Wednesday, May 13, 2015

RACE REPORT: Rock The Trail

We had the chance to partake in a local race just north of Uppsala and it was one we just couldn't turn down. It would include only trail running & mountain biking but both with orienteering. It also offered the opportunity to race as a duo or a team of 3 and we immediately thought of asking Niki to join us to let him see what multisport was all about.

Knowing roughly where the course was situated and that we had been in that area for RAID 2013, Niki and I (David) went exploring the week previous whilst Jon was in the USA.

We took the maps from RAID and plotted ourselves a course to follow for both running, biking and then a short run again. Great fun and very useful to refresh the orienteering skills (or lack of) prior to the event. At the very least we'd be better equipped to realise what was a fence and what was a trail this time!

I had some equipment concerns the week previous to the race with my MTB still in service (3 weeks!) and unsure if it would be fixed in time. I took up the option to borrow one from a colleague just in case but fortunately received it back on the Friday evening... just in time. However, fortunately Jon decided to change his tires the night before the race and found a broken spoke on his wheel...with the shops closed, the spare bike was needed in the end!


Race day:

The morning was cold and windy, ahh the Swedish spring! so consideration of clothing was on our minds, with the forecast predicting it to warm up slightly (it eventually turned into brilliant sunshine!) we shed layers with the hope we'd be warm quickly.... and warm we were!
The first 2 checkpoints involved descending into a quarry then up the other side, then dropping back and doing the same to the other side. High HR, burning legs and heat generation were certainly in order.
We had plotted a good course on the map and were able to make slight adjustments on the fly to make it even better. There was an opportunity at one point to cross a slack-line across the river or take a bridge which meant a longer way around. We chose with our heads and ran the extra distance which in hindsight was a great decision after looking at the pictures of others in the water or struggling across. Did not want to be wet & cold so early on.

It was soon time to swap to the bike navigation and again we had made some wise navigation choices, taking slightly longer routes but faster ones on wider tracks or even on asphalt we gained time on our competitors. Our strategy of moving smartly was paying off. We left the bikes in another quarry for a short but intense run involving yet again many vertical metres of ascent and descent.
It was at the end of this run we re-learnt an important lesson, "stay 100% focused 100% of the time". Running along the ridge of the quarry we saw a checkpoint ahead and simply assumed that was the one we were aiming was...but not in that order. There was one checkpoint prior to this one which we missed and had to go back to take it before heading back again. We lost a couple of minutes in this process and added a few hundred extra metres to the legs.
Swapped back to the bikes once again for a relatively straightforward navigation back to the finish where we still had a couple of kms to run and then tackle an obstacle course. Of course, the obstacles were the other side of the first quarry which meant some more scrabbling up and down the sides using our hands it was that steep!

We finished in glorious sunshine in 4th place, with only 36 seconds separating 2nd, 3rd & 4th place. So close!

A hugely satisfying day. Orienteering is not our strength but we made wise choices, went quickly but most of all smartly. It was fun to race together and a 4th place was above our expectations at the beginning of the day.

We'd recommend this race to anyone wanting to have some early spring fun and try out multisport. Credit to the organizers at Uppsala Multisport.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

2015 Competition Schedule

Winter training has been fun but now we are just than a week away from our first competition for 2015. In fact, we've got a whole schedule of races planned:

Maybe there will even be more to come, but for now this is the fixed plan for 2015. David and I agree that we'd like to find a few more races where paddling is involved. Maybe the Dalsland Kanot Marathon is an option? 
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Saturday, March 21, 2015

City Pier City & beyond

As previously written, I headed south to The Netherlands at the beginning of March to compete in the City Pier City Half Marathon in Den Haag. The weekend was a success, being able to run a race and spend some time with some great friends in the same weekend was an added bonus.

The weather was warm, well much warmer than in Sweden, t-shirt weather in fact! This was all new to me, just the single layer of clothing to protect from the elements and a need for sunglasses too.
The first 5km went really well, ahead of schedule in fact and very relaxed with a good HR. Andy, my friend and old race partner met me around 5-6km and was screaming encouragement from the side whilst sprinting along behind the other spectators...what a boost to have someone screaming for you!
I saw him again at 12km where he popped up, again screaming encouragement and split times. My second 5km was 3secs faster than the first which showed I had a really even and relaxed pace and I still felt really great. At 15km, I was a little slower over the 5km as the race hit the coast and my inner temp started to rise but I was well ahead of schedule and feeling good. As the course turned back inland with the final 5km being an almost straight line to the finish, the wind which was a real cooling influence on the way out vanished and my HR started to climb which in turn meant my pace started to drop. No matter, head down, gritted teeth and pushed on to the finish, only to be greeted once again by a screaming Andy on the side at the final 600m. I'm sure if he could have jumped the barriers to run down the finish straight he would've done so! So I completed my first half marathon of the year in my fastest time since 2002, ahead of my realistic target and with little mileage on asphalt in the legs, I was very, very pleased and I hope to take that positive feeling into the next few months.

