Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Irawcan 226K/17h triathlon

I did a full 226 km (140.6 miles) triathlon yesterday in 17 hours! It was totally self-organized and -supported training event. I thought it should be called something else than an ironman, and came up with irawcan.

I also set up rules to guide myself and possibly other who might be interested in the future:
  • TIME: You have 17 hours, starting at 7AM and finishing by midnight. You can have as many breaks as you like, but the clock keeps ticking. This is only for personal training purposes. Therefore you should eat and drink well, take your time, and use all the 17 hours if required.
  • DISTANCE: This is a full 226 km (140.6 miles) triathlon, consisting of 3.8 km (2.4 miles) swim, 180 km (112 miles) bike, and 42.2 (26.2 miles) marathon run. Normally in a triathlon you have to perform these in exactly this order, but in Irawcan you can do them in any order you like. You may also break them into parts, and even mix those parts in any order you like, as long as you will accumulate the full distance in the end.
  • NUTRITION: Your nutrition should mostly (at least 80%) consist of raw (meaning unheated, not unripe) fruits and vegetables. However during training you may use sports drinks, gels, bars, nuts etc, as long as they don't exceed 20% of your caloric intake. Caffeine may be used in small amounts, but meat, fish, dairy, eggs, grains or alcohol are not allowed (simply because I don't currently eat them at all).
So how did I do? Here's my 226 km, 17-hour triathlon training day step by step:
  • I woke up too late to have any breakfast. I started promptly at 7:00AM by swimming 3800 meters in the local 25 m pool, which is near to my home. I swam the whole distance at a relaxed pace without any breaks. My time was 69 minutes. I didn't wear a wetsuit, which are often used in real outdoor triathlons.
  • After the swim I spent some time in the sauna. Then I went home and made a breakfast smoothie consisting of water, honeydew melon, bananas and chocolate (ie. organic cacao powder).
  • The weather was sunny but chilly, so I decided to do the whole 180 km bike on my Tacx Bushido trainer. I installed my Cervelo P3 on the trainer and kept an easy 30 km/h pace. I took a lot of breaks to make more smoothies, to have some lunch, and to refill my drink bottle with Nuun Kona Cola. The cycling took 6:13 (without the breaks). I watched Ironman Hawaii and surfed the net while cycling.
  • I had some dinner, made a few phone calls, and was ready to start my marathon run around 6PM. That meant I had 6 hours to finish by midnight. The weather was still sunny and perfect for running. I put on my Hoka One One Stinson Evos and ran around the ubiquitous non-technical trails and dirt paths around my home. I used Suunto Ambit for measurements. I carried a backpack with extra clothing and gels. I visited home around 8PM to drink and eat.
  • At around 9PM I hurried out again, as I still had over 20 km to go in 3 hours. The sunset by the river at 10PM was stunningly beautiful. It got dark but I was ok, as almost all dirt paths in my neighborhood have lights. I had to run on some asphalt bike paths occasionally. I paced myself perfectly, arriving at home when Ambit showed I was done, with only a couple of minutes to spare! The marathon took 4:43 (without the breaks). I took a quick shower, ate a couple of gherkins and beetroots, and fell asleep immediately after that.       
Altogether this was 12 hours 5 minutes of training, not bad for one day! Thanks to reasonable pace I'm not sore or tired or anything like that, but I'll take this following day easy just in case.

I have real race called Challenge Barcelona scheduled on September 30th. Although the distance is the same, it won't be as easy as this of course, but I aim to finish it in around 12 hours as well.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Camel lesson

About ten weeks ago I had a chance to learn a few tricks from camels during my tapering trip by the Red Sea. We learned a few interesting facts by observing and studying those funny and fascinating animals with my son.

Camel racing is a major sport in the Middle East; the distances vary from 5K to over 40K. These days the jockeys are small remote controlled robots. Camels predominantly have slow twitch (Type I) muscle fibers, relying on aerobic metabolic pathways. Camel muscles have very high levels of oxidative enzymes (for example compared to horses).

Camels will run at up to 95% of VO2max before their plasma lactate levels reach 4 mM/l, whereas this occurs in other species at 50-60% of VO2max. The aerobic capacity of camels was 53 ml/kg/min at 30 km/h, which is significantly lower than that in thoroughbreads (100-160 ml/kg/min). This reflects the very low oxygen requirement of camels.

Extremely thirsty camels can drink 100-200 liters (26-52 US gal) of water in one go in hot dry conditions. However camels eating green vegetation can ingest sufficient moisture in milder conditions to maintain adequate body hydration without drinking water. In cold weather a camel may not drink for months, as long as green feed is available - it can get all the water required directly from the plants. Usually in normal conditions camels drink only small to moderate amounts of water, up to 60 liters in 10 days.

Camel's mouth is able to chew any thorny desert plants, branches and bushes. Camels can efficiently digest low quality roughage because of the wide range of ruminal microflora. Contrary to popular belief camels do not store water in their humps, which are actually a fat storage on their back. Otherwise camels are lean and their body fat is very low. If food is not available, camels can live off the fat in the hump for a long time. A camel can lose up to 200 kg in body weight during periods like this.

