So it has been a month since I completed my first ultra and since then I have moved house and started a new job. As a result I haven’t spent much time on the road but I have had time to consider some of the gaines from the Ultra experience. Namely the greater strength that comes from endurance running.
Now I’m not just talking about the physical strength, though there are serious gaines there to be sure. It is the mental strength and self-awareness that is fostered when you head out on long runs along lonely country roads with only your inner voice and the locomotive staccato of your breath for company. As you find yourself pushing your body further and further, quietening the voice that tells you ‘You’ve gone far enough. You can stop. Why are you still out here?’
What I’ve learned from the experience, other than the levels of physical pain I can endure, is that running, like most things, is an act of will and it can prepare you for whatever life throws your way. Endurance running makes you physically and mentally strong and constant.
So I am once again out on those lonely North Karelian roads in the ever fading light of a Finnish August steeling myself with every step. Preparing. For what? Who knows: maybe another ultra; maybe the long Finnish Winter readying to set in; maybe a challenge yet to come. It doesn’t really matter, so long as i’m running.
So it’s been over a week since the Ultra-marathon and I have had ample time to reflect on the hard slog that it was. The long hours of training, the hard graft of the race. The local newspaper called it a battle against oneself and I am in full agreement with that idea. After the initial excitement and enthusiasm waned it became a battle to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep a steady rhythm going.
Happy faces at the start of the race
The race itself was excellently organised and even though I was one of the only non-Finns taking part I was greeted warmly and looked after as if I was a member of the tribe.
Before the madness
There are two observations that I need to make about the race. Firstly, I can’t say enough about the importance of having support when undertaking an endurance race. There were plenty of supporters on hand for the competitors and the organizers were dotted throughout the course checking on everyone’s well being and keeping us motivated.
Though I had a small contingent track-side for my endeavor I was also buoyed by the knowledge that I had spiritual support coming from across the globe from family and friends. During the harder sections of the race, as the sun had set, the rain was falling, the wind had turned icy cold, I reminded myself of all those who were kind and generous and gave to my race-fund and it was enough to spur me on. So to all of you, especially my wife, THANK YOU. I couldn’t have done this without you.
Secondly, I noticed that, but for one other participant, I was the youngest runner in either the 60km or 100km races.
Throughout my preparation I had heard from countless folk that they couldn’t run 5km let alone 60km and usually this was because they felt that they were too old. Well to this I say the winner of the 60km was Urpo Naumanen and he was born in 1948 – and I can attest to his fitness as he lapped me three times. So even if an ultra-marathon isn’t a goal you might set for yourself you may still want to ask, What is my excuse? Everyone can run, so why aren’t I?
For me, I am now looking about for my next challenge which will almost certainly be either a marathon or another 60km before the year’s end. No matter what I decide I will be running almost everyday because once you start it’s almost impossible to stop.
Always time for Jazz hands
More information and official results can be found by clicking here.
I just wanted to write a short post about Crowdfunding, or to be precise, my first experience with crowdfunding.
I am now just 3 days out from my very first Ultramarathon and as part of my preparation, aside from the hours and hours spent on the roads and trails nearby, I decided to set up a crowdfunding page to help cover the costs of fees and nutrition. As many of you know Marathon and Ultramarathon events are not cheap to enter and equipment etc. can get pricey.
I Googled, as one does, a number of different websites offering crowdfunding sources and settled on makeachamp.com as it is tailored to athletes specifically (and was p*ss easy to use). Full disclosure here, I didn’t really expect to get any contributions let alone hit my stated target of 300 euro and I may not have dedicated as much time to the page set up as it probably warranted.
I added the necessary pics of me in full battle regalia charging down some bleak North Karelian roads, tied the account to a hastily set-up Paypal account and added a bio and motivation blurb that I shocked myself with by being more candid than I usually am. I linked to both Facebook and Twitter and posted.
Things started slow, as they often do, and I quietly resigned myself to what I assumed would be a failed experiment. However, before long friends were asking for details about my running adventure and my blog posts were getting good feedback and a trickle of contributions began to come in. I was overjoyed by these small acts of kindness but did not expect the sudden flood that greeted me this week. In less than seven days I have gone from just enough donations to cover the entrance fees to the near full amount (or as MAKE A CHAMP reliable tells me 87% of target). The encouraging messages from family and friends has been amazing and the donations genuinely heartwarming.
So this post is mainly to thank everyone who has donated and to encourage others to start Crowdfunding for that special little project you want to get off of the ground. It really is quite simple and you might just be surprised by the kindness of friends and family.
