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Monday, 5 March 2018

Transgrancanaria 2018, fantastic course, mountains and organisation, but definitely hate the stones.

Oh no, more stones, when the hell does this stop? It felt like I had been struggling through this dried riverbed for hours. Stones everywhere, of all sizes and none of them lying stable. Every time the path turned I would get hope to run on some better surface but it would quickly turn back into the stony area.... It seemed never ending: I was stuck in this hell after having run about 115 km of the 128 km course. Stopping here was not really an option, even though all of my body was begging for that and I seemed completely alone in this dark and stony valley. But let's go back to the start.

This is Transgrancanaria 2018, a 128 km trail race that starts in the north east end of Gran Canaria in Las Palmas, passing all the way down the mountain spine of the island to conclude in the south at Maspalomas. Something like 6000 vertical meters are included, even though the organisation claims it exceeds the 7000 vertical meters.

Transgrancanaria 2018 race profile

I ran it last year, but my approach to the race was very different this time. Last year I thought that it would be my last ultra trail, which instead turned out as a too great race. And my ultra trail running life was extended. This year, with the UTMB 2018 bib waiting for me in Chamonix, I was sure this would not be my last race. Rather I increased my ambition level and wanted to do better. However what is 'better'? The course is different than the one I ran in 2017. Based on the race profile I made a conservative plan, resulting in a finish time of 27 hours, however a small voice in my head whispered that a finish time below 24 or 25 hours would be fantastic. So 'better' got defined that way.

The start this year is in Las Palmas, which is very different from Agaete, the small town in the north west of the island, which was the 2017 start location. I love Agaete for its small town charm, so was not too happy about the change. But Las Palmas was actually very nice as well, though much louder and bigger. The buses with the runners, and me in one of them, arrived 2 hours before the start, and I killed the time trying to sleep on a bench and watching the band's and carnival parades. It was quite a party. A lot of tourists looked like they had no idea what was going on. 

The day before and even during the bus ride it had been raining quite a bit, but it nicely stopped when arriving at Las Palmas. Also there was no rain during the entire race despite the warnings: quite a relieve. Half an hour before the start I moved into the startbox and I positioned myself right in front of the second box behind the elite runners: I had plans for a fast start. Faces around me were rather tense and so was mine, knowing it is going to hurt rather badly. Counting down and off we were. Normally I hate running on sand, but knowing the first 3 were the only kms which are flat (except the last two), I went out very fast. Fireworks in the sky, crowds three layers deep, what is not to like?  Passed the 3 km mark below 15 min...on sand... Hmm, for a 128 km race maybe a bit stupid, but one never knows what is possible if one doesn't try.

Right in front of the second startbox just after the elite runners

After 3 km we turn left, and a little later we hit a dirt road with the slope getting increasingly difficult. As I am rather in front of the field everybody runs, so I run as well, whereas normally I prefer walking most the inclines from the start. However my speed is rather low, so I get passed by many people here. Happy to see some people walking at the steepest part, as it allows me to do the same. 

First hill done and down we go. However the path is a bad surprise: stones of different sizes, hardly runnable, but now I am stuck in the 'running snake'. If I start walking I will cause a queue, so I follow the runners in front of me as good as I can. I reach the first depot, which is at 16,5 km in little less than 2 hours, which is more than an hour gain on my conservative 27h schedule. This was my hope and worked well. At the depot I refilled my bottles and took off to the next depot in Teror, while eating one of my clifbars. To get to Teror another climb and downhill. I don't remember much except for a lot of barking dogs in the dark. Reached Teror ahead of schedule, now having 1,5 h in the bank. I must say that I deliberately make my schedules easy in the start to create the positive flow of being ahead of it. In this case I made it easy until Teror, so now the goal was to keep as much of the time gained in the remainder of the race.

In Teror quick refill of my bottles and off again. In the following climb, I started to suffer. Legs felt tired and every time I went a bit too fast in the steep parts I went into the red zone. That's a bit early, but on the other hand I had already covered 30 km in rather few hours, so I kept positive. I also kept moving rather ok, as I reached Fontanales still 1,5 h ahead of my schedule. Here a ham cheese sandwich saved my 2017 race (see here), and they had them again ! So ate one, while changing batteries in my headlamp, and took another one with me. As always when tired real food helps and I moved more positively out of the aid station. Right after the aid station I followed two Swedish girls, where one was just running in a short-leave top, while I was wearing about all clothes I had with me, and yet it felt not that warm. While wondering about how can it be she is not freezing, I did not look at the course markings and we got off course. We made a quick return and after 100 meters we were back on the right course. This next section includes a very steep and technical downhill, but it also started to become light, so my spirits were rather high. I reached Presa Perez 1h15m ahead of schedule. Beautiful place, where we could see the cave houses, this area is known for.

There I made a major mistake. I just refilled my bottles and drank some coke. No food... before one of the biggest climbs which was next. This I realized half way during the climb, hanging in my poles trying to more or less crawl up the 1000 m climb. Negativity all over in my head. I will not finish, why the hell don't I have a normal hobby (I could take care of the garden at home as a hobby? or buy a mountain bike? ) and I definitely should give up that UTMB bib ( I know this is like cursing in the church and if I had spoken that out loud, some other runner may have just pushed me in that ravine). Somehow I however kept moving and I reached the top and got down again to the next aid station. Only lost 30 min on the schedule to my surprise. I ate some food, trying to correct my mistake, called my wife on the way out of that aid station to warn her I would likely drop. She just listened to my complaints and told me the split times looked good. Just after that call I realized I may have worried her, so called back to say that I would continue and it would go ok (split times were looking good, I was ahead of the schedule, so nonsense to say it was not going well). So that phone call made me commit to finish.

