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.
The weather in Finland right now is, well, un-seasonal to say the least. Or so the natives tell me. Light streams through the curtains from 4 am onward but is frequently interrupted by foreboding clouds and sudden snow fall. So much so that you could be forgiven for forgetting that it’s actually May or that perhaps that you have wandered onto the pages of A Song of Ice and Fire and are pounding the dirt roads of the Land of Always Winter beyond The Wall. For the record I should add that I do, in fact, ‘know nothing!’
This said, I am not likely to let a little cold weather get in the way of a good run and with my sights now firmly set on ‘going ultra’ in July, I can hardly afford to let mother nature dictate my training schedule.
So my wife and I decided to get out and enjoy the fresh air and schizophrenic weather together. An easy 10K to bring my training total this week to 70K accompanied by cawing gulls and the hammering of woodpeckers. Not bad, or as the local white walkers put it, ei paha.
Tonight I am feeling the full weight of my decision to ‘go barefoot’. After treading the dirt roads that are the fading veins of my little village here in Eastern Finland, I took some time away from North Karelia to visit my friend’s farm near Sotkamo. Much like my little corner of the world the area is beautiful; big skies, spruce and birch in every direction but with the added attraction of some unique rolling hills.
I have been coming here every other weekend now for the better part of a year and right now we are keeping out of trouble by, and this is not something decided on a whim or as a result of an idea floated over a few beers, building a bakery.
The work is fun and we are kept fueled by home made, organic, Karelian Pies (I advise a trip to Google here) as well as assorted Finnish buns and sweet cakes. The only down side is the need to stay on my feet, constantly. Normally it isn’t something that I think about but after hitting the road for an easy 10K today I am really walking on broken glass. Each step a not so gentle reminder that barefoot conversion are not easy, but probably worth it and I do not regret the decision. The runs here are free and easy with steady declines and inclines accompanied by the rush of a rolling river nearby. Hard to say no, no matter the state of personal decline.
Which brings me to another decision, I came across the below flyer while killing time in the Joensuu City Library.
For months I have been toying with the idea of stepping up to Ultra-Marathons but didn’t feel ready to trek along to the upcoming events in Oulu. Procrastination being the word of the year but despite my best attempts to be my worst self it seems my hand has been forced. The universe is bringing the challenge to my doorstep and daring me to turn away. So the question is not shall I take part; the question is really how far shall I run?
Two days ago I retrieved my Vibram 5-fingers from beneath a pile of discarded t-shirts and sports socks that form the floor of my wardrobe and took the lightweight slippers for their first outing of 2017. This might seem to be a little tardy on my part being that most of us are preparing to welcome the summer but here in North Karelia we still have snow on the fields and semi-solid slush covering our roadways and running tracks. All the same I decided to brave the elements and don my fire-red thin-soles and get in an easy 10K.
Needless to say the air was perfectly cool and fresh, low hanging cloud sweeping across the open sky, fields of migrating water fowl singing or swooping from on high to find food below. The dirt road was cool and soft to the touch and I gently relaxed in to my run questioning myself as to why I had waited so long to recall my barefoot runners from their Winter exile. With their thin soles and minimalist design every stride was a joy until the realities of dirt road running piercingly intruded on my Spring scuttle.
Throughout the long, dark and extremely cold Eastern Finnish Winters the roads require grit to combat the ice and packed snow that makes driving so hazardous in these parts. The dirt roads are maintained with loose chips and sometimes larger stones and at this time of year new layers of grit and dirt are spread to cover the fissures and pot-holes created by melting snow and ice. No sooner had the accusatory thought crossed my mind that I should have been barefoot running weeks ago than I came down on and upturned stone. I winced, slowed, cursed the gods but kept on moving. The weather was just too good to stop. I ran, I hobbled, I walked and then ran a little more. My feet absorbing and adjusting to the varied wet and dry textures along the route. I loved every moment of the run but knew I’d pay for it soon enough.
So, last night, while sinking a few with friends to celebrate Vappu (May Day) the slight swelling on the sole of my left foot was still gently throbbing; reminding me that there is often a cost for the experience – no matter if it is enjoying a relaxing run or imbibing a few with our nearest and dearest – the sore foot or the hangover are never that far away, so it’s important to know when to go easy.
The dirt roads of Liperi – perfect for running…usually