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...

Friday, 27 May 2016

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger?

I guess I’ve always had the attitude to go through the walls and believed that setbacks make you stronger. And quite often this has proven to be the case. I doubt whether I’d ever made my way to Finnish national team and big championships if I hadn’t lost it all for a while after a car accident. Doctors doubted whether I would ever run again but I came back stronger than ever. That incident got me to believe that anything is possible and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Sometimes that may be the case, sometimes that attitude can drive you down.

This spring I certainly had too much Finnish ‘sisu’ (persistence or determination regardless of costs) and fighter attitude when I should have given up and slowed down. I pushed myself too far until the point I got afraid of killing myself. When I got an infection I only allowed myself to be sick for a week or so but after that there was no time to rest and I just ignored all the signs my body was giving and kept on hammering regardless of costs. I convinced myself that it was just pollen allergy and ended up extending a normal flu (maybe a bit nastier one) up to seven weeks by my perseverance or stubbornness. I was too tired to train but I kept on racing every weekend until the point that my body gave up. After five weeks the infection got down to my lungs and the chest pain, high fever, and difficulties in breathing finally outweighed my willpower and I had no other option than to give up. 

Now I have finally beaten the infection and feeling well again for the first time since early April but at the same time I’m weaker than ever and literally out of shape. I have absolutely no idea when I will be able to race again. I still get out of breath just going up stairs and my heart rate is sky high as soon as I try to run. My big dreams for this season seem already more or less gone but being stubborn as I am I still keep on dreaming to keep myself sane. In reality I try to learn from my mistakes and be patient now. I know I can only take baby steps and I cannot push my limits before I’ve reached some kind of basic health and fitness. At the moment my calendar is empty from races and I am not planning to run anything before Venla. Just taking things as they come day by day and watching our garden to bloom...

Able to smile again after accepting things as they are!

Thursday, 28 April 2016

April's rollercoaster

April has been a true rollercoaster for me. From Strömstad’s high to Stockholm's low. At the end of March everything was looking very good. I had managed to battle against injuries and illnesses and was looking forward to the season opening. I had done good runs in small local events and was feeling optimistic. 

On the first week of April we did a great trip to the west coast with a few girls from Linné to prepare ourselves for the coming WOC. It felt good to get back to those heavy terrains around Strömstad and feel a flow(!) this time. Last time I was there it was really hard for me to get any speed in those terrains but this time it felt a whole lot easier. So something must have gone right during the winter. In the middle of all fun I sprained my ankle in one training and couldn’t run the races we had planned to do in the weekend. I went and picked up my race maps, got good practise in difficult route choices, and ran around the courses but couldn’t risk racing. My ankle wasn’t really up for that and I had more important races coming up, such as Swedish League and EOC selection races. 

Apart from the sprained ankle I was very happy with the training camp and thought I had trained smart there, but conditions were wet and cold and I managed to pick up a flu when I got back home. It’s seldom I’m sick for over a week but this time it was a nasty infection that put me aside for several weeks. That meant no Swedish League races for me. A week after there was sprint and middle selection races in Finland. I wasn’t well enough for the sprint but was hoping for to be able to run the middle a few days later. Unfortunately I wasn’t 100% well on the day of the middle distance either and not really ready to race but since it was my only chance I decided to give it a go. Very stupid decision. I felt absolutely horrible and it took me a while to find a speed but I did a decent run technically with only a few small mistakes. I finished 11th, a bit over 3min behind Emily Kemp, but since my EMIT decided to die during the race, I didn’t get a result. So all effort for nothing. But hey, the good thing was that I wasn’t better than that. Had I been higher up in the results, the EMIT thing would have bothered me more. GPS tracking from the middle distance

However, running the middle distance race as convalescent meant that I got sick again and wasn’t able to run the long distance a week later. Again, I was hoping for the best and travelled there for the race but my body wasn’t ready for a long distance. So, that’s it for my EOC dreams. On the other hand, after being sick more or less for a month now, and missing all training, I wouldn’t be ready for any championships anyway. So, obviously I’m gutted to miss all the fun, but also relieved that now I have plenty of time to get well and no need to deliver results when out of shape. I’ll be back when well again…

Some motivational pictures from Strömstad...

My favourite gym!

This is why I orienteer!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Sunny Andalucia

After an easier week at home and a quick weekend trip to Tampere I decided to go back to Spain to get another good training week before the season start. It was a last-minute decision to go there but I’m very pleased that I made the trip. Not did I only get plenty of training in good weather, decent amount of orienteering, and more than enough of hills, but also a nice tan, several CR:s, and ridiculously easy completion of the Strava March Climbing Challenge within only a few days. Mission accomplished.

