Sunday, May 31, 2009

Paloheinä Marathon race report

Today I participated in 57th Paloheinä Marathon in Helsinki. It was going to be a sunny clear day, certainly the hottest day of the year so far. Most of the participants - probably wisely - chose the half or quarter marathon, but not me of course. It was going to be a full marathon or nothing for me.

The route of this low-key marathon consists of eight 5.27 km out-and-back loops in the forests of Paloheinä.

The relatively flat course is unmarked, and with lots of trails and paths everywhere it's really easy to take a wrong turn. The official course is the optimal route, so when you get lost, it will automatically cost you more time and distance. First-timers are encouraged to follow others until they learn the right way.

Nevertheless one competitor got unfortunately a bit tired and lost. I heard she had was eventually taken to the hospital with an ambulance. I'm not sure what happened, but we heard she was a rookie and obviously made the usual mistakes. We were quite concerned when the police arrived looking for her in the forest, and everyone tried to ask people if they had seen her.

There's only one aid station. It's located at the race HQ in the start/finish area. The photo below is taken just before the start at 11 AM. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, unlike in many big city events.

In the next photo RD Anders shouts advice and split times to marathon runners. The guy runs the whole event pretty much single-handedly - I bet he sweats as much as us runners, if not more!

One of the runners pushed his 19-month-old son, who was able to take a nap while daddy raced.

Finally, this is a photo shot by RD Anders of a happy me after 42.2 km in 3:30. I'm very pleased with the results as I ran the same race last summer in 4:18, and it wasn't quite as warm then. A 48-minute improvement is not bad in one year, so I must be doing something right.

What's more, I finished first overall! Surely that's only because all the fast guys were in the Stockholm Marathon yesterday. Well I guess you can't really complain when you are almost 47, and win any marathon whatsoever.

I was able to maintain the pace (about 5 min/km) all the way (my half-marathon split was 1:45). That was a pleasant surprise, as I have often been forced to slow down in the second half.

By the way, although I have a backpack in the photo, I didn't run with it. So I didn't get anything to drink except at the official aid station after each 5.27K lap. I decided to wear the lightest shirt and shorts I own as well as my trusty Brooks ST Racers with X-Action compression socks, and no doubt that was a pretty good call today.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The largest Stockholm Marathon ever

Today's Stockholm Marathon was the largest ever with 18,736 entrants - 5,026 of them from Finland. There would be more runners of course, but they closed the registration in December to limit the numbers to a more manageable level.

The weather was sunny and warm (21 C) when 14,890 runners started at 2 PM. The Swedes kindly wait for the Finnish racers, who arrive on their overnight ferries.

The boats leave on Friday night, and everyone goes to sleep straight after an early dinner. The ferries arrive in Stockholm harbour on Saturday morning. The runners will return to their cabins right after the marathon on Saturday evening, and hardly anybody will be able to sleep as the marathon celebrations take over the ship on its way to Finland.

I've run this race three times, and I know that the two-loop course is quite tough for the legs because you have to conquer Västerbro bridge at 9 and 31 km. Everything looks so nice and easy when you watch it on TV at home, eating strawberries and ice cream!

Isabellah Anderson was the fastest female with a PR of 2:33:52. What's more, she performed a fantastic negative split (first half 1:17:26 and second half 1:16:26). She was a Kenyan when she won last year's Stockholm Marathon (2:34:12), but she became a Swedish citizen a week ago.

She is married to her experienced Swedish coach Lasse Andersson, who is double her age. Lasse told reporters after the race that Isabellah ran 23 seconds faster than he had planned.

Their daughter Beyonce was born in January. Isabellah has trained after that mainly by running in water and cycling. What a comeback!

Paul Kogo of Kenya was clearly the strongest runner today. His running style seems excellent to me. The lead group of three men hit the halfway mark at 1:07:22. Then Kogo took off and ran most of the second loop alone, except thousands of spectators and volunteers on streets.

Kogo won in 2:15:35, well over seven minutes ahead of the next runner. His final sprint was so strong that the girls with their traditional victory ceremonies couldn't catch him before the finish line.

What a great race! The Swedes really know how to organize a mass sport event like this. I'd certainly like to run it next year, when it's scheduled on June 5th. Better register as soon as possible...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wake up your feet with Feelmax Niesa

Finally I've got Niesa, the long-awaited latest model of Feelmax footwear. Niesa will be officially launched in June in Europe. They don't even mention it yet on the website of this small Finnish family enterprise.

Feelmax concept was originally inspired by traditional nutukas moccasins of the Sami people. The footwear are designed in Finland and manufactured in Thailand. They are not specifically designed for running or even sports purposes - they are meant for anything really, like working, shopping or travelling for instance.

