Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Positive Effects Of Running

There are many side effects of running that are positive and maybe somehow unexpected. The muscles all over the body get strengthened and some find it far easier to flag the six pack we all have there somewhere under the fat layers on our stomach. Physical and psychological health issues tend to go together and you get far better at coping with stress in the daily life if you exercise.
The human mind seems to find it far easier to focus on only one isolated aspect of the big picture. Therefore I would probably be more successful by only writing about only one positive effect of running if I wanted to convince someone that it would be good for him/her to run.
I could of course write several hundred words about the fact, that male runners have less problems with erection than the average male. I am sure someone would buy that. But then, I am not a male, what do I know? Other than what I have read and heard my male running pals say. Not that they talk much about stuff like that.
If you are a female you might be interested in the fact that the muscles in the bottom region get stronger by running which diminishes problems with bladder control and uterine prolapse.
In a few words: The sex life gets better. Now, that IS something, isn't it?
By now I hope I have managed to erase the effects of my last blog post about the dark side of running.
There are countless myths about negative effects of running that can't stand daylight. Like the one that says women shouldn't run because they get prolapsed uterus out of it. It isn't true, quite the contrary. But then, if you want excuses you can always find one. Then it maybe doesn't matter if it is true or not, not as long you believe in it yourself.
Another myth is that runners have weak knees. Which isn't true. The condition named "runner's knee" isn't more common among runners than the whole population and running makes the knees stronger, just as it does to most other joints in the body.
The latest issue I have read about in the media is that ultra runners get scars in the heart muscle which definitely sounds dangerous. But when I read some of the research articles on that matter I found out that those scars were found among old males that had completed more than 100 marathons. Marathons where the strain on the heart is very vigorous all the time. Who does that anyway? Run hundred marathons. And I didn't see those older males compared to older males that lead a sedentary lifestyle. Well... I guess the other group would have just as many heart conditions, but their would have more to do with the coronary arteries etc... I am not a heart surgeon so I don't want to go further into this discussion.  Overall, exercise is good for the heart. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Dark Side Of Running

Life isn't always easy.
Running can be really hard when every muscle of your body aches, the knees, hips, ankles and all other joints scream, your stomach aches, you want to throw up or need a toilet desperately, your hands swell, your face gets bright red, you sweat like a pig and if you stop you freeze, you are thirsty and hungry but can't get another bite down and the thought of another pack of gel makes you noxious.
Everyone you thought was your running pal is gone, they all somehow disappeared there in front of you, further and further away in the far distance ahead. The iPod has an empty battery and is of no use, which maybe isn't all that bad because all the songs are getting on your nerves anyway. The fuel belt teases and threatens to either fall off or drag your trousers down to your knees. Not a flattering sight.
Your right thigh suddenly begins to cramp so you nearly fall as the whole leg gets disabled. You don't have a choice, you have to stop and stretch out which isn't easy on this exact spot with no trees, poles or anything you can hold on in to.
The taste of the energy drink is far too sweet and it sticks to your tongue. The top tightens around your chest and makes it hard to breath. Your shoulders are stiff and ache and you have difficulties turning your head if you want to see if anybody is behind you.
On days like that it is inevitable that slow runners, you don't even know, have to come out of the blue and overtake in a way that makes you feel like you are some kind of an alien snail that doesn't belong on the surface of the earth. Your stomach makes you go outside the road for a moment but it doesn't seem to help much.
You can feel that the toenail you were worrying about has decided not to heal, but most probably will turn blue, which also means that it will fall off when time comes. And you know you are getting blisters on the little toes of both feet. You hope your feet behave and they don't develop blisters under the forefoot because things like that can go on and on bothering you for the next days if that happens. Days like that make you understand how the sheep dogs must feel when they have been running out there in the rough landscape for days with nothing to protect their feet.
Well... I told you. Life isn't always easy

