Monday, March 31, 2008

14 ultramarathons down, 38 to go

Boy what a nice heatwave we are enjoying this week. The temperature soared above 10 degrees Celsius (50F) in the afternoon sun. The condition of the running paths varied from excellent to awful - there were still some slippery icy sections to be found in the forests, and I also encountered some muddy spots.

Soon after the start I soon noticed that I have way too much clothes on. After reducing one layer and taking my hat and gloves off it felt great for a while. Then the sun really hit me near the open fields by the river, and I felt kind of hot again. Warm weather seems to be too much for my system after last weeks freezing snowstorms. 

I had to stop for cool bottle of ice tea when I was about halfway, and I felt pretty good again. However the next 10K turned out to be the most difficult part of my route today, and my pace was reduced to a slow shuffle. I managed to cover 43.9 km (27.3 miles) in 4:52, and was relatively satisfied with that.

14 ultramarathons down, 38 to go!      

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Competitors radio show

The Competitors radio show with legendary hosts Bob Babbitt and Paul Huddle has interviewed the greatest endurance athletes during the past 18 years. Now their awesome podcast archive is available online. 

I've listened to almost all of them with my iPod, some of them several time over. I love the great sense of humor of these guys - they have the ability to laugh at almost anything and are not ashamed to do so. They also ask lots of interesting questions.

Bob Babbitt completed his first Ironman triathlon in 1980. He completed the race on a cheap police auction bike that had been charred in a fire. He raced with panniers on the bike, carrying a tent and a sleeping bag because he didn't know you were supposed to do the whole thing in one day! 

Since then he has co-founded Competitor Publishing, which now owns five fitness publications with a total circulation of 415,000. He also co-founded the Challenged Athletes Foundation and created the Muddy Buddy - he is the guy in the frog outfit. He started the Competitors radio show back in 1990.

Paul Huddle has finished top ten in Kona three times. Between Huddle and his wife Paula Newby-Fraser, they have won 24 Ironman races, including eight World Championships. They are also owners of

Friday, March 28, 2008

UTMB 2007 TV reportage

Here's a ten-minute Italian TV coverage from The North Face Ultra-Trail Tour du Mont Blanc 100 mile run, which was organised for the fifth time on August 24-26, 2007.

And here's how the French TV news reported the same event.

Finally, a French reportage discussing various health aspects of the race.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The North Face Ultra-Trail Tour du Mont Blanc

The North Face Ultra-Trail Tour du Mont Blanc (aka UTMB). A foot race around Mont Blanc, the highest mountain peak in Western Europe. Cut-off time: 46 hours. It's a 163 km (101 miles) tour in three countries: France, Italy and Switzerland. There's about 9,000 meters of vertical gain. 

For comparison, the same loop is usually completed in 7-11 days by ordinary hikers. The record time of 20 hours and 5 minutes was set by Dachiri Dawa Sherpa in 2003, when the race was organised for the first time. In 2007 the 59-year-old Italian Marco Olmo won in 21:31, thus becoming the only person to have won the event twice.

The race starts at 18:30 on a Friday evening, so the fastest runners may get it done by Saturday afternoon. The slower ones will arrive on Sunday - if they can finish at all, after two grueling nights.

I've decided that UTMB is my ultimate goal. That's the reason why I'm doing these crazy ultra distance training runs once a week in 2008. One needs a higher purpose in life. And you probably thought I was nuts, huh?

There's no way I get in for the August 2008 UTMB. The number of runners is limited to 2,000. The race sold out the day the registration was opened in December.

So I'm going to aim for the UTMB in August 2009. Gives me time to train properly. To qualify, first I need to earn at least 4 points during 2007-8 from the various 1-4 point ultra trail races listed on their website. Then I need to enter into their lottery system in December and get myself selected in January.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

8 To Be Great

8 to Be Great: The 8-Traits That Lead to Great Success by Richard St. John is based on ten years of research. He interviewed 500 succesful people and found out that you don't have to be anything special to succeed. In fact, most succesful people are not particularly smart, good-looking or lucky. They succeed because of the eight things they do.

According to this book, the top eight success factors are:
  • passion: do it for love (not for money),
  • work: work really hard (but have fun),
  • focus: do one thing only (not everything),
  • push: keep pushing to your limits (through shyness and self doubt),
  • ideas: be curious (look around and listen to people),
  • improve: practice continuously (12 months of the year, not 3-4),
  • serve: give others something of value (and get rich),
  • persist: pick yourself up and stay on course (through time, crap and failure).
Richard St. John has run marathons on all seven continents, with a personal best of 2:43. He also has a marketing communication company that has thrived for over 25 years.

