Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Friday 30 September 2011

The Inaugural Å til Åsen

When I left you two weeks ago I had just gotten my body out of the shape of a capital gamma symbol after intervals. If you had heard that I subsequently have been laying on cold, cement floor in the dark, unable to get out of the gamma position, I can reassure you that this rumor wasn't true.

Nope, the truth is that I got myself into an even more precarious position, and that was one of race director. It is probably not the best time to debut as a race director when you have a two month old. In fact I had NO CLUE how much time an event like this would require. (an event like this= 5k, half marathon and marathon on an out and back trail).

The race appeared in our local paper, Sjaellandske, a couple weeks before it was run and it suddenly turned from what I like to consider a "cannonball" run (low-key and arranged at the last minute) to Naestved's new trail race for charity. And with that, I needed to step it up. It needed to run flawlessly. I needed to get official permission of all of the land owners the trails went through (and for this I needed to personally walk up to the door of some enormous estate owners and beg and plead). I needed to seek local sponsorship for things like energy drink and prizes. I ended up getting Sportmaster, Maxim and Spar Nord (the latter is a bank that even donated $400 to Unite for Sight because they like sponsoring local events). And suddenly I had created this giant and I nearly cracked under the pressure. It also drove SR nuts. But when it came down to it, he was out setting up race markings, aid stations, etc. with me from sun up to sun down the day before the race.

Since Unite for Sight fund raising events require that I personally spend no money on fund raising, I also needed to get the blessing of our local athletic club to use their signs, their plastic ribbons and arrow maker, their cups and water canisters and chairs and tables, etc., etc.

And it was amazing how people offered to help - even some people at the last minute. Some people helped the entire day and even on days leading up to it (yes, Stig, Anette, Morten, Mathilde, Hoeg family, mom, I am talking about you!)

Oh my gosh - now I am boring you- but seriously, the night before the race I vowed repeatedly "I will never do this again" and SR was happy to chime in: "no, you WILL never do this again".

But then at 9:30 am the day of the race, the runners came. They had smiles on their faces and were nervous. They were charming and enthusiastic. They had dressed in their best race clothing and had taken money along and food to share at the aid stations. And the volunteers came and were also smiling and willing to help out. And suddenly organizing a race was wonderful.

And it was fun to try to keep things organized.

And Anette from our tri club was watching Mattias.

And The Lorax was watching his little cousin, Ayla.

SR and I held a rather flighty, only potentially helpful race briefing. And the runners started to line up.

Even I ran the 5k, hoping to keep runners from getting off course in the beginning. Having run nearly 180 km (109 miles) in the last 8 days, I wasn't going to set a PR, especially not on a hilly course. 21:17 was what I managed and that was fine.

How did the race go for everyone else?

Well, you can read Daniel's report here (in English). Or you can try to translate this section of a two page article from our local newspaper. Luckily, we had perfect weather and runners who seemed to love the challenging route.

Even Kim seemed to enjoy the half marathon route with a baby and jogger! The above newspaper article actually followed Kim through the route (the reporter was on his mountain bike). Just in case you were confused, Kim is a guy's name in Denmark.

Here are the results .

And suddenly, both SR and I found ourselves saying "of course we'll do it next year".

Plus, we raised $1481 for Unite for Sight.

And businesses have approached me about sponsoring next year. And I find myself unable to say no. Å til Åsen may just become a Næstved tradition.

Just have to add that I am writing this from the US - and in just two days we'll be running The Milwaukee Marathon. Goal: qualify for Boston and don't get injured before the Glacial Trail 50k next weekend. I am not good at road marathons (even my PR was set in a marathon half on trails). SR, on the other hand, is going for a PR and I think he will do it.

I have so many mixed feelings about being back in the US, but that will all come out in another post.

Running song of the day: Vi Lægger Ingenting I Dage by Tue West

Thursday 15 September 2011

This can't be normal

Abnormality. We hate it. But we also love it. Perhaps that is why you are here. Or you are here because you are steadfast. Or a bot.

Regardless of the reason, you get a story.

Have you ever heard of interval-induced capital gamma symbol?

Well, I haven't either. Nonetheless, it happened to me today.

I had the plan of running intervals around the Herlufsholm dirt track again. This time I was foraging new territory: I would run 7 x 1 mile instead of 6 x 1 mile. Wow.

I had a 3.5 mile warm-up at between 11 and 12 minute pace. (when I'm not trying to run fast, I astound myself with how slowly I run)

After arriving at the track, putting my music on and getting into interval mode, it felt strangely effortless to run at suddenly nearly twice the speed.