Camels start to sweat only if their body temperature rises above 41C (106F). The evaporation of sweat keeps their skin cool while their thick coat offers insulation from the intense heat radiation of desert sand. The coat also helps them stay warm during cold nights, when their body temperature may comfortably drop down to 34C (93F). During the day camels prefer to stay up - their long legs keep them far away from the hot ground.

Salt is very important for camels. A camel may need 1 kg of salt a week! Camel urine comes out as a thick syrup, and their feces are dry enough to fuel campsite fires. The average life expectancy of a camel is 40-50 years. A fully grown camel stands 185 cm (6ft 1in) at the shoulder and the hump rises about 75 cm (30 in) out of its body.

The main points are:
  • eat your greens
  • drink water and take some salts if it's hot and you sweat a lot
  • carry some extra food in your backpack just in case.
Here's a video from someone who has a pet camel!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lidingö Ultra 50K 2012 race report

Largest Nordic ultra that nobody knows

Lidingö Ultra 50K claims to be the largest ultra running race in all five Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland). Although many of the 707 registered competitors opted for the shorter non-ultra 26 km race, 352 runners finished the undulating full 50K on the last Saturday of April.

This down-to-earth low-key race must be the best kept secret in Scandinavian ultra/trail running circles. I didn't see any other Finnish runners, although Stockholm is only about 400 km - a one hour flight - west of Helsinki. The express train from Arlanda airport to Stockholm city terminal takes another 20 mins. For comparison, in Stockholm Marathon there will be over 5,000 Finnish runners every year.

Actually from the Middle Ages up to 1809 what is now Finland was part of Swedish Kingdom. Swedish is still an official language in Finland, and it is compulsory for all Finns to learn it at school. Maybe that's why Swedish races almost feel like home events to me. Some races in Finland would be more distant than this one.

Stockholm is only one hour from Helsinki by plane. This is my actual flight on the previous evening (data recorded by Suunto Ambit).

Härligt! (Beautiful!)

The race HQ at Lidingövallen sports centre (A=Start, B=Finish). 
The race HQ at Lidingövallen sports centre is easily accessible by metro (Tunnelbana from your hotel to Ropsten and take any bus to Lidingövallen, you need to have 72 SEK worth of tickets to get there and back, as public transportation is not free for runners, and buses don't sell tickets) and bus in 15-30 mins. Just show up there an hour before the 9AM start and pin your bib onto your shirt. I appreciated the simple effectiveness of the race organization. Tack så mycket (thank you very much)!

My bib on the neon carrot race T-shirt. No age-groups, only Män or Kvinnor.
Lidingö island is idyllic and has a lot to offer for those who enjoy running by the sea and through green forests. Most of the course is non-technical trail or dirt/gravel road. There are some short passages on tarmac and 'urban trail' through the yards of tall blocks of flats.

The weather was absolutely perfect on Saturday: sunny 14C (57F). That was warm enough even for me to run in shorts for the first time this year - and without a jacket, hat or gloves too :) The nice cool Baltic Sea breeze (5 m/s) made sure it didn't get too hot.

There had been heavy rain the day before, and certain parts of the course were wet and muddy. Nothing to worry about for my oversized Hoka One One Stinson EVO shoes though, which performed extremely well through everything they encountered. On downhills they beat other shoes both in speed and comfort. I have not suffered any blisters or injuries while wearing them. However the main benefit for me using them is reduced recovery time. That's important to me, as I want to be able to train daily.

Ta det lugnt! (Take it easy!)    

The route as recorded by my Suunto Ambit.
Although 50 km (31 miles) is considered a ridiculously short distance in hard-core ultra circles, this course is not that easy. If you start too fast, you will have to pay for it, no matter who you think you are. None of the hills are that scary alone, but together all those 30-40 (I lost count about half-way) tiny peaks somehow merge into a formidable opponent.

The roller coaster course goes constantly up and down between 0-50 meters. It starts towards North-West and climbs over a series of hills known as Grönsta. Then at around 6K comes the notoriously steep Abborbacken (Perch Hill).

Around 10K we went under the bridge, over the railway and through Islinge aid station.
We went under the Lidingö bridge and over the railway. I was a bit worried for having to stop for a train, but there were no trains in sight. Then we arrived at Islinge 10K aid station. I took only water as I was carrying four Clif Shot Bloks, and chewing some of those all the time. Baggeby after 11K shouldn't be underestimated either, it sure took the wind out of my sails. In Mölna 15K aid station I planned to grab some fruit, but they only had green unripe bananas available, so I passed.

Analyzing the route data in Google Earth. Check out all those steep hills!
After 15K point the beautiful path along the coastline turns up North towards the even more beautiful shores of Lake Kottla. There are also three other smaller lakes with lots of birds, flowers, you know natural stuff like that. This area is my favorite part. It's simply stunning. Fortunately I didn't carry any camera, as I would have felt compelled to stop to take a photo every 30 seconds! I didn't wear any headphones either (like many fellow competitors), and was thus able to listen to the birds singing.