Next stop was Tejeda, one of my favorite places; this also added to the renewed energy. Was needed as this part of the route was cold and very windy. We were running on the edge of an old vulcano crater, which was supposed to be beautiful, but as we were running in the clouds not much was to be seen. When arriving at Tejeda the sky cleared and it got rather hot. Still 45 min ahead of schedule. As the next major climb to Roque Nublo was ahead, I ate plenty, changed to a dry shirt, and left with Rammstein in my ears. I was reborn. The climb was still tough but felt easier than last year. Great to see the Roque again, especially as it means most of the uphill is done. 

Reached Garagnon nicely, where I had some terrible pasta, which I made worse by putting extra salt on. When almost finished, somebody from the organisation went around asking who wanted to join the bus to the finish. Did he really asked that out loud?  I quickly got out of the aid station. Last year after Garagnon there was a terrible short extreme steep climb, which I feared a lot, but I had heard some runners earlier mentioning that that part had changed. I did not dare believing it, but hoped it severely. Very relieved to see it was true and down we went to Tunte over the very bad 'cobblestones road'.

The 'cobblestone' road

Last year I could not run this part, but this year I did it. Key was now to get as far as possible in the daylight, as my night sight is not too good. During the way to Tunte I met a French guy, Maxime, and we run together. I could not follow very long though. So I reached Tunte alone 2 hours before my conservative schedule! This aid station was great. Loud AC-DC and was welcomed with high fives from all volunteers. A girl asked if she could fill my bottles and they had ham cheese sandwiches. Only some Prosecco missing 😀. When Maxime, who I met again in the aid station, left, he asked me to join. Getting a bit too relaxed in my chair that seemed a good idea, so we went off together. 30 km to go. We had a good chat on different runs and training. Good distraction up to the next hill. He left me shortly before the top and intended to run the rest down, which I would not be able to. He did well finishing an hour before me. The downhill went ok for me, but when it got dark, my eyesight is simply limiting me. I started kicking many stones. My toes felt completely blue (afterwards this was only true for my big toes), so it got rather painful, but I reached Ayagaures 2h15 ahead of schedule. Another great aid station: got a plate of the best paella ever, said no to the offered beer, even though tempting.

Last climb and then the infamous dried riverbed. I struggled in the dark, kicking stones everywhere and moved very slowly. No option to quit here and I knew I would finish. A sub 25 h seemed feasible in the last aid station, but when I passed the '10 km to go' sign at 22:45, I was far from sure I would make it. It was like being stuck in a bad nightmare, it felt like running in circles in the dark, twisting my ankles over stones...... But finally we got out of this valley and I could run again. 4 km sign with one hour to go. YES! The last 4 km I ran and walked and I finished in 24:36. Sub 25h!, first time I do a mountain ultra faster than 5 km/h ! I felt terrible, everything was hurting, but was and am damned proud of this one!

Finish in 24:36

Far from perfect though. I can do better on many points, which is another positive outcome. And definitely I need to work on the following points before UTMB:

- Food. I need real food and need a good strategy for this and stick to it.
- Shoes, as getting blue toenails are a limiting factor at some point. But how do I test shoes on steep hills in Denmark??? Any recommendations as alternative to La Sportiva Ultra Raptor? I like the stiff sole but I feel I would need a softer top.
- Running glasses for the night. I use glasses normally but run without.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Cold Hawaii 50 miles - Thy in the rain

It is almost 2 weeks ago I ran Cold Hawaii 50 miles. A race pretty much dominated by the weather, as the last 5 hours rain was pouring down, but lets get back to the start.

Cold Hawaii 50 miles is a race from Bulbjerg to Agger following a walking path close to the coast. My goal was rather simple: finish belong 10 h and get a top 5 placement home (only 30 runners started). Start was at 6 o'clock in the morning and as we stayed in Agger (the finish location) this meant joining the bus from Agger at 4:30. Good I managed to get some coffee before.

Cold Hawaii 50 miles

The weather forecast had predicted rain the full day, so I was happy to see it was actually dry at the start. The start was in the dark as sun would first rise a little after 7 (amazingly there were som runners without lamps). Right after the start a steep path down from Bulbjerg, followed by running over a rather flat path through grass for about 20 km started. Now I am not too comfortable running in the dark, I like to see a couple of meters ahead, so I ended up in front of the race (ups, now that was not part of the plan...) and after 5 km or so we had a small group of 5 runners together. Speed was about 5:30 /km and quite comfortable with wind in the back. Most beautiful was the part around 17 km where we had something like a km on the beach (it had just got light and was still dry). As said all very comfortable, but then we hit the hilly part (20-30 km), where the group broke. I ended up in fourth position, as I simple had to run too much in the red zone to follow the first ones. For somebody claiming to be a mountain runner, I suck at running uphill..... Instead I slowed a bit, and ate and drank well and enjoyed the landscape which was rather pretty at times. Passing the start for the 50 km race at around 31 km, the next 8 km were the most boring ones, as we ran on a bikepath next to a big road. Running alone, music in my ears my thoughts were drifting when suddenly bammm, I crashed, I was lying on the asfalt. Typically me...easiest part of the course and I end up with a bloody knee and hands... Meanwhile to make things better, the rain started....