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Time Management And Running

Sometime someone asks how I find time to run. And the same someone often says that he or she wouldn't have time to run. For me it is a question of priority. If you want to do something, you find the time to do it. Maybe I watch less television, but I don't think I do less of those activities one is supposed to do, like working and spending quality time with family and friends. I even have other hobbies like writing and singing in a choir.
The week has 7 days. Let's say you sleep 8 hours and work 8 hours. Maybe you spend one hour getting yourself to work and home again. And maybe you spend two hours on getting some food and eating each day. That would leave 5 hours to do something else each day, something like running.
I am not saying you should run for 5 hours each day. No one does that except maybe some professional elite runners. But you get my point. Most people do have the time to exercise if they want to.
Small children can take a lot of time, but you can do something else while you are babysitting. There are countless types of strollers available if you want to take the baby with you running. Most children do have two parents who could take turns babysitting and running, but that would take some planning. If both parts are familiar with the plan it is more likely to work than if there is no plan or if one part doesn't know or want to follow the plan.
Planning is essential. At least in the beginning, until the running becomes a part of the daily routine.
Some weeks I run 100 kilometers. That sounds like a lot. And yes, it can be difficult to find the time to do that, but then, if you think about it, I shouldn't need more than 12 hours ca. on the road in order to run 100 kilometers. And if I count the time it takes to change clothes and shower I should manage with two or three hours each day. I usually run from home which gives more time since I don't spend time on driving out to the woods or wherever I want to run.
Most people find that exercise gives more energy and if you exercise you seem to overcome a lot more of those daily chores than if you don't exercise. One sleeps better and so on. It is a win - win situation. You run and you get more energy to do all the other things you'd like to do.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Running In A Group

Running alone is different from running in a group. Some people like it a lot, others say they prefer to run alone. Somehow it seems to me though that the ones that say it suits them better to run alone, they don't know how it is to be a part of a running group, simply because they have never been in a group like that.
Runners are different and they run for different reasons. Some run to lose weight, some run because of the company, some run to win, some to keep themselves fit etc... Some of us run for all those reasons and many more.
If you have to be the first, a group can make life difficult for you. If you run alone you are always first. Or maybe you don't like the thought of coming last. But someone has to be the last one. A group where the moral is to take care of every member of the group wouldn't leave somebody far behind. Some trainers or group leaders emphasize that you have to take turn being in front and you have to stop and wait now and then, if a group member runs slowly. Usually people find it harder to be the one the others have to wait for, than the one who runs in the front and gets the change to chat with fellow runners while waiting for the slow ones.
Somehow the company makes one run faster and further. It is quite strange that you seem to be less tired and you feel pain less when you are with others. Runners tend to be in a good mood and make silly jokes when they group together. A group where every member has the running high can not be boring.
I once was one of those who said they liked better running alone than in a group. That was before I joined a running group I fitted in. There was another running group in my town but I knew they were running for fast for me at that time. I didn't see any reason to run after those people. But now I am active in a running group that suits me perfectly. I have made some really good friends and we all agree that we are the best.
My running group has a base at a fitness center, but there is no trainer or formal leader. We take turns in deciding where we are going to run and it seems to work fine.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Food and Running

Sport and processed food items often seem to go together. That is, people seem to think that if you do some sport you have to eat some sports products and food additives. This is strange since I don't think sugar and sports drinks would be considered healthy. Food items like "protein bars" is processed food and ordinary people do not know what it is made of. It is a good rule not to eat anything you don't know what is. Then, why would you consume something unhealthy when you are trying to live a healthy life?
There are no shortcuts. I am not saying it doesn't matter how, what and when you eat. It isn't very clever to go out for a run immediately after a huge meal. It is better to wait for a couple of hours. And if you are on the road for a long time you need some easily accessible energy. Too many fibers can get in the way and chewing takes time which means that drinking something with a lot of sugar kan be helpful on long runs. And that's it. The only situation a sports drink is a good choice is on runs longer than 10 km.
If you think you need protein there are lots of ordinary food items that are higher in protein than the "protein bars" you can buy at the gym. Meat, milk, fish and other ordinary food items are excellent. An apple and a glass of milk after exercise can get you far.
Everyone needs food from the six major classes of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, minerals, protein, vitamins, and water. Varied diet is the best.
I like the model where you compare the body to a car. Then the fuel would be the carbohydrates, the protein is the building material and the oil or fat makes everything move smoothly. Athletes sometimes tend to focus too much on the carbohydrates during training and the proteins after the training. They try to keep the calories down by not consuming fat. An auto mechanic would never dream of driving his car without the oil or lubricants on the engine. It isn't enough to have gas in the tank. I am sure the same counts for our bodies.
The fat we consume keeps the joints working as they should, which means the fat can prevent injuries. Your body needs fuel and raw materials from carbohydrates, fats and proteins to keep your brain and body going throughout the day. Dietary supplements aren't necessary if you eat varied food and avoid sugar. Except maybe fish oil for the D-vitamin.
If you want to lose weight it doesn't help just to cut off the fat. You have to eat less. Or exercise much more. And eat more fibers. Prepared food often contain very little fiber which is one of the reasons it is far better for you to make the food from the scratch than buying boxes and bottles with some unrecognizable substance inside. Ordinary healthy food is the best for all of us, runners included.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Running Gear for Women