Ok, let's follow these simple and easy rules and have a great 2008!  

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dean's Desert Grand Slam

Dean Karnazes is going to participate in no less than five desert ultramarathons around the world in 2008. He calls this adventurous plan Desert Grand Slam

Four of the races will be organized by racingtheplanet: Atacama Crossing (Chile, starting on March 30), Gobi March (China, June 8), Sahara Race (Egypt, October 26) and The Last Desert (Antarctica, November 16). Also two other guys, Paul Liebenberg (South Africa) and Jimmi Olsen (Denmark), will be attempting to be the first to complete the 4deserts in one calendar year. I'm not sure what that will be worth, but this series of races in "the driest, hottest, windiest and coldest places on Earth" will certainly provide tons of fun - at least for us who will safely remain at home! 

Dean's fifth race will be Badwater Ultramarathon, his usual summer vacation in Death Valley on July 14. 

If you are interested, Dean will be posting updates from his desert adventures in his blog.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A sunny but cold 50K

It was cold early in the morning, but what a great sunny day this turned out to be. I ran 51.5 km (32 miles) in 6 hours 13 minutes.

First I ran a pleasant marathon and then had a quick lunch. While stuffing myself I happened to see a website about Ben Saunders' current attempt to set a new world speed record to the Geographic North Pole. Ben's solo expedition will be on foot and unsupported - in other words, he will pull all gear, food and fuel in his sledge.  

Perhaps inspired by that, I proceeded to tow my kid in a plastic pulk in a nearby park with tiny hills, just for fun. After a couple of miles I was sweating all over and pretty much done. I wish Ben all the best, but I feel that sort of thing probably isn't my kind of gig. 

The final 4 miles went really slowly, and as it also started to get cloudy and snow a little, it was an easy decision to call it a day.

 13 ultramarathons down, 39 to go!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Marco Mambo wins Two Oceans Marathon

SABC News: Zimbabwean runner Marco Mambo (36), won his third Two Oceans Marathon in 3:11:35 on Saturday. 

Russian Olesya Nurgalieva won the women's race in 3:34:53, beating her twin sister Elana by 32 seconds. 

With 5,650 finishers this year (not counting the half-marathon runners), this beautiful 56 km (35 miles) Cape Town race is one of the largest ultramarathons in the world. 

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Cancellara wins Milan-Sanremo

Fabian Cancellara won Milan-Sanremo in 7:14 with a brilliant solo attack 3 km from the finish. The 298 km spring classic is the longest professional one-day cycling race. Race report by VeloNews.

The reason I've been following Team CSC with interest is that I've been riding a Cervélo bike for years. I have the classic 2004 'P3' time-trial model in CSC colors. It's still a great bike, although it has now been discontinued and replaced with a lighter carbon design.    

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Easy swimming

I'm not a real swimmer, just a mid-pack age-grouper who had to learn how to swim freestyle, because I wanted to be able to finish Ironman triathlons safely and comfortably.

My best time for the 3,800 meters is 56 minutes and 22 seconds (with a wetsuit, in Challenge Roth which might well be the fastest course in the world).

Top guys may swim good 10 minutes faster, but it's really a no-brainer as the options for me seem to come down to these two: 
  • swim comfortably in 56+ mins and save energy for the 180 km bike and the marathon run, or
  • try swimming under 56 mins and totally cook myself before the ultralong race really begins!    
My main swimming goals are: 
  • effectiveness: how to get good enough to get the 3,800 meters done, with as few swim training miles and trips as possible, and
  • economy: the more relaxed one can feel and the more energy one can save for the bike and run portions of the race, the better. 
Many of us can't have a personal swim coach. Books and videos are the second best option, but the problem is that there are so many of them available. I have gone through tons of them, and I'm going to reveal below which ones have been the most helpful for me.

Triathlon Swimming Made Easy: The Total Immersion Way for Anyone to Master Open-Water Swimming is a must-have for triathletes. It is all about how to swim easy, focusing on your technique. Previously I thought all I need is speed and endurance, but the book totally changed my attitude. It really helped me to improve and there are two ways that one can measure the improvement accurately:
  • lower heart rate (this requires a HR monitor that works under water)
  • fewer strokes per pool length (this you can easily count yourself and write the numbers down after the workout).
By the way, you can read chapters 1-3 and 9 for free here.

