Wednesday, 17 May 2017

From road to mountains

After Paris marathon I just put my road shoes aside for a while and tried to find my inner orienteer again. First I gave myself two weeks rest and recovery but did a few jogs in the woods just for my soul. I really love walking and running around in the woods and I missed that a lot during my marathon training.

Three weeks after Paris was Tiomila, the highlight of the spring for orienteers. I was probably more nervous than ever before since I hadn’t practiced orienteering during the winter and only had time for a few rounds in the woods with a map before the race. I had hoped to get a technically “easier” leg to be able to maximize my running capacity and to get some help with orienteering. However, I wasn’t convincing enough, and got a second leg. I did a controlled run technically, with only a few small mistakes, but I was far too defensive to match the best ones on my leg. I really enjoyed the run and the beautiful terrain of Partille but felt like I did too little. I just lacked the confidence to push hard and I was barely exhausted after the run. My teammates Rebecka, Johanna, Julia, and Hilda were terrific and our newly formed team had good chances to a top20 position but unfortunately we had some bad luck on the last leg and had to retire. We’ll be back in Venla!

After Tiomila I started my training towards Mont Blanc marathon. The closer it comes, the more horrified I become. It will be like a jump towards unknown. I have absolutely no idea how (or if) I’m going to survive there and how to approach the race. It will be very different from everything I’ve done before and I’ve never done a race that long and challenging. I did Jungfrau marathon in 2012, which is probably the most challenging race I’ve done and the closest thing to Mont Blanc, but the first half of Jungfrau was on road, which made it significantly faster. Jungfrau was a bit over 4h race for me, whereas Mont Blanc will probably take around 6h or more. I really don’t know. But I do know that it will be more or less like an ultra race for me, almost like a double marathon. It really makes me humble.

The crucial elements in my preparation will be hills and overlong long runs. The more hours I spend on hills and in rough terrain, the better. So now I’m back in my element again, running on trails and in terrain. I just love it and it suits me better than the roads. However, in order to retain some speed in my legs I decided to run a few shorter road races just for fun. Last weekend I took part to Kungsholmen Runt 10k run, which was absolutely brilliant. It was beautiful weather, great atmosphere, and a nice course around Kungsholmen. First half was almost flat and I clocked it fairly easily in just under 20min. The second half was tougher with several climbs, sharp turns, and gravel, which made it impossible to keep a steady pace. I lost a bit but managed to run the whole thing in 40:50, which is one of my fastest 10k runs in Stockholm. I was probably in better shape just before Paris but after all problems with the pollen allergy during the past weeks I was very happy to do a sub 41min 10k. Now time for some hill reps!

Excitement of getting back to green pastures (Photo: Sami Takaluoma)

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Marathon de Paris

Ever since my first road marathon in Valencia in 2012 my aim has been to beat 3h. On my first try I didn’t have a goal, I just went and run on feeling. No time goal, just running for the experience. Plan was not to push before 30k and enjoy the race. That’s what I did and it went ridiculously easy. I ran 42,2k in 3:01:11. My official time was a few minutes slower (3:03:21) due to some zigzagging on the way and thus a longer distance (42,6k). Anyway I was within sub 3h schedule up to 37k, which made me think that with a bit of training I could easily run it some minutes faster. Now I’m not that convinced about the easiness anymore.

After Valencia I’ve had a few tries and a few failures. A year later I ran Florence marathon in 3:06:41, which was obviously a huge disappointment. Maybe the route there was slightly slower due to sharp turns and cobbles but I also went off too fast in the beginning. I was a minute ahead of my target in the half way and ran out of energy much earlier. I managed to run 30k within sub 3h schedule but lost loads on the last 12k. I realized that the key to a good finish time on a marathon is a steady pace.

After Florence I haven’t really had a chance to beat my goal before now in Paris. Last two years I’ve struggled with injuries and haven’t got to the start line uninjured, so getting there in one piece was already an achievement. Training towards Paris wasn’t smooth and unproblematic but at least I managed to get to the start line. I had some niggles on the way but reacted fast and cut my long runs short when needed. I just tried to avoid risks at all costs. My longest training run was 32k so I wasn’t sure how I would survive the last 10k. Still, I was quite confident because I knew I had trained better and more marathon-specific than before and I was in fairly good shape.

I did the preparations as well as I could but some things you just can’t control. For instance, when I went to pick up my bib number the day before, there was an unexpected stop in the underground and I got to walk some extra miles just because the train wasn’t working. Not optimal, especially when my morning run had already been a few kilometres too long, and the Italian restaurant, where we went for dinner, was also further away than I had hoped. Nevertheless, I was feeling good and optimistic when standing on the start line.

