The Absurdity of Ultra Trailrunning, or not?

Some ‘kitchen table’ philosophical thoughts I had during the 85km and 2900m+ trailrun as part of the Innsbruck Alpine Trail Festival (IATF18).

Reading the book ‘The age of absurdity – Why modern Life makes it Hard to be Happy’ by Michael Foley (2010) I couldn’t stop wondering why I was actually running 85 kilometres around Innsbruck including 2900 metres of climbing and descents during the Innsbruck Alpine Trail Festival (IATF18)?

P.S.1. I got the great tip about BBC Radio 4 ‘The Digital Human’ which discusses the difference between a life with friction and a friction less life. It talks about the same feeling I describe in this blog. Maybe nice to listen to as a podcast during your trailrun.
P.S.2. Why are we doing this? That is the question I want to answer in this article. And I am definitley not the only one. A inspirational movie is ‘THE WHY, Running 100 miles‘.
P.S.3. The GUARDIAN published an interesting article about ‘What running does to your brain?‘. So now it is official: scientific proof that it is absurd but also good 🙂

 

Nobody forced me up those Alpine mountains and said, ”Only come back when you are finished. And by the way, an overnight stay is not included, the idea is to do it all in approximately 12 hours’’.

So, whilst the ‘normal people’ slowly woke up I ran on Saturday morning 28th April with a head torch through Innsbruck, climbed the hills and zigzagged into the forest. The air was still fresh and crispy but it would not take that long to warm up. It would become another sunny and warm day, up to 25 degrees without any clouds. The sunrise was beautiful, at first a red blossom, but quickly with full force enlightening the blossoms in the trees, making the grass in the alpine meadows even more green and the still sleepy and very tidy Austrian villages even more part of a scene out of the romantic Sissi movie.

 

 

That is when my brain wandered off to the question of the absurdity of this all. Or is it absurd? Michael Foley writes about the ‘present age of entitlement’ where people only think and act as if they only have rights and no duties, entitled to a continuous stream of the pleasures of life … and if something is not correct than it is somebody’s or society’s fault and surely not you own or just ‘bad luck’. The call upon entitlement however does not provide a deeper sense of satisfaction and ability to cope with life’s setbacks. For this you need to put in effort and detachment. Effort, setbacks and the like precedes satisfaction, happiness. Detachment provides the ability to observe and think about what is actually going on around you in the world, creating paradoxically more intense engagement …

‘The fool doth think he is wise but the wise man knows himself to be a fool’

(Shakespeare ‘As You like It, Act 5, Scene I – I have not seen this play but the quote posits very eloquently the humbleness in which we can, or maybe should look at life).

The meaning of life is in my opinion most famously stated as to ‘always look on the bright side’. However we are not ‘just’ entitled to be always at this ‘bright side’, we need to find it. To find this ‘bright side’ we need detachment. Micheal Foley writes that …

‘… Real detachment requires ‘Solitude, Stillness and Silence’ instead of the present ‘Commotionism’ (constant company, movement and noise) …’.

 

 

Whilst enjoying the sun, the extremely well stocked refreshment posts, the beautiful scenery, and the many friendly spoken Austrian ‘servus’ I realised that this absurd undertaking of me running 85km in half a day brings for me the pursued solitude, silence and stillness that Michael Foley writes about. An ultra trailrun (i.e. at least a few hours running) by definition goes at a slow pace. The mediating rhythm of running and the physical pains which slowly materialise bring me in a ‘sort of nice flow’. Together with the consciousness that it is my own personal responsibility to start in this event is enough for me to allow my mind the time to detach and wander off.

The K85 followed similar paths as most trailruns I have run both organised and just self-made: as much as possible away from the busy world, through wood, across fields and along river beds. Solitude is not difficult to find in these circumstances, most trailrunners experience their run rather solitary, although there are always those who have the ability to talk for hours. No worries, just drop back a few 100 metres and your are on your own together with the pleasant Silence of nature (although the birds and cow bells are not creating a complete silence, there is a pleasant form of ‘calm’). Stillness may be a strange connection to trailrunning, but not for me. I find stillness in the moments when passing for example a ‘kissing gate’ on the right of way paths in the UK, or during the K85 when passing a corner in the forest and suddenly have a breathtaking view on the snow capped mountains … than I just stop.

