Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Race Report: Sentrumsløpet

Last Wednesday, my friend Vibeke texted me: "I'm racing Sentrumsløpet on Saturday BTW. Are you in?". I originally had some vague plans involving mountain biking in the forest, but I have trouble turning down a good race. I had never raced a 10K before, and I wondered just how fast I could do it.

By Thursday, I had bought a bib from someone else who had gotten sick.

By Friday, I was starting to wonder if this was a really bad idea. I'm neither built nor training for speed (Re: long, slow runs). I had I vague hope that I might be able to run 10K in around 50 minutes. Maybe.

Sentrumsløpet is a big 10K held in central Oslo. This year there were close to 10 000 participants (although I think the official number of finishers was around 8400), including the crown prince of Norway. I felt desperately inadequate as I lined up for the start.

I was mostly scared of making a fool of myself. So you think you're a runner? the mean voice in my head taunted, the slowest runner in history. Everyone will know, all of your training is for nothing. You're not an athlete. It's kind of ironic that I find the shorter distances less intimidating. I knew I could finish; it's the running fast that scares me.

The first (fastest) heat at Sentrumsløpet heads up the hill to the royal palace in central Oslo.

One way I face the mental aspect of running is to put on different personas. When I am trail running, I am Leggy Surefoot. I never fall, never stumble, navigate the most difficult terrain with ease. When I run intervals I am Robotina, a machine who just keeps going at the same pace no matter what, and has no lungs, so cannot feel out of breath.

For Sentrumsløpet, I needed to be Superwoman.

I started towards the back of my heat. There were over 1000 people in each heat, and I didn't want to be pushed off the front too hard. My game plan was to hold 5 min/km until km 5, and then assess how hard I could go when I got there.

As I started jog, and reached the hill up to the palace in the first kilometer, I realized I maybe had started too far back. I was dodging passed people every which way. Well, it's more fun to pass people than to be passed! I thought. I also found it amusing that people seemed to be struggling up the 'hill', which to me was short and flat. Come up to my part of town and I'll show you a real hill! I silently challenged those I passed. I'm aloud to be cocky when I race, right?

After I passed the 1 km-sign, I started to struggle a bit more with the 5min/km pace, ironically on a flatter part of the course. I tried to turn on my mental radio, to play some motivational music for myself. I spent the next kilometer trying to get the annoying pop song they played at the start of the race out of my head.

On the loop at km 7.

As the train of runners passed through Frogner park, towards 4 km, I found my running groove. The pop song died down to be replaced by the steady rhythm of my feet accompanied by a mental reminder to check my Garmin every thirty seconds or so. Just hold the pace, I thought.

I played tag with a man running in a toga with gold sparkles in his hair and a water bottle taped to his ankle. I finally let he go on the way out of the park. Just hold the pace.

It was a stunning day, hot for Oslo in April, and I gratefully ran through the sprinkler at the 5 km sign. I looked at my watch. Somehow, I had run the first 5 km in 24 minutes. And I felt great! Oh no, I thought, this means I have to go faster. So I did.

I remember thinking that 10ks are easy, because you are halfway done before you've even started. I remembering thinking that 10ks are hard, because have to go faster and faster.

Right at the end of the race. I'm on the right, in purple.

At Aker brygge, during kilometer 8, I passed a runner who had passed out and was being carried away on a stretcher. I assessed myself for signs of collapsing and passing out. I had no excuse; I had to run faster. Up the last small hill, I wanted to slow down, but then I saw Audun wielding the camera. So I had to go faster.

I sprinted dramatically across the finish line in 47:21, ridiculously pleased with myself.

I'll just sit here until my thighs stop doing that weird tingly thing.

The Verdict:  The course goes through some of the nicest parts (the Palace, Frogner park, etc) of central Oslo, so it's a good sightseeing race. It was a little too big for my taste; I didn't like run with a sea of people around me. But it was motivating to race, because it helps me see that my training is working (I definitely couldn't have run this fast in January!). I also beat the Crown Prince of Norway!

I ran a negative split (24:24 and 22:58), and felt like I had a good, controlled race. Which probably means I should have tried to go faster. Uh-oh, maybe I have to run another 10k...