Arriving in Klitmøller, it was pouring down. At the depot, in a busstop, I had a dropbag and changed to a dry shirt and shifted to a heavier rain jacket. Now just one marathon left following the well known Thy trail marathon, but in reverse direction. So that should be rather easy and I was doing well timewise. What i did not count on was how bad the beach was, which we hit at 50 km and had to follow to about 60 km. Especially the last 5 km were terrible running/walking, as no hard sand around. All this while the sky had opened. What could have been beautiful was just tough and very wet.

Very happy to leave the beach we entered Thy National Park, which can be beautiful, but on this day I just experienced it as desolate and raw.  I knew the route, but was surprised and very happy to see the water from the ground was gone, so no passing lakes and other uncomfortable wet passages. But the water from above compensated rather well. From 60 km it was just trying to keep as much speed as possible to get home. I was passed by some 50 km runners and 1 more 50 miles runner and was happy to cross the finish just after 9 hours in 5 position. Mission accomplished :-)

Bit disappointing as I expected a nicer race, but this was simply due to the bad weather, as the course is quite beautiful, except for the bike path. Next stop TransGranCanaria (O no, the new route contains 3 km beach....)

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Transgrancanaria 2017 - saved by a ham cheese sandwich

The week before the start of Trangrancanaria the thought set in that maybe this would be my last long ultra trail race. I was simply not sure I would be able to do it, still having my DXT 2016 failure in my head.  Yes, I had trained quite well and was in quite good shape, but mentally DXT2016 had given me a big blow. The question 'why am I doing this', which visited me many times, was hard to answer.

Now a week after the finish I can give the answer to that question :-). Within the 25,5 hour the race lasted for me, I had seen so many beautiful mountains, villages, landscapes, climbed a lot of steep hills, ran down on them, cursed all those stones over and over again,  met another of my hero's (more on that later), had the greatest ham cheese sandwich ever and experienced many other things. The best word to describe the race after finishing was 'WOW!!'. But lets go back to the start. 


Transgrancanaria is a race over 124 km including 8000 height meters, starting in Agaete on the north side of the island and finishing in Maspalomas on the south side. The organisation took care of transporting us to the start, where we arrived 1,5 h before the start, which would take place at 23:00 on Friday evening. It had been rather nice and warm in Maspalomas but the North side of the island is always colder and so was today where it was very windy and cold. Happy to dive into a bar for a coffee and afterwards pack myself in some extra clothes and sit down just in front of one of the bars, which were packed with runners. I was calm, tried to sleep, not wasting energy to everything around me (one big party with music, very engaging speaker, lots of anxious runners).

30 minutes before the start I moved to the startbox after removing my spare clothes. Fortunately the startbox was so packed that it was hard to freeze. Turning on the obligatory red backlight, checking if everything was right and ready for some major suffering. Still not looking forward, but no way back now, even a bit curious about this adventure. Some more music, some very cool speech in Spanish: no idea what it was about. And finally counting down. 3,2,1,go The adventure starts!

The first km is comfortably on a road, but then the first big mountain hits immediately. A climb of something like 1200 meter within 10 km. My strategy was simple: to get through the night in good shape without injuries, such I could start moving up during the day and not waste time in aidstations. So I settled in a comfortable rhythm on this rather steep climb. The path was pure single track most of the time, so there was no real possibility to pass or be passed. Still at occasions runners were passing, wasting precious energy by moving through more difficult terrain without much gain. I stayed nicely were I was, enjoying the view of all the white lights in the back and red ones in front of me, forming a large 'lightsnake'.

At the top there was the first aidstation; with great help from some of the volunteers who filled my bottles I made it faster than a formula 1 pitstop and left within 15 seconds :-). What followed was what I was warned about: a very technical steep downhill, where many runners typically end their race. Fortunately it was getting less crowded. Indeed technical, and indeed very very steep. I took it easy, and was still being passed once in a while. A cute looking girl came flying by and jumped into the group just in front of me; then she changed into a mountain goat and accelerated. 'You can be cute, but you are not leaving me in the dust....', so I changed gears as well. She knew what she was doing, so I tried to copy every move and was now racing down the mountain, taking all the shortcuts she was taking. So far for good intentions of taking it easy.... I even managed to pass her, but then had to stop suddenly for a queue. This was a section were a rope was used to get down a wall of 5 meters. ca 50 runners in front of me. A quick estimate based on the about  20 seconds per runner it took to get down the rope, warned me this was going to cost me 15 minutes. So I looked for an alternative route. Another guy just had found that route, I followed and passed a lot of runners in one go. This brought us down to the second aid station. Bit more than 15 seconds, but I still left within 2 minutes. I had passed 76 runners on the way down the mountain and was now in the 400th position. 

