Sunday, December 30, 2012

A New Year's wish

Many things on our planet didn't quite work out as it was planned in 2012:
  • global (or European) economic recovery,
  • Facebook IPO,
  • UTMB 2012 (100 miles around Mont Blanc was reduced to a 100K around Chamonix due to bad weather),
  • Lance Armstrong's Ironman Hawaii triathlon race,
  • New York City Marathon, or even
  • the predicted end of the world on December 21st.
However hope remains key. Everything will pass, including bad things. We just have to keep on adjusting ourselves to the changing conditions. Through our efforts things will gradually get better. We must take action and seek for improvement continually.

 So in that spirit, hear goes Trailplodder's New Year's wish for 2013: May UTMB be organized in a similar fashion to La Misión Race in Patagonia:
  • race course is 100 miles / about 160 km,
  • the max time allowed is 76 hours (3 days 4 hours), allowing the participants to walk or rest as necessary,
  • there will be no major changes to the course during the event,
  • the race will not be suspended for any reason (highest mountain passes may have to be regulated temporarily until a storm passes),
  • the race organization understands that the mountain weather is unpredictable, and is prepared and able to continue the event in bad weather.

Happy New Year, see you on the trails! And good luck for the UTMB lottery -  if you're not in yet, there's still time. It's currently about a 30% chance of winning, which is a lot better than for example with Hardrock 100!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Fine Line - Summits Of My Life movie review

A Fine Line is the first documentary film in the Summits Of My Life project by Kilian Jornet and Sébastien Montaz. It was released today. I downloaded and watched it right away after some minor technical issues (the simple solution was to add '.mp4' to the end of the file name for it to play on iMac).

The movie is about the fine line between life and death. What drives an athlete like Kilian Jornet to take calculated risks on the mountains day after day? Kilian's mother Núria and sister Naila tell their personal views. A wide range of Kilian's friends from FC Barcelona defender Carles Puyol to trail runner Anna Frost are featured as well for a more comprehensive picture.

The film starts with Kilian's VO2 max test, mixed with Alpine running in deep snow. We are shown some trail running clips from Transvulcania 2012. Then there are some spectacular shots from Aosta Valley, where Kilian displays some of his his skiing and poses on top of Gran Paradiso (4,061m).

The film is completely free of any unnecessary hype. It doesn't try to strengthen Kilian's superstar status, but rather prove that he is just a human being (some of Kilian's competitors have seriously doubted that). For example there is a clip of a spectacular ski fail. Also a psychologist explains in layman terms what goes on in Kilian's mind, who has spent most of his life in the Pyrenees above 2,000 meters.

Summit of My Life - Premiere from Summits of My Life on Vimeo.

Kilian has already won all the races in his bucket list, so he is nowadays mostly motivated by his personal mountain projects. One of those was Les Contamines-Mont Blanc-Mont Maudit-Champex 63 km traverse (+7,800m). As Kilian's mom states proudly in the film, that is a feat no-one has ever done before.

The best part comes at the end, when Kilian's Courmayeur-Mont Blanc-Chamonix 42 km traverse via Innominata Ridge is covered. He set a new record of in 8h 42min 57s. It's a beautiful day with great views from the air.

The film is dedicated to the memory of Stéphane Brosse (20.11.1972-17.6.2012). One of Kilian's closest friends, he is featured frequently in the film. His tragic death beside Kilian shadows the overall mood of this slightly sad but mainly inspiring movie.

A Fine Line is only 52 minutes long, but it's packed with fantastic footage for mountain lovers. I wouldn't mind if it were a bit longer, but it's well worth the download price (6.95€), and you will probably watch it again and again over the years. The editing is great, the music is good, the video quality is excellent and the camera work is amazing.

After seeing this film everyone will understand and remember Stéphane Brosse's last piece of advice: "There is happiness everywhere, we just need to see it".

Friday, December 14, 2012

Eiger Ultra Trail 2013

I have registered for a new exciting race in Switzerland: Eiger Ultra Trail on 20 July 2013. So it will be just three weeks after my 80km du Mont Blanc attempt. Nice!