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mountain bike easter part 2: Mountain high, forest deep

This is the second post on my easter vacation spent mountain biking in western Norway. Check out the first post here!

Day 3: Sjurvarden

I jumped on my bike and started pedalling up the tractor road. After a flat stretch, the road grew progressively steeper, and I watched my heart rate spike on my Garmin. 170....180...185...190... and I'm done. Too early on what could potentially be long day to burn out the legs. I got off my bike, and began pushing it up the hill. Audun quickly passed me, but eventually stopped for a breather.

"I'd like to see a tractor drive up this hill," I commented.

Tractor road to the sea. 
We were in Fræna, on the west coat, where mountains no longer meet fjords but open sea. The goal for the day was Sjurvarden, inspired by a local's creative, single-handedly filmed video. Sjurvarden is a mountain only 667 meters high, but when you start from sea level, with a 12 kg mountain bike to boot, that's a quite a bit.

The first 200 vertical were on steep, unrelenting tractor road. The road seemed to have been graded by someone aiming to punish rather than facilitate. I alternated between pushing my bike and pedalling until my legs started to protest. 

At Skottenvatnet lake, the tractor road turns into a trail. But this is also where the wind picked up. It came upon us suddenly, as we rounded a small corner in the road. It was like there was some magic wind protection that suddenly disappeared, allowing rambunctious gusts to throw us off balance. All of a sudden my cushy, stable bike seat felt like a rather precarious perch. 

Still we continued upward, because "the wind might die down higher up on the mountain!" enthused Audun. I personally have never experienced wind to die down higher up on mountains, but was ready to be impressed. After all, the scenery was stunning, and there's nothing like pushing your bike up a really big hill! 

Audun biking on the spongy, rocky trail, which continues up the ridge in the left of the picture.
We rounded the ridge, which grew sharper and more spectacular, winding up towards a saddle. At the saddle you could choose to either head right for Sjurvarden, our goal, or Melen, a slightly higher peak. 

I was gingerly pedalling along the compact single track when I saw it. A green mailbox, the sure sign of a trail book. I stood up and gunned it for the mailbox. Mistake!

Along the ridge
I love trail books. The simple act of writing my name and the date seems to imprint me into that particular place. You can trace the lists of peoples names, see people who jog here every day, people who hike up with their families. They all had their own stories, their own adventures, right here. And now you are a part of it too.

Before I could open the mailbox to inscribe myself in the sacred tome (usually a cheap, spiral-bound notebook), an enormous gust of wind blew me off the saddle. It happened so slowly, I had time to consider the gravelly path below me that my chin was on its way to dig into. I happily managed to prevent this face-path meeting. I sat up, slightly shaken, and look over at Audun. Only he was no longer on the path. He had been thrown off his bicycle as well, even farther down the hill than me. 

An odd combination of strangled laughing and crying gurgled its way out of my throat. I was both scared and kind of relieved that nothing bad had happened. Either way, we decided that the mountain had defeated us for that day, and turned around.

We enjoyed the trail down from the ridge so much, we pushed our bikes back up to the ridge for a second round.

Audun descends towards the sea. I like the contrast between the alpine terrain and the farmland below.

Days 4 & 5: The run of death and the forced rest day

The next day we decided to take a break from biking, so we went running instead. The only thing problem was that we were in inner Sunnmøre, where everything is either steeply uphill or steeply downhill. So we ran down the big hillside Audun's grandmother's farm is perched on and then we ran back up. And then ran up to a summer seter, Relligsætra, for good measure.

Have I mentioned that Audun is a freak of nature who is always in remarkable good shape? All the running I've been doing didn't seem to help at all, and I totally burned out my calves on the uphill and my quads on the downhill.

Post-run yoga! Note the valley bottom floor below... We were there!
This, of course, meant that I felt rested and great the next day. Not. The weather was perfect, and we had some nice trails planned to explore, but when I got on the bike I felt completely burned out. So I turned around, and agreed on a rendezvous point so Audun could get a ride in a least. 

The rendezvous point had a great view.

I also ate ice cream, which has been shown by subjective data to improve recovery.