First mile in 6:32

And then I bent over to get my water bottle, and squatted to pee. And my body locked. I could not straighten out my lower back and I was hanging there in, yes the shape of a capital gamma symbol. It hurt so bad that I started yelling. I couldn't straighten out no matter what I did. Nothing remotely close to this has ever happened to me before. Immediately I thought - so THIS is my "punishment" for starting intervals so quickly post-partum. I was contemplating whether I should go to the ER or a chiropractor (whilst looking at my watch, thinking I'll never be able to start my next mile with only a two minute pause!). My lower back would not stop quivering. Ow ow ow ow. Think calf cramp, but in your lower back that doesn't go away. And then I stood up, but as soon as I stood up, I was forced back into the gamma. OWWWW!!!! What on EARTH? So I started running, still in gamma shape. It made so little sense that it might just work. And it did. My back felt better. I regrouped in 20 seconds, lower back still shaking, to make it to the start line with just a 3 minute pause total (not ideal, but I'd take it). Running felt fine - but the whole mile I thought- will it come back?And then will I be eternally stuck??

To make a long story short, after every mile, it DID come back, but always to a lesser degree. Who knew that the only prescription for interval-induced gamma symbol was MORE intervals??? The proof is that I am sitting here writing about it.

My question is: has this happened to any of you before????? It was WILD. (in all honesty, I don't think it was entirelydue to my body changing post partum, I think it is because I have been sleeping in a weird position due to a cough and a bed on the floor (long story), which has been giving me upper back problems).

So you want to know how my 7 x 1 mile intervals went? Sure...

6:32 (3 minute pause, due to Γ position)
6:19 (2 min pause)
6:26 (2 min..)
6:28 (2..)
6:29 (2..
6:37 (feeling queasy, 2 min...)

These are, actually by far, my fastest mile intervals ever, with 6:19 being a mile interval PR! (I actually looked back at all of my old interval posts) and they don't feel like as much work as they did last year. And I did one extra. I'm struggling to explain this but thinking I should find a short race sometime soon (maybe a 10k?). Maybe part of the explanation is my weight is two pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight??

This week in pictures

Sometimes it doesn't pay to be fast.

Even not in profile, SR looks right sexy...

This picture was taken just before his 4k run-20k bike-2k run (duathlon) last Sunday in Sorø. He ran the first 4k, on a reportedly beautiful route in 11 minutes. He then transitioned on to his bike and was back from a 20k ride after what I had clocked as 10 minutes --- what? He then finished the final 2k run in a total time of 27.30 and ... he admitted that someone had given him incorrect directions on the bike route. He was otherwise far in the lead, and got out there so quickly that there was no one there yet who knew the route.

But Erik, the awesome race director from Sorø Tri, was so nice to give us a toy for each kid as compensation.

Despite having a "rough day", Amy Sproston
ran the 100k world championships in The Netherlands in 8:10, thus beating all four of the Danish men there, and taking 11th woman overall!!! Meghan Arbogast set a world record for women over 50 with a time of 7:51. Unreal.

This woman biked to the hospital in Copenhagen while having contractions.

And things turned out well.

(thanks, Emily Pease, for telling me about this!)

You're probably thinking she's Danish - but foreigners are the only ones doing weird things here and blogging about it. She and her husband are from Montreal :).

A Danish woman might instead ride to the hospital having contractions with her other kid in the bike seat on the back and never tell anyone.

Here is a picture of a tired mom, who took second place in our region's Scientific poster competition. Whoohoo!

And a little guy who, despite an unfortunate resemblance to his mother, is become less newbornish and more photogenic.

Running song of the week has been Steve Q's recommendation:Tecnho Fan by The Wombats (partly because it brings me closer to SR, who has been in London all week, but also because it's an awesome song)

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Skovløberen Marathon 2011

Let's see if I can write a train of thought post on a train. Just parenthetically, it feels so cool to be able to get on a German train from Copenhagen to Hamburg on a normal work day and just get off at my stop at Næstved. Also, sitting on the carpeted floor of the train, feels like a hip thing to do. This is what excites Americans like me. Why am I alone on a train? Today I was at day #2 og 3 of a Stata statistics program course at The University of Copenhagen.

After the Skovløberen marathon Sunday, I was dying to write a race report. I have never really been good at running a race tactically and successfully - that was until two days ago. I just haven't had time to write about it, well, because of the obvious fact that I have a baby and a three year old, but also because I was attacked by fever, nausea and vomiting. The Lorax had it two days earlier and SR in the middle of the night last night.