I spent first some time in Barbate and then a few days in Fuengirola. On the way to Barbate my first stop was in Playa de Bolonia on a map called El Lentiscal. Grassy meadows, detailed hillside, and endless beach. What a paradise! I finished the training on the beach and couldn’t resist temptation to jump to the sea after the run. Just a perfect start for a week!

El Lentiscal
Playa de Barbate 

First day in Barbate included a morning run, an easy introductory session and hill reps followed by downhill orienteering with the Finnish team in the afternoon. I was slightly worried whether I could keep up with the girls in the national team but luckily I was able to hang in there (skipping over the recoveries helped a bit). It was good fun and it was great to meet up with the girls again. Next day I did long distance in the morning and sprint in the evening on my own. Somehow the climbs felt a lot tougher than the day before. Afternoon sprint I ran in Vejer de la Frontera, a cute little village on the top of a hill. Definitively worth a visit!

Hill training, Le Brena  
Sprinting in Vejer de la Frontera

On Saturday I had planned to do a sprint training together with the Finnish team but I woke up with some soreness in my foot. It was the very same spot that had bothered me over two months before Christmas so I chose to play safe immediately and rented a bike instead. To rent a bike was a funny little story itself but when I finally got one we had a wonderful time together and I had no regrets skipping over the planned trainings that day. 

had googled and found a bike rental in Conil, half an hour drive away from Barbate. So I drove there first thing in the morning but the hotel complex, by which the rental was supposed to be, was closed. I tried to search around and got help by some local people, none of whom spoke any English though. I tried words like ‘bike’, ‘bicycle’, and ‘cyclo’ while trying to animate cycling at the same time. First gentleman I met nodded “si, si” and offered to show me the way. We walked a long way in silence until we came to a some kind of outdoor gym. Muchas gracias, but it wasn’t really kind of cycling that I had in mind. Luckily a woman who was passing by stopped and understood the word ‘bicycle’ and guided me further until we met a next person who could walk with me to the bike rental. So finally, with the help of three enormously friendly local people, I found my way to the bike rental. It wasn’t anywhere near the hotel where I had left my car but it seemed like a good bike shop and I got a nice road bike for only 15€ per day and went off for a wonderful ride in the sun. My route was Conil  Canos de Meca – Barbate  Vejer – and back to Conil via El Palmar. Fairly easy route but with a few nice climbs, first one up from Canos de Meca and another up to Vejer de la Frontera. Vejer was also a perfect spot for a coffee stop with numerous of cafés on either sides of the road. I just picked randomly one that I liked and enjoyed my coffee there in the sun. Life was smiling. I continued my ride through the town and descended on the other side of the hill towards A-2230. Views that opened up on the way down were quite beautiful.

Pure enjoyment!
Nice views over Atlantic

Surprisingly my ankle felt a lot better when I woke up next morning and I went for an early morning run to test whether I could actually run with it. Amazingly I didn’t feel a thing. I did just a short jog to spare the foot for the main training, which was O-intervals on the map just a few kilometers away. Funny coincidence that there was a trail race going on and the runners were passing the start point of my first interval right there and then when I came to the start. They had a drink station and a spectator point there so I got my share of the cheering when I passed by. What a nice race feeling at the start of my intervals! In the afternoon I did an easier session focusing on some technical elements. It went well and it was only at the end of the session that I could feel some mild discomfort in my foot.
Start of the intervals

Next day I did only one run in the morning before I went back to Fuengirola to meet up with my father. The day after we went to Mijas, a lovely small white-washed village on the mountainside between Costa del Sol and Sierra de Mijas. It was a beautiful village and the views from there were gorgeous. But obviously it wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to get to the top of the mountains. There were some trekking routes starting just above the village and I followed a nice marked route up to the saddle between Pico Mijas and Mendoza. From there my plan was to follow a line or a border that looked like a path on the map but in reality it was something else. There was no path, just endless stone field. But since I had already come that far there was no way I would go down without actually reaching the summit. After climbing just a little bit further I was able to see the mountaintop. There was still a kilometer to go and about a billion stones. But I didn’t mind, I was determined to go there no matter what. It was a good adventure but I chose to follow a path down.

Morning in Costa del Sol
Pico Mijas 

I came back to Sweden just in time for season opening in Nyköping. First a long distance race on Saturday and then Måsenstafetten on Sunday. I won the individual race and did solid runs in both days but wasn’t really up for racing twice in the same weekend and felt extremely tired on Sunday. It was first time I got to run last leg for Linné and even if I was slightly horrified when I heard about it I really appreciated to get the chance. Hilda and Lisa did brilliant job on the first two legs, giving me the best possible starting point. I had almost forgotten how exciting it is to go out in the lead! IFK Lidingö with Anna Bachman and OK Ravinen with Helena Jansson gave me some hard time on the last leg but I was still proud to bring us home as third. Two podium places was an excellent way to start the season!