Day 6: Åndalsnes

On Saturday, we decided to drive back to Oslo for Easter weekend. It's a long drive, though, so Audun got in touch with a friend on the way so we could stop to stretch our legs. On bikes. We biked up a dirt road to the parking place for a popular ski peak, Smørbotntind. I've been there before to go skiing, and it was kind of odd watching people putting skins on to go up to the snow, while we were down there, avoiding it.

Audun and Truls poise at the start of the trail. Note the giant, snow capped mountains in the background.
We followed a trail from the end of the road up to an old seter, Einangsætra. The technical uphill trail is probably ridable in good conditions, but it was very wet and there were a number of snow patches. Bike pushing it is then! 

The view from Einangsætra was breathtaking. There really is no place like Romsdalen for aesthetic, Norwegian mountains.

The Man and the Mountains, the town of Åndalsnes sprawled out below the fjord.

Casper enjoyed the view as well.
The trail down, although dryer than the trail up, was quite steep. I, being a wimpy downhill rider, will freely admit that I walked down several sections. Audun, however, was up to the challenge:

Satisfied with our 2 hour leg stretch, we drove the remaining 450 km to Oslo and got in before my bedtime.

On Easter Sunday we decided to explore some new trails in forest around Oslo.The Oslo forest contrasted starkly with the steep, mountainous rides of the previous days. We were in the forest and everything was quieter, more rolling and greener. We still did some bike pushing though.

Audun in the patchy forest sunlight.
It was a gorgeous day, probably 20 C out (something we don't see a lot in Norway in April!).

Signs of spring
We biked 20 km of trails, including a visit to Lillosætra for cinnamon buns. I was completely exhausted by the end. Long-distance mountain biking takes it out of me in a way running never does. It think it has to do with the fact that technical terrain takes a lot of concentration as well as power. And that there's virtually no way to get up a steep hill without raising my HR obscenely!

Audun in the heather

Someone built a Northshore. Out in the middle of the forest!

So now that I've had a biking vacation, I have to get back to RUNNING! I do, after all, have an ultra marathon to complete. More on that later.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mountain biking easter part 1: Kristiandsund and Tingvoll

In Norway, Thursday through Monday of Easter are national holidays, and schools take the whole week off. I'm a master's student, and I get to do whatever I want, so I took the week off with my boyfriend Audun. A typical Norwegian Easter vacation involves driving to a cabin in the mountains to ski, generally accompanied by oranges and Kvikk Lunsj, a candy bar similar to a Kit-Kat. But we decided to go to west coast Norway to visit some of Audun's family. There was practically no snow it that part of the country this year, so we ditched the idea of skis and packed our mountain bikes instead.

But before I get to the mountain biking stories, I want to do justice to The Car Ride. My parents were in Belize the week before Easter (long story), and lent us the car and the dog. The deal was that we could keep the car for Easter vacation if we picked them up at the Oslo Airport and drove them to the cabin in the mountains they had rented for Easter. (They observed Norwegian Easter traditions in an exemplary manner.)

Which is how we came to be driving a Toyota Prius stuff with 5 adults, a German Shepard-sized dog, ski equipment, and mountain biking gear. I literally couldn't have brought a single pair of underwear more - it simply wouldn't have fit. The ski box on top was also stuffed to the brim. Here's the cramped back seat:

Dad, Mom, sister Zoe and dog. Looks pretty comfortable, right?
Somehow, we made it through the 4 hour car ride still friends. I can, however, reveal that Priuses don't get great gas mileage if they are that overloaded!

Day 1: Tingvoll

We checked in to Hotel Audun's Parents later that night, and the next morning decided to take a trip down memory lane and explore some of the trails that Audun grew up biking on. It was raining below 200 meters and snowing above, not my idea of fun biking weather. But living up to the Norwegian motto of 'there is no such things as bad weather, only bad clothes', we suited up in wool and GoreTex and headed out.

Audun wheelies on the snow-covered ski trail.
We climbed up the hill to a little ways above Tingvoll Museum when the snow reached a not-fun amount. Below the snow line, the forest was wet and slick, but the trails were good fun.

Audun biking through the forest
The trail network took us all the way down to the fjord, quite literally.