So what's next?
We've signed up as a team of 3 for Rock The Trail north of Uppsala on the 19th April 2015 including our coach, friend, head sponsor & co-owner of Form in Knivsta "Niki Tramontana" into the team. This will be a race of ~9km orienteering / ~16km MTB (distances as the crow flies) and we're really looking forward to it, not only to compete together but also to include Niki who has been a great help for us the past few years and to introduce him to multisport instead of triathlon which is his passion.

This means training starts to move towards trail running and mountain biking more over the coming weeks.... Lately we've had 2 contrasting weekends. Last week was sunny & fresh and we managed to fit some time together on a Saturday for a lengthy trail run around the forests and trails of Knivsta. This weekend, it's back to snow and cold again...what a time to start getting out into the forests on the bike once more...what Spring? On a positive note, on my ride today I noted the ice is quickly receding from the lake, so not long until the kayaks make a splash!

We do now both need to get more time on the mountain bikes as Lidingöloppet MTB 65km is fast approaching on the 2nd May followed possibly a week later in Skövde for Billingeracet MTB 79km. Lidingöloppet MTB was our first long MTB race in Sweden and I have fond memories of the course, but also of the cramps which set in late into the race, I'm going to be training hard to try and avoid that part this year....I'm sure Jon is hoping he won't suffer the amazing catalog of mechanical issues he faced last year!

Train hard, train fun!

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Back on track...

This week, in this part of Sweden it's been "sportlov" which has meant time off with the family for fun and sport activities and also provided an increased opportunity to train. The winter holiday in Sweden has it's origins in the so-called "kokslov" introduced in 1940 in order to save on heating of schools. The winter holiday lasts for a week during February or March, usually between weeks 7 and 12 with the Swedish municipalities allocating winter vacation over a three week period. It's been a really fun and varied week after a frustrating couple of weeks laying low with a cold. The children have enjoyed the outdoor activities as well as an opportunity to play with their lego and other toys which they rarely get the chance to when they're at school & dagis.

Alpine skiing, running, indoor rowing, indoor cycling, treadmill, bowling & swimming have all been on the agenda and I'm finishing off this week feeling really great!

Managed 3 good outdoor runs (including Sunday from last week) of increasing volume. 10km on Sunday, 15km on Tuesday and finished off today with 20km at a nice and steady pace. Makes a total of 49km for the week (should have run 1km more today!)

On Wednesday, Jon and myself took ourselves to Form as the weather sucked and did a mini-brick workout. This involved a 20min row (5km), a 30min indoor-cycle (~15km) and finished with a 20min treadmill run (4km). It was something different and really fun to break up what was just over an hour of training into 3 different sections to keep both the mind and the body fresh and interested. We'll revisit this arrangement and up the intensity somewhat to put the body under more stress.

The outdoor runs this week allowed me to explore the local area and by the end of the week allowed me to run on ice and snow free roads in my proper running shoes! I had to get a bit creative today to start adding extra loops and kms before I finally arrived home. For those of you who know either Jon or myself, you'll understand we both suffer a bit from OCD, there's just no way you can end a workout on 19,7km or 14,4km, you have to round it up :) It's always fun to start calculating distances in your head whilst running and I'm now armed with lots of useless facts on how far it is from one place to another...not overly useful in everyday life :)

I've also been trying out something new in the way of nutrition this week... BEET-IT Sport. This is a 70ml shot with a blend of concentrated beetroot juice (98%) cut with concentrated lemon juice (2%). The SPORT shot was developed specifically for the elite and sub-elite sporting world, and is currently being used by many athletes (including international rugby, premier league football and UCI Pro Tour cycling teams, as well as the GB, Australian, Canadian, US, Dutch and New Zealand Olympic teams).