Then it dawned on me: there probably aren't many of you who want my advice on running a marathon. Plus most of you will look at my finishing time: 3:49 and think "that's not fast at all!" But this was a tough trail marathon (!); the way a marathon should be. Trails mean no injuries. Trails mean you can run the next day without pain.

But let's get to the race (take the advice if you like):

Skovløberen (The Forest Runner) is a unique experience in Danish marathoning. Aptly named, it is almost exclusively in a forest. It even goes over the highest peak on Sjælland (Steve Q will particularly appreciate that). Some of the trails are single track, some technical. None of it is repeated except the first and last 2 km, which are the only parts on roads. The scenery is gorgeous. It is in my favorite place in Denmark to run: Hvalsø Kirke (whale lake church), which I have discussed multiple times before. Finally, there are hundreds of spectators lining the route, 8 aid staions and an astounding amount of helpers. If you are going to run one marathon in Denmark, this is the one to do.

I started out slowly. I didn't eye up women. It was weird. I just wanted to run a smart race at a constant effort the whole way. It was a new kind of challenge. It was simply going to be a fun run - I didn't feel I could expect much more out of my first post-partum marathon and no tapering. I wanted to avoid looking a my Garmin. No music. Just me and the trails (and all of those other people). I was so tired from the week before - lots of hard training sessions (thanks to my mom!) and very little sleep. I was in such a daze before we got started that I didn't even realize my start number was my birth year: 79. Perhaps a good sign?

I was also trying to make sure everything was set up right for my mom with The Lorax and Mattias. Fortunately, SR had 2 hours before his half marathon started - and he would be a huge help to my mom.

It was fun to line up with so many friends: Birgitte, Anders, Britta, Jesper, Lasse, and Daniel (who actually sometimes comments here :)).

Once I was on the trails, my mind was clear. I realized that in order to maintain a constant effort, I needed to speed walk all the hills like I had seen the day before in the Race Walking world championship 50k in Daegu. Always have two feet on the ground, but go fast. Everyone seemed amazed by the fact that I could walk and actually pass people running up the hills. And it really protected my right hip, which was still giving me trouble. Beyond that, I didn't get out of breath going up hill. People have told me to do this many times, but I never really "got it" before.

At every aid station, I had chocolates wrapped in an American flag waiting for me (a very cool system they have of delivering personalized snacks out to the aid stations). I didn't rush the aid stations. I thus never dealt with lack of calories or dehydration.

As I neared the half marathon, one of the helpers pointed out to me that I was right behind the second and third place woman. This amazed me. This is, after all, the biggest trail marathon in Denmark (1100 participants in the quarter, half and whole marathon this year, though only 130 marathoners) - or maybe it's not the biggest; I just can't think of a bigger one. I came though the half marathon in 1:53. My finishing time on this course the year before was 3:54, but I had come through the half marathon MUCH faster - around 1:43. This time I felt like I could run the second half faster than the first. Why haven't I run all marathons like this??

I played it cool and hung behind the second and third place women until I couldn't hold out any longer and I passed (one of them was a good friend, Britta K and the other I didn't know). Then we joined the half marathoners, who had started 2 hours after us. This is where the race gets hectic and my new challenge was to try to figure out how to pass people politely. Continuing my tactic of powerwalking all hills made this easier.

Here is one of the few places out of the shade of the forest.

I was second woman and no women behind me as far as the eye could see. I passed and passed people, feeling as though I was running a faster and faster pace all the while. I passed a lot of men who had started the marathon too fast (wow - what a feeling to actually not be in their situation!). And suddenly - at the last aid station- I passed a woman with a yellow marathon number on. I was in first! She looked to be struggling and I didn't see her making an attempt to keep up. The last 5 km are wonderful because they are basically all down hill. I ran with all I could and made it to the finish line in 3:49 something. And as I crossed the finish line - nothing happened. Well, there were tons of spectators but no one cheered for first woman and most of all, SR, my mom, The Lorax, Mattias and SR's mom were nowhere to be seen. Weird. I had just won ... and... oh well.

Then they announced that the top three women were in and called my name for third place. Wha???

I then saw SR and he was like "what are you done??!! Already? Someone just fainted! I gotta help out! Did you get third?"

I asked how his race went and he said he got third in the half marathon and then he was off to play doctor. I probably should have helped, but they had just called me to the podium. Plus, SR handles those type of situations well.

To make a long story short, the woman who I had passed near the end with the marathon number on was not running the marathon and must have switched to running the half marathon at the last minute. Naughty!