The 101 km course climbs 6,685 meters clockwise, starting and finishing in Grindelwald. It's located in Bernese Oberland near Interlaken. This is a very scenic and nice area, I've been there before. The trails there are very tough for a flatlander like me.

Eiger Ultra Trail 101 km course.
E101 has a 28-hour cutoff. It starts 5am on Saturday, so you have to finish by 9am on Sunday. Finishers will be rewarded by 3 glorious UTMB points (only 1 point for E51 finishers).

The course profile looks pretty steep, it seems to be going either straight up or straight down all the time. The highest peak is Faulhorn at 2,680 meters.

There will be many famous participants like Oscar Perez (Tor des Geants 2012 winner), Julia Böttger (winner of Canadien Death Race 2012). Ueli Steck, Eiger North Face Speed Record (2h47min) holder, is the Ambassador of the event.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lifestyles of the iRich and iFamous

Oh no, I watched the presentation above and somehow accidently pre-ordered the new 27-inch iMac for Christmas. They estimate it will be delivered sometime in January 2013.

It's an Apple, so it was roughly twice the usual price for a computer like this, even without all the latest bells and whistles like the Fusion Drive. There goes most of my next year's race budget, but this is the only way to cure my Apple-fever, I guess.

Let's focus on the positive: the new iMac is only 5mm thin! That's possible only because the CD/DVD superdrive was removed from the design. Fortunately they kept all the vital parts, which explains why the body is still a couple of inches thick in the middle. It's like a fat guy announcing after a long diet: "Look, my ear is only 5mm thin now!"

Enough of the hardware. The current OS X version is called Mountain Lion, because it's so agile and powerful. Logically the next version should be named Kilian Jornet.

Due to some complications, iTunes 11 wasn't released until last week, although it was introduced already on September 12, 2012. It was supposed to be a lot simpler, but the jury will let you know the final verdict after they have figured out how to use it.

While waiting for the new iMac, I've read many Apple-related books on my iPad. My top three:
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson,
  • Insanely Simple by Ken Segall, and
  • iWoz by Steve Wozniak (Apple co-founder).
Speaking of Woz, after seeing his Tweets on December 1, I wonder how healthy his lifestyle is.

Woz lifestyle according to his Twitter (the latest on top).
From Grill & Bar to Police Station, only to return to the Grill & Bar, then Bar-B-Que, Baskin Robbins, and finally Cemetery! All I can say is that I'd rather run all day in the Alps than risk trying the Woz Lifestyle for an hour. 

When I and iMacs were young, each episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous used to end with the signature phrase 'Champagne wishes and caviar dreams'. My 'poor and unknown' slogan could be nowadays something like 'Fruit smoothie wishes and vegetable dreams'. Finally I've become a true apple-fan!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Transgrancanaria - top European winter ultratrail

"Posiblemente la prueba de ultratrail más importante del invierno europeo." Probably the best winter ultratrail in Europe. Yes I know what you're thinking, just another ad slogan. But this time it really is true! And no need for the word 'probably'; read my lips: Transgrancanaria is without a doubt Europe's top ultra trail running event in winter (or early spring) season.

Playa de las Canteras in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria - one of my favorite urban beaches in Europe.
Actually this event, which has been steadily evolving since 2003, consists of the following four races:
  • Transgrancanaria: 119 km (74 miles) with +7,300m (23,950ft) cumulative ascension,
  • Advanced: 83 km (52 miles) and +4,700m (15,420ft),
  • Maratón: 42 km (26 miles) and +4,000m (13,123ft),
  • Starter: 24 km (15 miles) and +1,800m (5,905 ft).
The race HQ and finish of Transgrancanaria is beside Alfredo Kraus Auditorium.
The distance of the main event's new course is a little shorter than the old 123 km race I did in 2012, but I believe less is more here. You'll get so much more hills to climb that you are not likely to miss those 4 km by the time you reach the finish line in Las Palmas.

The weather can be excellent in the Canaries in March.
The max time limit in the main event is 31h. It will start at midnight on Friday (in other words 00:00 Saturday morning). The finish line will be closed 7am on Sunday. Bring some caffeinated gels to keep your eyes open and your best headlight with extra batteries so you can see where you are going. The course is well marked, but it is possible to get lost when you are tired - for me at least!