If anyone still wants to contribute please visit www.makeachamp.com/barryreddin
With about two weeks to go before race day I found myself pulling on my running shorts and lacing up my shoes in an unfamiliar city. I say unfamiliar only in the sense of never having hit the pavement for a run in Rome but I have walked the eternal streets before.
As I stepped out the door of the quaintly named ‘The Sweets’ of the Beehive hostel and took in the pastel blue shades of the Roman morning I was hit immediately by the heavy, wet blanket of the morning air. The humidity promised a test of endurance. Whereas I have been training in the cool dry climes of Finland the uneven city streets and oppressive atmosphere of Rome provided a strangely welcoming change-up for training.
The route I made took in the Forum, Capitoline hill, Palatine hill and the Circus Maximus and two things immediately struck me: firstly every runner I passed flashed me a co-conspiratorial smile and a ‘ciao’ for good measure, secondly, there was no traffic: no defeating car horns, incessant buzzing of Vespas or angry shouts from fuming motorists. This is Rome! Something must be wrong. I know it’s 6:30 on a Saturday but still. I let the thought pass and continued back to the hostel thankful for the relatively clean air and quiet streets.
The rest of the day was spent wandering the city between one plate of pasta and another with occasional stops for a glass of wine or some gelato; the latter case a combo of black garlic and white chocolate from Fatamorgana.
It wasn’t until the following morning when my alarm sounded beckoning us to Termini for our train to Florence that the mystery of Rome’s missing traffic was solved. It seems that in all the excitement of the trip I neglected to change my phone’s time to Rome and as a result my alarm, instead of waking me at the appropriate 6am, had me scrambling from my bed an hour early. Therefore, my 6:30 am run through Rome’s streets was actually 5:30 am. Oh la dolce vita.
For the next ten days I will be living out of a single bag. It is amazing how you can condense all of life’s essentials into one 10kg over night bag.
All the necessities are included: running shoes, shorts, Suunto watch…and passport of course.
I’ll be getting in some good runs along the banks of the Tiber and Arno and fuelling up on carb rich Italian cuisine and though this is a holiday from the day to day, there is no break in training.
Today was the first day back covering the dirt roads of Liperi in my quest to become Ultra. It has been a pretty hectic week between overseeing the chaos of the organic farm in Sotkamo (and all the porcine adventures that went with) as well as the return home followed by a long cross country drive.
Despite the sun drenched scenery of crystal clear lakes, rolling hills and verdant forests, a lot of travelling, namely sitting, for long hours can really take a toll on the body, not to mention the mind. After several hours behind the wheel and despite requisite coffee pit stops – or as I like to call them ‘Adult Energy Drinks’ – I was exhausted. That’s why it was so important to get back out there but luckily for motivation I was joined by my friend Antoine.
Together we took in an easy 10K to shake off the rust and amid meandering, dirt packed roads our wandering conversation took in such topics as the princely nature of Irish sports fans, the dysmorphia inherent in professional bodybuilding, the penchant of the French toward Judo and our mutual appreciation of the movies of Wes Anderson.
Needless to say the kilometers disappeared under foot and before we knew it we had been out enjoying the rain kissed summer air for an hour.
I spend so much of my time running by myself that I had forgotten the joy of having a running partner. Must do it again soon.
Post run smiles with ‘The Frenchman’
Now’s as good a time as any to mention my crowdfunding page to help me achieve my goal of ‘Going Ultra’.
As many of you know an Ultramarathon is any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi) and for my first (that’s right, first) I have chosen the SUOMI-JUOKSU 60km in Joensuu, Finland on 8th July.
My main goal is simple – Finish. To be able to reach this goal however I need your support. I’m asking for your help to raise money towards competition fees, equipment and nutrition.
By contributing you will help me reach my goals but also take part in the journey as I try to prove that anyone can run any distance – if they set their mind to it.
My journey of being a runner has taught me so much about myself, such as my strengths and weaknesses, and how hard I can push myself physically and mentally, but also the importance of having a team and supporters behind me, ready with encouragement, water bottles and the determination to not let me quit.
So if you’d like to contribute please click this link here.
I hope to have you on my team in July.
What do Grey Wolves, African Wild Dogs, Spotted Hyenas, Lungless Spiders and Homo Sapiens have in common? According to Wikipedia we all evolved through a technique of hunting faster prey to a point of exhaustion leaving us standing over our withered and bewildered quarry before delivering the coup de grâce. This method of hunting is known as Persistence Hunting and has been a topic of conversation in running circles since the publication of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run in 2009.