I guess it is possible to run in high heels. Or barefoot. Everything is possible. Just turn on the TV set and watch some ballroom dancing. There both men and women are wearing high heels. And they run a lot. And jump. Well. For some reason I have never seen a runner in a street race wearing ballroom outfit. I have seen silly dresses. And suits for that matter. And even full body tiger suits. God, that must be warm. But everyone is wearing running shoes. No, not everyone. I once passed a guy wearing something my kids would call converse sneakers. He wasn't running. He was walking, limping and stretching out. And I never saw him reach the finish area.
Need I say more. Running shoes are something a runner can't run without. Unless you are a barefoot runner, but that is a whole different story. Running shoes. That is about it. All the other stuff is just to make one more comfortable. No. That isn't right. A woman with breasts needs some support there. I once was size D and I can tell you. It isn't comfortable to just wear a regular bra if you want to run. No, you have to invest in a running bra or at least wear two bras, one on top of another. That isn't all bad, to wear two bras. I did that when I was breastfeeding and knew my bust would shrink soon. Didn't want to spend money on an expensive huge bra I might use only a couple of months. Now that I have shrunk a lot the bra doesn't seem as important. The weight of the breasts is considerably less and I am not a self conscious when I am out there. I have never liked the thought of men watching my breasts bounce. I'd rather hide them behind many layers of clothes. Which happens automatically in the winter.
There we are: A pair of shoes. And a bra if you are a woman. The rest can come as times go by. It is quite OK to run in an old cotton t-shirt. I myself do not use cotton anymore because it holds on to the sweat and gets cold and heavy. Now I only use clothes that carry the sweat away from the skin. And yes, running socks are wonderfully comfortable and you don't risk blisters as much as when you use some kind of regular socks. Cotton socks make your feet feel wet and that isn't very comfortable.
There is also one other thing I am pretty particular about. I never let my socks touch the floor if I can help it. I wear sneakers if I am not going to put the running shoes on immediately after I put the socks on. And I usually am careful not to use other socks in the running shoes. I don't know if this makes any difference, but I seem to be free for the bad smell some people complain about in their running shoes. I made my own theory saying that bad smell comes from some bacteria and if you keep your socks clean, then it is only "clean" sweat that you have to wash from your shoes once in a while. I put my running shoes in the washing machine and that seems to work just fine.
One of my favorite pass time activities is looking at running clothes on the internet. I have bought quite a few items there. Some of them didn't fit when the arrived, but I got my kids who can take over items that I don't fit.
Once I found a skirt. A running skirt. I fell for it immediately and ordered one. I use it all the time during winter, with the regular tights underneath. I wish skirts were more common among runners. I don't want to look too different. Living in a small town sometimes makes one overly self conscious. Besides, it would be more fun to watch the big races if not everyone was wearing those boring runner's shorts. My skirt got panties inside it. Really smart.
And who says women have to wear the same things as men. I mean, female tennis players have been wearing skirts all the time. Why not female runners? Maybe the reason female runners wear the same kind of clothes as the men is that running has always been considered a men's sport. Which isn't right. Maybe women will take over the long distances some time?