People in the Canaries are very smart, active and outgoing - just like you and me!
There will be some steep technical sections, but nothing to worry about as long as you are careful. Poles are allowed and I found them very helpful. Nobody's ever mistaken me for Sebastien Chaigneau though.

Surfers' training area.
Gran Canaria, one of the volcanic Canary Islands, belongs to Spain, but is closer to Africa. The climate there in March may not be what you associate with winter. You won't have to run in snow, and it might get quite warm during the day - the average high is 22C (71F). It might rain a little, as they get 14mm (0.55 inch) precipitation in March.

See the mountains in the background? That's where you'll be running.
The average low is 15C (60F), so a lightweight rain jacket should be enough. As always, the weather might throw a surprise and your mileage might vary.

A surfer heading home after a long day at the office.
Playa de Las Canteras is one of my favorite urban beaches in Europe. It's 3 km long and a very active area with tons of joggers, walkers, swimmers, surfers and sunbathers. There are plenty of hotels to choose from in this area, within walking distance from the race HQ. It's not necessary to rent a car, because you can take a very cheap and comfortable bus from the airport to Las Palmas, and the race organizers will provide buses to the starting place.

By the way, Playa Chica is an excellent spot to go snorkeling if you want to see tropical fish. It's a bit like swimming in an aquarium. The water will be quite cold in March, but they say it speeds up the recovery of your legs.

Playa Chica is perhaps the best part of Las Canteras beach to see some tropical fish. 
To summarize, Transgrancanaria is recommended for those looking for new challenges in exciting natural settings. Animo! Vamos!

In many places around the islands you can see black volcanic rocks.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Flying to the top of Mont Blanc anyone?

You've got to check out this spectacular helmet cam video to understand why running around Mont Blanc is not such a big deal anymore!

As you'll see, paraglider Stephané Boulanger took off from Chamonix's Planpratz lift station (2,000m/6,562ft) and glided to the top of Mont Blanc (4,810m/15,782ft) to meet some of his equally crazy friends there on this amazing August day.

English version-Mont Blanc Tuto Cross Video from Stéphane Boulenger on Vimeo.

I used to hold a pilot licence for hang gliders (little known fact), but I haven't renewed it for two decades. Anyway now I'm tempted to try those tandem flights by Fly Chamonix next summer!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween Vertical-K 10K with Genesis Revisited II

Today, while I loading Genesis Revisited II by legendary guitarist (who recorded the first tapping solo back in 1971, long before heavy-rockers discovered it) Steve Hackett on my iPod, I had the idea of self-organizing Halloween Vertical-K 10K for myself, while listening to the brand new album. I was looking forward to hearing it, as I had liked its predecessor Genesis Revisited when it came out in 1996.

Without further ado, as a gentle warm-up, I cycled 3K to the biggest hill in the 'hood, while the first song The Chamber of 32 Doors was blasting in my headphones. The weather was cloudy but dry +6C (43F), which felt surprisingly warm after a truly freezing weekend.

By the time I arrived at the tiny 32-meter hill, the epic 23-minute Supper's Ready was well on its way: "Today's a day to celebrate..." Phil Collins' son Simon sang, delivering it powerfully like his dad used to do in his heyday. Although running to a 9/8-beat doesn't feel natural, it was fun to try. "One-Two-THREE, Four-FIVE, Six, Seven, Eight, NINE", I counted myself up the hill.

I couldn't help reflecting how about four decades earlier I was already absolutely amazed by these progressive rock masterpieces. Genesis released their best LP's in the seventies, and all the ones with Mr. Hackett were the best in IMHO: Nursery Cryme (1971) Foxtrot (1972), Selling England by the Pound (1973), The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974), A Trick of the Tail (1976) and Wind & Wuthering (1976). I'm most likely blogging a dead horse here, but this was a huge influence to me.

