pushing. You feel the run is great. You got a second wind perhaps.

You try to fool yourself thinking that MOST of the work is behind you. That things will be fine! But you KNOW this is a lie. You know, the race has not started yet. The race will really start after you hit the wall. The wall may hit you seriously hard. Or gradually. But it always happens. It sneaks up on you. Suddenly. The realisation, first in your body, then in your mind, that the pace is TOO MUCH for you to keep. You cannot run THAT FAST anymore. No way! Your body screams for you to slow down. Your mind keeps inventing reasons of why you should slow down. Slowing down is the only thing on your mind from now on.

But you are not slowing down. Your body aches. Screams. You feel it is unbearable. You have to “leave your body behind” and think about something else. You better HAVE something else to think about. Because the effort is more than you can take. More than you can deal with. The usual unity of your mind and your body is shuttered. The effort is way TOO MUCH to take in.

Yet you continue to run. And you continue to push. This is real HELL. Every passing minute feels like eternity. You start resisting checking the watch, because you know that you will be very disappointed. You cannot comprehend that the hours of suffering that you just went through, are actually minutes. Or worse: seconds. You KNOW you cannot continue this. But you do. You keep running. The only thing in your head is to give up. Your thoughts race, and you start seriously contemplating giving up. But you continue, and instead of slowing down, you give up hope. You start thinking that this suffering, this unbearable effort will never end. That this HELL will just continue for eternity. You start thinking of death. You may actually start begging for death. Anything, that would put you out of this misery. You would give anything for this to end. Your body and your mind scream at you to STOP.
You continue running.

And then you see it. You do not believe it, but it is real. You see the finish line. And ONLY THEN you start believing that you can actually finish it. That it will be OK. That you have conquered the impossible. How? You have no idea. But you know: YOU, somehow, managed to go through this inhumane effort. This hell. And you came out on the other end. There is still a doubt, a hint that you just attempted the impossible, and that IT WILL NOT WORK. But it does – you cross the finishing line. It is real. You are totally exhausted. Completely depleted. Both, physically. And mentally.

A surge of emotions hit you. You may cry. The emotions are super strong. It is HUGE. You have done something that was impossible. You have gone beyond your own limitations. You WERE THERE. You have witnessed it. And you came out.

It is one of the most elevating feelings that you can experience. It shakes you to the very core. It goes real deep in you. And stays with you. Forever.

One day left. The day after tomorrow I will stand with 8 thousands other runners. And run. If you never done it yourself, you have no idea. You do not know, or understand of how it feels. No idea of what it is. You may think you do, cognitively. But it is not possible for you to fully appreciate the effort and challenge. And what you missing out. Wanna try it?

 


Fear. Faith.

I will run 130km tomorrow, during the mountain run festival in Poland. Is running ultra something exciting? Something great? Not really. As in life, there are moments that you cherish, moments that highlight the journey, but overall, it boils down to just a mundane inhumane effort.  It is hard to explain why I will run. I cannot rationally explain it to myself neither.

There is something magically appealing in the inhumane effort that one has to go through to come out on the other side. It is a true “valley of darkness”, and the only emotion that I entertain now is fear. There is no joy, no enthusiasm, no elevating feeling. I had those earlier, when doing longer runs for the first time. But now, with a bit of experience, I am just plainly scared. I know that I will go through hell. My body. And my mind.

How do you prepare for running ultra? What do you need? There is only one thing you need to have, and one thing only. FAITH. You need to believe, that you can do it. It is that simple.

 


Ultrabirkebeiner 2014

Friday evening, packing. 20:00, getting into the car and driving to Lillehammer. Weather is nice, sunny. The Stadium is easy to find, huge hall, with lots of merchandise. Registering, getting the T-shirt, number, and a map of the trail. Seems crowded, but mostly this is due to 21km race. Finding a nice carpark just above the stadium building. Short walk. Nice sunset. Sleeping in the car (first night in the new car). 5:00, waking up, quick breakfast, and walking to the bus stop. Two or three busses take close to 200 runners to Sjusjoen for the start. No toilets on the start, so there is a longish queue to the only toilet in the registration building. Starting with over 20min delay. The trail quickly becomes single-trail that is hard to overtake on, and the running is initially a bit congested. It stretches after the first 4-5 kms.

Most of the trail is single-path, with rather rocky down- or up-hill sections. Some places a bit wet and soft, getting the shoes wet pretty early in the race. The trail is generally well marked, with white-tape hanging from branches of trees. There are few forest areas, but most of the first 40km is pretty open country. Getting hot and sunburned. Some sections are on wet snow (200-300m at most). The flat road-running shoes are not helpful there. The shoes also fail badly on the rocky downhill sections, where hitting the sole of my feet is rather painful. I run with small groups, or alone in places. The trail makes it really hard to look around – I have to almost constantly look at where to place my feet.