Thursday, February 9, 2012


It is funny.  I wrote the post on running on ice and snow yesterday and while I was writing I tried to remember if there had been frost rain here this winter.  I don't think so.  And then, last night it started raining on the frozen surface of the earth and now, the next day, everything is covered in ice.  I also wrote this article yesterday, maybe I will find another running skirt somewhere today?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ice and snow

Living in a country with a long winter every year makes it impossible to stay inside when it is cold and at the same time maintain the good shape a marathon runner needs to be in to be able to call himself a marathon runner. I live in Iceland. Of course I could try to use the cold weather as an excuse to stay inside, in my warm cozy home, and not get out there to run. I know some people do. And I guess it is quite understandable if you live in California or Italy if you do not see any reason to run when the temperature is below the freezing point. Or if you come from a climate where the temperatures rarely go under 20°C, then I guess it must be quite uncomfortable to be out there in -2°C. 

There are other things that can bother a runner during the winter in Iceland. It gets terribly dark. For at least two months it is already dark when you go home from work, and of course it is dark when you to to work. If you don't have the opportunity to run in the lunch hour, then you can forget all about running in daylight. And then there is the snow. Sometimes all the tracks and paths are covered in thick layer of snow and sometimes there are even ski tracks on top of my favorite running paths. Then you have to find another route. 

The most dangerous thing though is the ice. The slippery spots you can't see because they are covered with snow. If you step out on one of those it is very likely that you are going to fall. Hard. I was once in great hurry downhill. There was a bend on the road and I wasn't aware of the slippery spot that hid down there, under the snow. I think my feet flew higher than my head. And I got a very clear and big blue spot on my hip. Luckily I didn't break anything. But it hurt! And I was startled. I could continue on my route, but I assure you I am very careful when I run past that spot ever since. Even if it is in the middle of the summer in bright sunshine. It is easier if the ice is on the surface and you can see it. Then it is easier to avoid the icy spots. And there are different kind of shoes one can get that are quite suitable for running during winter time. Just as there are different kinds of tires for cars. You don't have to have nails in the tires to be able to drive on snow or ice. And it is possible to get shoes that are in fact pretty good on ice. Not slippery at all.  If the ice isn't too uneven or wet it is possible to run just as one would to on a firm surface like asphalt. 

Sometimes there is a thick layer of snow everywhere when I get out in the morning. Then I have to use the tracks from the few cars that have been around, because at that time the big machines that clear the snow from the streets can't be everywhere at the same time. And of course I have to be careful not to let those machines run me down. I suppose a lone runner out there early in them morning can be difficult to get an eye on. Which leads me to another thing. Reflective bands and vests. They are as important as the shoes in the dark winter. If the light is changing and maybe a little rain it can be almost impossible for the drivers of the cars to see a runner in black clothes. And somehow running clothes seem to be black. It is possible to get all kinds of bands, vests and those reflective danglers you just can put in your pocket during daylight and then let hang down on your side when it is dark. Everything helps. I find the vest easiest and best. 

It can in fact be quite pleasant to run in the snow. Hard packed snow that isn't too slippery is great surface to run on. And when there is snow on the ground everything looks very clear and clean. I like the crisp cold air in the winter even if some people do not like the thought of breathing very cold air into the lungs. I have, as a matter of fact, never had any problems with that, not even in -16°C as I sometimes have run in. I just take good care to cover as much of my skin as I possibly can. Zip the jacket all the way up, wear an elephant hat and gloves. Sometimes an extra scarf. A thin woolen sweater under the jacket. And two pairs of pants. That does it. When it is very cold the weather is usually still and not snowy. The worst conditions I can think of are when there has been frost rain. When the earth is frozen and it rains. Which means the raindrops turn into ice when they reach the earth. Then everything is covered in thin layer of ice. Which is almost impossible to run in. I also find it difficult to tackle very wet snow. When the snow on the ground is melting rapidly which means it is very wet and splashes everywhere. It is possible to run in it, but no fun at all. In fact it can be extremely irritating because you get your feet wet in seconds.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Once upon a time I thought I'd become Forrest Gump. I thought I could run endlessly. I went from home without the dog because I felt that I would go too far for him. I remember me also considering to check how important it is to eat something before a run.  I would check myself if it was all that necessary to eat some carbs the night before a long run and again in the morning before the long run. I didn't eat before I left home. Just as I used to do in the week days when I ran before work. But this particular day was Sunday. And I even think I had a couple of glasses of red wine the evening before. 