I was often listening to music while at home, although I'd also rush out to play and run; after all I was only 10-something. The music would play in my head, although I couldn't understand most of the lyrics. In fact I still don't: Can-Utility and the Coastliners, the story of King Canute, huh? I never even suspected him a true king, which he was.

The freeflow of memories was abruptly stopped when I noticed to my horror Dancing with a Moonlit Knight had a new intro added by Mr. Hackett. He had pre-emptied any criticism by stating: "Every time I change a solo I feel I'm in danger of messing with people's childhoods, but sometimes the muse just has to have her way with me." Fine, but we older fans might be in grave danger of a heart attack.

I kept on going up and down the same old hill. "The wind is blowing harder now, Blowing dust into my eyes. The dust settles on my skin, making a crust I cannot move in. And I'm hovering like a fly, waiting for the windshield on the freeway." The wind picked up, but it wasn't a problem at all. I won't be that Fly on a Windshield. I took a couple Clif Shot Bloks and kept ascending and descending, and listening with growing interest.

A little after half-way the heavy The Return of the Giant Hogweed kicked in. "Turn and run! Nothing can stop them..." Mr. Hackett had suggested the title as if it was from a bad horrow movie. It worked pretty well for me on this Halloween, especially when I realized the North face of the hill I presently struggled with was covered with pig-like smelling Hogweeds. I chuckled nervously but kept my distance to these scary monsters.

"The sun had been up for a couple of hours, it covered the ground with a layer of gold." The first line of the song Eleventh Earl of Mar is originally the first line of the novel The Flight of The Heron by D.K. Broster. At the same instant, the sun which had been up for a couple of hours, came out from behind the clouds and covered everything - you won't believe this - with a layer of gold.

Steve Hackett.
"Now I stop, seems that I've been led astray. There are no new answers today. This road is blocked. Only the fool learns to get through." These lines (based on a dream Mr. Hackett had about working with Genesis - he left the band in 1977 to pursue a solo career) from Camino Royale were interrupted by a beep from my Suunto Ambit GPS, marking my tenth km-lap. I jogged down to my bike and stopped the watch in 1:55 running time, 10.3 km running distance and 1,040 m (3,412 ft) cumulative ascension. Mission accomplished. Movescount data shows I climbed that stupid hill 33 times - a PR.

I cycled my 3K cool-down back home, whistling to the catchy melody of the last tune on the album, Shadow of the Hierophant. I guess there is no shortage of things one could want in this world, but somehow the simplicity of music and running combined probably make me happier than anything else. A nice little Halloween hill workout for me, and a fantastic new album by Steve Hackett.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

80km du Mont Blanc 2013

Teaser 80km du Mont-Blanc from MOUSS PRODUCTION on Vimeo.

Hi there all you crazy trailheads, just a short note to infom you that I just registered for a new exciting race in Chamonix: 80km du Mont Blanc on Friday 28 June 2013 (start 4am).

It's a 50-mile loop course Chamonix-Chamonix, with 6,000 meters (19,685ft) cumulative vertical up, and naturally the same down. It looks like a tough but scenic course to me. Definitely doable within the allowed 24 hours though. The weather will be a mystery as always, but it could possibly be warmer and sunnier than UTMB 2012 :)

Highest points along the route are:

  • Bel Lachat (2,276m)
  • Brevent  (2,525m)
  • Col du Corbeau (2,602m)
  • Col de la Terrasse (2,643m)
  • Signal (2,200m)
  • Aiguille du Plan (2,200m).

It's organized by the same people who have put on Mont Blanc Marathon for years, so they should know what they are doing.

Trail Valley is a beautiful place, as you can see from the video. Hope to see you there!

The 80K loop route goes clockwise from Chamonix to Chamonix. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Nutrition check

It's a good idea to analyze your daily diet once in a while, even if you are like me:
  • you think you are eating healthy
  • you have been healthy and fit for a long time
  • you are not on a diet to lose/gain weight
  • your training has been going according your plan
  • your race results have been satisfactory.
There are many ways to do this, but I prefer to use the free online service at You simply select a normal day and enter all the food you eat in the system. These are the ingredients of my day.

For this test to be reliable you need a kitchen scale to weigh every food item. At the end of the day you will get an analysis like this.