The first place woman, Anne-Marie Lyngbye, was far ahead of me the entire race and finished in 3:34. She is a Hvalsø local. She had run the first 32km in 2:40, but then had stomach issues and ended up with a slower time than anticipated. But what an awesome performance on that course. She was actually 10th overall.

The second place woman - well, they never found "her" and only later Sunday night did I learn that the "woman" was a guy with the name Joan. And that confused everyone.

Long story short, I may have run the best marathon of my life thus far and it was all about concentrating on a constant effort and utilizing power walking on the hills and not getting behind on energy. It was the most fun I have had at a marathon with the exception of Copenhagen Marathon 30 weeks pregnant, which may never be surpassed. I beat my time from last year of 3:54, despite probably being in worse shape, simply because I ran smart.

SR ran the half in 1:24, which as stated got him a third place, in a much bigger race than mine. He, however, appeared to be enjoying it slightly less...

(actually I'm not sure whether he was having fun or feeling nauseated here)

but he's definitely coming back next year (and says he'll do the whole marathon instead).

Here are a couple of pics my mom took at the finish.

Now, the dowside of taking a train is we have been stuck on the tracks for 20 minutes without moving because the train in front of us stopped working...

Friday 2 September 2011

The reality of Danish maternity leave

(I'm already afraid of the "you're a bad mom" comments that will keep me awake at night)

"We have experienced that many 'ethnic' women suffer under the social control in Denmark"

This morning, as I heard one of the local Venstre party candidates say this on tv, I suddenly realized how "ethnic" I was.

Before we moved to Denmark, one of the few things I knew about Scandinavia was that there was a really long, paid maternity leave. And how could a woman who wants to have kids not be excited by this prospect? Of course, that was when I was living in the US. There were a lot of things I didn't realize then.

When a woman goes on maternity leave here, she is paid full-time salary because, well, her life beyond that of taking care of her baby, is supposed to stop. In some ways, maybe this is progressive. I mean, a woman is given the right to spend all her time with her baby and not worry about money or a job. And this contributes to the 98% rate of breast feeding in Denmark. Very, very impressive statistics compared to a country like the US, where in some states, only 50% of babies even get to try breast milk (think Mississippi and West Virginia), with the national average of babies ever breastfed being 70%. And only 35% of babies in the whole country are exclusively breast fed for 3 months, (CDC) whereas in Denmark 60% are.

It is cultural and it is built into their social system. And the system, looking at the statistics, works.

What about employment? Well, if you get a full 9 months paid maternity leave after having a baby, there isn't that big incentive to stop working. In Denmark 70% of women are employed and in the US it's just 59% (Danmarks Statistik and US Dept of Labor). This is however also partly attributed to the fact that families in Denmark simply can't afford to live comfortably on one salary.

So Denmark looks darn good in statistics. And they are the "happiest" country in the world year after year. And granted, it's a great place to live, as long as you agree with what everyone else thinks.

But here's my issue: if a "new baked mother", attempts to stray from her job as a full time mom, it is extremely difficult, expensive and socially unacceptable.

Basically, there is no child care available until a baby is nine months. Not even if you want to go back to work. Not even at the gym if you want to exercise for an hour. What about a babysitter, you ask? Well, then you would have to pay them by the hour and their legal hourly wage would actually be just slightly less than what I make as a physician. No kidding. So one can hardly rationalize the decision to start working again.

Right now, my mom is here, so I have been able to work and exercise. But both people at work and at the gym are wondering if I suffer from a psychiatric illness because I'm not spending 100% of my time with my baby.

When I look back on the first 9 months of The Lorax's life, I realize how extremely good I had it. I worked 12-18 hours a week, he was in day care 2 hours a day while I ran/swam/yoga'ed whatever. And I was so happy. More importantly, he was so happy. It was a magical time in our life. When I read my blog entries from that time, I see how much we both were glowing.

I have absolutely no less love for Mattias,

and yet, I feel I'm drowning in my new role as an exclusive mom while also trying to fit in the things I normally enjoy, including work, and trying to explain to the entire Danish society that "no, I'm not crazy and I DO love my kids"

Heavy topic for a Friday, I guess.

On to music...

I was wrong about the CSS song. As Steve Q said, it was too girly --- even for me! (I broke my cardinal rule: never recommend a running song before you run to it) THIS one ended up being good:

Running song of the day: Itchin' on a photograph by Grouplove.
(I have the same sort of child-like love for Grouplove that I have for The Jonas Brothers. Grouplove probably wouldn't be happy to know that)