Friday, November 28, 2014

RACE REPORT: Stockholm Tunnel Run

The final race of 2014 was one of those which had been planned for the longest period of time. At Lidingöloppet in 2013 I saw the flyer for this unique race and decided to sign up immediately some 14 months in advance!
On 22 November 2014, one week before the "Norra länken" tunnel was opened to traffic, Stockholm Tunnel Run was held. A 10 km long race in the tunnel system and a race that can only be described as a "once in a lifetime experience!"
Before the start you could gather at one of two different venues (Arena Tallink Silja and Arena Länsförsäkringar) before being efficiently passed through to the start. As with all events hosted by the Lidingö organisation, everything was slick and well oiled. Once the starting gun went, it looked like a long coiled yellow snake making it's way off along the road down to the tunnel entrance. 3,000 runners took off every 10 minutes.
It was a pretty congested start with runners of all abilities grouped into the same starting pen. No seeding at this race made the first 1-2 kms more of a human obstacle course to navigate around slower moving walkers and runners. However, the first couple of kms were downhill into the underground cavern so didn't use up too much energy in the process.
The course made it's way towards  Norrtull before a 180 degree turn (3km), looping back east and north to Stockholm University before another 180 degree turn, this time outside the tunnel (5km), back south and west towards Roslagtull for a final 180 degree turn (7km) and then the final 3km push to the finish.
I never really considered the course profile before the race other than noting the 3 turns and their respective distances to try and get a handle on how fast I was running (GPS of course doesn't work under all that rock!). What I really failed to grasp was that each turn was of course either above ground or close to ground level and that meant hills!! 4 of them to be precise and they were long and leg sapping. The final km was on a constant incline with the last 200m punishing to the finish on top of the flyover.

The run was amazing, so good in fact, that once finished, I really wished I could go through again at a leisurely pace and enjoy all the amazing sights all over again.

As everyone had to wear the same 'day-glo' vest and gloves, it looked incredible whether with the UV lighting or the directional white lighting in the tunnel making people glow or shine.

At one point, the lights were off and you were only illuminated by scan lasers above your head (think pop-concert!) and the only sound was the pounding of feet on asphalt, an eerie experience.

I'm very pleased to finish the year strong with a 45:54 after the disappointment in Lidingöloppet at the end of September. I carry my positive outlook into the winter season and into 2015. Now a couple of months of strength training once again and begin preparations for a trip back to Den Haag, The Netherlands on 8th March 2015 to compete in the City-Pier-City Half Marathon, a very flat course!!

There was even a winter theme complete with fake snow and Christmas trees at one point! How Swedish :
Foto: Eddie Granlund                                                                

If you're interested in the massive engineering project which has been ongoing for the past 7 years, you can find further details of the Norra Länken project at Trafikverken's website and in the video below (Swedish):

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Monday, November 10, 2014

REVIEW: GripGrab ProGel gloves

Gloves are an important but often overlooked part of cycling. When I'm on the mountain bike, my hands take a lot of abuse just from the constant impact of handlebars vibrating on rough terrain. But even on the road bike, maintaining a good grip is imperative to improved safety, ensuring that you can make that emergency maneuver that we've all experienced when cycling in traffic. In addition to dampening and grip advantages, gloves are an important piece of equipment for extending the cycling season into fall, winter and spring.

GripGrab ProGel gloves
Image courtesy of GripGrab
Last year (2013) before competing in RAID Uppsala, I bought a pair of ProGel gloves by GripGrab. Although my original plan was to have something that would keep my hands warm during the events near-freezing temperatures, these actually became my go-to gloves for riding in all kinds of weather. (Actually, the ProGels are not really enough for cold weather as they only have partial-fingers. I've since invested in a pair of Hurricane for cycling in winter conditions. I plan to write a review about these in the future, but they are so warm I've actually had sweaty fingers after a ride!)

The ProGel gloves provide great grip with the leather palm and a bit of ventilation in the back which is made of some sort of Lycra-like material. They are easy to pull on and off and the sizing is great. I wear a size 10 in most gloves and purchased a size large in these. They fit perfectly on my hands with no extra material that might fold up during use and become a source of blisters.