First I check total calories. I generally aim for 3500-4500 kcal ballpark per day. My total intake was 4397 kcal, which it what it takes to maintain weight when you are exercising regularly. I did some swimming, cycling and running during that day. I have no detailed nutrition plan, I simply eat what I like when I feel like it, and stop when my hunger is satisfied. I try to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegs, but what I select depends largely on what's in season.

Next I check the ratio of macronutrients. Here in my example it was
  • 82.6% carbs
  • 7.4% protein
  • 10.0% fat.  
This result is within 80/10/10 diet, where at least 80% of calories should come from carbohydrates and not more than 10% from protein and fat each.

It is also a raw vegan diet, and although all my foods were definitely vegan, 20% of them were not raw: cooked quinoa, ready-made chili-bean sauce, lightly steamed broccoli and a spoonful of cacao powder. Although there are endurance athletes like Michael Arnstein, who has followed 100% low fat raw vegan diet successfully for years, during winter in an extremely cold climate (Helsinki is the same latitude as Anchorage) 80% raw seems to work pretty well.

The details show that I got 94g (169%) protein and 2.8g (176%) Omega-3 lipids. No need for supplements here!

When we look at vitamins and minerals, we see that I got plenty of everything except vitamins B12 and D. Normally people get vitamin D from sun exposure, but in the winter that's not always possible. That's why I'm often taking a supplement. I also take a B12 supplement occasionally just in case. I have taken some magnesium in the past, but according to this analysis there is no need for that.

I might do another nutrition check next spring. Until then, I plan to keep calm and carry on.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The dirty dozen

This great video is from Courmayeur (Italy) - Champex (Switzerland) - Chamonix (France) trail run, one of my favorite races of 2012. CCC involved slightly more rain, sleet and mud than I had imagined. However if you can finish a hard challenge like this, all that is forgiven and its value is only increased.

Now check out my 'dirty dozen', the list of all 12 race reports in 2012!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Amazing 5K trail run PR!

My son ran an amazing 5K trail run PR today: 29min38s!

The hilly course in the central park was pretty tough - for me as a GPS-guy/pacer, not for him.

The weather was overcast +6C (43F) with 99% humidity. Almost like swimming!

The km-splits were: 5:37, 5:53, 6:09, 6:04 and 5:54.

Top job Jon!

5K PR from J8N Productions on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sunrise superpower smoothie

I like to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegs, but keep the recipes raw and simple. For example, Sunrise Smoothie is one of my favorite natural superpower boosts. Blend (I don't juice - juicers are not as good as blenders because they waste the fiber):

  • plain water, 
  • pineapple and 
  • pomegranate. 

Natural ingredients like these contain zillions of healthy compounds, some of them not even known by man yet. Fruits and vegs are always the smartest move. You will feel the effect immediately, and it will last all day. Just try it!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

16 quotes from The Secret Race

The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle is the hottest cycling book right now. It fills in all the shocking details how professional elite athletes cheat.

Here are my selection of the best quotes, one each from the 16 chapters of the book:

  1. Here's the secret: You can't block out the pain. You have to embrace it.
  2. Amphetamines and anabolics are nothing compared to EPO. All of a sudden whole teams were ragingly fast; all of a sudden I was struggling to make time limits.
  3. "This is not doping," he said. "This is for your health. To help you recover." I nodded.
  4. "Dad if I ever have to take that stuff to compete, I'll retire." I'd thought it would be hard to lie to my dad;  it turned out it was easy.
  5. Ferrari was unlike any other doctor I'd ever met, before or since.
  6. Lance's face was beet red; he was in a full rage, really letting the guy have it.
  7. Whenever I watch the likable gangsters on The Sopranos, I think of Johan.
  8. It took the drug-testing authorities several years and millions of dollars to develop a test to detect EPO in urine and blood. It took Ferrari about five minutes to figure out how to evade it.
  9. I did a lot of what he called 40-20s, which meant 40 seconds full gas, followed by 20 seconds of rest repeated over and over. These may have been the toughest and most productive workouts I've ever done.
  10. One of the things I learned in 2002 was that living in the same building as Lance had its complications.
  11. We'd made it to the top of the bike-racing world, and when we got there we found mostly desolation and emptiness.
  12. "You need to know something." I pulled in closer. Floyd's Mennonite conscience was bothering him. "Lance called the UCI on you," he said.
  13. Lance worked the system - hell, Lance was the system.
  14. You spend your life working to get to the brink of success, and then you are given a choice: either join in or quit and go home. What would you do?
  15. I didn't say anything. Lance was on a roll now. "I'm going to make your life a living ... fucking ... hell."
  16. The truth really will set you free.