Starting at Champs-Élysées with Arc de Triomphe in the background was pretty amazing. I ran the first half controlled and steady in 1:29:08, just as planned, with all four 5k splits within 10 seconds. I was still feeling quite alright at that point but I was sweating heavily. The weather was well over +20C and just getting warmer and warmer the longer we got. After doing most of my training in sub zero temperatures I just couldn’t handle the heat. I believe it became harder than it should have because of the weather and therefore I burned more energy early on than necessary. I wasn’t able to replace the liquid and salts I lost through sweating and I started to faint after 25k.

Sami was yelling at me euphorically at 28k, just before the Eiffel, but it didn’t help. He was sure I was going to beat my goal but I knew I wasn’t. I was just getting slower and there was nothing I could do. I was able to hang in there for 30k but not further. The remaining 12k were really painful with stomach cramps and empty legs. 3:00 pacers passed me around 35k but I couldn’t accelerate. I tried but nothing happened. I just watched them to vanish in the horizon. During the last 10k I was constantly thinking about quitting so I’m kind of proud that I didn’t. I finished 52nd among 10339 women. When you put it like that it doesn’t sound too bad. However, my time 3:06:37 was 6:38 slower than I had hoped for, but when you change to jogging the minutes pass fast. I was really looking forward to not having to train for another marathon but now I may need to postpone that. Oh dear.

Whether I continue with marathons remains to be seen but right now I’m enjoying the recovery and looking forward to get back to trails and forests! After all it’s there my hearth lies. I have learned to like the simplicity of road running and the easiness of seeing progress and measuring yourself but in my hearth I’m still an orienteer. 

For the vibes, check out this video

Pont Alexandre III 
Sunrise over Seine
French breakfast

Less springy legs today

Finisher t-shirt!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A week in the sun

Recently I wrote about strategies how to cope with the winter as a runner and then escaped from it myself. Ironic, I know, but after a fair amount of compromises and small niggles I just couldn’t stand it anymore and headed to Fuerteventura for a week’s warm weather training camp. Our base was at Las Playitas, a wonderful well-equipped sports centre in the southeastern corner of the island, that I knew from previously would serve me well even if I faced some problems. On holidays I seldom want to go back to places where I’ve been before and rather seek for new places to explore. However, when it comes to training, it’s different, and it actually feels good to go back to a place that you know has got everything you need (see my comprehensive description of Playitas here)

My week was more or less a replay from last year. It was funny to see flashbacks from my own Facebook updates from exactly the same dates a year ago. It was like a tailored-made training plan. Just when I was about to go for a long ride the pictures from last years’ ride jumped into my face. Again, I gathered about 20h and 230km in a week, of which 80km cycling and nearly 150km running, and over 4000m vertical climb. For me it’s like two weeks training squeezed in one week. And the best of it was that it all came like nothing. In addition to actual training I took part to some morning yoga sessions and climbed about 720 stairs a day (that being part of living in the upper most house of the resort).

So here is roughly what I did. It was important for me to get a proper long run and I also wanted to get a longer tempo run and long intervals. Hill reps were a nice bonus. To play safe I took one day off from running and spent it in the saddle.

Day 1: A short jog on the hills after a long travel. Can’t describe the feeling of running in shorts and t-shirt again!

Day 2: Easy off-road run on the hills in the morning with some strides and 5x1600m intervals on the red carpet in the evening.

Day 3: 18km progressive run in the morning and 2km swimming in the evening. 

Day 4: 13km tempo run in the morning, then an easy off roader on hills in the afternoon, followed by a strength workout. 

Day 5: A day off from running. Just a short morning jog to the nearest hilltop before the sunrise, then a massive breakfast and a long ride on the mountains. Some relaxing swimming in the evening.

Day 6: 5x6min hill reps of varying length and steepness, followed by some short sprints. Quads were dead from the ride and some of the climbs felt too steep. I dig in but it wasn’t pretty. Some easy running and core exercises in the evening.

Day 7: Long run. I had my doubts about 32km on top of the week but it was pure enjoyment. Amazed that my legs didn’t protest. Very happy. 