Gloves are one of those things that are easy to discount. "Why do I need gloves?" one might ask. It's easy to think that your grip is fine and as long as you don't ride in cold weather, gloves can even seem like a luxury. But honestly, you need gloves because gloves are an essential piece of safety equipment. This is a lesson that I was reminded of all-too-well this spring when I flipped my road bike at 37 km/hr. A short mental lapse, a moment of panic and a little-too-hard squeeze of my front brake sent me sprawling across the pavement on a country-road south of Uppsala. I was lucky not to be seriously injured, but I was also wearing good equipment. My ProGel gloves were badly torn up, but my hands survived with just a bit of road-rash on one thumb. This was the ultimate test of these gloves. Needless to say after this incident I'm on my 2nd pair and a real believer in the quality of GripGrab's products.
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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Team Form Multisport's October Recap (AKA "Are you guys still alive?")

Sometimes time flies by faster than you want and things fall a bit by the wayside. David and I have good intentions of getting some product reviews up on the blog, but between work, family, training and volunteering the month of October flew by faster than planned and suddenly a month has past since our last blog post. But that doesn't mean we've given up or been idle. Quite the contrary!

Crossing the finish line at
the Fall River Half Marathon
I spent a week in the US for work and as part of that trip I took part in the Fall River Half Marathon, a little local race south of Boston with 114 participants from all walks of life. The oldest participant was 74 years old and the youngest was 10. (She ran with her mom and they finished the entire 21 km in 2:48!) It was fun to take part in such a small event and also to see some of the differences between events in Sweden and the US. Most notably was the live singing of the National Anthem before the start. I had one of those days when everything just felt good and I finished with a personal best of 1:31:48 for a 7th place finish.

David made an equipment investment to keep up the training over the winter and bought a Tacx Flow Plus indoor trainer to complement time spent in spinning classes at Form. On our weekly lunchtime run this week he said to me "I've never sweat so much in my life!"  I suspect that there will be a review of this rig posted to the blog sometime this winter...

So what's on the schedule for November? David has the Stockholm Tunnel Run ahead of him on November 22. 42 000 people running a 10 km race through a tunnel is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm taking advantage of the grey and cloudy autumn weather to refocus my efforts on muscle building again. This was my strategy over the winter of last year and I felt that it served me well, so the next few months are going to be focused on strength training, and (of course) finally getting some of those product reviews up here on the blog!

Tacx Flow Plus trainer - David's new toy

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Monday, October 6, 2014

RACE REPORT: RAID Uppsala 2014

RAID Uppsala was one of my favorite events of the 2013 competition season. Combining trail running, paddling and mountain biking with orienteering makes it especially fun, since it challenges not only your physical endurance but also your mental skills in determining the best course to the finish. Alas, for 2014 David had rightfully planned to be away celebrating his wife’s 40th birthday, and after asking around quite a bit at work and with Knivsta CK and Form members, I had all but resigned to passing up this year’s event. Then at Friday breakfast a Facebook post from the organizers peaked my interest and I clicked over to the event’s Facebook page, only to see the following post:

Aha! I contacted Tobbe during the day. “I can’t promise a Top 10 finish but I’m ready to go if you are,” I wrote. We quickly decided that we would compete together and despite the fact that we’d never met, I was aware of his team, Local Heroes Adventure Racing Team (L.H.A.R.T.) as we have been following them on Instagram since this year’s Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge.

Tobbe lives in Sundsvall but had been in Stockholm during the week. He had his bike and running shoes with him, but we needed a canoe and he needed a life vest. Fortunately, as a member in Knivsta’s Friluftsfrämjandet, I was able to borrow both on short notice, and by Saturday morning all the gear was loaded into the car and I was headed to Sunnersta.

This year’s RAID Uppsala was divided into the following legs:

Prologue1.4 km
MTBO14.7 km
Orienteering     7.0 km
MTBO6.1 km
Canoe5.5 km
Sprint1.7 km

Of course, these distances are “as a crow flies” and so the actual distances are always longer, as the mountain biking must be done on trails and the running is often fastest on trails, even if the distances can be shorter by using a compass and map to navigate straight lines.

At just after 9 AM, Tobbe and I met at the registration desk and collected our orienteering maps, chip and race numbers. Together, we reviewed the maps and planned a course which would take us through Sunnersta (twice), Nåntuna, Lunsen (3 times) and up and down a section of Fyrisån. It was quickly apparent that Tobbe was a skilled map reader and I casually asked if he’d done this race before. “Yeah, this is like the 10th time,” he replied. We decided shortly thereafter that he would navigate and I would carry the chip and record the checkpoints. :-)

The RAID Herr group started at 10:45 and we were quickly underway running a short, 1.4 km marked route along Fyrisån, up a steep forest path in Ulltuna and then down the paved hill which is a heartbreaker every year during Uppsala’s Blodomloppet. It was fun to run down this hill for once and we were moving fast—under 3 min splits as we made the turn towards the transition area to change into bike shoes, stuff our running shoes into backpacks and grab our helmets.