What really makes Niesa different from the earlier models is the outsole. The earlier soles were made of Keprotec. The latest models are equipped with Continental Contitec soles, which is more weather-proof and durable.

Niesa's are very easy to put on as only the Velcro strap is adjustable. The laces (or actually three short elastic bands for each shoe) are fixed.

My Niesa (size EU 43, US 9, UK 8.5 CM 27.5) weighs about 140 grams (one shoe), so it's slightly lighter than even the lightest of my racing flats.

My running shoes are usually size EU 44.5/US 10.5, but even size EU 44 of Niesa seemed too large for me. I usually wear them with socks, so without socks they would feel even roomier.

Niesas come with an incorporated soft insole, which is about 1 mm thick. Also the Contitec outsole is about 1 mm thick. This ensures that you can comfortably run on any surface and safely step on sharp objects like glass for example. You will feel everything on the ground just like you were running barefoot, but you are not likely to get hurt by anything on the ground. Cars can still drive over you and dogs can bite you, of course.

The most amazing thing about these fashionable footwear is that they feel so good. They may look pretty smart (by the way, only the 'color' black was available - is Feelmax doing the same to shoe business what Ford did to auto business?) and they certainly are functional as they make your feet stronger, but the fact is they will put a smile on your face.

I did an easy 10K run with them today, and I was grinning like an idiot the whole way. That was a totally involuntary reaction and completely against my nature as I rarely smile when I run. I've never had so much fun running and I just wouldn't want to stop for any reason. Normally I'm making stupid excuses constantly to justify breaks.

I love Niesas. They work perfectly for my feet and every little detail is well designed. That's about all I can say about them for now. It's summer now and they will probably feel a bit cold in winter, even with thick socks.

I paid 67 euros for them and they are definitely worth every penny. Actually they might turn out to be much more valuable than that, if I manage to improve my running strength, speed and technique while keeping myself healthy and avoiding injuries.

Finally, here's a couple of interesting earlier reviews:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Maffetone's In Fitness And In Health again

Dr. Philip Maffetone's In Fitness and in Health taught me how to train aerobically - while avoiding processed sugar and wheat - already back in 1994.

If you are interested in creating your own food pyramid, this article might be worth checking out.

Now the new updated fifth edition of this classic book is available. Highly recommended - I wouldn't even think about doing anything without it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Red Bull may give you risks

Red Bull may be banned in Germany. It is already banned in some states of Germany, Norway and Denmark, but not in Finland or Sweden.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Swiss Alpine - I'm in!

Good news for a change: the organizing committee of Swiss Alpine has informed me, that they have given me a free start (due to an unfair disqualification, after first granting the free start in person, and then declining my earlier email requests) in their longest 'K78' race.

My name appears already on the online starting list, so it's confirmed. Now I'll definitely be back in Davos on July 25th - with a vengeance.

I'll implement the following improvements for this race in order to beat my best time on this course (9:43 in 2007 - I finished with 7:29 in 1995, but the course was about 10 km shorter then).

First, I won't carry a camera to take beautiful pictures like the one above, taken after about 5 km at an altitude of over 1500 meters. (By the way, Josef on the front left went on to finish 12th in M55 category with 9:26, and Walter on his right finished 13th in M60 with 10:51 - awesome, you rock guys!)

Last year I took a couple of hundred pictures during the first half of the race. Let's say that each photo cost me 5 seconds - then this alone will save me over a quarter of an hour!

What's even more important, I'll start faster to reach the narrow technical single track after before the large slow crowd will get there and force the long line of runners to stop.

Also the organizers claim they have been making narrow tracks wider or selecting wider paths (yes, there will be minor changes in the route, but overall distance will remain the same - 78.5 km).

Talk is cheap - it's very easy to solve all past issues by deciding to run faster! So what do I plan to do differently this year to accomplish all this? I will:
  • discard the backpack and everything that was in it (the race organisation provides sufficient drinks and food for the runners, so there's no need to carry anything),
  • weigh less - although I've gained some weight recently, I still weigh less than in previous years (my BMI used to be slightly over 21, then I dropped it down to 19 this winter - now I'm staying comfortably at 20.5)
  • work on my running technique by running barefoot occasionally (in the photo above taken after 17 km at over 1600 meters you see me striking heel first - ie. I'm braking)
  • improve my running speed by doing speed workouts in racing flats,
  • replace the heavy stability shoes with lighter racing shoes (probably Brooks Racer ST)
  • avoid foot injuries (I believe my plantar fasciitis and achilles issues last year were actually caused by the stability shoes, so this is one more good reason to quit using them),
  • taper properly for the race (last year I ran an ultramarathon once every week, so I was already feeling tired and unmotivated at the starting line - fresh legs can make all the difference in the world),
  • eat some carbohydrates before and during the race - as most people claim this generally helps one to race faster (I've been on a very restricted low-carb diet in the past - of course I've already started to experiment with carbs in my training to avoid unpleasant surprises on race day)
  • drink coffee in the morning (I used to drink lots of coffee, but last year I didn't - now I've started to experiment with coffee again, as it seems to help as long as I don't take any after midday).