received_1939705929375997So what does all these ‘kitchen table’ philosophical thoughts bring me? The realisation that I am very lucky to run in the sun, a little holiday, whilst it is cold and wet at home. That the rest of the family allows me to this instead of coming directly back home after my work abroad was done. Intense enjoyment of the day. A spontaneous pose besides two traditionally dressed Austrian ladies whom picture was just taken that moment. The transition from being in the ‘running flow’ to a feeling of great satisfaction during the last few kilometres ending in euphoria after the finish. Than Solitude, Silence and Stillness are exchanged for sharing stories, memories and ‘thoughts during the trail’ with the other runners. Made even more enjoyable with a few pints of cold alcohol free Erdinger Beer and savoury snacks.

 

 

Ultra trailrunning is absurd! I fully agree but it helps me to make sense of and see the ‘bright side of life’ … and that is all I need.   

Some statistics:

  • In total 150 men and 19 women finished the K85.
  • The men 1 to 150 finished between an very fast 08.07 and more than twice this time of 17.34.
  • The women 1 to 19 finished in the bracket of 08.59 – 17.34 (the last man and woman clearly decided to finish together).
  • I finished as man 54 in 11.14.
  • I was the first Dutchmen of in total three Dutch runners and 19th Men 40 – 50.
  • But to be fair the only Belgian participant and also INOV-8 Benelux ambassador Aaike De Wever (read his experiences) passed the line in a great time of 08.57.

Some trailrun ‘stuff’:

  • I ran on the INOV-8 Roclite 315. These shoes worked well on the dry mixed ground of the not very technical trail consisting mostly softer forest trails, hard packed wide trails and some wonderful small rocky paths along the rivers floating into the River Inn.
  • I wore a 5 litres Race Ultra trailpack from INOV-8 which allowed me to easily take all the required ‘stuff’ with me. The alternative I had brought with me, the Compressport ULTRUN 140 was just a little too small for easy and quick access. It would be great if Compressport would develop a larger trailpack, see also my review: The Trailrunners Belt / Vest / Backpack choice.
  • The Compressport clothes however felt really good in the warm weather and the new R2 OXYGEN tubes did not feel warm at all. Specially made for maximum breathability they did what was stated on the package!
  • In my ‘last week short preparation runs’ in sunny Naples, Italy I noticed again that Compressport produces clothing for the ‘warmer’ Alpine climate with a lot of mesh (beside the compressing fabrics they are known for) and INOV-8 more for the wet and colder UK temperatures, see also my review: Compressport Trailrun clothing.
  • And finally, but surely important, I enjoyed the sun protected by pair of Julbo sunglasses. There any many sport sunglasses on the market. I got in contact with Julbo a few years ago when I won a pair during a trailrun. So the choice was ‘made for me by lady Luck’, but as the stoic would say ‘take advantage of this fortunate happening’.

Chorley-ROOTZ Trailruns, enjoying the Chiltrens and good coffee!

In March I organised the first Chorley-ROOTZ trailrun to raise funds for Run4Cancer. It was so much fun to do that I decided to continue with these trailruns!

To motivate my self better for the Greater Manchester Marathon last 8th April (see my weblog: My bumpy road to the Greater Manchester Marathon) I decided to raise funds for a charity I felt a personal connection with, Run4Cancer.

** Run 4 Cancer is primarily a provider of days out and short-breaks for families affected by cancer and support research into the positive effects of exercise (e.g. running) and how it can help with cancer prevention and recovery **

I had some positive experiences earlier in given trailrun clinincs in the Netherlands and thought it could be a nice way to combine my passion for trailrunning with raising funds.

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First Chorley-ROOTZ participants – 4th March 2018

Based on some recent good coffee experiences after a walk I choose ROOTZ Coffeeshop in Chorleywood as start and end point. Closeness to the Chorleywood Metropolitan Tube station and plenty of nice trailpaths scattered around the hills and Chess River Valley made the area perfect for my trailrunning plan.

It worked out even better than I thought! Thirteen runners turned up, made enthusiastic by some of the local Running Sisters who heard of the event. Even more to my surprise I raised more than 100 GBP for  Run4Cancer and to my delight Jill from the Chorleywood Magazine wrote a very nice article about the event (see at the link and at the bottom of this blog) promoting directly the next Chorley-ROOTZ Trailrun last Saturday 14th April.