Journey's end at Tingvoll fjord. Except we have to climb back up now!
Day 2: Kristiansund

The next morning we woke to 5 centimeters of fresh snow, with fat, sticky flakes still coming down. Oh the irony of a winter without snow, and as soon as we show up with the bicycles - BAM - bring the snow! We were able to confirm that it was raining rather than snowing further out on the coast, so we packed up our bikes and drove a hour west to Kristiansund. Neither of us had biked there before, but but we found some promising GPS tracks on Strava.

The first track we followed had us bushwhacking through a bog - clearly the person who rode here was out exploring rather than riding! The bushwhacking lead us to a trail in the end, and then back out to the road.

Hike-a-bike after the bushwhacking was over. Wish I had taken pictures of the bushwhacking!
Next we head around and then up Kvernberget, the hill that overlooks Kristiansund city. This time we were riding on an actual trail, although it was wet and boggy. Come to think of it, there are actually a remarkable number of bogs in coastal Norway. Wet feet are sort of inevitable on our bike trips.

After biking around one side of Kvernberget, we followed the GPS track to the top. Although we were following a trail, it was steep and unbikable. Certain sections required carrying the bikes on our shoulders while scrambling up large rocks. Hikers with babies on their backs passed us. "The descent better be worth it," I grumbled.

Eventually we reached the summit ridge and could start pedalling again.

The last stretch to the summit of Kvernberget, with Kristiansund in the background
The descent was totally worth all the hike-a-biking. I was having a great day, which meant that the technical descent was fun rather than terrifying.

Enthused by the trails so far (except the bushwhacking in the morning), I suggested that we grab lunch and try another trail. Over gas station paninis we agreed try the trail up to Drabovatnet lake on Frei, the neighbouring island (yes, Kristiansund is on an island).

The trail to Drabovatnet was short but held plenty of technical challenges. And of course a few bogs. The lake was damed at the end with a rough, stone dam. Crossing the dam was honestly the scariest thing I did all day - I kept thinking I would spaz out and fall into the lake, bike and all!

This picture is enhanced by the fact that you can't see the pained look on my face.
We biked down the same way, and called it a day of good trail exploring.

Down the scary slippery roots section
In the next episode: Audun and I are simultaneously blown off of a steep ridge on our bicycles! Come back in a few days for the full story.

Happy Easter!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Saturday, April 12, 2014

In for the long run

This isn't a training blog - and I don't intend for it to become one - but lately most of my free time has gone to what I would call Adventures in Training for an Ultramarathon. And yes, that means I've decided to sign up for Ultrabirken, a 60 km long trail race in Lillehammer, Norway on June 14.

Since I decided I wanted to run Ultrabirken, I've been busily trying to run (relatively) big milage (for me).  I've been running 60-70 km a week for the last 6 weeks, and I definitely feel good progression in my durability and speed. This week I've had an extra special running partner: Ralph, the family dog, who is staying with us while my parents are in Belize (long story).

Ralph digs the view on Årvollåsen, Friday
Ralph is almost 11 years old, but he has braved snow, rain and mud with me for many kilometers this week. Well, actually, he loves snow, so that didn't take so much braving.
Ralph throughly enjoying the snow
Today, however, I was going out for my longest run this year, and so I left the poor old dog behind. The day started out grey, but not to cold, and at around 8 o'clock I took off up the Akerselva river to access Oslo forest.

Optimistic, early in the run selfie.
I headed off around Maridalsvatnet, the lake that supplies most of Oslo with water. A dirt road, not open to motorised vehicles, snakes around the east side of the lake through serene forest.

Through the forest
After reaching the end of the lake, I headed up the trail towards Fagervann, a smaller lake on top of one of the larger rolling hills that fill the Oslo forest. I indulged in my first raspberry walnut brownie, a result of my experimentations with what to eat while out for long runs. I'm not a fan of 'fake' foods like gels, so I been trying baked goods like brownies in scones with success so far.

Happy brownie selfie
I power-hiked and jogged the climb up to Fagervann to save my legs. Towards the top of the climb, I hit snow. This wasn't unexpected, because there was lots of snow when I ran the same trail last weekend. 