In this photo Eberhard from Germany, who was also DQ'd in Chants at 47 km mark and who then kindly helped me to get the free start for this year, chases me on the rail bridge at about 25 km. We are well aware of being way behind our schedules, so we start running like we mean it now that the paths are wider again and we were able to pass some of the slower runners (some of whom were participating in shorter K31 or C42 races).

This year I'll leave my Suunto heartrate monitor and footpod home - no more gadgets to distract me from running.

This is taken about half-way up (at 1750 m) the biggest uphill (from the lowest point of 1019 m at 32 km to the highest point of 2632 m at 53 km).

We already have a mountain marathon in our legs and we start feeling the effects of the altitude, so we are forced to slow down a bit.

This year I'll do a lot more hill repeats than last year, but I live at sea level and there are no mountains around here, so I won't be climatized when arriving in Davos the day before the race.

That's not a big deal, I think, although people exaggerate this to the point of taking all sorts of medications and even sleeping in altitude tents. After all, only 15 km of the K78 course rises above 2000 m, so I'll just try to fake my way through it. I won't certainly rely on any unhealthy or unethical means whatsoever. Winning has never been that important to me, I race for the sheer fun and enjoyment of it - and for long-term health.

Let's hope that the weather will be nice, but in any case it's a good idea to drink hot bouillon and run as quickly through the high section as possible. Better to err on the safe side though, as a slip and spectacular face plant (like the one I performed two years ago) would be unwise.

After Scaletta pass at 60 km it's mostly downhill to the finish in Davos at 78.5 km. If you are a badass downhill runner and still have your legs with you, this will without a doubt be the most enjoyable part of the race. There'll be tons of runners to play 'catch and pass' with, lol.

Good luck to all the participants, see you in Davos!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wave aqua shoes

Lidl supermarket sells Wave aqua shoes for 6.99 euros, so I picked up a pair for a short test run.

One shoe weighs 175 g (size 42/8), so it's not ultra light by any means.

They seem to work well for running, although they are not meant for that purpose. Perhaps they could be a poor man's Vibram Five Fingers KSO's, which are crazy expensive in Europe - 104 euros!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Simp my shoe: Asics Gel DS Racer

Asics Gel DS RACER
Originally uploaded by jo@flickr

I simped my Asics Gel DS Racers by cutting off 80% of the heels and taking the insoles out.

The weight of a shoe was reduced from 219 g (size EU 43.5, US 9.5) to 180 g. So they are 18% lighter, but that's not the main reason for doing this.

My purpose was to improve my running technique and strengthen the leg muscles. I believe this will improve my racing and prevent injuries.

A short 6K test run today proved my new simped shoes usable both on roads and forest trails. So far so good.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kummeli Marathon

We Finns are born to run marathons. The spirit of "sisu" keeps us going forever. Runner number 13 in the video below is a spitting image of me. Kummeli is a Finnish comedy group. Kyllä lähtee!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

No Swiss Alpine or UTMB for me

My racing program requires a total reschedule as I've been denied the freestart at Swiss Alpine that was promised to me last July.

As reported previously, I was cut off after 47 km at Swiss Alpine K78 (78 km) trail running event in July 2008.

Well unfortunate things like that do happen occasionally, but the way they cut the route after the aid station was a bit weird. I mean it's not nice to spend five minutes eating and drinking and then when you continue be told that you missed the time limit by a minute. Especially not after having been forced to stop for about 20 minutes as there were way too many runners on the single trail. All the K78, C42 and K31 competitors had started together at 8 AM in Davos, resulting in a chaos 10K later.

The only reason I was able to face the disqualification relatively calmly was that the RD Andrea Tuffli personally promised us a free entry 2009, which was confirmed with a friendly handshake. He also confirmed this in the news section of the race website: "All participants taken out of the K78 race will receive... a free start for 2009".

When the registration for Swiss Alpine 2009 opened, I enquired (in English) how to get in. No answer. I thought maybe it's a language issue, so I emailed them again in German, asking how to register for free. This time I got an answer stating that I don't qualify for a free start because I reached the Bergun checkpoint after 11:33 AM. That's doesn't make sense to me at all, as I've already been granted a free start, and the cutoff time for the Bergun checkpoint (39 km) was 12:50 PM.