Nice way to start the season

Friday, 4 March 2016

Fight against larvae in Alicante

On Monday I came back from a training camp in Alicante. According to Thierry it is one of the best places to spend winter as an orienteer, so at the last minute I signed up to Linné’s training camp in Guardamar. I have been there on training camp twice before in the late 90’s, although back then in Torrevieja, but all I can remember (in addition to some funny incident in a local restaurant) is a burning rash and itching. This time, the thing that I most likely won’t forget any time soon, is a burning rash and itching. I still have red dots all over my body and skin is just starting to smoothen after being like a burning potato field.

Apart from the larvae and burning skin, the training camp was terrific and just what I needed. A week filled with technical training in otherwise perfect conditions and relaxation in good company. I feel like my shape is getting better and better after just a few months of training but my orienteering is still far behind. It can be irritating when your legs go faster than your brain but mostly I just enjoyed it. It’s definitively better that way. It took me some days to find a good pace and rhythm to my orienteering but it was great to see day-to-day improvement.

Albin had planned us a full schedule with three trainings a day and with fair amount of high-speed quality sessions included. I skipped most of the night sessions but still got 18 orienteering trainings in eight days, half of them in full speed (or at least high-intensity). I call it a good week. It was also a good mixture of dune terrains, sprints, and hill terrains, to get some variety into your training. It was a great week and without the larvae I would love to go there again. Maybe worth mentioning is that only a few of us got serious problems with the rash and just one of us needed a hospital visit due to anaphylactic reaction. Most of us didn’t get anything or just a mild rash. So it’s probably fine to go there but take some antihistamines and hydrocortisone with you. 

On the way back I picked up a flu probably due to massive sleep deprivation (impossible to sleep when you’re itching all over) so I have spent most of the time at home sleeping and recovering before my next visit to Spain. This time I will head further to south, to larva-free zones. Adios!

Sprinting on the streets of Caravaca de la Cruz

Early birdie training on the dunes 

Breakfast in the sunshine

Tricky sprint around Atalaya castle in Villena

Morning runs on the beach

Typical training terrain, Guardamar Sur

Monday, 8 February 2016

Tri Camp in Las Playitas

Usually I’ve been in Portugal on a training camp this time of the year but after all injuries last year I chose a less risky alternative with plenty of cross-training possibilities and went to Las Playitas in Fuerteventura. I knew its popularity among triathletes but I didn’t know it was such a perfect place for an injured orienteer. There was not only a 4km stretch of perfect cycle lane to run but plenty of trails and paths in undulating milieu, lots of hills to climb on, hundreds of kilometres of perfect tarmac for road cycling, fine MTB routes, Olympic swimming pool, fully equipped gym and variety of different group training sessions. All that combined with sunshine and temperature around +20C made it pretty nice for training. The only single disturbing thing was wind, but even that was bearable in otherwise perfect conditions. It certainly added some extra challenge to cycling but didn’t bother much in the swimming pool.

Cycle lane of perfection

I wasn’t sure how much running I could do so it was great to have lots of possibilities for alternative training. Luckily it went better than expected and my body adapted well to 2+1 day rhythm. That meant two days of running, combined with strength training and swimming, and then one day of cycling. Having those run-free days I was able to cover over 20h of training in a week, including over 100km running and about 200km cycling. First evening after arrival I used exploring the hills just next to the resort. There were plenty of nice paths to run up and down and along the hills and the views were great. What else can you wish for?

Hills around the resort

The following day I used to take a wider look on the surroundings. I ran up to the lighthouse, supposedly a run you have to do when in Playitas. It’s a single road route from the resort up to the top of a mountain queue, with a massive lighthouse at the end of the road. It’s about 13km back and forth with 270m of climbing. The last kilometre up to the lighthouse is brutal with its 100m vertical climb. Otherwise it’s a fairly nice and easy route to run. A bit boring but works fine for a tempo session. And the views up on the top are definitively worth the climb! Rest of my runs I did on trails and paths, except the last day, when I took part to the actual lighthouse run, a weekly race arranged at the resort. To run it after a week of heavy training was tough but I couldn’t miss a chance to try to run a race when feeling absolutely dead and exhausted. It’s seldom you get an opportunity to train your brain to push through that wall. I’m quite happy I did that. Although next time I will most certainly plan my arrival time better…

Faro de la Entallada

I was surprised to find that there were also many nice gravel roads and trails to run. In the sports centre you can get a map with several marked routes of various lengths on it. The map itself was very accurate but, being such a pedantic orienteer, I couldn’t help noticing that some routes weren’t drawn correctly on the map. However, there are painted stones in terrain to follow, so you can go and run without a map. Just knowing which colour to follow will do. The lengths of the routes were approximately right.