I took off. Ran like the wind past my mother's house. And I vent on and on. It felt great. I had some new music I liked in my iPod and life was good. My feet seemed to carry me without any effort. I ran along the road. Sunday is such a dull day out there. The weather wasn't the kind of weather ordinary people like to get out into. So I mostly had the road to myself.  And I thought I was doing a pretty good job. Free like the wind. Speaking of the wind. It was blowing, not too much, and mostly from the side. I always like it best when it it wind still. But you can't have everything, can you? I ran past a school where I once worked. The school is 13 kilometers away from my home. And I vent on, up a hill on the other side of the river. OK, I have to admit that I walked a little where the road was up a really steep hill. But then I went on running. And then, all of a sudden. After two hours of good running and about 21 kilometers from home, something happened. Something very uncomfortable. I was totally drained. 

I could feel it in every cell in my whole body. There wasn't enough energy around to keep the pace. I started walking. I didn't have anything with me to eat or drink. And being in the middle of nowhere I couldn't just go into the next shop and buy something. No, I just had to go on. There were a few cars passing by but I wasn't in such a bad shape that I considered it necessary to stop any of them. And I passed a few farms also where I could have asked for help if I thought I was dying or something. But I decided to go on. After all it was only 30 kilometers I had to go. I had run this distance a couple of times before without problems. I tried to run a little to keep warm because I was also starting to freeze. And my whole body just hurt. Not only my leg muscles but my whole body. And my vision was a bit strange. The grass was starting to get green there in the early spring, but I thought it looked way too green. I tried to think clearly but that wasn't easy. Somehow I seemed to have lost the ability to calculate how far I had gone and how far I would have to go to reach my mother's home. The only thing I could do was to keep on walking and running. There were yellow sticks along the road and I used them to pull me forth. Said to myself that I would count them. But I lost count again and again. Seemed pretty pointless anyway. I also tried to run between two sticks and the walk between the next two. I managed to keep my mind occupied doing just that. 

When I reached the point where I thought I had 7 kilometers left I met someone I know walking with her old parents. I tried to look as good as I could and just run past them saying polite "hi". Didn't want to stop. Didn't want anyone to see how miserable I in fact was. But there I also decided I was not going to run or walk all the way back home. That seemed like one thousand kilometers. Or like the distance to the sun and back to earth. No, I would manage to get home to my Mom. And she would have something warm for me to drink. My mother lives 4 kilometers from my house and there was no way I could manage those last 4 kilometers on my own. So I vent to her house. Funny thing is I don't think she could see how miserable I in fact was. She saw I was pale and I looked tired. My lips were blue, but I am just like that, I often get blue lips when I am cold. 

I think the running gear fools people. Runners just do look fit when they are wearing those shoes and tights. At least my mother didn't say anything about me being ill or anything. We just chatted about flowers and dogs and things like that. I drank some warm water with sugar and salt in it. She didn't have any soda or juice. And certainly not a sports drink. So I just tried to improvise. 

After a while I felt better but I still couldn't get myself to finish my route. But I accepted gladly when my mother offered me a lift home. And I was much viser. Now I knew how "the wall" felt. And I didn't want to get in touch with that phenomenon ever again. 

When I came home I took my time eating and drinking. I was basically just hungry. And then I lay in bed with my laptop and tried to gather my thoughts. I didn't know then that a part of this hitting-a-wall thing was that you have problems thinking clearly. But I am very curious by nature and I just had to get some knowledge of what was going on. What had happened to me. 

I found out that when you are low in blood sugars from the start, the risk of finishing all energy or glucose from the blood stream after about two hours of intensive physical exercise, is very high. That is what happened to me this day. I didn't eat before I left home. And I didn't eat or drink anything on the way. So I just used up all the energy that was available. This is the simple way to say it. Of course I could get into lengthy discussions of blood sugar levels, insulin-induced hypoglycemia and so forth. But as far as I am concerned it is enough for me to know that if I want to continue feeling good during a long race I have to drink something with easily accessible energy in it. So I started reading about different liquids, electrolytes, energy, carbohydrates, glucose and so forth. And I found out that apple juice or orange juice in 250 ml. containers would be the ideal running drink for me. Maybe not so many electrolytes, but nutrition and energy. I also found out that an average runner uses 50 grams of carbohydrates each hour. As I think I weigh less than the average runner, I think I need less. Which means in the end that I should be able to manage a 4 hours run on one and a half liter of apple juice. 