Freestyle: Made Easy is one of the best instructional swimming videos I've seen. It's also based on Terry Laughlin's Total Immersion method, and there are lots of free video samples on the website.

I spent the whole morning in the pool today, doing nothing but these easy exercises - and visiting the sauna frequently to stay warm. Remember: easy does it!  

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Running Through The Wall

I recently re-read one of my favorite books, Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounters with the Ultramarathon

It's a great collection of short stories about ultramarathons. Each story is told by a different person, and it's the wide range of perceptions and approaches towards running ultras what makes the book so fascinating.
It occurred to me to check out how many of those people have a blog. I wanted to see if they are still running, and how their recent stories compare to the ones in the book. So without further ado I googled the names. The following are the results. 
First I found the blog of the editor of the book, Neal Jamison. He is an active ultrarunner, with several challenging races coming up this year. He just started the blog in February, and I think it rocks already. Way to go, Neal!

Then there is Sophie 'Shining' Speidel, a 45-year old ultrarunner and a mother of three. I'm always interested to see how people who are the same age as myself are coping with megachallenges. (By the way, Neal published her current interview in his blog.)

Keith Knipling is a scientist who is running ultras and excels in analyzing them in detail. He also provides a few useful tips for clueless Mac users like me. The blog is divided into recreation and research. Keith ran three 100-milers in consecutive weekends last summer (the Virginia triple).

Deb Pero goes through "miles and miles of trail and canvas". She is a talented artist, specializing in plein air type of loose oil paintings. There seems to be mostly photos of her awesome paintings in this blog, so it's recommended for very artistic runners only. 

Greg "Loomdog" Loomis is a top ultramarathoner who is competing like there's no tomorrow. In addition to race reports, he also provides great photos from his adventures, so his blog is well worth visiting every now and then. 

Sue Johnston loves mountains. 100 miles is her favorite distance, and Hardrock is her favorite race. Long stories and lots of photos.

Catra Corbett is running and cross-fitting constantly like a Duracell bunny. She also happens to collect tattoos passionately. Her infamous birthday challenge consists of running her age in hours, and she's not nearly as young as she looks! There's lots of glamorous photos with fortune cookie wisdom. A fun site to visit. 

Sadly, I learned that gifted sports writer Marc Witges passed away at Tucson Marathon in December 2006, just before reaching the finish line. His blog is still available as he left it before the race. He was only 40 years old, but he had suffered from the consequences of a car accident for a long time. He concluded his chapter in the book: 

"Still, I know that I am one of the luckiest people around, and I will continue to run, read, learn and work hard every day to improve my physical and mental functions. Life is never going to be the same for me after the brain injury that I suffered 15 years ago. But, I'll still try to live one day at a time, one run at a time, to the best of my abilities."

Marc had completed double and triple Ironmans, Sri Chimnoy 700-mile, Hardrock 100, and more. Maybe he wasn't one the luckiest runners, but he certainly was one of the bravest. 


Monday, March 17, 2008

My 40-mile runabout

Dean Karnazes recommended recently an endurance workout he calls runabout in his blog. The way he defines it, a runabout consists of running (or walking, if you have to) six to eight hours in a day. Actual miles do not matter: this is not a competion by any means. What matters is that you keep on moving forward in whatever direction you feel like going, and try to have some fun.

I logged 64.5 km (40.1 miles) in 7 hours and 43 minutes today. The running time does not include any of the breaks I had. 

I started around 6:30 AM and finished about 6:30 PM, so it was a 12-hour day. That was not a coincidence, as that's how much daylight we have at the moment.

At one point I happened to run by a budget sports store, decided to go in for a little shopping, and ended up carrying lots of stuff in my backpack.  

I felt good all the way because I stopped to eat and drink something whenever I had a chance to do so. At one point, when I was running in the middle of nowhere and getting slightly dehydrated, I found a little cafe where I drank a nice bottle of San Benedetto The Verde. That really saved me as I didn't carry any water.

It was a bit cloudy and cool, but all in all a great day. 12 ultramarathons done, 40 to go.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Swimming secret

There are a lot of  excellent endurance athletes out there who avoid Ironman triathlons only because they believe there's no way they can swim long distances. 

If you are one of those unfortunate folks, check out this video because this new innovation might just be the secret you've been waiting for all these years.