For the final 15km the ultra trail joins the 21km race. This is the highlight of the race – the runners all around, with great atmosphere. I’m not well prepared, have not practiced trail running enough, and the 10days of flu or whatever that was takes its toll. After initial 10km I switch to my training pace, of about 6min/km, then to survival pace of about 8min/km or so. In survival mode for most of the run, picking up slightly at the final few kms. Totally exhausted and shuttered. Notes for next year: prepare, do not take the race as casual; take proper trail running shoes; apply sunscreen; be healthy for the race.

 


The day before

Unlike other shorter-distance running events, and surprisingly somewhat, there is quite a number of things to take care of. Food, drinks, clothing for the trip and for the run, navigation to get to the registration spot, head torch for the night running, change of shoes, etc. I have almost thought of setting up a ToDo list.

Am I ready? Not sure. Probably not. I will know afterwards what could have been done better. Slowly everything else crosses the boundary beyond the margins of my attention. My mind slowly focuses on just one and only thing. The run. This is a huge mental “detox” I guess. Like a flush. All mental clutter has to leave the head, and it will, perhaps not before the start of the event, but definitely before the end. Clarity. And emptiness. Perhaps it is this emptiness that I fear the most.

Like being completely naked. There will be nothing to hold on to, everything will be thought through million times, and there will be nothing else to think about. Life analyzed over and over, from the beginning and all the way to the end. Emptiness. Clarity? Not sure about the latter.

Is it possible to experience something that cannot be communicated to others, and for just few people to be experiencing it and “sharing” the insights about the experience? Or is it more about a shared “illusion”, rather than true experience of something unique? How can these two be distinguished?

I had quite a good night sleep tonight. Not too stressed. But my heart rate has risen a bit. The leap to the unknown is probably taking its toll.

Next post will be from the other side… I will become a slightly different person. Something will break. Something will change. Somethings will never be the same.

 

 


2 days left

I’ve picked up my blood tests today. Everything is just fine. Sugar, iron, blood morphology, and cholesterol all in perfect shape. Blood pressure 116/74. Resting heart rate in the morning a bit elevated after yesterday’s run – 56. But it should drop down to high 40s in the next day or two. I have difficulties sleeping and relaxing – thinking too much about the event.

I think the night and waiting for the sunrise are going to be the hardest part, most likely. The lack of sleep, the exhaustion, and the mental challenge of continued running. Not sure I am mentally well-prepared. Physically perhaps. Mentally? We shall see.

As easy the usual running trainings and events are, preps for this race are getting harder and harder. All the decisions about the strategy, food, and fluid intake. What to prepare? What will I want to eat during the race? What will I do not want? Energy bars? Protein bars? Gels? What drinks? Hot drinks like soups? I have no idea. Clothing is also a bit of mystery – normally shorts and t-shirt are fine but running through the night might require warmer clothing. How about chaffing? Should I tape my feet? How?

I’m slowly getting ready, but there are things that I’m not so sure about, and things I would rather have sorted before the race, rather than dealing with them during the race. Anyway, most of the shopping has been done today. One more day here at my parents place and then on Friday, my sister and I will travel to the event.

It is interesting to observe how slowly many mundane things from life are getting pushed aside, and the event takes the central place in my thinking and in my focus. I guess it might be partially a survival reflex. For a brief moment of my life, everything else will cease, and for the few hours, which will undoubtedly stretch towards lifetime, I will be alone with myself and my thoughts and nothing else will exist, beyond the few elements of reality around me, few people and the constant running. Life simplified to bare minimum. To survival. And to persistence, endurance and tenacity.

Tenacity. I will understand more about this word in 2 days time.

 


11 days left

I am in. Bieg Kukuczki is now on my “todo” list, and occupies a lot of my thinking. The official participant page includes now my name. Sinking feeling. Yup, I’m getting more unsettled. The enormousity of the undertaking of running for 24 hours is slowly dawning on me. I clock 120-140km per week. PER WEEK. Now it will have to be squeezed to just a single run. A week is a lot of time. I can sleep, eat, rest. Doing something in a week is not a good proxy for doing something in a single day. 140km is the minimum distance to become qualified in the race.

I’m worried about the physical aspects, such as pain, and the various injuries, less or more serious, that may result as a consequence of undertaking this challenge. During the previous 12h, 100km race, I had quite a badly swollen feet and I hope this will not happen here. I am definitely better prepared this time. Perhaps even prepared for 100km race, but, 24h is definitely “beyond”, out there, in the spectrum of things that I can manage mentally in my head. I will not know what it is and how it feels like if I do not try.