The Secret Race reads like an exciting thriller, you cannot put it down. I just finished it and do recommend it.

One more thing: My Life with Lance Armstrong by Mike Anderson is also an interesting story worth checking out.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Challenge Barcelona triathlon race report

"Original is that which returns to the simplicity of the first solutions." 
-Antoni Gaudi

Celebrating my 50th birthday in 2012, I wanted the last race of the year to be something special. As this year happens to be also my 25th anniversary of triathlon racing, I wanted it to be a triathlon. And not just any old triathlon, but a full distance race with a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike and 42.2 km run. And as my first full distance race back in 1987 was an extremely cold one, I wanted this one to be somewhere tropical.

The lobby of Hotel Neptuno, Calella.
Soon I found Challenge Barcelona on September 30th. The reviews have been mostly very favorable. It has been voted the best triathlon in Spain. The weather has been sunny and almost 30C degrees in two previous years. The swim in the Mediterranean is not too cold, but not too warm either so wetsuits have always been allowed. The bike and run courses are fast, smooth and flat. All that I read about the race sounded perfect to me. I had also never been to Catalonia before, so Challenge Barcelona was a no-brainer.

Calella beach on a sunny calm day.
The race HQ is in a little sleepy town called Calella along the Maresme Coast, 70 km North from BCN Airport. Fortunately Hotel Neptuno provided me with a free private airport transfer. My driver was waiting for me at the arrival hall, and an hour later I was in my hotel room. It was Tuesday, five days before the race on Sunday.

The new Apple Store in Barcelona drew herds of nerds.
The weather was sunny but quite windy. I went for an ocean swim anyway. The yellow flags meaning 'extra caution' were flapping in the wind. There were no other swimmers as far as I could see. I bravely jumped into the sea, the waves rolled me around for awhile, and then spat me back on the beach. Then I discovered my shorts were full of sand.

Casa Battló is one of Gaudi's best works.
On Wednesday I bought a return train ticket to Barcelona to explore the city which Anthony Bourdain considers his favorite hub for food in Europe. I thought it might be the most exciting city to walk around. I was particularly interested in the works of Antoni Gaudi, who created a totally original biomorphic style.

The biomorphic balconies of La Pedrera are geniusly mad.
The scenic train ride between Calella and Barcelona's Placa de Catalunya took over an hour each way, but it offered good views to the beaches and the bike course. I walked a 25 km loop around Barcelona in 8 hours. I managed to see all the Gaudi architecture I wanted to see: Casa Battló, Casa Mila (La Pedrera), Sagrada Familia, Park Güell and Palau Güell.

The most popular unfinished building in the world, Sagrada Familia.
I also visited many other sights: the new Apple Store (at Passeig de Gracia 1), Columbus Monument, Casa Amatller, Casa Lleó Morera, Casa Comalat, El Corte Inglés department store and Fundació Joan Miro. I got lost a couple times, but always found something interesting to see. I think Barcelona beats other European cities hands down. I will probably get back there sometime.

Staircase to Park Güell, where Gaudi lived himself. World's longest bench on top. 86 hollow columns gather rainwater for the fountains. 
On Thursday the race registration went smoothly without queueing, although there were 1400 participants. I had some questions so I went back to the Expo on Friday. The organizers didn't speak much English, so I was directed to their info booth. Both persons there spoke English fluently, but knew nothing about the race details and suggested I talk to the organizers! Eventually everything was sorted out and the organizers did a good job in every other area except communications/marketing/PR in English.