The basic principle is simple enough; a cheetah may be faster than a man over a short distance but if compelled to run away from a predator for extended periods of time without rest or water, the cheetah becomes exhausted – and easier to catch and kill. Thus the theory of how man was born to run. It’s instinctive and our hairless (or near hairless) bodies combined with our efficient method of using sweat for thermoregulation give us an immense advantage over nearly all land animals.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, as mentioned previously I do, on occasion, help out on an organic farm in Sotkamo in Finland where much of my day is spent tending to basic husbandry. Today it was primarily shearing sheep and helping a little black lamb unstick its head from a wire mesh fence but other characters in this play include two Border Collies, a herd of cattle, a multitude of wandering chicken and seven mischievous pigs.
Now, as anyone who has ever tended pigs will tell you, pigs have character. They are inquisitive and clever…and very gamesome. This usually plays out with esurient oinks as I approach with a bucket full of rye seeds or the farcical spilling of the water trough as soon as I have filled it. Occasionally however, the little piggies love to reenact their favourite movies such as The Birdman of Alcatraz or The Great Escape and reduce much of my work day (or free evenings) to a slow motion Benny Hill skit. Queue Yakety Sax and off we go.
Today’s game was different however. Usually the farm has more hands on deck to reduce the amount of running required for the corral but my little adversaries chose their breakout when I was alone, so I was left to round up the porcine fugitives with only my trusted sidekick Joeppe (one of the Border Collies) to assist.
Two of the culprits quickly dashed for the buxom of their enclosure when they saw me bearing down on them but another dashed out to the strawberry beds. What followed was ten minutes of me chasing the pig back towards the pig pen only for an overexcited Joeppe to turn the hog away again.
I quickly grew tired of the game and felt another strategy was called for – but what to do? It was at this moment that I remembered Christopher McDougall’s book and the concept of the persistence hunter. I grabbed an old yard brush (my own tribal spear, may as well look the part) and began to run at a leisurely enough pace after the animal. Needless to say it saw me coming, dashed off at full tilt only to have me quickly on it’s tail before it had time to catch it’s breath. A gentle jab at it’s derrière with my tribal spear and off it would dash again with me following once more, Joeppe in tow. This went on for the better part of 45 minutes in a general circle around the tool shed until the hog began to wilt. Much as I hoped it turned tail for the pig enclosure and all I had to do was pick up the pace, overtake, and open the gate. The animal jogged in and slumped down in a puddle. Defeated. For my part I wandered the fence to find the breach and close it up asap. I too was a bit deflated but simultaneously exhilarated. It worked. I outran a faster animal using time and distance to my advantage. The recent hours of long runs on country roads certainly made the affair easier and I inadvertently got a workout in today after all.
So, there you have it, whenever anyone asks me why I run or rather why I run so far or for so long, I will proudly tell them this story. I found a very practical use for endurance running down on the farm.
Batman and Robin, but which is which
This last week has been a dedicated study in patience and resolve. In my endeavor to become an ultra runner I have endured a roller coaster of emotions and physical states, Winter training, Summer training and then, surprisingly, Winter training once more – and this in the last seven days alone – and finally I have come face to face with the dread spectre that is Over-Training and his evil sidekick, Fatigue.
In my resolve to go straight from traditional Marathon distance to 100K I have steadily increased my overall weekly mileage at a rate that I thought I could easily manage. Yes the training period was a little light on time but I felt confident that I could make the transition and, though it would no doubt be painful, the satisfaction of completing my first 100K would make up for the sacrifices in home and social life.
It isn’t the time spent at home preparing dinner with my wife or the coffees or beers in town with my friends that would determine my success – it is the sole decision of my body whether I would have the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Over the last few weeks I have been clocking morning and evening runs most days and letting my body decide if and when to run. Simple enough system when the only tempting demons are an extra hour in bed in the mornings or the chance to put my feet up – and keep them up – after a day studying Finnish. However, this last week saw me hitting the pavement in Sotkamo where I venture on occasion to work on a friend’s organic farm, and where the road runs are a little in the way of spectacular.
I figured I could just apply the same system, listen to my legs, see how we go. What I hadn’t figured, or hadn’t figured correctly, was the impact that early starts to run, followed by a day of physical labour, followed by another run would do to my system.
Now the work isn’t all that physical: feeding animals – or chasing when they escape (more on that later), mending fences, some renovation work, maybe some baking – but it’s time spent on your feet, burning calories and energy reserves that you don’t necessarily feel depleting. So when I headed out to run on Saturday I felt good, a little tired but I figured that fighting gentle fatigue is the start of the battle. Surely I’ll meet that stranger on the road many times during the race. No sooner had I passed a familiar house on the road marking the first 2K of my run when I was seized by a sense of nausea followed in turn by wrenching and, to my surprise, vomiting.