Seriously, this reminds me that it's been way too long since my last swim. I better visit the local pool as soon as possible. Swimming is great for recovery from running.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Scott Jurek's uphill running video

Scott Jurek shows how to (and how not to) run uphill in this video at Runner's World. Although I don't buy any of his vegan beliefs, it would be wise to pay attention, considering he is the course record holder and consecutive seven-time champion of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, two-time champion of the Badwater Ultramarathon, defending two-time Spartathlon champion, as well as course record holder and defending champion of Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Monday, March 10, 2008

First 50K day!

Today was my first 50K day in 2008. To be exact, I ran 50.4 km (31.3 miles) in 6:02. For some reason all my previous ultramarathons this year have been only about 43-47 km. I guess I ran out of excuses today!

If you wonder why my pace was so slow, take a look at the photo above. Although the weather was perfect, we still had some snow and ice on the running trails, leftovers from last week's storms. It was impossible to avoid splashing some icy water into the shoes every now and then, but I was happy for not falling down. I passed all the tricky spots like an old lady because I didn't want to take any chances.

The photo was taken along one of my favourite trails by the river, in the morning before the sun came out. It got a lot warmer in the afternoon, about +7C (45F). I felt a little dehydrated in my winter clothes, but luckily I was able to stop often enough in places where there was drinking water available.

11 ultramarathons down already, only 41 to go. 

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Philippe Fuchs running from Paris to Beijing Olympics

57-year-old professor Philippe Fuchs started his 10,000 km (6,000 miles) Paris-Beijing ultramarathon journey yesterday along Avenue Champs-Elysées, running 54 km to warm up. About thirty friends joined  him as they ran along the banks of the Seine river and headed out of Paris.
Philippe, a Virtual Reality researcher and professor at the Ecole des Mines de Paris will use his expertise while racking up the miles - for more information please visit the Virtual Plus Reality Challenge website, where you can check his current GPS location along the route, among other things.

Philippe's track record is impressive: Paris-Barcelona in 1992, Palaiseau-North Cape in 1995 (2,000 miles in 8 weeks) and Paris-Athens during the last summer Olympic Games (1,500 miles in 6 weeks).

Philippe estimates that the current challenge will take 20 weeks and 10 pairs of running shoes.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Libyan Challenge 190K finished today

Libyan Challenge is a 190 km (118 miles) footrace in Sahara. Each competitor must carry their own kit and food. They can stop as often as they like, but the clock is ticking continuously and the time limit is 75 hours. There are nine checkpoints with water available about every 20 km. 

The usual suspects won again, I guess it's hard to beat experience. Sebastien Chaigneau (France) won in 31 hours 55 minutes (his last year's winning time was 29:51). 

The best female was Sharon Gayter (UK) in 36:10 (last year she arrived in 36:46, overall position 5th). At the last checkpoint she was second overall in the race, but then she fell into the fourth position due to navigation problems. All runners are required to use a GPS, but in difficult conditions they may occasionally fail to maintain their satellite connections. Anyway she should be happy for improving her time and overall position. 

Among the brave competitors there were also a running couple from Finland: Jukka Viljanen and Kirsi Montonen. They wrote in their blog (only in Finnish) that they are extremely tired after this demanding adventure, which they completed in about 70 hours. Well done guys, congrats! 

Monday, March 3, 2008

10 down, only 42 to go!

Today I ran already my tenth weekly ultramarathon of 2008. It was 43.9 km (27.3 miles) in 5:04. 

The ground was completely covered with newly fallen snow, and it was snowing almost all the time while I was running. There were lots of people x-country skiing and even snowboarding.

Just when it looked like spring has arrived, we got this surprise - late winter. The weather sure can be unpredictable these days. It's not too cold, so running was not a problem today. Actually I liked running on soft snow for a change. 

What's more I found a new cool trail in the forest - new for me that is.  I've been running in this area for 20 years, so it's incredible that I've missed it before. It featured a nice steep hill to break the monotony. 

Here in Finland, the ongoing winter has been the warmest ever measured since the beginning of regularly recorded readings over 100 years ago. The second warmest was in 1924-5. Warm winters are generally great for running, so I'm not complaining.

10 ultramarathons done, only 42 to go! 

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Big Fat Lies video with Gary Taubes

'Big Fat Lies' is a 71-minute video with Gary Taubes on February 2 at Stevens Institute of Technology.  If you have ever wondered why people are getting fatter, watch this. It's a great Adiposity 101 lesson with lots of information, but it's perhaps easier to watch than reading the book Good Calories, Bad Calories.