Day 8: Last run to the lighthouse, 13km. Had thought about taking the ridge back to the village as suggested but it looked quite rough and I didn't have proper trail shoes. There were also dark clouds hanging low so I started to hesitate. I was tempted but at the same time it all looked very alarming and so I decided not to take the adventure this time. Instead I just ran the road down and when the first drops came I was quite happy about it. Coward, yes, maybe, but I just felt like acting sensible for once. I had a long day of travel ahead and I kind of wanted to feel reasonable fresh for it. Just avoiding risks at all costs. Next time…


Friday, 27 January 2017

Winter training challenges

There are many challenges with winter training. First there’s too much snow, then it’s too cold, and finally there’s ice everywhere. Having a proper winter is not a problem, it’s the constant temperature changes that make it unbearable. Like here in Stockholm. There’s almost never enough snow for cross-country skiing and nearly always too icy to run. What a perfect combination! Sometimes the weather is indeed excellent for ice-skating on lakes but it seldom lasts very long due to sudden temperature raises and rainy days. On the other hand the ice-cover seems to last forever on roads and trails. So here I’ve gathered some tips how to keep on the good work despite the nasty weather.

Studded shoesIf you want to keep on training outside through the winter you should at least have is a good pair of studded shoes. It’s the only way to keep on running safely outside. A pair of skis or skates is a nice extra, but seems like a waste of money if the opportunities are few. Getting studded wheels to your bike is probably a better investment, especially if you are commuting to work with a bike. Sometimes, when the conditions are really crappy, the best idea is to stick with indoor activities.

Indoor training is not really my cup of tea but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s a smart thing to do when the conditions outside are what they are. To keep it interesting, plan your trainings in advance and vary them. Do different types of intervals and hill reps and change between the sports. That way it’s easier to stay motivated and get the work done.

Entertainment. Music and TV will help too. Some people watch movies while they train indoors, I personally prefer music or sports on TV. For me it has to go fast and have a good rhythm while I’m doing my intervals. Choose your favourite songs in advance to fit in with your workout, just like on spinning classes. It makes it so much easier!

Indoor track. Best option for indoor running is an indoor track. Your stride on track is more natural than on treadmill. Track is at the same time soft but firm and an excellent surface to run. Unfortunately it’s a luxury that is seldom available for everyone. Many indoor tracks are only for club runners and the rest of us have to settle for a treadmill. One way to get a chance to run on an indoor track is to enter to a race. That’s what I did. Never before have I had courage to race on track but now I was desperate to get a good race pace tempo session done and there was no way to do it outside. So I went and ran a 3000m track race despite the fact that I was far off from my PB. Self-five!

Intervals. Good workouts on treadmill are intervals. My personal favourites are short 30-60s intervals, for example 20x45sec. Longer intervals such as 5x5min or 6x4min work too but longer intervals or continuous tempo runs are just horrible and time seems to stand still. A minute on treadmill can feel like an eternity. Two of my most hated treadmill workouts of the winter have been 3km intervals and an 8km tempo run. On the other hand, a half-long brisk steady run is definitively better than a sluggish long run because the overall time is shorter and your posture and stride remains better at slightly faster pace. Slow jogging on treadmill is just not worth doing. If you want to keep it slow and easy then it’s probably better to jump on a crosstrainer or bike.

Combination workouts. The remaining workout is the long run. It’s definitively the most challenging workout in the winter. It’s monotonous and extremely boring on a treadmill and outside in sub-zero temperatures your legs start to freeze and grow numb at latest after 90min of running. After that the risks overweigh the benefits and there’s no use to continue. Also running on icy roads longer than 90min is definitively a risk factor. For an orienteer or a trail runner I would recommend running in terrain instead of roads and if there’s too much snow or too cold then I would suggest 2h spinning or some other alternative training. For a runner training for a marathon I would suggest combination workouts, for instance 90min cycling, followed by 60min running. After the ride your legs are already slightly fatigued and you get the benefits of a long run without the risk of getting crazy or injured.

Be flexible. Also, last but not least, be flexible. You can postpone your workouts if required. Better to do it well than to force it through the worst snowstorm. Remember that continuity overweighs any singular workout. Look at the big picture.

The day you had your long run scheduled...

Friday, 6 January 2017

Training in Lanzarote

First training camp of the winter was in Lanzarote just before Christmas. It was a typical last-minute thing for us but it was a great week all in all. It was my first visit to the island and I had no expectations. All I wanted was to get to sun and away from the darkness, ice and slush. We surely got that and a lot more!
Puerto del Carmen

Puerto del Carmen was clean and pretty and there were plenty of nice boutiques and restaurants for regular tourists. But what I cared more about were the conditions to train. And they were excellent. To east from the village there was a paved road just for pedestrians (and cyclists) that followed the coastline and stretched all the way from Puerto del Carmen to Arrecife (about 10km or so). It was mostly flat and perfect for some faster pace tempo runs. Although I must admit that on a windy day the wind can have considerable impact on your pace (as mush as 20s per km). 