The SPORT shot contains 0.4g natural dietary nitrate per shot which is equivalent to around 400ml of single strength beetroot juice, and provides the maximum intake of nitrate in the smallest volume of liquid possible. The SPORT shot is cut with lemon juice, which is designed to reduce the taste of beetroot making it more palatable for those that do not favour the taste.

I'm always up for trying something new and without first sampling the product I went ahead and bought 15 of them. My first encounter with the product was not pleasant and to be honest, the taste was something quite awful, however, subsequent shots have been much better (there was a leakage in the package and I suspect the first one I tried had been slightly opened and the taste damaged by air). It's certainly an unusual taste, beetroot juice is not normally something you drink I guess! so it takes a bit of getting used to. I'm going to be drinking these on the run up to CPC 2015 and see where it takes me. I won't go into the health and performance benefits here as I'm in no way qualified :) but if you're interested in the science and the reviews take a look on the Beet-It website or here.

Train fun & train smart!

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

What's coming up....

In January 2002 I ran my first half marathon in Egmond aan Zee, The Netherlands. This is a race unlike any other half marathon. It consisted of five kilometres around through the coastal village Egmond aan Zee, seven kilometres across the beach and nine kilometres through woods and dunes. What made it even more special was the day previous, I competed in the Egmond pier Egmond MTB beach race. This was a 36km race along the beach on a mountain bike....that was a leg sapper!

This was all training towards the first multisport races of my life in Åre Extreme Challenge and the Red Bull Dutch Extreme.
We took on many other challenges such as the Dijk tot Dijk MTB beach race, a duathlon and several other running races of varying lengths from 5km to 21km.

In a few weeks time on the 8th March, I'm returning back to The Netherlands to run the City Pier City half marathon which I first ran back in 2002 as part of that training. The direction of the course has changed slightly since then, but essentially it's still from the city of Den Haag, out to the coast (the pier in Scheveningen) and then back into the city once again. I'm really looking forward to it. Back in 2002 it was my first half marathon on a proper road surface (Egmond was mostly all sand!) and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I do remember the last 3kms being those where my team mate Andy literally dragged me along with constant motivation ringing in my ears.

Living in The Netherlands, the winters are not like they are up here in Sweden. I was then able to put in plenty of runs on clear asphalt cycle paths and roads. Asphalt paths are something which I haven't seen since running before Christmas last year.
It's very early in the year for me for a half marathon and although my training started well, after a couple of runs in mid January I a developed an issue with my right calf muscle which stopped me running entirely. I managed through this period in the gym and nursed it back to recovery with weight training, rowing and indoor-cycling. Since then, things were going well again until I developed a cold last week which again has thrown a spanner in the works in terms of my running volume. It's always frustrating when initial plans have been thrown out but it's a good test and it just means I'm going to have to rely on base fitness and just enjoy the race. It will also probably be the first time I step out of my spiked IceBug Anima2's and into my road shoes other than on the treadmill. These next 2 weeks I'm going to try and get in some long slow runs and some speed work on the treadmill with some intervals and some tough tabatas!

In the meantime, the motivation hasn't waned and we've been waiting to secure entries to races throughout the year as their dates become finalized. Kolmården Extreme entry opens on the 15th Feb and we're excited to add this to our plans for the year. It looks a lot of fun, similar format to Åre with 12km kayaking, 12km running & 25km mountain bike. There's no mountain to climb over but looking at past pictures, there'll be plenty of vertical elevation to conquer.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Running stride analysis to find the right pair of shoes

In 2011, when I moved to Sweden, I'd never run 10 km before. Now, three years later, a 10 km run is a relatively normal training session, and in 2014 I ran over 600 km, according to my Movescount. Running has all kinds of health benefits (here are 6 of them), but it also can result in wear-and-tear on your body. Two years ago, I lost a toenail during the peak running season. (According to at least one article in the NY Daily News, this is common.) But last year, I started to develop a nagging pain in my left foot after runs. This pain was especially prominent the next morning after I got out of bed, and after a bit of research on the internet I started to think that I was developing plantar fasciitis.