Now we were proceeding by map and it wasn’t long before different teams started choosing different routes, dispersing the field among the forests around Sunnersta’s ski hill. Tobbe is a strong cyclist and he could really move on his Crescent bike, but I managed my best to keep up and we stayed together as the competition rules require. Crossing Flottsunds bridge, we proceeded into the evergreen forests of Nåntuna, following at times trails that are perhaps more accurately described as infrequently used footpaths. Then we proceeded past the cycling/running transition point, up a gravel road and into Lunsen, a large nature reserve south of Uppsala. Here we cycled on a mix of logging roads and small paths, recording the checkpoints as we went and doing our best not to collide with teams coming in the other direction on some of the smaller paths. By now, my legs were really burning as we had been keeping a high tempo the entire race. We were at one hour and thirty minutes when we reached the transition point to change into running shoes and my heart rate had been averaging well over 170 bpm. My right calf started to cramp as I pulled off my cycling shoe, but I managed to get on my Roclites and we pushed on—my theory being that running would help work out the cramp…

Actually that theory proved to be somewhat accurate and we ran the forest part at a good tempo. We noted at the first checkpoint in Lunsen that we needed to record this twice (once out and once on the way back), and then we started on a long stretch where Tobbe led us by compass and we were climbing over logs, stones and marching through marshy sections of the forest. His navigation skills are excellent and after having run a long stretch without much of a landmark we came out on a wide trail which we turned left on before veering right onto a little footpath. (Actually we missed the footpath at first, but we hadn't come more than 100 m too far before Tobbe realized that we needed to turn back.)  There were not many teams in sight during this part of the course and we started to feel pretty good about our location in the pack. The run back from the farthest checkpoint included a number of more closely spaced targets, and here the pack started to converge a bit, with two teams from Uppsala Triathlon running somewhat parallel to us. (They were easy to spot in the yellow shirts.) We ran as a small group from that first checkpoint that we noted early in the run, back to the transition area and climbed back onto the bikes.

Now the course proceeded back and forth across Sunnerstabacken (what some people call “Sunnersta’s pit”) and we were accelerating, braking, changing direction, climbing and descending over the entire mountain bike course. Tobbe’s legs were in a lot better condition than my own and at some point we got separated on one of the uphill ascents where he just pushed through on the saddle but I was forced to get off and walk. Fortunately, we managed to rejoin after just a short period of separation and at that point the worst part of the course was behind us. Just a few more descents and flat gravel paths before we arrived back at the start, where my legs seized completely just short of the transition area. I managed to stretch a bit and get my shoes changed, but standing up straight was hard. Tobbe was a very understanding teammate and even offered to help me tie my shoes, but I managed myself and we jogged slowly to the canoe to collect our life vests and paddles.

Image courtesy of Erik Melin
Once we were in the water, cramping legs became less of a worry as canoeing is a bit easier on the legs than sitting in a kayak as one does in HÅEC. We paddled upstream with two teams ahead of us and one or two behind, but again there was not much competition in sight—most notably one of those teams from Uppsala Triathlon. Their lead guy in the canoe was cramping a lot worse than I was—at times he’d let out a scream of agony and stop paddling while he tried to stretch out his leg muscles. 5.5 km in a canoe sounds far but actually it wasn’t long before we could see the turn into a narrow creak which led us to the first water checkpoint. We got tangled up with a few of the other teams at this point as turning a canoe in a narrow channel with boats moving in both directions is not that easy, but soon we were headed back down the creak before turning upstream again towards a bridge where the final water checkpoint was located. Then it was just a quick downstream straight course back to the dock where we lifted our boat onto land just behind that Uppsala Triathlon team, who had managed to complete the water course a bit faster than we did despite the cramping legs of the foreman.