Water flowing from the mosaic snake head fountain in Park Güell.
The weather turned more and more unstable as the week progressed. I went for a sea swim on Friday afternoon to test my wetsuit. The waves were smaller than on Tuesday, but still too big to swim fast. The water temperature felt like 22C to me, but I later learned that the official measurement was 18C.

The Witches House at Parc Güell gate. Gaudi was inspired by Brothers Grimm's fairy tale Hänsel & Gretel. The childrens house is on the opposite site.
My Catalonia travel guide book claims that it's usually sunny and warm - overcast grey skies with constant light rain are extremely rare. Unfortunately the weather report for the weekend looked just like that: overcast, constant light rain with heavier showers and possibly thunderstorms, and temperatures well below 20C. I started to doubt my motivation to finish or even start the race. I decided to start the race and then pull out of the race if necessary. I had come here to enjoy the sun, not to torture myself in cold rain. I didn't even have any rain clothing for the cycling.

Casa Comalat is a fine example of Gaudi's influence on other architects in Barcelona.
On Saturday it was pouring when everybody headed to the movie theater for our race briefing. The race director seemed a bit nervous. The bike check-in scheduled for the afternoon would be cancelled due to bad weather. We would only bring our race gear bags into the T1/T2-tent and receive our ankle chip straps. The bikes would be have to be placed in the start area early on Sunday morning. The presentation finished with the RD refusing to show the latest weather forecast to us, only mentioning it changes so often it's not reliable anyway.

60-meter-high Columbus Monument has an elevator inside (if it works).
On Sunday morning the rain had stopped for a while at least. At 7:30am I walked with my bike on the wet roads to the T1. I hang my bike on it's assigned location and memorized where it was. The ground was covered with red carpets, but the mud was bursting out through the seams. All transitions would be more or less muddy today. Also the run course would go through the transition area after each of the four laps.

Huge lions guard the Columbus Monument.
I went inside the transition tent and put on my wetsuit, silicone cap and goggles. I put my street clothes in the green bag and checked again that all my bike gear was in the blue bag and run gear in the red. Then I headed out to the beach to hang out with other competitors. It was about 15 minutes before the first swim wave start at 8:30. I was in the fourth wave at 8:36.

Barcelona view from Montjuic towards Park Güell.
I was chatting with fellow Finnish racers, when I suddenly realized that I had only a couple minutes left. I walked through the gates towards my group with silver caps. I just arrived there on time when the horn sounded and we were off. I calmly entered the water in among the last. My plan was to enjoy the experience and stay at about 50% effort all day.

Another BCN view from Montjuic park.
The sea was relatively calm and the whole swim was very nice. I swam most of the 3800 meters without drafting behind anyone. I wasn't in a hurry and let other swimmers pass me without a fight. I was astonished to see the sun come out on a blue sky. I could see the sandy white bottom of the sea, but disappointingly no marine life whatsoever. We swam towards the lighthouse and back. It felt very easy and comfortable. I clocked 1:15:37 when I climbed back on the beach and hurried to T1.

Rooftop of Fundacio Joan Miro.
I thought it would start raining during the 180 km bike, so I put on a long-sleeve shirt under my short-sleeve cycling shirt. You always feel a bit chilly right after the swim. After about 20K I felt warm and stopped for a toilet break. I put my long-sleeve shirt into an empty bottle cage behind my saddle. The weather was excellent. It was fun and I felt like I could finish this race in under the 15 hour cut-off.

Sculptures and a painting inside Fundacio Joan Miro.
I kept on riding the first 70 km loop at a steady comfortable pace. There were some aid stations where I took bananas and stingy-tasting sports drink. Mostly I relied on my own Clif Blok Shots and Gels with caffeine. I also had a bottle of SiS Go isotonic gel and nuun Kona Cola.

There is a lot of stuff to sort out before a triathlon race.
The old N-II road 'Carretera Madrid-Francia' was in excellent condition. The asphalt was smooth and the hills were small enough not to slow down the pace too much. What's best, the road was closed from other traffic. Drivers who aimed to take this road were given a free ticket for the new motorway. It was fantastic to ride through charming little towns along the coast. The only sound was the wind and the waves crashing on the beach, except tons of people cheering us 'venga, venga, venga' or 'vamos' or 'animo'!

