Richard Donovan (Race Director of the North Pole Marathon) about Ultra Running. Just an inspiration for going longer.
Marcus Hellner is a Haglöfs friend and is talking about training outside and in the mountains. Cool story, great inspiration even if there is snow or fog outside Enjoy!
Guess who is the guy in red and black running by at 53 seconds?
It will take another few days or even weeks to understand what happened up there at the North Pole racing this marathon. And I feel like my body is still working on that even half a week after. Both knees looked bad and the left one reminds me more on a punching ball than anything else. Even days after i felt those tiny small muscles in my legs I didn‘t even know that they exist. You might know these stories about „that was the hardest I‘ve ever done“ and so on. The only thing I can say about this adventure is that I was running, walking, falling and standing up 334 minutes out there at -30°C or even less, on ice and snow. All of that in a place that doesn‘t exist on any map, a piece of ice looking like a white desert with an unbelievable beauty. When we were pushing along those never-ending fields of small ice mountains it was like running on an endless place. Each of us alone, fighting with his own demons trying to catch up with those running out there in front of us.
(Photo taken by Mike King)
LOOSING SENSE OF TIME
But we have to go a step back to understand it all. Since we landed in Spitzbergen there was almost no more structure in our day. „The days and nights were as one for so long, that we lost track of time. We had no sense of dates or weeks; it was as if we no longer felt time pass us by in the darkness.“ These lines were written by some explorers being up there in winter time, when everything was dark. As we were up in spring the sun was shining almost the whole day and our brain was thinking something like: The sun is still shining, you shouldn‘t sleep now. You could better understand when you see the race video – we were running through the night. The start was half an hour after midnight! We had no sleep at all. Even in the tents – where we tried to relax before the race – it was daytime. And there was almost no time plan as Richard had to be up there first to check the weather and setting the course we heard about the plan to start at 0:30 and we had to stick with that. Let‘s call it a tentative plan to work with. Knowing that it will get very cold I was eating all over the day and fueling my body with carbohydrates, mainly with a solid breakfast, Carbo Basic from Winforce, Winforce Ultra Energy Complex and a dry freezed Müesli about two hours before the race.
LOST IN NOWHERE
After a short briefing before the race – Richard said something like: things are going much slower up here than at home. We went outside for a last picture and to jump in a breathtaking adventure which – once again – no one could understand who wasn‘t up there. We had to run a total of 9 laps of about 4.7km. Each one could stop over after a round in the warm tent to eat, drink and heat up. All was easy in the beginning as the a solid track was leading us over about 800 meters on solid hard snow and ice. But then it all ended in a white field for a really long time to come up again with about 1000 meters of solid snow before ending again nowhere. The soft ground was changing between a few centimeters of snow and – depending where you were running – knee deep snow and wholes. The runner on this video is Ian, a 2:40 marathon finisher. Look at his speed and listen to his statement. How true it is.
A LUKEWARM SHOWER IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
I was planning to go for a non-stop strategy to avoid entering the warm tent and loosing my flow. I knew from my tests that it could be possible at a low heart rate (avoid too much sweat), with my excellent running gear (merino instead of synthetics and a breathing outer shell) and with the right food to fight against the cold. That‘s why I was wearing a compact Nathan camelback with a 2 litres bag between layer 1 and two. But guess what. Obviously I wasn‘t closing my camelback properly and it opened in the middle of round 1 making a noise something like „blobb“. Panic! What should I do? Just returning directly to the camp? Following the trail to end up in the camp to change clothes or should I go on without changing? As the water was slowly running down my back and legs to the socks there was no other choice than changing all the clothes – which I had in reserve. It took me almost 15 minutes to change it all and getting on the track again. My replacement top wasn‘t as breathable as the one i was starting with and my heart rate wasn‘t that deep as I expected it so I was sweating quite strong. But the merino’s ability to hold me warm was incredible. Wet but warm I was following almost all of the race and changing my balaclava and merino gloves two times without leaving a lot of time.