Then I never even considered using gels, because you would need liquid to consume them properly. Or that is what I read. So for me it was sports drinks or fruit juice. That sounds fine for me. In a race with drinking stations it isn't necessary to worry about bringing something yourself. You just have to know approximately how much you need in order to avoid the wall, and also to avoid drinking too much water. Because that is possible too.

Now I was much wiser. And I seriously thought this wouldn't happen to me again. But four months later, in the beginning of August, a couple of weeks before my first marathon, I was out there running. It was in the afternoon, on a Sunday. The weather was just fine and I decided to go on the route I usually took on Sundays earlier in the year. My 14k route. It has a loop of 2.2 kilometers on the far end which means I can add as many 2.2 kilometer loops on the ordinary route as I want. And that is what I did this Sunday. I didn't drink anything immediately before I took off. Although I had eaten breakfast as usual. I guess I didn't think I was going very far. For some reason I left the dog behind though. So there I was, running well, without the dog. It was very pleasant being in the woods and running on my favorite gravel paths. So I just continued running in circles. Somehow it is easier to cut the route into pieces and just think of one piece at the time. And that is what I was busy doing when I suddenly realized that even if I ran straight back home I would reach 30 kilometers or 3 hours running. 

There were some berries in one place. Delicious black currants that I had no difficulty eating. So I ate quite a few of those. But I had no idea of their nutritional value. If they helped blood sugar levels or what. But at least I felt as if I had done something to avoid the wall. And I took off home. When I got into my street I could feel the wall very clearly. So I walked the last few hundred yards. And boy, did I feel lucky to be so close to my own home. But I felt stupid too. And there again I could clearly feel the effect of hypoglycemia on ones intellect. It was simply impossible for me to figure out how many kilometers I just had run. Even if I knew exactly how far it was to where the loop started, how long the loop was and how many loops I ran. I couldn't add simple numbers. I just felt weak and miserable. Good thing I wasn't freezing too, because it wasn't cold outside. At least not as cold as it was first time I got in touch of the wall. Need I say that this was also my best friends birthday and I forgot all about it. That is the worst of it all. Stupid me. Stupid because I didn't use the knowledge I had. I should have known better. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

No shortcuts

There are personal trainers that want the runners inside the gym to do all kinds of exercises to prevent injuries. I have been inside a gym so I can't say that I have never set a foot there. But I have never attended any class for runners in a gym. If I go there it would be for some dancing class. Or maybe Pilates, yoga or something like that. Not weight lifting. I swim, I bicycle. And I do exercises at home. Sorry gym owners, you don't get my money. I think the best way to prevent injuries are the right shoes. Not some expensive supportive shoes. Just regular running shoes that fit your running style. And then the second most important thing is to listen to your body. Know your limits. And be careful not to let other things push you too far. Don't try to be number one always. Someone has to be number two. Someone has to be the last to cross the finish line.

Drugs, food additives. Why are so many athletes tempted to use those? Once in a while you see a famous athlete crying on television. Saying he is sorry that he had cheated and misled all those people who believed in him.  What makes people take a risk like that? Well, being the world's best is maybe worth it? If you just take one day at the time. But who wants to look his grandchildren in the eyes and admit that you weren't entitled to call yourself a world champion because you were abusing illegal drugs? 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

UTMB 2013 :)

I have been waiting for the new rules regarding the qualifying races one needs to register for UTMB 2013.  I didn't win the lottery this year and I have to wait until august 2013.  Since I ran the CCC in 2010 and TDS in 2011 it seems as if I already have the points I need, even if they require 7 points instead of the 5 points you had to have to participate this year.  I thought my CCC points were too old, but apparently they aren't.

This is a relief.  It isn't all that simple finding a race that meets the criteria, especially when you live in a country far away from other countries and this country only has one race which gives one point, once a year.
Since I didn't win the draw this year I am guaranteed admission next year.

UTMB 2013, here I come :)  Only 166 km and 9500 positive altitude change.

Now I can start planning 2012.  I might try to beat my own record in street marathons.  And even try to qualify for Boston.