Easy miles to east

On contrast, if you go west from Puerto del Carmen there are beautiful never-ending undulating trails leading to the mountains of the southwest corner of the island all the way to Playa Blanca and Costa de Papagayo. It was a perfect playground for longer off-road runs and hill runs. I just loved sprinting up and down those hills with views over the ocean and a touch of sea breeze on your face!

Trails to west

Top views

To spare myself from injuries I combined running with crosstraining and trained a few times at Fariones Sport Centre, a well-equipped sport centre that offered everything from gym and swim to padel, tennis, yoga and group classes. They also had a sauna, jacuzzi, and massage for after-training treatment and relaxation. It was great and I can warmly recommend the place. Although a serious swimmer might wonder why their professional swimming pool has a shape of an amoeba… Trifle but if you want to do your flipturn there you should probably choose the middle lane (the only lane with a straight end).

Companion of the day

I also rented a bike for one day. There are several bike hires in the village but if you go there on holiday time and want to have a nice bike you should probably book your bike in advance because it may get busy. I trusted on my good fortune but got to wait a few days before I managed to get a road bike for myself. My companions had rented bikes for the whole week and it was more than enough for them to explore pretty much the whole island. On the day when I had a bike we did a nice long mountain ride first along the coast to Costa Teguise and then further towards Arrieta before taking a left turn and a climb up to the mountains through Tabayesco valley. It was a 10k climb with 600m elevation. A fairly long climb but very nice to ride as the climb comes gradually and with a growing gradient towards the end. We stopped for a coffee and views on the top of it before heading back to south through Teguise and San Bartolome. Apart from a few minor climbs it was mostly downward all the way home. We had a few unfortunate punctures on the way but otherwise it was a lovely ride with very little traffic. And I was only a little annoyed to be 4km short off December Grand Fondo ;)

Tabayesco village 

Coffee stop with a view

All in all it was a successful week in great conditions and I was incredibly happy to get a good week of training without setbacks after all injuries and compromises during the preceding months. Now I feel stronger and better prepared to continue with my winter training back in snow and cold. It's a challenge but I will try my best.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Towards the unknown!

It’s been a while but I’m back on track again. After a mentally tough season and a decision to leave my orienteering career behind I have finally climbed up from the pit, found my lost motivation and set up plans for the next season. It’s still a question mark how much orienteering I am going to do and what races I’m going to run but, instead, it has cleared up what goals I have outside orienteering. Early in the spring I am planning to run a marathon and after that I’m focusing on having fun on trails and mountains. I’m just thrilled to have all these new goals and races coming up and can’t wait to get into training. It’s a bit weird to have just a handful of races waiting in the summer instead of normal 30-40 events but I like the idea of getting to the start line feeling confident and fresh.

I started my winter training some weeks ago but have focused mainly on strength and conditioning and kept running still at minimum. Now that I for once have plenty of time for a proper build-up I don’t want to rush into it but instead try to build up my weekly mileage gradually. To play safe and to get some extra strength to my legs I just kicked off my base training with a ski camp in Grönklitt. I’ve done lots of cycling and swimming while injured but I still think that cross-country skiing is the best possible alternative training form for runners. It is brilliant full-body strength training, you work reasonably hard all the time (and especially hard in the climbs), and it’s easy to get your heart rate up (in contrast to cycling and swimming). In other words you can train harder and more without getting injured.

Grönklitt is a ski resort just four hours from Stockholm. I have been there a couple of times in late January but never this early and I was quite skeptical about snow conditions. But they had promised me snow and I believed them. However, during the drive there there my suspicion just grew the nearer I got. Finally I came to Orsa, a village just 10km away from the resort, and there was still no sign of snow. Then I really started to get worried. 5km later and some hundred meters higher up came the first white flecks, and then, just a few kilometers later came winter. Suddenly, there it was, a beautiful snow blanket and some 30km of perfects ski tracks. What else can you wish for? So I had a great long weekend there filled with easy hours in the morning and harder tempo sessions and fartleks in the evening. I finished each workout in exhaustion but with a big grin on my face. It was so much fun and I really enjoyed it despite the fact that every muscle in my body was aching afterwards. What a wonderful feeling! 