A dude training in endless pool at race expo as BCN train passes by. 
Soon I finished the first loop and made a U-turn in the roundabout to do the same again. I chuckled at the infamous '666' sign again (indicating the distance from Madrid in km, this is a local joke, there is not much love lost between Madrid and Catalonia). Just as I thought bike riding could not get any better than this, the headwind picked up. I slowed down, and other riders passed me frequently. Spanish drivers are notoriously crazy (although they themselves seem to think the Italians are much worse), and Spanish riders are not much more risk-averse. Some of them passed me very close on the right side without giving any warning. The only thing I fear more than flats are crashes. Fortunately I didn't encounter either.

My trusty old aluminum-frame Cervelo P3 ready to race in my hotel room.
The dark clouds that had slowly gathered over the day finally produced some light rain for the last 40 km. It wasn't too bad, but the temperature dropped and I stopped to put on the extra shirt and cycling gloves. The last short loop went by quickly and I headed back to Calella. The last 3K (the same as the first 3K) was tricky with narrow roads, speed bumps and lots of turns. I reached T2 in 6:43:03 (total time 7:58:38). My Suunto Ambit recorded 474 meters of climbing.

My swim start 8:36am on Sunday (photo: Challenge BCN/flickr).
I changed into a T-shirt, new socks, Hoka One One Stinson Evo shoes and running cap but kept the same triathlon tights on the whole race. I had seven hours to run the marathon and I was sure I could do it. The rain had stopped and the weather was ideal for running with clouds covering the sun.

My swim finish, trying to wash sand off my feet unsuccessfully.
The first of the four 10.5K laps went well once my legs got used to running. I ate oranges and bananas which were good, but the sports drink they served started to bother me. I had a toilet break which made me feel better for a while.

Passing the Calella lighthouse soon after bike start.
For the second lap I changed nutrition strategies. I tried cola and energy bars at every station. The only problem was that the 'cola' they had in small bottles tasted like bad medicine. Soon my stomach felt sick and I was in trouble.

Enjoying the fantastic scenery with local energy drinks.
For the third lap I switched to gel and water. That felt good, but I had to walk a lot to give my stomach a chance to settle down. It was dark already and the full moon was behind the clouds. I wasn't too concerned as surely they would have street lights, right? Wrong, a couple kilometers in the middle of the loop lacked lights. I was walking anyway so it didn't really slow me down though. I might have looked a bit tired, as a medical scooter patrol drove beside me and enquired if I'm ok. I faked feeling fine until they left me alone.

Running the marathon in cool evening air was a blast.
For the last lap the gel and water started to make an effect and I was running again. Not fast by any means, it was more like the dreaded 'Kona shuffle' that you will see a lot if you watch Hawaii Ironman. Still this was mentally easy for me, having for example finished Trail Verbier St-Bernard in about 28 hours this summer. I reckoned at this pace I would finish in under 14 hours, only a half of that and well under the cut-off.

I did it my pace! Vamos! Animo!
The last km's felt like miles. Finally I reached the finish gate in 13:45:37. My marathon time was 5:36:28, not one of my fastest, but who cares. This was my 11th and slowest Ironman-distance finish. I had plenty of fun and mostly a very good time. A heavy 'gold' medal was awarded to me. I went to pick up my bags and bike. An incredible fireworks started right then and I stopped to watch like everyone else who was still around. It must have taken 5-10 minutes. Thank you Challenge Barcelona, Calella and all the wonderful volunteers and supporters!

Finisher T-shirt, medal and wrist band on the table of my hotel balcony.
The race statistics showed me later that there had been 1159 finishers. I had been 1090th. There were 125 DNSs, 92 DNFs and 7 DSQs (for drafting on the bike, you got a 8 min penalty for each warning, and if you got three warnings you were out).

Fantastic fireworks started only minutes after I finished. (Photo Challenge BCN/flickr).

I'd certainly recommend Challenge Barcelona for those interested in a full-distance triathlon in a great location. BCN rocks!