HEAVY LEGS AND A FLOOD OF ADRENALINE IN OUR VEINS
I was pushing harder on the solid ground and tried to avoid to lose too much energy on the soft and deep one. It was unbelievable hard to keep up running. Sometimes I couldn‘t even lift my legs to enter the tent but out then again everything worked – more or less. Don‘t aske me how. My only answer would be a feeling like being a machine. A machine that is round by round running out of fuel, going less smooth and that could stop every moment but finally didn’t. I guess it was because our body hat to protect just because being out there alone without a warm tent none of us would have been survived for another few hours. It‘s different than running out of energy in a race where you could even walk, eat, drink, talk and keep warm. We were in alarm mode. My body didn‘t remember that I was ill for the last two weeks. The flu left my body a few hours before the race when I was leaving the plane in Camp Barneo - and it didn’t come back again. And my left leg looked like a punching ball a few hours after the race. But listen to Fiona’s (female leader) short statement about she felt like:
ADDING A 60%
When I hit the finish line I was empty, full of pain and my feet and elbows were cold. Really cold. All was in some way a fight against the time, against the cold that was biting with his long teeth in our skin and driving them round by round deeper and deeper in our body, till everything started to cool down. A few seconds after finishing my body was sending the true and real signals, not the nice ones he did for the last almost 6 hours. It took me a few hours in my sleeping back with a hurting knee and a cramping leg to bring back my body temperature again. Discussing about our times and capabilities we ended up with the theory that most of us had to add a 60% on top of their best marathon running time. So was I – deducting the time I needed to change my cloth. My overall time was a 5:56 and a 13th place overall. How great. More than I expected in a mainly strong and experienced field of marathon, trail and ultra runners.
JUST EMPTY, BUT HAPPY
Nobody can understand what happened during the race. It took me hours to come back and my body is still sending crazy signals a few days after all of that. And I am eating like polar bear just to bring back the energy I‘ve burnt in those breathtaking 6 hours that went by like a short run of 30 minutes. Linh Huynh was writing a few days after the race on facebook when she was back in Oslo again: “I have been crying a lot these days. But for today, I will sit in quiet contemplation and try to record the events of the most thrilling 36 hours of my life.” There is nothing to add. And you just did great Linh.
AND THEN THERE WERE ERWAN AND RENAUD
Renaud (father) and Erwan (son) were up there too. Both to run and walk for their daughter resp. sister that died last december from cystic fibrosis. Erwan was walking and cheering us up all the time while his father was first finishing the marathon in a 4:34 as second to join then after a short break his son to walk another 7 hours together to finish as a team after 12 hours and 11 minutes! By the way, Erwan is 14 years old! He is the guy I am looking up and I am sure that one day he will realise how strong and great he was on April 9th 2013.
- Galway teacher wins North Pole marathon (irishtimes.com)
- Vegan Marathoner Wins North Pole Woman’s Race and Sets Course Record (pressat.co.uk)
It was an „early morning start“ today after a „late night go to bed“ yesterday. The plane was taking off at 6.55 to bring me now to Oslo. And finally, sitting in the plain now is concrete enough to make me being happy looking forward to this unique event, to race against the nature and to push my limits further. And there are also all these crazy people I‘ve joined already on Facebook to talk about our lives, our event in a few days and all the things we are planning to do. We will have a lot of time to do so. This all reminds me to a statement of a 93 years old athlete who was saying: life is not about adding years to it but to add more life to the years. How true.
During the last days I didn‘t get in that „Yes, I am ready and happy about doing it now“-feeling and the flu is still jumping around in my body. But today it took me 20 minutes in the plane to get in these positive feelings with sun shining through the window of the plane. Hey, it‘s about one year when I‘ve decided to go up there and hours I have spent to train, to find the right material, to test it and to share ideas and experiences with others.
In about half an hour we will land in Oslo where I will leave the airport to do some spinning, to eat and to relax at the hotel just across the street. Later I will meet Ali (the Lebanese desert runner and mister interview), Linh from Canada, Frank from Germany and many others to fly together up to Spitzbergen where we will land at 9:30pm. By the way, at some shops up there they have posters at the entrance saying:
On sunday we will have the race briefing by Richard Donovan who is the guy behind this event and himself a very successful ultra runner. Richard was the first guy running a marathon on all continents and at the pole. At this time everybody will be up there: about 48 runners from about 20 nations and 3 tv teams from asia and south america.