The final leg of the course was a sprint—1.7 km—and the teams received the map after the transition. We were doing well but I had really pushed to maintain the pace we’d kept and my legs were feeling it. We had to climb a hill on the SLU campus and there was nothing left for me to keep up. I yelled to Tobbe that my legs were shot and he turned around to come back and literally push me up the hill! That Uppsala Triathlon team was right with us and we were literally meters from each other as we scrambled around the final section before proceeding towards the finish, but they managed to cross before we (or more accurately I) did and we landed in 11th place with a final time of 4:01:44, just two seconds behind them.

OK. Not a Top 10 finish but still a really satisfying day of competing. 11th place is nothing to complain about in a field of 42, especially with a team that had just met less than 24 hours earlier via social media. It was really fun to get to know Tobbe during the day as we compared notes about being in a multisport team, sponsorships, training and more. I don’t doubt that Team Form will run into L.H.A.R.T. again in the future, either as competitors or as teammates!

Fusion Team Form / L.H.A.R.T.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Stay tuned - product reviews coming

We've been using a wide assortment of awesome gear this year in both our training and races, most of which we have received from our great sponsors. Finding the time to sit down and write about some of it has been tough as we've enjoyed being out wearing and using it, but moving into Autumn we're determined to ensure you get to know a little more about what has helped us on our journey this year.

We've been using plenty of SKINS compression clothing from TRI shorts, tops & caps (read our earlier review here), running shorts, tights, calf guards, short & long sleeve tops to thermal tights & tops. It's all taken quite a hit and we wear it because we love it!
We've had plenty of great use from our GripGrab equipment in a variety of short and long fingered gloves, hats, buffs, caps, socks, shoe covers and arm & leg warmers. It's not only been used for it's primary purpose of cycling or biking but we've used it with our kayaking too. As GripGrab say "It's all about comfort" and this stuff defined the description of comfort!

There's a variety of other equipment we've been using too from shoes, paddles, kayaks, bikes, watches, glasses, cameras, lights, poles, etc. to nutritional items from Fairing, RawBite, Bounce, Paleo Crunch, Vita Coco, etc. and we'll try and do them justice with some posts.

Fairing provided us primarily with GELS for training and competitions this year. We wouldn't use, or especially recommend something if it didn't work for us but these really did. With a key consideration of race food being a balanced and agreeable stomach, we were very happy we'd landed on a supplier whom ticked all the boxes.

Keep returning to the BLOG and see why we love this gear so much.
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Monday, September 29, 2014

RACE REPORT: Lidingöloppet

There are times when things just don't go to plan and for Lidingöloppet, this was one of those days.

At the beginning of the week all was on track, a nice and easy cross country run on Sunday, a very easy cross-trainer Monday and an easy leg stretch on Tuesday lunchtime. The second half of the week though was not as good. A somewhat stressful time at work, headaches on Wednesday, stomach cramps on Thursday and Friday and generally poor sleep but I was hopeful all would be fine at the start on Saturday lunchtime.

My stomach still wasn't 100% on Saturday but we drove to Lidingö under blue skies and in long traffic queues on Valhallavägen. This'll be the last time to sit in the traffic above ground on the way to Lidingö as they'll open the tunnel later in the year.....and I'll be running through that on 22nd November as part of the 10km Tunnel Run

Weather was sunny but windy. In the shade it was rather chilly but in the sun rather sweaty, rather good conditions to run in. Myself and the family took the 1700m walk from Lidingövallen to Koltorp where the start is and started to join the other 20,000 runners who would take part. 

Standing on the start line in Group 2 I thought I was prepared for the 30 km ahead but little did I know that after nearing 2 km the fate of my race would be almost decided. The first km sailed by and all felt OK, not too quick, tried to keep to the path as much as possible, kept to an even steady pace and made sure I made the left turn where the mass of people come to a bottleneck without issue. But my HR was high and climbing and already my legs started to feel heavy. Slow down, relax and drop the HR I thought to myself, but no matter the pace, my HR remained high and I was already struggling. "Not good!" I thought.
As the track wound back towards Lidingövallen I met the family cheering me on. If it wasn't for them coming along, I would have walked back to the car there and then and called it a day. But my stubbornness and with Team Form's motto to "never give up" ringing in my ears I decided to push on and evaluate some more, hoping in vain that I could lower my HR and suddenly all would be well again. Km after km passed by and it wasn't getting any easier. I was finding myself walking the hills to try and keep a lower HR but with legs that didn't want to walk let alone run. I kept telling myself that after 12 km it's almost all downhill to Grönsta (albeit with many little inclines and declines about 5km further on).