Hitting the snow pack
What I didn't expect, however, was to posthole. You see, last weekend the snow on the trail had been compacted to a nice, runable consistency by other hikers. Today, I was alone on the trail, and clearly nobody had been there all week as the warm weather made the snow increasingly rotten. 

I was postholing up to my knees if I wasn't careful, and working hard to maintain a fast walking pace (on Strava afterward I saw that all the kilometers in this section took like 10 minutes). There's so sort of a hilarious irony to moving so slowly on a run.

Sick, twisted fun
And then, of course, it started to snow. Big, slushy flakes. When I had finally traversed across the top of the hill to Kamphaug, and headed down off the snow pack, I realised that all the melting snow was feeding directly onto the downhill trail, creating a lovely, cold river for me to run in.

Wet feet.
As I descended further, the snow turned to rain, and the whole experience was becoming increasingly cold and wet. Luckily I hit the dirt road and it was smooth sailing, no more technical trail or uphill to speak of.  I could start putting in some faster kilometer times.

No longer awesome. Wet. Wet. Wet.
I was able to charge through the last 10 kilometers in less than an hour, and hoped on the metro home, feeling strong. I'm close to where I want to be, running fitness wise: able to go forever and ever. The Ultrabirken can come and get me, I'm ready!

Stats: 26.7 km, moving time 3:06 (all of that snow!), vertical meters 695

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tops around Tromsø


It's been a couple weeks since our trip to Northern Norway, but I still have some pictures to share. After turning back from two tops in Lyngen, we headed to Tromsø to stay with some friends, and take down some peaks around Tromsø.

Unfortunately, the avalanche danger was bad all week, and we basically had to pick the flattest mountains around. Luckily, the weather was on our side for a while, and the snow conditions were pretty good.

Telemark, the fjord and the mountains


Summit pick on Buren


Drop over the fjord

Skiing flat slopes meant we had to look for other challenges:

Audun skiied on one ski down most of Stormheimfjellet

Lyngen wasn't the only place avalanche danger keep us from going to the top - we turned on the ridge up to Gråtind. Although the ridge was mellow, the snow pack was unstable and it dropped steeply on both sides.

Audun on the summit ridge of Gråtind
It was beautiful sunny day, and the snow was not too shabby:

Towards the end of the week, the Parental Units flew up to Tromsø. My sister is a student in Tromsø, and on the weekend when she didn't have class it became a full-blown ski family reunion. The weather had turned on us, and when we headed up Fagerfjellet it was snowing with near zero visibility.
The Momster in the snow
But low and behold, yr.no (the Norwegian weather service) was right - and it cleared off!
Audun and I headed up the wind packed ridge on Fagerfjellet. Is that the sun? Photo by Zoe.
Dad enjoys the view appearing below our feet.
Zoe shows us how it's done.
Our plane left in the late afternoon on the last day, so I squeezed in a final top: Lille Blåmann (which translates to 'Little Blue Man'), a real Tromsø classic. As we put our skins on in the parking lot, a taxi van filled with Italians suddenly appeared. One of the Italians jumped out, pulled out a map, and asked "Where are we?". It turned out they had arrived that day, and had the map for an area a little further east. 
When we told them where they were, they asked where we were going, and decided to follow us up Lille Blåmann. They started maybe 15 minutes behind us, but eventually caught us on their twig-like skis and Dynafit bindings (and yes, I'm just snarky because my skis are so heavy!). Even though they were going faster than us, they ended up right behind us, because they didn't have the correct map and were relying on us to find the way.
This is the point at which I get rather annoyed. I kind of expect groups to be self-sufficient in the mountains, and they were also letting us do all the work breaking trail! Once we could see the top, they broke ahead and thankfully started to break trail. Let's just hope they got a map for their next ski tour.
Me skiing down Lille Blåmann. Picture by Zoe


On the way down, we passed hoards up people headed up. Clearly a popular peak, so it was nice to have gotten an early start.
A few hours later, on the plane back to Oslo, I waved farewell to Lille Blåmann. It had been a productive week, with 8 days straight of ski touring. Someday I'll go back and bag some of the bigger peaks - when the conditions are more stable!
- The Wild Bazilchuk