Now the second big climb was in front of us. I  settled in a rather low speed, as I felt tired and it again was very steep (yep, one pays the price for racing down a mountain....). Looking around me showed I was not the only one: this looked like a scene from the walking death. Even though I was slow, I kept passing people, but was also being passed. The fact that I was about 45 minutes in front of my own target schedule made me feel rather good. After the top it would be about 10 km of rolling terrain until the next post, Artenara at 33 km. It was getting rather cold with hard winds while we were running in the clouds with little visibility. Fortunately the route was very well marked. 

However after Artenara, which I passed in 395th position, I was getting so cold that I finally changed to my jacket. I started to suffer, could not eat anymore from my energy bars and was getting a bit in problems. I was hoping for daylight soon, but that would first come at 8 o'clock. I was very happy to arrive in Fontanales, while feeling like I had to throw up. As I could not, I decided to sit down and force some food in me. I ended up eating a soup and a ham-cheese sandwich. This sandwich saved my race and was more worth than all of the fancy energybars I was carrying. Not sure what was in it, but it delivered me the energy for the next 50 km (must have been the Spanish ham :-) ) . 

Now slowly a new day started, with daylight coming through, but most amazing, the sound of the birds singing. It was fantastic: running on small paths going up and down, passing an occasional house, with cactus and palmtrees everywhere and then the sound of those birds. Not tried anything like it. Beforehand I had feared this point of the day as I typically get very tired at dawn but the great ham-cheese sandwich plus the birds made me feel 110% alive and awake. Enjoying this I made it to Teror at 56 km (moved to position 367).

After Teror followed a long climb to Cruz de Tejeda and then down to Tejeda, where I was looking forward to get, as I had stayed there some days before the race with my wife and son. I found again a good rhythm and moved up yet another large hill. Views were spectacular. Above Teror we could see all the way down to the sea, while when we got above Tejeda I could see Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga in the same view. Spectacular! At Arinez there was the curious event of crossing a rally race (as in car race!) passing on the same road as we passed. Interesting combination. This is what the red obligatory red light is for?

After the familiar grounds of Tejeda, we would get to the highlight of the course, Roque Nublo, a giant rock pointing like a thumb on the top of a plateau with a fantastic view. We left Tejeda through a familiar route, as it was the same route I had hiked with my wife and son. Now I moved considerably slower than at that time, and while we could see Roque Nublo almost all the time, we had to walk all the way around it before getting there. It was hot and I actually for the first time ran out of water. Started to suffer again, but it could not be far to the large depot of Garanon, I thought. I was wrong. It took ages. While the surroundings were breathtaking, I was more crawling than walking. 

Roque Noblo

Just before reaching Garanon at 82 km, A runner came racing down a hill, where I was going up. He yelled ' You are doing good!'. Just as he passed I realised this was Gediminas Grinius, winner of the ultra trail runner world tour 2016 and one of my big hero's. Nice! After meeting Timothy Olson at the number pick up, I meet a second hero in the same trip. No time for a selfie though this time :-). Happy to finally make it to Garanon, in 318 th position, I sat down, had a large bowl of pasta and a lot of coke.

Meeting Timothy Olson at the number pickup

After Garanon there is just a 250 meter climb left to the highest point, the route profile says. What the route profile does not say is that this climb is covered in very little horizontal distance. They seriously put a path straight up the mountain. I estimated it to be at least 40% steep. Somebody got learn how to make corners and curves in a path please.... but I made it and then the good news is that it is mostly downhill from here.

However there are downhills and downhills. This one was covered in stones, technical and steep a lot of the time. I ran where I could but had problems with all the stones, so while some runners could just race down I had to walk many places. Arriving at Tunte at 94 km I was met with a scary sight. What first looked like a body bag being carried out of the aid station, appeared to be a runner, alive and wrapped in black plastic, having a neck brace on. Hope he/she is doing well. 

Now it was just 30 km left. I could see I would make it to the finish, but at what time was the question. 27 h was feasible but faster would be nice. So I pushed from this point on. Still the path was not very runnable until the last 7 km, but I would run where I could, and otherwise move as fast as possible. I ended up having my fastest 10 km in the last 10 km :-). 

200 m before the finish a runner with a big headlamp came up to me. That annoyed me, as I wanted the finish stage for myself so I even managed to my own surprise to throw out a sprint and finished in 25:33:59 (position 309). Just after the finish a lady, asked me: ' would you like a beer' and found a cold beer for me and even turned off the lights on my backpack. This shows the friendliness of the volunteers during this race, which is not expressed very much in this report, but a big thank you from me! Also big thanks to my sweet wife, who picked me up right after the finish, as walking 2,5 km to the place we stayed would have taken some hours :-)

Passing the finish

Aftermath: I surprised myself. I typically go down at the end of a race. This time I could push the last 30 km. So a big learning there. The race surprised in its beauty and in its being different. Hard to describe, but it is contesting with Lavaredo on my favorite ultra trail now..... And no, this will not be the last ultra trail. Definitely not :-). Would not like to miss this in my life.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Dolomiti Extreme Trail - the monster that defeated me

There I was sitting in an ambulance, hiding shamefully from other runners, who would continue. I had just resigned, had given my number to an official and was happy for the offer of sitting in the ambulance to hide from the cold temperature at this early morning. From the window of the ambulance I saw a runner throwing up. 'He will not make the finish' was a thought which appeared, but deep down I respected him, tough guy, feeling maybe worse than me and still continuing. I had quit after just 28 km and 3000 heightmeters in 7,5 hours, 75 km short of the finish.....