After hoping that this problem would go away for several months, I finally made an appointment at a local foot specialist, Korrectio. These guys are not just foot specialists, they're more like foot enthusiasts. My appointment took about 30 minutes and consisted of first a discussion about my situation (why was I there) and my interests (what do I do). We then took a look at the construction of my feet using a special device which looks like a footstool with a glass top and a mirrored bottom. When standing on the glass, one can see in the mirror exactly what part of your foot contacts the ground when you are standing. For me, it was apparent that my left foot (the one that had been bothering me) had a slightly collapsed arch. (That is to say that my arch was in contact with the glass, rather than being raised.) Then, we looked at my foot stride, both while walking and running, using a treadmill and a video camera. The video camera was placed at ground level with the treadmill, and using the film we were able to look at the type of pronation in both my left and right legs. (If you want to learn more about pronation, read this excellent guide from Asics.)

Overpronation. Notice how my ankle is inboard of my knee,
forcing the weight to the inside of my foot.
From the video, it was clear that I have a tendency to overpronate with my right foot, while my left foot has a more neutral pronation. (This is probably due to the fact that I had knee surgery seven years ago on my right knee, which causes me to shift my body weight away from that joint.) The analysis also showed that I have a much more prominent heel strike on my left foot than my right, which may have aggravated the plantar fasciitis.

As a final check, we measured my legs, which revealed that my right leg is a bit shorter (almost 1 cm) than my left leg.

Using all of this information, we built a shoe insert using some standard parts to provide better support for my heel and arch. The plan is to build a custom insert that is made to fit my foot, but first I need to go see Niki at Form  to see if the difference in my leg length is real, or if it something that is caused by a crook in my back.

I also purchased a new pair of shoes that are better for my foot and stride type, a pair of Asics Gel Cumulus 15. These have been fantastic so far, so much so that I also purchased a similar pair of Gel Craze TR shoes as well for indoor use. The combination of these shoes, the inserts and a taping technique have helped a lot. The pain isn't gone after my runs, but it's improved to some extent and most importantly it hasn't gotten worse. Hopefully the custom insert will make the final difference, and I'll be posting some new PRs in 2015. 

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Ice skating on "long skates"

Team Form Multisport is always up for new challenges and this year David and I are toying with the idea of trying Vikingarännet, an ice skating race that runs from Uppsala to Stockholm (or Sigtuna to Stockholm if you do the half-version) covering 80 km of ice on "long distance skates". (The half-version is 35 km.)

"Fleet" skates made in Sweden by Lundhags. "Durand Mid WP"
boot made in the USA by KEEN. 
If you don't know what long-distance skates are, you are not alone. Called "långfärdsskridskor" in Swedish, these seem to be a piece of sports equipment that is quite unique to the Northern part of Europe. They are some sort of hybrid cross between a cross country ski and a skate, with a blade that measures nearly a half-meter long and a binding that attaches either to a pair of cross-country ski boots or to a pair of hiking boots. (See my picture to right.) The ones that use a true binding and boot system also come in two varieties--fixed heel and loose heel. I don't know if I'd want to try skating on a 50 cm long skate that is only attached to my toes, but according to other sites I've read this is all the rage.

Anyway, this weekend we set out to try our hand at this sport and to see if we might spend a good bit of January training for a debut run in Vikingarännet. Saturday we made our way to our favorite boat launch in Knivsta (where we always meet in the spring and summer for kayak training), strapped on our skates (we both have the non-binding type) and set off on the plowed path around Walloxen.

At the boat launch in Knivsta in May (left)
At the skate launch in Knivsta in Jan (right) 
What an experience! Having grown up in New Hampshire on a property with a pond, I've been skating for nearly as long as I can walk, but this was completely different than what I am used to. In hockey skates, you sort of push off and lift your toe behind you while gliding on the other foot. Attempting this motion in the long skates results in the sharp tip of the skate catching in the ice which sends you lurching forward in what must look like the world's least-graceful arabesque over the next 10 meters or so. Instead, the trick is to sort of push to the side and glide on the skate contacting the ice--much more like what you do when "skating" on skis. This is a hard motion to adopt after years of regular ice skating, and it also works some muscles that you're not used to using. But poles make it easier too (we both had poles with us), because you can take a break from time to time and just propel yourself forward on the ice with your arms.

Saturday we managed 11 km in just under an hour. Not exactly a stunning performance considering that the winner of Vikingarännet covers 80 km in just over 2 1/2 hours. But we had fun and tried something new. The 80 km track probably isn't in the cards for us this year, with only 3 weeks left to train, but the half-distance from Sigtuna is a real possibility. With cold weather in the forecast for the next week or so, the ice should be good and we'll have some more opportunities to practice.

Happy training!   
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