Now I’m looking forward to getting back to running, stronger than ever!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Quiet withdrawal

I had a dream. A dream to become one of the best orienteers in the world. It was probably born some time after we had won relay gold in JWOC with Hanna and Heli, a long time ago. It grew stronger after podium places in Nordic Meetings and Euromeeting some years later. Then I was injured in a car accident and my dream died for a while but, against all odds, I came back after a few years. In 2004 I surprised everyone and made it to WOC for the first time and suddenly the dream got some flesh on the bones and became a bit more realistic. After that I wasn’t just trying to get to the WOC team, I also wanted to succeed there.

WOC 2004, Sweden 

The following year I managed to get to a level where I started to dream about podium places after an 8th place on the long distance in NOC (Nordic Orienteering Championships) and some good results in the World Cup. We also managed to win a World Cup relay with Anni-Maija and Minna. However, in WOC 2005 I faced a new kind of challenge and pressure after I had finished 2nd in the qualification and got to start to the middle distance final among the last 6 starters. Suddenly a podium place seemed a lot closer – and yet so far. My expectations grew too high and I couldn’t handle the pressure in the final and finished 17th. It was my second WOC and second year in the national team but I never thought that it was my best chance. I was still inexperienced and naïve and believed that I had many years ahead and many more chances to try to reach my dreams.

World Cup victory with Minna and Anni-Maija, England 2005

Finland's WOC team 2005 (SSL)

But the following years were tough. I was working hard for my research project and didn’t have time to rest between work and training. I tried to balance there the best I could but probably pushed myself too hard and got several injuries and stress fractures that hampered my training for next few years. In 2006 I was 11th on the middle distance in EOC and 15th in the overall World Cup but didn’t make it to the WOC due to various injuries. In 2008 I made a comeback with some very good results but got sick just before the WOC finals and that was it. I got one more chance in WOC 2010 but felt like a wallflower there when running a distance that has never been my cup of tea. I finished 21st, far below my expectations.

Long qualification, WOC 2008 (WorldofO)

Finland's women's team, WOC 2010 (SSL)

After 2010 I really wanted to improve and made some drastic changes in my life. For the first time I gave myself opportunity to train as a pro and rest between the trainings. I just didn’t realize that I needed to train orienteering to become a better orienteer. Spending three years in an area with practically no orienteering maps, no club trainings and no national team support didn’t make me a better orienteer. I became a better runner but lost some of my technical skills. Retrospectively, I could have made more progress as an orienteer if I had moved for instance to Halden instead of Birmingham but, on the other hand, then I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to run Inter Counties (cross country championships between the counties in England) or to know what fell running is.

Back in action, World Cup 2013, NZ

Anyway, I worked hard for five years to fulfill my dream and to get to run World Championships for one more time but it didn’t happen. I made some good results, such as a 6th place in the World Cup in Spain 2014, but I also screwed it up a few times despite good shape and preparations. I was quite close to get to the team in 2013 and 2014 but the places are few and the competition is hard. I was often among top3 or top4 in the selections but it wasn't enough. I should have done better and I probably should have focused more on the selections than the actual championships. It has been frustrating to work for something for so long and then not to get a chance to try to achieve your goals. This year I was put aside early in the spring due to prolonged infections. It took me several months to recover and there wasn’t enough time to get back in time. It hit me hard in the spring when I realized that I had just missed my last chance. It was bad luck but there was nothing I could do. I tried and I failed but it’s better than not to try at all. Life will continue and I have other dreams and goals to achieve.

World Cup sprint, Finland, 2013 (SSL)

World Cup final, Baden, 2013 (Marc Streit)

I want to thank you all who’ve been there along the way and supported me! Even if I didn’t reach all my goals and dreams I gained a lot and enjoyed the journey. As an athlete you quite easily become very focused on the results and winning but with some time and perspective I’m starting to realize how much more it has been than just the results. All the hard work, dedication, and commitment. All the sweat and tears. Emotions. Continuous learning. Training camps. People. Bond between like-minded people. Friends. Shared goals. Shared happiness. Places. Amazing places. Maybe I didn’t get to run for some silly medals but it wasn’t all for nothing. I learned a lot about myself, got some wonderful friends and got to see the world. So many great moments and good memories! 

Some pics from the journey…

Training in African savannas, SA

Refreshing bath after a run, SA

Sprinting in beautiful surroundings

Marsh intervals in Norway

Getting high in Switzerland

Scenic runs in New Zealand

Training in the French Alps

Having fun in Italy

Having tea in Japan

Good times...