7,5 hours before I had started in Forno di Zoldo, at 22:30 on Friday evening. The course was slightly changed as the highest part was covered with too much snow, so a lower alternative route was found. After a lot of Italian of which I understood the new route had 'only' 6000 heightmeters and a few english sentences, we were off. About 300 runners were in the long distance (103 km), so a relative small race. The first 2 km were downhill and on the road. I run very comfortable in these last easy kilometers.

After 2 km in something like 11 min there was a sharp turn to the right and everybody was queuing. This is what happens when you move from a very wide road into a path, which barely can be called a path. While standing in the queue, I looked up and saw literally over my heads lights moving: we were going really vertically up. When finally moving again I was running on a very small path which went very very steep up, where overtaking was impossible: 10 cm to the left it went steep down and 10 cm on the right there was massive trees. There was a long line of runners, stopping would cause everybody behind to stop, so everybody was running the same speed. Not a comfortable speed I have to say.... I was in the red zone, and wondering how long it would go up like this. It would continue until the first water post at 5,5 km, which I passed 15 minute in front of my schedule.

A few kms with some downhill followed. I learned that if there was a sign saying 'danger' they meant it and one better be a bit careful. Sometimes the signs were accompanied with persons. Those passages were even more challenging, typically going almost vertically down (sometimes fortunately with ropes). In other words: a very challenging course. It kept going steep up or down. My watch recorded a single km with more than 400 height meters. I was however doing ok and was exactly on my schedule at 12,5 and 14,5 km where depots were. After that last depot it would get easier, was my estimate from studying the route. Boy would I be wrong.....

The next 2 kms were easy, but then the nightmare started. What was supposed to be easy as it looked flat was a real nightmare. Up, down, turns, rockfields, loose stones, fallen trees..... impossible to run more than a couple of 100 meters and no way to get in any rhythm. I started getting breathing problems going up and a little later also going down. That is kind of problematic in a mountain race. My speed dropped to 2-3 km an hour and I started making more and more mistakes, so a couple of almost crashes (those poles saved me from quite some scratches) and started feeling sick. My mind started thinking of stopping. Between 20 and 25 km that decision was more or less taken and I dragged myself to the next depot at the road at 28 km, where I for the first time in a trail ultra DNFed :-(. Bummer. Dolomiti Extreme defeated me big time.

Having had some time to think about what went wrong, this is what I concluded:
- Not enough motivation. When starting UTMB, Lavaredo and other races, I would have the attitude to finish it on one leg if I broke the other. This was just a nice run, which I even expected to finish in around 22 hours. However at the point I dropped I could see it was going to be hard to make the cutoffs, which would mean something like 28 h.
- Underestimation of the course. I knew it was technical but this was very very extreme and way more than I expected. A finish rate of about 35% also shows it is a quite extreme race. Great if one likes technical races and the organisation is good.
- Not eaten well the days before the race and not drinking enough during the race. Classical mistake as lack of food will mess with one's head.
- Arriving at the mountains in the morning before the race, so no adaptation to the height, which may have played a role.

So the mountains taught me a lesson. Right after my DNF I was ready to stop running. But the winner of the short race would tell me the next day while waiting for the bus to the airport: 'find a next race and get going'. She was very right, and after a few days elaborating the deception, I am ready again..

My plans: shorter trail races for now, until i find something longer I really want to finish. Maybe in the fall, maybe in 2017.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Vesthimmerlands Vinter Cross Cup

This blog post is somewhat different, as there is no ultra running content. However the Vesthimmerlands Vinter Cross Cup deserves a post.

 I came across this tournament of four races in Vesthimmerland, Denmark, when I last year was searching for some trail races during the winter after another trailrace was cancelled due to too few participants. This was the only alternative I could find and after running one race I was sold.

Race director Per Christensen has put together an as simple as genius concept: 4 km route which can be ran once (4 km) or twice (8 km), somewhere in a (very wet) field or (muddy and hilly) forest without the luxury of showers or indoor heated places. 100 runners and a lot of sponsor gifts, plus hot chocolate milk/soup afterwards. Where other races start to ask for quite high entry fees, this is almost free (especially considering you are likely to go home every fourth  time or so with a lottery price, which includes headlamps).

Anyway, this year I was of course back together with a bunch of collegues (even more fun), and had put even set the target to run top 10 every run in the 8 km. How did it go:

- November, Paradiset. A good start: number 9.
- December, night run Skovbakker. I found out my headlamp is fine for all night ultra's where I run rather slow, but too weak for running fast. Since I did not win one of the lamps, I get to do some gearshopping :-). Despite the little light I managed to come in in 10th
- January, Uhrehøje. Best run for me. Good shape and good day. 7th place.
- February Vesterbølle, bad day, 11th place

Overall I ended 6th which is fine, but I can do better, so I will be back next year. Most of all, as this is a very nice concept of pure, simple, raw trailrunning without any bells and whistles. Want to know more check

My next goal on the way to Dolomiti Extreme Trail: Uhrskov trail in April as a serious test. Some work to be done before that :-)

Saturday, 5 September 2015

UTMB 2015, realizing a dream

'Congratulations, amazing achievement, great respect to you', an elderly Danish lady tells me in the train from Chamonix to Vallorcine, where we are staying. She says she is not interested in sports or running whatsoever, but being in Chamonix, seeing the UTMB runners finishing, seeing the emotions, she got very affected.Seeing I had run it and being Danish she had to come to talk to me. When she has left, a French girl of about 6 years shows up with her parents, wanting an autograph, as she has recognized my UTMB bag. During my somewhat slow walk from the finish to the railway, everybody talks to me, congratulate me and ask how my feet are doing (the back of my right foot is raw flesh and very visible as I changed my running shoes and socks for sandals). This is how it has been since I finished an hour earlier.That is Chamonix during UTMB: a trailrunning heaven, where even the normal back and middle of the pack runners are treated like heroes.