This Second Chorley-ROOTZ Trail run was generously, and overwhelmingly I must say, supported by Rootz Coffee Chorleywood with great home-made granola and shortbread cakes.

They were a delicious and well deserved treat for all runners. Especially after 1.30 Hrs trailrunning through Carpenters Wood, Chenies, down the Chess River Valley, up (!) the steep hill towards Church End and finally a down- and uphill (!) to the Chorleywood common … and all in the sun (finally spring has arrived – I hope). Again I was really happy to raise 70 GBP for Run4Cancer, thanks!

Whilst enjoying the cappuccino’s and cakes we decided to continue the Chorley-ROOTZ trailruns every four to five weeks. Starting preferably on a Sunday morning at 0910 (to allow Metro users to arrive from the London side at 0900 at the Metro Station). ROOTZ Coffeeshop owners Phil and Jordan told me they are more than happy to keep supporting this idea with nice cakes and eco-friendly, reusable water-cup/bottles. These we will use at a refreshment post I will set-up somewhere along the route before the start.

Because as trailrunner you take home good memories, leaving nothing behind but your footprints!

Interested to join the next Chorley-ROOTZ Trailrun, just send me a message or take a look at my Facebook events?

 

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Chorleywood Magazine April 2018
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Chorleywood Magazine April 2018

My bumpy road to the Greater Manchester Marathon

My road to the Greater Manchester Marathon had several ups, potholes and downs but in the end luckily all came together.

IMG_20180411_201240As Dutch Military I was lucky to be a member of the Dutch Defence Forces long distance race team for the past years. This allowed me to run marathons in Suriname, South Korea, Italy and Canada … a nice ‘running’ bonus for working for the Dutch MOD.

The qualification limit for the team is 2.40. This is a time within 60% of the average Military marathons race times. The Dutch MOD do not have ‘professional’ athletes like some other nations (up to Olympic level, for example Poland) but want to promote fitness and healthy competition within the International Military Sport Federation (CISM) based on the slogan ‘Friendship through Sport’.

There are no age categories in the Military Sport World. It does not matter if you are a young soldier of 20, or an ‘older’ (ahum) officer like me of 48. You need to qualify and for me January would be the month of THE DECISION!

To compete or not to compete in a spring marathon in order to qualify for the Military World Championship Marathon in November 2018.

I used the Saturday weekly (in the UK at least) well-known 5km parkruns around Northwood to get up to speed and measure, hopefully, progress. If I was able to get the speed back up to about 4 minutes per kilometre I thought / hoped I would be able to get to the required pace of 3.48 per kilometre for a 2.40 marathon time in the months ahead towards spring time.

Endurance is not the issue for me. I love long distance trailrunning and many weekends I go out for at 30km+ trailrun, enjoying the long distance footpaths, right of way tracks through forest and country side, stopping at kissing gates or to find my way back. But that is something completely different than running 3.48 per km for 2.40 hours!

January showed slowly the progress I hoped for in the Rickmansworth Parkruns

… 4.02 – 3.55 – 3.52 … LET’S DO IT!

 

 

So I signed up for one of the flattest courses in the UK, The Greater Manchester Marathon, created my own hashtag (why not?!) #RoadtoManchersterMarathon and decided on a very basic training schedule: continue running to and from work every day (i.e 20km a day), if possible join a parkrun for speed, a long trail because that is what I like most and further more … just see how I feel. The funny thing is that this last item

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‘how I feel’ resulted in many different runs: complete slow, suddenly a few kilometres at a good pace, a fast or at least intensive kilometre at the end going uphill to work or home …

That is how I like to train, but … to get to 2.40 on the marathon more is needed … I found out …

For me especially more motivation was needed to do regular speed training, so how to get out of this pothole and back on the uphill road to Manchester?

I decided to start run for a charity promoting outdoor activities for people and families which are struggling with cancer or who are recuperating from it, Run4Cancer. main_logo_Run4CancerUnfortunately, also in my own family and family in law cancer has caused a lot of grief, with my mother and mother in law passing away some years ago due to cancer.

Organising things to raise donations really gave me the motivation I needed. Telling people of my goal for the marathon and reasons for the chosen charity pushed me to start doing regular speed training sessions like: 8 times 1km, or 3 times 3km, or 10 time 400m. Why? Sharing my plan forced me mentally to actually start what I needed to do!