And then I was fine.
So fine in fact that after a moment taken to compose myself and wonder if that actually had happened I was off again, though at a somewhat chastened pace.
Now I have heard that vomiting is a hazard of ultra running but in my pride I always felt that my stomach was made of sterner stuff and though many runners wear spewing up last night’s meal as a badge of honour I hold firmly to the belief that if you are puking, something has gone awry.
I wish that was the only bizarre incident on that run however, as I made my way back to the farm I noticed a familiar car heading right for me. My wife, the farmer’s wife and our French housemates (visiting the farm with us that weekend) pulled up in our red Ford Focus and informed me that some cows had escaped from their enclosure in a nearby pasture and were chewing up the neighbour’s garden. I quickly jumped in and we made are way over to find the errant animals contentedly munching in bovine oblivion. The neighbour wasn’t too put out as nature had yet to call among the herd and we were able to, rather quickly, usher the animals to their side of the fence (which we electrified the following day).
On the route home my wife jokingly asked if I would like to finish the last leg of my run and was a little taken aback when I said yes. So over she pulled and out I jumped.
Later that evening, after gorging on home made pizza and a few beers I suddenly felt an overwhelming need to sleep take hold. Usually I am among the last standing (and usually the last talking) but I couldn’t keep my focus; I was just too tired.
The next day saw me struggle to wake, struggle to drink my morning coffee, my feet were made of lead and we had a long hike planned for later in the day. The thought began to slowly dawn, as the coffee hadn’t taken hold, that maybe I was doing too much.
Later, while looking out over the lake that surrounds Sotkamo from one of the hill peaks in the nearby countryside I realised I hadn’t it in me to do the 100K. Not enough prep time, not enough training, just not enough!
I was a little heartbroken at the realisation but from the outset I said I would do what my body told me and my body was saying no!
So sadly, for now at least I will not be doing the 100K and must console myself with the 60K.
Still, not a bad way to begin my Ultra Running adventure as long as I can keep my training from being interrupted by fugitive cows.
Innocent as grass
Today I notched up another easy 20K on the road from the farm to the junction for Sotkamo. Surrounded by trees, rolling hills and a vast expanse of blue sky it is easy to see why Finland is something of a runner’s paradise, save for the cold north wind reminding me that though I may be done with Winter, she is not yet done with me.
My feet are a little sore, my legs a bit less responsive, not so quick or nimble: this is fatigue. Not the fatigue of a 9-5 sit/type/coffee/repeat structure that just over a year ago I would have called ‘life’, but a more satisfying ‘holy crap I’ve already covered 70K this week and I’m still going’ kind. I’m pushing myself physically and mentally much harder than I have ever before and yet there is a weightlessness to it. A freedom. You make a decision, you follow through. It helps if you actually like the task that you take in hand.
People watch and question because the decision to run 100K is not something most people consider, most usually do not consider running just 10K, and the question is always couched in apologetic and slightly incredulous tones and phrases, but essentially boils down to: Why do you do it? Why do you run?
It’s a good question but one that doesn’t draw an answer to mind quickly, at least, not one that I can articulate to someone who would ask that question; someone who doesn’t run. I can say it’s for piece of mind, to be outside in nature, for exercise and to stay fit. All of which would probably be true and yet those are just sums of a much larger part. The truth is, when someone asks me why do I run the real answer is simple – why not?
Some of the aforementioned nature on the road to Sotkamo
So for the last few days I have been taking it easy (perhaps a little too easy) with my running. Just the odd 10 K here or there. This isn’t to say I haven’t been using up my energies on something productive however, I just thought I’d give my joints a short break.
In addition to the extra sleep I have been indulging in I have also carried a dying adult sheep in my arms, for what seemed like eternity, to an area of fresh, green grass ( a luxury in Sotkamo at the moment – Winter has not fully abated) in the hope of reviving the flagging animal. No such luck. I have been cleaning out cow beds in the navetta, surrounded by a lake of egesta as melting snow and ice had seeped into the barn to mix with the ‘leavings’ of oh so many good, Finnish cows. I have pitched hay into sheep pens and onto feeding tables and had a good many laughs playing fetch with over-excited border collies. Not a bad way to ‘rest up’ a little I think.
That said, the weather has finally turned and the daylight is long and inviting. Even as I sit writing at 10:30 pm the sun has not yet set and light will endure a few hours more.
So, even though I will rise early tomorrow to get some kilometers under my belt, I am going to enjoy these last few minutes of down time before a hard running week commences.
It’s nice they made a pillow with my face on it.