I tried to enjoy the views instead, knowing that any hope of a good finish time had long gone but I wasn't even enjoying those. At just over 20,1 km and 1:55 of running, where the track passes the point where you'd finish 9.9 km further on, I took the very, very tough decision to stop the race. I was exhausted. I had made the final decision around 18-19 km when I couldn't maintain a pace downhill yet something inside of me still willed me to take a bulle, a banana, a salta gurka and a few cups of sport drink and progress onwards. But today the head was strong, having nothing to prove by dragging myself to 30km in what I predict would have been somewhere between a 3:00 and 3:15 finish time I live to race another day.

It was clear that I had some kind of virus which had not left my system and which left me without energy and contributed to a high HR. But it happens, I'm not at all despondent about it, there are always other races, other goals, other days to train and compete. Sure I'm disappointed not to finish but I think I would've been more so if I'd finished properly and not met my goal for this year.

So now what? 1 week of good rest and then start again to train hard towards finishing off the year in a good way for Tunnel Run. It's been a great year so far with 2 personal best times in 10km races in April & May, an improved time in Knivsta Duathlon, a successful Åre Extreme Challenge, a first time finish in Cykelvassan 90 km and a 12yr best half marathon time in Stockholm 2 weeks ago. There's plenty there to be positive about so one result is not something to dwell upon.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

RACE REPORT: Stockholm half marathon (DN Stockholm halvmarathon)

This past Saturday, David and I ran in the 2014 DN Stockholm half marathon, along with 18 000 other runners from every country, age, race and fitness level that you can imagine. This was my first half marathon and the first time that I have run in a competition with so many partipants, so I was a bit uncertain as to what I should expect when I woke up on Saturday morning. 

Leading up to this race, I've been following training program that I found online that basically includes 3 runs a week of increasing distances over a 10 week period. I chose this plan over several others because it felt the most manageable. (And who cares that it's published by Women's Health Magazine? Running is running, right?) Even with work and kids and other activities, 3 days a week is not too hard to schedule in. (It turned out that one of the R&R weeks even coincided with Cykelvasan!) 

Having trained regularly, I've been looking forward to this event, but unfortunately I woke up on Saturday morning with a bit of a headache and a bit of soreness in my calves from a workout that I'd done the previous Thursday. I was really thinking "How is this going to go?", but after a good breakfast and a hearty lunch of spaghetti bolognese I started feeling much better, and my the time we arrived in Kungsträdgården in Stockholm, I was feeling quite good. 

The weather on Saturday was perfect for a long run: partially cloudy, no wind to speak of and temperatures between 15-20C. I collected my start number and chip and had plenty of time to take in the festivities since I was starting in the second-to-last group (Group G). 

The start takes place on Stockholm's oldest preserved bridge, Norrbro, in front of the Royal Palace. The start groups are coralled into fenced-in pens and there is not much room to warm up as you've got people all aroud you. But then the gate opens and the whole crowd starts moving towards the starting line and then "Bang!" up Brunkebergsåsen, quickly into a tunnel, then back in the open air and onto Vasagatan. After the first two kilometres, the third goes only slightly uphill along the railway on Torsgatan, up to Odengatan and then down, down, down to Kungsholms strand. Here you are along the waterfront before climbing one of the toughest kilometres over a hill before continuing left up to Drottningholmsvägen, then right towards Västerbroplan and around the school of Rålambshov before decending down to the park with the same name. At this point, the course is over half complete having rounded most of Kungsholmen. What an experience to run right through the Parliament Building on the way into Old Town! Continuing onwards to Slussen, the rest of the run is on the island of Södermalm. This section is primarily flat following the water instead of going up and down the demanding hill across Bergsund. Just as David had warned me, at kilometer 18 a long uphill stretch awaits, but then its downhill again towards Slussen. Here you meet the folks who are leaving Kungsholmen on their way to begin the part you've just completed. As I passed through here, the winners were already across the finish line! But then it's a sprint to the finish, right past where you started to the finish line on the bridge Norrbro.

My personal experience running this course was really great. I ran according to my heart rate monitor and tried to keep below 170 bpm for the entire run. This turned out to be a great strategy, as I was able to maintain a steady pace of around 4:41/km the entire race. In fact, the final km was my fastest at 4:17/km! I was really happy with my final time of 1:38:33, having set a goal beforehand of wanting to be under 1:40:00. 

Next adventure? I think I'm going to run the Fall River Half Marathon when I'm in Boston in October. 
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