It had started Friday afternoon. Dani and Marco (my wife and son) had brought me to Chamonix an hour before the start. We said bye and I sat down 100 meter from the start among the other runners. No problem to be so far in the back as losing some minutes in the start would not really matter in a 170 km race. 

15 minutes to the start in Chamonix

It was hot; still around 30 degrees, so I was happy to have 2 liters of water with me (the organisation had increased the mandatory amount of water to carry from 1 liter to 2 liters due to the heat (up to 35 degrees)) and I consumed already 1 liter before the start.

The adrenaline got more and more pumping in the runners with encouraging speeches, loud music, and even having an eagle with camera fly over the start field. This all did not affect me at all. I was totally calm, until they started to play the start tune "Conquest of Paradise". I had heard this so many times when watching the different Youtube videos of the start and knew this was it. This was what I had been dreaming of in a long time and I had worked three years to get here, so now I "just" needed to enjoy and finish the race.

10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 (in French) and off we were. Well, we were standing still for quite a while. Having 2563 runners run through Chamonix is causing congestion, so the first km was stop and go through totally wild crowds. I tried to high five (or low five) as many kids as possible for good karma.

I had a plan with me leading to a 40 h finish, even though I would be completely happy by just finishing. This plan gave me the target time between every checkpoint to focus on. The first 8 km were rather flat and very busy. Very annoying. Full stops happened quite often. At the 8 km checkpoint it was very crowded with  elbows all over the place, so I gave up filling my bottles and just drank a cup of water. What is all this rush in a 170 km race?

UTMB Race Profile

We hit the first hill. A small one, but it hit me quite hard. Not a good sign, but I found my rhythm and moved up. On the strangest places supporters were standing and singing. Some Asian ladies were standing in the middle of the path with candy giving encouragements in Japanese. This is one crazy race.... I was happy to reach the summit 30 minutes in front of my time plan, even though I felt not optimal.

The view was beautiful: the sun was going down and gave a beautiful light on the Mont Blanc.  I could not keep my eyes away from this.... Boom, I crashed hard: no smart to look at the view and not where I was running. Runners around asked if I was ok. I said yes, stood up and continued running, but my thumb hurt quite badly and started bleeding heavily. I had to stop and wrapped my finger in my buff to stop the bleeding and continued.  Downhill it went, while it was getting dark. I hoped to reach St Gervais before I needed my headlamp, but after a part in a forrest I had to stop and get it from my backpack to avoid another crash.

Busy during the early stages of the race

I arrived in Saint Gervais as number 1297, while still being 30 minutes in front my schedule and 1 hour in front of the cutoff time.  I wanted a patch for my finger and went to the first aid tent. They did not have patches and put a full bandage around it (I had to convince them that cleaning was not needed, no time to lose for that). After this quickly some soup, salty crackers and coke and after filling my water bottles off we went to Les Contamines.  The next 25 km would go up.... I arrived in Les Contamines as number 1389, so I lost 92 places in 10 km, but still had 1 hour to the cut off times.

After Les Contamines within a couple of kms there were at least 10 runners throwing up. The heat takes its toll. I felt well used already even though we just had ran a little more than 30 km: it worried me a bit. But then we arrived to Notre Dame de la Gorge. This was cool! Playing ACDC's 'Highway to Hell', having rocks lit op in different colors, while big fires were burning in the dark. A lot of teenagers were cheering the runners on, showing that this race is really one huge event for all age groups in this area. This energized me to get to La Balme, which was further uphill. I arrived as number 1285 and was now 1,5 h in front of my schedule and 2 hours away from the cut off. Nice!

The last part of the climb to Croix du Bonhomme waited ahead and it got steeper and very tough. I kept moving but got a bit of nausea, so had to sit down a couple of times to eat some energy bars (these Cliff bars are good!) and tried to stay out of the red zone. Even though it was dark it was beautiful. Clear sky, stars and full moon! One could see the mountains around . If only I would feel a bit better.... I was happy to reach the top at almost 2500 meter, sat down and sent a txt to my wife ' somebody kill me, there should be a cross here somewhere where they can bury me'. But nobody did , and I was still 45 minutes ahead of my schedule, so I started to move down to Les Chapieux. Here I arrived as number 1265 and more than 2 h ahead of the cut off, so I was doing better than I felt.

At Les Champieux everybody was subjected to a random gear check. I had to show my cell phone, my safety blanket, and my waterproof jacket. Of all the required gear, weighting 4 kg, incl the water , I used during the entire race only one of the headlamps, the long sleeve shirt in the second night, my cup and the energy bars. Besides this there was Compeed, Sportstape and most important, two small tokens from my daughters Naja and Cecilie's in there, which would make them part of the race as well, even though they were not present. After the check I ate and drank the same as in most check points: 1-2 cups of soup with added salt; some crackers; couple of cups of cola and some oranges.