Never-ending trails

Cycling in Fuerteventura is great too. Roads are mostly very good and the attitude is friendly. After riding a bike in Sweden it was great to see Spanish drivers being so respectful. I’m sure that road signs advising drivers to give space to cyclists helps too. I joined Sami for a few longer rides in the mountains and it was just terrific! Fuerteventura is perhaps not as mountainous as Gran Canaria or Mallorca but climbs are still long enough to put you through some great suffering. I would say that the headwind we met on our first ride on the way to Tuineje and further to Antigua felt almost worse than the biggest climb of the ride (the mountain top between Antigua and Betancuria). But the great thing with the wind is its payback time. On the way home we got to enjoy tailwind and our 16kph headwind speed turned suddenly to +40kph without an effort.

Roads like velvet

Lovely café worth a stop in Antigua

Beauty that took me around January Gran Fondo

I also enjoyed having a full-length pool just on our doorstep and used swimming to flush my tired legs after long rides and runs. The only downside was that the resort was full of professional swimmers and triathletes, which meant that I got to share a lane with some serious swimmers. I like to use swimming as easy recovery workout but it didn’t really fit in in the picture. Even with my swimming background and decent technique (for a runner) I felt like the slowest swimmer in the pool with my 2min/100m pace. Sure I can swim faster than that but then I’m out of breath quite soon. So I felt a bit pressure sharing the pool with some serious swimmers but maybe it’s only good to get out of your comfort zone once in a while and push a bit harder. I didn’t drown and I felt great afterwards.

All in all what a great week!

Fancy a swim with pros? Absolutely!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Hot and cold therapy

Hot and cold therapy is widely used method to treat and prevent sports injuries. Cold reduces pain and swelling after an injury whereas heat relaxes tight muscles, opens up blood vessels and increases blood flow and oxygen supply to the site of injury. Usually it means applying a warm gel pack or warm water for hot therapy and an ice pack or cold water for cold therapy. I used slightly different approach. First I flew to Thailand and spent the Christmas holiday there in over +30C heat to give myself whole body hot therapy and then came back to Sweden to -20C for true shock treatment. I have to say that over 40 degrees’ change in temperature was quite a shock and took a while to adapt… Anyway, as horrible as coming back felt, it worked, and I got rid off my injuries. Nothing to do with the fact that didn’t run for 6 weeks…

I believe I was very near to develop a tibial stress fracture in the beginning of November but for once reacted fast enough and took the needed precautions before I was quite there. Tibialis posterior tendon reacted first but I could also feel pain in the lower tibia when I stopped running. I skipped the marathon that I had planned to run at the end of November and cross-trained most of the December too. Then, at the last week of December, I started gradually to run again. Some gentle jogs on the beach in the sunrise before my daily yoga session. Sun, warmth, yoga, swimming, massage, stretching, and relaxation provided my body and soul everything I needed for coming back from injury and getting back to training.

First week of January I used for acclimatization to a climate change, in other words I stayed mostly indoors on a spinning bike. I had no desire to start running on icy roads in freezing temperatures but then I realized that there was fair amount of snow outdoors and discovered that I could go cross-country skiing. In Stockholm skiing is very different from the places where you actually have snow but as soon as there’s a few centimeters snow, classic ski tracks will appear on almost every meadow and golf course around Stockholm. Conditions are mostly poor and in Northern latitudes no one would want to destroy his/her skies on that kind of tracks, but here people go nuts of little snow and those few grassy kilometers of ski tracks get packed in a flash. It is unbelievable how popular skiing is here and how many enthusiastic skiers there are despite very limited skiing possibilities. I went along to that movement and gathered about 100km of double poling in a week on nonexistent ski tracks before Linné’s annual ski camp in Grönklitt.

Weekend in Grönklitt was very different from skiing in Stockholm. It offered great tracks for both classic and skating and plenty of snow. Skiing there was pure pleasure, despite my somewhat rusted skiing and waxing skills. Classic racing skies that I remember working perfectly fine for me five years ago suddenly seemed too stiff and I just lacked technique to get a good grip on them. It meant only that I had to work harder. But the good news is that I got much better training. Training something that your body is less used to do makes you work harder than when you train something that you are used to do on a daily basis. What a wonderful feeling it was to sense soreness in every muscle after the last training there! Feels good to be back on track and able to train again! 

Adios winter, time to move back to summer!

Hot therapy at its best, Beyond Resort, Khao Lak 

Magical moonlight run before sunrise

Sunrise in Orsa Grönklitt

Cold therapy at its best, Orsa Grönklitt