At 9am on monday our russian special aircraft will fly half of the group to Camp Barneo, which is close to the pole itself. The plane then goes back to bring up the second group leaving at 4pm. From then we are off-line, about 4600km north from Zurich with about -30°C. Actually it‘s a bit warmer but temperatures will drop till tuesday. At least I hope this as my clothing concept is made for this temperature and not warmer. Camp Barneo is operated by a very experienced russian team. It is like a hub for everybody going up there. It has been built just a few days ago and will be installed for some months. We will stay in tents of 10.
Raceday is Tuesday and the start is planned for 10pm. But as I can understand Richard will also consider the weather constellation. So, in a certain way it will be a „stand-by“-start which underlines the character of this race. For most of us it‘s more about you and the arctic than being faster than the others. But let‘s see. I could imagine that not only the polar bears up there are having sharp and long teeths
To follow whats going on up there you can check the facebook-page of the event. In earlier years there were football games, speedy swimming sessions and after the race russian wodka parties. Let‘s see. Anyway, Richard will give his comments and the results of the race via satellite phone to somebody in Spitzbergen to post it in facebook. So, even up there we have almost a live broadcoast.
I guess we will back latest in Spitzbergen during the evening of the 10th and I will update family and friend latest on the 11th with pics and for sure some stories to tell. It‘s my week now.
In wonders are made I was writing about why I will not complain about my form a few days before the race. And that there won’t be any excuses. Guess what, I was ill for the last ten days. But there’s land in sight and everything should turn to the positive. Just one day after one of those trainings telling you that your form is perfect a bad cold or flu got me. Avoiding bad trainings I was out of training for 10 days now. Except the one last thursday when I was in the fridge again for a last material check (testing my secret weapon). But the 60 minutes at -22°C were pushing me back again for days. What a surprise.
The last 6 months were like a ride on the rollercoaster. Once you feel like being on the peak everything could change within a few hours. It all reminds me a bit of our visit at the Six Flags Park in Vallejo when we were riding Superman, the latest kick available then. And it also reminds me of the fact that once you’ve decided to jump in and ride high you also have to take a deep breath.
Kurt Müller has put me together some trainings for the next days which should help to get body and mind in the right shape. The checklist is done, the travel fixed and I will leave snowy Switzerland towards the sun with a short stop-over in Oslo towards Spitsbergen for the race briefing and preparation for the last flight to 90°N.
If you want to follow what’s going on up there, just have a look here on the official website on Facebook. Richard Donovan will update visitors about the race. As soon as I am on my way up there I will post some more pics and facts about this adventure. So let’s keep the fingers crossed that this rollercoaster doesn’t come up with some more surprises. I just saw that the actual temperatures are much warmer than I expected. So I have to develop a Plan B for tropical arctic climate.
So, Ali Wehbi, I guess it won’t be a top ten for me. But two things are sure. First, we will have a great dinner on Sunday. And second, I will push the best I can and kick ass. At least mine.
Was talking today with a pro in cross skiing. For very low temperatures they are using tapes in the face to protect the exposed face areas. Smart idea. Maybe the colour is a bit “loud”. For all those running up at 90°N it’s worth to try in your trainings. Combining it with a breath right tape under the kinesio tape could help to breath through the nose.
In life you‘ve always the choice between yammering or doing your job the best you can. With all these physical problems and the highest workload ever in my business it was hard to find the right motivation for the workouts and to prioritize between family, work and sport. You know, this story is so simple and evident but so many are struggling with these challenges and then yammering, being kicked or did not finish.
Now is the day, when I could tell you my very personal yammer-story and that I didn‘t have a lot of time to train and still suffering with my knee. This would be a smart way to exceed all expectations. But this isn‘t my way. The truth about my personal suffering and my actual form is a different one.
During the last weeks I‘ve realised that we have to find the right button in our head which takes off all the pressure and leads us this big window with the sunny view backwards and forward. I don‘t do all this for a victory, I am just doing it to move my own frontiers and to set my foot on new territory. And sometimes this fight is starting before the training when we have to take the decision to go forward instead of leaning back and to yammer. This means leaving the comfort zone and fighting your inner weak when planning your weeks, before the workout early in the morning or when coming home tired and for sure during the hard or long workouts. And to convince the family to support you.