Next 10 km would be a climb of 1000 meters. I killed this climb! Not sure where that came from, but wow, I was moving smoothly. At the same time this was the most magical part: stars everywhere, one could see the outlines of the granite peaks and white glaciers in the light of the full moon, it was not too crowded anymore, as runners were spread. One could see a long line of headlamps behind and in front of one. I simply loved this part.

But then it got ugly. We went a couple of 100 meters down and then up again, while it was getting light again. I expected to get energy from the daylight, but the opposite happened. I got very tired and was tempted to lie down and sleep. I could only move very slowly or ran out of breath. On top of that the route got very technical, so I was really getting demotivated. Texted my wife the following text 'In trouble... not sure this is going OK. At Col des Pyramides, but no energy .... Nothing. Trying to make it to Courmayeur'. The thought of dropping out appeared in my head......

On the way to checkpoint Lac Combal, a French girl started talking to me, asking where I was from. She wondered how one trains in a country like Denmark. She lived at the Pyrenees close to the see ("so I can surf and run in the mountains"). Hmmm, definitely living in a wrong place.... The talk distracted me and that helped a lot, so not sure who you were, but thank you!

I made it to Lac Combal after crashing a second time but fortunately without any damages.  I arrived at 7:30, exactly at my schedule and still 2 hours from the cutoffs. One mountain left before descending to Courmayeur. Somehow I managed to get over the mountain, while being followed partly by a helicopter closely above me, filming, which meant I had to run, so I was happy it disappeared again :-). Still not doing well and the thought of dropping was still around in my head.

On the way down to Courmayeur I suddenly got upset with myself. Here I was, privileged to be able to do what I have dreamt off (just watching the news these days, makes me realise how privileged I am) and I was not enjoying. I was suffering instead and even thinking of dropping out at Courmayeur.... This is my dream.... and I would it give it up so easily??? When I drop out so easily from my dream what would that mean for other things in my life? I am trying to teach my kids to go for what they want and dream off, but also that they need to work for it and not give up easily.....

This made the switch in my head and I got determined to finish the race or die trying. The latter option did not sound too attractive. I thought I better finish. My speed went up and I started interacting with other runners. Had some fun with an American runner, when a hiker told us we were almost there, clearly thinking we just needed to get to Courmayeur. ' Jep, just 100 km more :-)'. The American runner replied 'O hell, I better get some ice-cream at the bottom of this hill'.


I arrived to Courmayeur and while running over cobblestones streets before arriving at the checkpoint, an Asian runner brought a smile to my face. He had dropped his shoes and socks and then dived into a fountain. Yes, it was hot again. I arrived at the checkpoint at 10:15 on Saturday, 30 minutes behind my schedule but almost 3 hours ahead of the cut offs. Courmayeur is one of the 2 biggest checkpoints, where one can get a meal and here one has a spare bag. So I changed some clothes, changed batteries, refilled my energy bars (Cliff bar) and ate pasta and some soup. While eating I checked Facebook on my phone and saw a lot of friends were actively following me. Nice!

Then I called my wife to give an update and was happily surprised when she told me she was there close to the checkpoint (my earlier message had concerned her a bit). I quickly left and met her outside together with Marco. Meeting them gave new energy, which was much needed as an 800 meter hill waited. I managed also to kill that hill and moved slowly but steadily from Bertone to Arnuva, while doing quite ok and enjoying the nice views on the left side. In Arnuva right in front of the large climb to Grand Col Ferret I arrived as number 1008, more than 3 hours ahead of the cut off. Grand Col Ferret got tackled 100 meters at a time by allowing myself a break for every 100 m I got up (handy to have a watch showing the height) 

The most boring part of the route to Champex Lac followed. This is quite runnable, and I managed to run quite some parts (not as much as I hoped though). I arrived in Champex in the dark as number 919. Champex is the other big post, so again some pasta (they made better pasta in Switzerland as in Italy in this race...). Before leaving the post I suddenly started to shiver so I quickly changed to my warmer shirt, hoping that would not be too warm. This was a good decision.

The biggest hills were done: the beasts back was broken but the devil is in its tail. Three 'smaller' hills waited, and these I had feared most. The first one I had run during the CCC in 2012, where it was snowing. That was terrible. Today it was hot, even though it was night, but still it was terrible. This mountain simply consists of big boulders over which one needs to climb with hands and feet. The darkness made it a bit hard to navigate, so I preferred to have some runners in front of me, so I followed a group. Problem however was that the group moved a bit too fast for me, so soon I was number last in the group. I looked back for a next group, but behind no headlamps whatsoever, so I had the choice between trying to hang on or losing a lot time, finding my own way. I clamped to the group and somehow managed to the top, where I took a break.

On the downhill, a new experience happened. First I started seeing drawings of faces, mainly kids faces, on all stones. If I would concentrate a lot, I could remove them, but they would return very quickly. Hmmm, am I really hallucinating now? Who put all that furniture next to the path? Oh, it is another rock.... What the hell is Marco doing here? Oh that is a bush. This kept on and on.....   Fascinating but also a bit scary. Good I had read about this beforehand. Only thing was real were the runners lying right and left of the path sleeping. Some even in the middle of the path, face down in the earth....Yes, I was pretty sure I would be able to sleep as well like that.