At this point I have no idea what races to do. The main reason I wanted to finish this race was to earn the missing two points for the UTMB in September 2009 (all applicants need four points to qualify). So I had to let my dream of participating in UTMB go as well.

By the way, there's a brave German guy nicknamed Powerschnecke (Powersnail) who came to the Chant cut off point about five minutes after me, and somehow got through the officials closing the road, and finished the K78 race with ten minutes to spare in 11:50! Actually he seems to have arrived a bit late at every checkpoint, and for this reason he was often denied food and drinks, sometimes even water! What's more, the race officials shouted at him, saying he is a cheater, criminal, or worse! To me what Powerschnecke did is a really inspiring performance - wish I had been able to follow him! You can check out his awesome photo report here (in German).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Helsinki City Run half-marathon

The weather was ideal today for Helsinki City Run, the largest half-marathon in Finland. The rain stopped before the 3 PM start, but the clouds kept the sun away and the temperature remained nice cool +8C (46F). In open places the wind slowed me down a little, but I felt really comfortable in shorts and t-shirt and can't complain.

My finish time 1:34 is relatively slow (my PR is 1:21:25), but I'm happy with the result as it's 3 minutes better than my estimated time based on a test run. Also the course is not fast, as it is really not wide enough for 10 thousand runners (not even when divided into four start groups). Still it's obvious that I haven't done enough speed work for this race.

I did a 9K warm up and cool down, so I covered 39 km altogether in my new bright yellow Adidas Adizero Adios shoes. They performed very well both on asphalt and fire roads. I'd say this is probably the best shoe for marathon racing. My long X-Action compression socks and the shoes felt slightly wet all day long, but I didn't get any blisters or any other trouble.

Finally here's a short video that shows how it was today - a perfect day for running!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Born To Run photos & review

Christopher McDougall's Born To Run, arguably the best barefoot/ ultramarathon/ trail/ Tarahumara running book ever written, has only one minor fault: it doesn't come with any photos (except those on the sleeve).

No problem amigo, the missing photos from 2006 Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon organised by Caballo Blanco (maybe some of the pictures will somehow find their way into the paperback version later on) by Luis Escobar can be viewed here and here. There are also three slideshows (look for Playground Picture Show in the sidebar) here.

I just finished reading the book that I expected to be very good, but I must say I was mistaken. It is way better than I could ever have imagined!

My initial thought is that at last Scott 'El Venado' Jurek has a fair chance to literally compete - and hands down beat - Dean 'Ultramarathon Man' Karnazes.

Obviously Mr Dougall, a former war correspondent for AP and contributing editor for Men's Health, knows a thing or two about how to pen catchy articles. Still, long-distance running can be a challenging subject for any author attempting a full-length novel.

Dougall pulls it off admirably, like a danbrown of endurance sports, with actually something important to say, and tells his story mimicking the running style of the heroes of his book: easy, light and smooth.

The following description on the sleeve first seemed like the usual ad-lie, but now after reading this masterpiece it feels more like a modest understatement: "With wit and exuberance, McDougall takes us from science labs at Harvard to sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks, where ever-growing numbers of ultra-runners are pushing their bodies to the limit. Born to Run is that rare book that will not only engage your mind but also inspire your body - when you realize that the secret to happiness is right at your feet, and that all of us were born to run."

My recommendation is to get this life-changing book and read it right now, because all runners will eventually do so anyway - and then probably regret the delay.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Barefoot running trend

Based on Google Trends, I suspect barefoot running might become a serious trend soon. Anyway going back to basics would suit well the current economic recession.

In urban environment with ubiquitous glass most runners would still require some foot protection, so I'm looking forward to trying Feelmax Niesa (to be released in Europe in June 2009 I believe/hope). Of course here up north the cold weather is a problem as well most of the year.

By the way, I'm still running occasionally with my about 15 year old Adidas 'adventure sandals' (that's how they were marketed back then). I suppose they don't make sandals like that anymore, with thin Tarahumara-like rubber sole, synthetic simple upper and functional velcro heel straps. I'd buy new ones immediately if I found something even remotely as good. Luckily these things seem to last forever - that's possibly why they were discontinued!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Running The Sahara movie

It took me this long to get a Running The Sahara DVD (Region 2), but it was worth the wait! Great desert, great issues, great movie!

Three dudes running across the desert 50 miles a day would be interesting enough for me in itself, but there's the added weight of the water. The sad fact is that a child (under five years old) somewhere dies every 15 seconds because lack of clean water. That means during this 3-minute trailer alone another dozen kids bite the dust.

So let's watch this movie and then make our move, right? Check out website for more information.