Beautiful section of the course along Lake Kottla.
At 25K the course passes the start/finish area, where the 26 km competitors exit to their finish. My half-way split was 2:12, which was a bit slower than I had wished for. I guess I had dreamed about under 4-hour finish time, but that clearly wasn't quite realistic on this day. Should have done more speedwork, I guess, but you can't have everything.

At the Lidingövallen aid station I had drank only water once again. I had to loosen the strap of my Suunto Ambit, as my wrists were swelling - a sign of not eating enough food, and the first warning of hyponatremia. I felt like I was starting to crash down. My 2010 course PR 4:17, which I consider one of my best trail running performances ever (25th place overall at age 48 in cold rain), would certainly still stand after this race.

From now on my sole focus would be on making sure I would be able to finish strong. 20K is a long way to walk, if things get ugly. I knew the next aid station would be around 32K in Rönneberga. This part of the course was relatively easy, as it followed the long northern shore of the huge bay extending all the way to the race HQ.

Jättebra! (Awesome!)

It seemed to take me forever to get there, but upon my arrival I was pleasantly surprised to find out they had Swedish blueberry soup - that was the ticket out of my agony! Jättebra! Only 18 km left - yes I can do it!

In Sögergam 37K aid station I made the desperate decision to fully coke myself, taking the classic 6 cup immersion in one continuous motion involving both hands. Now that I had resorted to this black magic acid, I knew I'd have to continue doing the same at every aid station to avoid crashing miserably. Funny how ultras make you crave for the stuff that you despise in your normal life.

We climbed many hills in this part of the course twice, always running counterclockwise.
This gave me a necessary turbo boost to tackle the familiar Grönsta and Abborbacken hills once again. But of course they weren't the same small hills anymore. While I was away running the loop, they had grown into real monster mountains, almost impossible to climb without oxygen bottles. The steep uphill was this time more like hiking than running for me, and I got passed by a couple of Swedish runners that seemed to be flying up. Ouch, that hurt more than the gradient! I'm just kidding. Or maybe not.


After conquering the highest point of the course for the second time (51 meters above sea level), the good news was that now there was only 3 km to finish, almost there! The bad news was that there was one more hill to climb: the infamous Vattentorn (Water Tower) hill. It would be the last uphill before the finish. There was someone closing on behind me, I heard his steps getting closer. I had to do something.

Vattentorn - the last hill before finish.
Suddenly, in my imagination, it was the 'IronWar' at 1989 Ironman Hawaii. Mark Allen and Dave Scott came to the last hill a couple of miles before the finish line. In reality, Allen had speeded up that hill and won the race. But this time, I imagined Scott sprinting up the hill, catching Allen and leaving him behind. I was 'The Man', winning the World Championship! I have no idea how all this came to my mind right then - probably someone passing me had an Ironman logo or something like that.

This creative visualization stuff may seem silly, but who cares as long as it works. Actually the sillier, the more effective I believe. Anyway, it got me over that final obstacle.

Bra jobbat! (Well done!)

I finished in decent 4:41:20, feeling good and strong. I was 76th man to cross the line, out of 291 men who finished 50K. Naturally I got also 'chicked' by many women.

The finish area after my finish. Someone is crossing the finish line in under 5 h.
They don't officially recognize any age categories in this race, although they do publish everyone's birth year in the results list. So I couldn't help noticing that I would have been 2nd in M50 category. Bra jobbat Anders Toll, you beat me by 8 min 15 s - grattis (congrats)!

After the race I learned that Daniel Nilsson won in 3:22:28 and Sophia Sundberg was the first woman with 3:49:24. Those are both amazingly fast times.

My Suunto Ambit told me that my ascent time had been 1:08:24 and descent time 0:41:46. That means I had been going up or down a hill for about 1 hour 50 mins, so the remaining 2 h 51 mins had been logically classified as flat. However I feel not all the 'flats' were really that flat. The total ascent was 730 meters, and the descent was the same.

The watch (which I've nicknamed 'Brick') also claimed I had ran only 49.27 km instead of a full 50.0 km. All GPS devices are somewhat inaccurate, and I detected some obvious tracking errors, like it showed me swimming across a bay and weird stuff like that. Where I ran the same trail twice, the tracks should have been identical, but they weren't always quite right. (Note: I tested Ambit in the 60s GPS mode, as that's what I'll have to use in my forthcoming ultra trail races. The 1s option would be more accurate, but then I'd run out of battery.)

Funny how I don't remember swimming across this bay during the race!
While enjoying late lunch at our hotel, my son demanded a visit to Kaknästornet's 360-degree viewing restaurant. I agreed to go, but I have never been more eager to pay for the elevator. Normally I would have tried to look for stairs, but not on this Saturday night! My quads were pretty much done.

When we saw Lidingö from up there, it looked such a huge island that we wondered how anyone could have possibly run around it in just a few hours. And how amazing that I had the priviledge to be one of those runners! I'd say Lidingö Ultra was definitely 'en njutbar upplevelse' - an enjoyable experience. Maybe I'll see you there next year?