The payout feels a bit like being in the form of your life, being able to do the impossible, being an example for your children and others and sometimes – pushing your body uphill late in the night – it all fells a bit like being immortal. My longjog yesterday was one of those payout moments. I was running into the night, never being faster at 70% of my capacity than „now“. And then – each of my running workout has a long uphill element in the end – the self-made wonder happened when I was pushing my core 4.6% uphill with high knees over a distance of 2800. The heart rate stayed flat, 6 heartbeats higher than the whole workout before. Wow!
That‘s why I am investing so many hours in my workouts: creating my personal wonder. If I am not creating it, who else is doing it?
And that’s how my wonder yesterday felt like. Hope that these lines will inspire all those who are preparing for the 9th
The north pole marathon is 4 weeks ahead and I am happy to say that I am feeling good. Really good. It took quite some time to reach this point after my injury in december which threw me back by weeks as I had to restart the length of my runs at 30 to 40 minutes. Today my left knee is back again at 90% and I am leaving the valley of uncertainty with a solid pace.
The long trainings are getting even longer now. The one yesterday was a late evening 2 1/2 hours moderate ride followed by a “backpacked” 2 hours run with 220m elevation gain in the last 20 minutes. I’ve started to love these late evening/night runs. Without a head lamp it feels a bit like crossing dark no-mans-land to hit the city to become a backpacked alien running along the city lights to finally push my heavy body slowly up the hill. It’s a ritual for brain and body. And once I’ve reached my destination there is that certainty that I’m getting stronger, running at lower heart rate and that my legs are doing what they have to do: running, even when they are tired.
But the real challenge of the next 4 weeks will be my actual workload. I have to find the right balance between family, work and training. Otherwise I’ll loose my motivation. A free mind, a lot of fun and mental strength will be my key factors for a great and positive experience on the 9th of April. And the event is coming closer and closer. The community among the 48 participants from 22 countries is growing daily on Facebook. Yesterday I’ve received a pic from Ali Wehbi, a famous lebanese long distance runner called “The Lebanese Desert Runner”. He’s doing some of his trainings on a threadmill in a cool storage house. What crazy guys we are.
I was experiencing a lot with injuries (Achilles tendon and knee cartilage) for the last 12 months. And running trails can be like poison for your joints. That’s why I’ve started to do some additional strength training with a simple run specific programme from my physics therapist. Making it more efficient and time-saving I am adding a few exercises after each run. Without weight, just bodywork.
Some of theses exercises will look familiar to you. But please keep an eye on the details. It’s all about precise bodywork and the right impulse for different muscles in your legs and core.
Balancing on an unstable underground (e.g. Airex, Yoga mat or towel)
- make shorter steps and add power to your upper leg
- make longer steps and add power to your backside
- place your front leg on in-stable underground
- place your back leg higher
- put some weight on your shoulders
- turn your body when going down
But be careful: your front leg should stay vertical to the ground and your knee exactly over your feet. Ideally you can watch your third toe just in front of your knee.
You can vary this simple exercise called bridge by doing the following:
- stretch out one of your legs
- stretch both legs and fly (just kidding)
- put both of your legs on a mid-sized ball (unstable)
- put one of your legs on the ball and stretch out the other leg (be careful!)
But always check that the movement doesn’t come for your back or even upper back. All the power is coming for your core and your upper back leg.
I did this exercise for the first time with pressure on the upper leg and a free moving lower leg. It’s a really heavy one.
That’s why a run in my training plan is not only a 90 minutes but a 110 minutes, including strength training, a Winforce protein shake and stretching for a few minutes.
(More about the previous posts on that HERE)
After a bit of experience with these simple but highly efficient exercises I believe that it’s never too late to add them to your training. By the way, running one hour in water is an excellent and by far more efficient training than a 90 or 120 minutes long jog. And even better when you’re still suffering from injuries.
And ALI, you can do this everywhere and always Good luck.