The downhills went very slow now, as my toes were hurting. Seemed I had some blue toes due to non optimal fitting shoes. However I arrived to Trient as number 835 and managed to arrive at Vallorcine after the next hill as number 832. We stayed in Vallorcine so even though I arrived at 6 o'clock in the morning my wife was there, which was very welcome, as again while it was getting light again, I got very very tired. She helped with getting some food and liquid in me and sent me off to the last mountain. Seemed rather sure I would make it now, but I was too tired to realize this. Happy it was light and the faces on the stones were gone though.

Soup in Vallorcine. I have looked fresher....

The last hill was called "sadistic" in Anton Krupicka's race report from 2014. That was a very accurate description to the hellish, super steep, exposed to the hot sun, rocky, dangerous, ridiculous and painful hill. Still not sure how I got over it and I have blocked most of the memories from that part. But on the downhill when I got to La Floria, the lovely chalet 3 km before the finish, I started to see the end. I started to run again. Hikers and other people started to congratulate one.

On the way to the "sadistic" hill

The last km in Chamonix is the best km I have ever ran. People cheering, high-fiving kids,  I was flying. I clenched my fist and the crowd went wild. I did it! I made it! I am going to finish!  I got very emotional, as this was what I had been working on for 3 years and I had managed this!  200 meters before the finish my wife was waiting with Marco, who could join me for the last meters, if he wanted. But he rather stayed there, so I continued and raced to the finish with a very big smile on my face.

A dream came true

I did it! I realised one of my biggest dreams! I had worked on it 3 years and it has been worth every second of training. What a magical tour! Beautiful sights in a very raw physical and mentally demanding tour while the people around this event make it something very special. And how lucky I was with this weather! This was simply a race which I never ever forget. I finished as number 894 in 41 hours and 41 minutes (931 runners did DNF out of 2563 starters).

I would like to thank Dani for her support and taking care of Marco during my running. You were there at the right moments with the right support. Would not have been possible without you. Ti amo! I would also like to thank my friends on the support given through the different social media. It was great to see how much you were following me!

And now the big question is: what's next? Well, I have no idea yet. I will just enjoy this experience. Then I am sure something will turn up :-)

Thursday, 13 August 2015

UTMB 2015, goals, expectations, fears, ….

UTMB 2015, goals, expectations, fears, ….

In 2 weeks I will be starting in the race I have been working on a long time and which is on top of my bucket list, Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc or shortly UTMB. Just getting to the start is tough: one needs to have earned enough UTMB points (the required number of points has been increasing over the years) in other trail races to enter a lottery and then be lucky in the lottery. For this years race I managed to get the required points and was lucky in the lottery.

For those not familiar with UTMB: it is race around Mont Blanc, starting and finishing in Chamonix, France over 170 km with about 10.000 D+, passing through Italy and Switzerland, and has about 2500 participants (in the last 2 years relative good weather races around 50-60% makes it to the finish). The race starts Friday evening and the maximum time is 46h: the winners will be finishing Saturday afternoon, while I will have to run through 2 nights and likely 2 days.

UTMB race profile

 So what to hope, expect and fear?

First of all, I hope the weather is such that at least most of the normal route can be run. Weather around the Mont Blanc can change quickly. For instance today it is 25 degrees in Chamonix, but in 2 days the weather forecast predicts a maximum temperature of 9 degrees and minimum of -2 in Chamonix, which means it will be pretty bad/cold at the high points during the night. My worst weather race is still the 2012 CCC (‘small’ sister race of UTMB), which was ran in snow, rain and very very very cold…… That year the full UTMB was shortened to only 100 km, not leaving France…

My biggest question mark and fear in night number 2. I have ran through one night and actually loved that, but having to run through yet another night is likely a completely different thing. I have read a lot of race reports from previous years and if I have to conclude from those, it seems I will not be able to eat anything without throwing up, I may fall asleep next to the path or hallucinations may happen (the hallucination of one guy having a Star Wars Soldier running next to him sounds pretty cool) and motivation will not be too high. So fearing that night, but also a bit curious to see how I will tackle it.

Another thing is the distance and amount of heightmeters. My toughest race so far was Lavaredo (119 km, 6000 D+), so quite far from what this is. That one was going nicely according to plan, but the weather was also good. If I would have had to run another 50 km with 4000 D+, I would have told you ‘no way’. I have trained well and lost 7 kg since December, but this is very unknown territory. Most of all I fear the last 3 ‘hills’ after Champex. Each of those will feel like Everest in itself.

This brings me to my goal: simply finish. I am in good shape, but that will be far from enough. I know I will be ready to quit at some point or points, feel miserable and ready to pay a fortune for a helicopter to fly me back, but then I also know I am a stubborn guy and that I will get over this phase of misery and get to my very determined phase (poor person in that phase who will try to pull me from the course ;-)). Question is whether that determined phase will last long enough to bring me to the finish.

Looking forward to this adventure and realising a dream on top of my list. I expect to be challenged to the maximum and hope the mountains and the weather will tolerate me for those 46 hours.

You can follow me during the race through (start number 599)