And it was fun also, putting daily fruit on the table in the office, having Easter Soup with my colleagues and organising the Chorley-ROOTZ trailrun from the ROOTZ Coffeeshop in DSC_0153 (1)Chorleywood. The last was so much fun that I will continue to organise these: run through the English countryside for 1.30 and than enjoy a good coffee, tea with cake afterwards, what else would you want?

So out of the pothole, away from the down hill motivation, the month of March was all uphill … even when there was snow and mud … and my Fleet Half Marathon test run cancelled due to snow mid-March!

 

 

Parkrun average pace in March … 3.44, 3.45, 3.45 … I was getting close but not close enough for a 3.48 per kilometre for 42.195 kilometres in one race.

I have run enough marathons to know miracles do not exist but if all stars align in perfect order who knows?

 

 

Sunday 8th April, started perfect. My Dutch Defence colleague Edwin de Neijs had a hotel room right near the start allowing a very relaxed warm-up, toilet break, some tea and short run to the start.

The weather was tip-top, with no wind and approx 9 – 10 degrees Celsius … and … although 10.000 people joined the marathon I could start right on the starting line! There is no large group of elite runners in the Manchester marathon (winning time 2.20) so when you run near 2.40 you are allowed in the first start section and even up to the start line when the gun goes off!

I felt great, having seriously tapered the last week with only 5km runs, some core stability exercises, no alcohol and consciously not eating suddenly too much. Do not worry … I have fully indulged myself massively with plenty food and especially two days with huge Ice-creams as dessert!

I could keep a good pace passing 10km in 38.06 and half way 1.20.52. I knew 2.40 was too fast but keeping 3.50 per kilometre seemed achievable … until … around 23km I felt my legs slowly stiffening due to fatigue and cold. I am a ‘cold person’ and the 10 degrees was just a little too cold for me. But that is the fun and adventure of the marathon!

The internal mental struggle starts … continue or stop … slow down? Now way! … think of the charity … think of the potential running bonus … stop moaning … get going … the downhill thoughts stopped and I was able to keep going, a little slower but still OK!

The last kilometres were brutal and painful but also great! Edwin had caught with up after running a more flat race and together we pushed for the last stretch passing the finish together … in … 2.43.52 … HAPPY!

 

Medal, Erdinger Alcohol free recovery Beer, Protein recovery shakes, shuffling back to the hotel … shower … Guinness! Food! Ice Cream!

More than 500 GBP raised for Run4Cancer!

 

Is it enough for the Dutch military team? That is up to the coach to decide. Three days of sore calves tells me this was the maximum achievable at the moment. Faster is surely possible when my training is more focused on the marathon I am sure … but for now … relax and enjoy!

THE MOVIE 🙂

Some (maybe not very) interesting facts 🙂

I ran on Brooks Hyperion road race shoes, used Compressport tubes to reduce calve stiffness (‘Dutch’ orange coloured for additional motivation!), and was further dressed in a running short, a short sleeve shirt with a Run4Cancer running top and a buff.

My breakfast followed my ‘usual marathon routine’: alarm at 0500 with a start at 0900, four white buns with jam and honey together with two cups of strong coffee and a bottle of energy drink. No more drinking after 0600 besides a cup of tea, one gel and a little energy drink before the start.

The refreshments post during the race were excellent with real water bottles instead of plastic cups (which do not allow you to keep running and take a small sip now and than). My drinking plan was for some water every 10km. However, due to the cold I did not need that much water, which was OK because the water bottles were rather cold themselves!

Other bonus were the gels provided. I started with four of my favourite TriSportPharma gels Ratio 2:1, one just before the start followed by one every 5km. However, I did not want to carry many more gels due to the weight so I was glad to know the organisation provided real gels instead of the usual only banana, cookies etc. Well done for Manchester!

Finish time 2.43.52, average of 3.53 minutes per kilometres, 100 metres measured height gained, 2800 calories.

 

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Will I run the Greater Manchester Marathon again?

I do not think so, at least not because of the atmosphere. The marathon navigates Greater Manchester with very lively parts in suburbs but also very dull parts.

OK, I understand this part but why start and finish both on a wide road near a shopping mall and not in the city centre with live music, open pubs and fully pack terraces!

On the other hand … maybe yes, only because indeed it is flat, fast, easy to start in front and has well organised refreshment posts. But I think I will try London in 2019!