The other thing I am worried about is my head. Spending 24hours just with myself, my thoughts, and the continuous physical challenge seem haunting. One possible solution to put my mind into some alternative place would be to get some audiobook. What would be a good book to “read” during an event like that? I thought about some of travel/expedition/climbing/adventure book.

Any suggestions?

 


14 days left

So comes the challenge. 14 days left. 24 hours of running.

I’m afraid. Of many things. Yes, I am afraid of feeling pain. A bit. But mostly spending so much time alone. I know there will be none there with me, during the run, and I know I will crave human contact to the limits of my capacities. I hope the other runners will be sufficient company to keep me going.

It feels irrational, but time in extreme circumstances stretches. It feels longer. I still remember the final 30minutes or so of the last marathon. “I now have to lift my leg. It is so hard, extremely hard. I have to help with my arms, and upper body, tense all the muscles, to lift my foot. It is so hard. I feel pain in so many places around my body. It is so hard. But lets do it!” This thinking and routine repeats about 2-3 times a second, 120-160 times a minute. Extreme.

My biggest mental-physical challenge to date was probably cycling up Khardung La (polish) with my brother. Breathtaking scenery, uplifting views of Karakorums and the excruciating headache, combined with inability to breath and put physical effort of cycling uphill.

My running jersey is stiff of sweat. I have visited friends yesterday for dinner, finished at 20:30, put my shoes on and run 20km. No problems. Woke up today and run 12km with 2kgs weights on my ankles. I’ve run 450km in September. I never felt so fit. Am I ready? I do not think so. I do not know how it feels to be prepared for such a long endurance event.

 

 


Wrocław marathon

The night before the marathon Michał (my bro) and I went to sleep around 22:30. Woke up at 6:35, quick breakfast: pasta with vegetables. Two portions. No sweets apart isotonic drinks. Michał and Kasia woke up just after 7:00, and joined us for breakfast. Chatting, joking, preparing t-shirts, start numbers. Driving to the stadium on the other side of town. Around 8:30, Michał and I, are in. We were at the back of the pack. We walked towards the crowd with two pacemakers with baloons marked 4:15-4:30. At 9:00, boom, start. But the crowd took a while to move forward. Slowly, we walked towards the starting line. Then slow jogging, and then we crossed the start line. It took us about 4min to reach it. Not bad. Starting the wristwatch. Running. Wrocław marathon uses the net time as the official classifying time, which makes it fair for people at the back of the pack to compete on the equal footing with people up front the long “queue” of runners is city marathons.

So it started. The first 200-300 meters really packed and crowded. I was running faster than the crowd around me. This was the pattern until about 26th kilometer. I was running faster than everyone around me. Judging my pace was a bit hard, given I did not have good points of reference in a form of steady running people around me. At around 10th or so kilometer I have passed the pacemakers with the baloons marked 3:15. On 15th kilometer I met with Michal, Kasia and Hania cheering up on the street. Michał said that at this point I was about 20min behind the first runners. I felt good physically and continued with a steady pace through the halfway mark, which I hit at about 1:33. If I could maintain the pace, I should be able to break the 3:10 limit, theoretically. I felt it was possible, although I continued to struggle to find a pace and runners with whom I could relate to. From about 27th kilometer I had a very mild dip in performance, then again at about 32km. From 34km or so the struggle became unbearable. Not physically. Mentally. I could run, there was nothing stopping me running faster. I had no cramps, no serious pain anywhere, I was not running out of breath and I was doing fine, but I just couldn’t make myself run with a faster pace. It felt as if the problem was nowhere else but in my head. The pacemakers 3:15 caught-up with me, and I forced myself to keep their pace, which I did, and it felt manageable. It felt fine. Unfortunately about 4km or so before the finish I lost few meters and running behind them, chasing them, became quite hard. I managed to cross the finish line 2 or so minutes after them, so I wasn’t far behind, and I know I could have kept the pace, but I didn’t. Nevertheless, beating my personal best from Auckland marathon 2012 felt great. New personal best.

The new training regime: running at slower pace but longer distances, and building up a solid endurance base. It seems to work remarkably well. However, in the hindsight, I feel that 1 day a week or so, of speed training and high-heart rate workout might be necessary to combat the “mind” issues with sustained pacing and motivation. Definitely doing 3hrs training for 3hrs marathon makes sense – it conditions the body for the particular timeframe of sustained effort, and even though the trainings are at much slower pace, the body learns to cope with the physical requirements of activity lasting particular duration of time.

The other thing I have changed was that I did not went into sugar eating frenzy before the marathon and withdraw from eating energy gels until 22km, at which point I had the first “bite” of the energy gel. It seemed to work, too. I guess I should do more thorough analysis of sugar influence on performance.