Halcyon

I had just taken my shoes of and was now running barefoot on a narrow trail through a forest in Saaremaa, an island outside the west coast of Estonia. I was seriously lacking my motivation points at the beginning of the run, but now – I was feeling great.

Increasing my cadence, suddenly I felt light and as if my legs effortlessly was carrying me forrward. A sounds caught my ear that wasn’t coming from any inhabitant of the forest – but from a human. As I was running, the sound came closer and closer.

Then I could make out what it was. An engine of some sort – a chainsaw I though. I hit a crossroad and my curiosity steered my towards the origin of the sound. Through the trees I could see a man wearing an orange helmet – working a brushcutter in the distance. As I watched him, he suddenly stopped his power tool and I walked towards him.

Just then, a heavy roar of thunder came from above. I greeted him in Estonian, then switching to English, asking him what he was doing. He answered me in fluent English that he was clearing the grass under an electric fence, because the grass would work as a ground when wet – disturbing the electric wire.

On the other side of the fence roamed fifteen Highland Cattle in an forested area – so big that he hadn’t seen any of them on his two kilometre walk inside their pen. He was from Finland, working in Saaremaa. And he had about two more kilometres of grass to cut that day. Leaving him to his work, I shook his hand and said goodbye.

I approached the beach of Triigi , which was my turn-around point, when the sky really opened up above me. The sea lay completely clear before me. It was only disturbed by the thousands of rain-droplets and some blows of wind that was gently stroking the surface. It looked like and endless, flat desert of water with the rain bouncing of its surface. The eastern wind moved a bank of clouds across the ocean, covering the horizon in a haze of low rain clouds.

After dipping my toes in the sea I turned around, heading for home. It was as if I was running through a shower, the water soaking my clothes almost instantly. I took my shirt of several times on the way home, squeezing the water from it to keep me from getting to cold. Running home was a play with nature. Pulling my feet through puddles of water and landing them in thick mud that massaged my bare soles.

I stopped for milk and eggs at the local grocery-store and the cashier-lady just smiled when I handed her the soaking five-Euro note that I had carried in my pocket.

Joostes üle Saaremaa

The car came to a stop at the side of the road and I jumped out, saying goodbye to the father of my girlfriend, and he drove away. I sat myself down at the side of the road, looking over the food-supply that I was carrying with me in my rucksack.

food-supply
I had hitched a ride to Kuressaare, a town on the south coast of the island Saaremaa. Strapping the rucksack to my back, I began trotting in the direction where we had driven from. I was feeling a bit stiff and did a quick warm-up followed by some light stretching. I continued running about a kilometre, to get in the right mode, until I stopped again and ate my first package of yoghurt outside a roadside B&B.

Running on the shoulder of the big asphalt road leading North from Kuressaare, I felt fresh, although my destination was far away. I was passing golden fields, little patches of thick forest, and occasional remnants of the Soviet Union’s grasp of Estonia.

sovjet-ommissions
Every time a car gave me extra room on the road, I would wave my hand to show my gratitude. I think about half of the people waved back to me, and it felt great every time.

I had stopped, reaching for a bottle of milk inside my rucksack, only finding that something wasn’t right. I pulled it out, it was covered in mango yoghurt. I guess I can’t blame the producers for not making the tin-foil lid resistant to bouncing around my backpack for hours. I drank the remainders and moved on. Soon after, my stomach started to complain about the stupendous yoghurt intake.

stomach
Running wasn’t as easy as I remembered it. Maybe my pace was to high. The warm weather had left the back of my tank top soaked through and my forehead was dripping with salty sweat. I was hurting in many places, my feet especially. Still, I needed to get home.

I had gone out hard, leaving me with fewer resources in the second half of my run. This was when things got really hard. The road signs showing me how long I had to go seemed to be playing tricks on me. The distance between the signs saying thirteen and ten kilometres felt more like seven. While relieving myself in a ditch alongside the road, I did find some motivation in the form of blackberries.

blackberries
Suddenly I saw that there was something blocking the road ahead. Cows. Some farmers were moving cows from one pasture to another. I heard a car coming from far behind us and I realized the speed limit was probably ninety kilometres-per-hour here.

As there were cows standing motionless in the middle of the road, I turned around, making the sign for slowing down with my arms. It took a while, but eventually the approaching Chrysler showed signs of slowing down  to a complete halt. The farmers rushed their cows to cross and the car could eventually pass.

I walked up to the guy standing closest to me and asked him in English if they had moved all of the cows now. Silence. I tried with some hand gestures. He just shook his head at me. Too tired to keep trying, I decided to run along. Either he didn’t speak English, or he just didn’t care for mingling with strangers like me.

cows
“Now it’s starting to feel quite tough,” I spoke towards the camera that was bobbing in my hand. “Blisters on the insides of my feet, a slight pain in the left footpad, stiff calves and knees, nothing in the hips, some tension in my torso and back. I’m tired, very tired. But I don’t think I have very far to go, hopefully about three kilometres, but it’s going slow.”

running-tired
My posture was bad, my body was hurting and often my stride would turn into a walk. I would set my sight on the patch of road turning out of my view in the far distance, hoping that the gas station right outside of the village would be just behind it. For many curves, it never was. There was just another one in the far distance.

Until finally, it was. And when I saw the gas station, I knew that I was very close, and some of the pain in my tight muscles disappeared. Now that the end was close, the fatigue I felt was joined by another feeling. Drunkenness. I had reached Leisi, a village on the North coast of Saaremaa that I rode away from in the morning. My destination was the village store, and when it suddenly and finally appeared behind a bush  well, I’ll tell you it was a good feeling and a sight for sore legs. I did some shopping, and jogged the last bit home.

map-of-saaremaa
It was not until the day after, that I realized I actually had run across the whole island in a South-to-North direction. I measured the distance to 39,5 kilometres. Standing outside the little village shop, the clock on my cell phone had displayed 17:05. Taking the starting time of 12:06 in perspective, it took me 4 hours and 59 minutes.

Sense of achievement!

Hitches full of stitches

Me and my friend Kristoffer were going out for a run, starting from the centre of Lund and bound eastward towards Skrylle. He was wearing Fivefingers while I went barefoot.

We ran, talking with high spirits as we flew over Lund’s cobblestone-streets. We were running south on Tornavägen, next the botanical garden heading south, when suddenly, Kristoffer started to jump on one leg followed by an outburst of pain.

“I think this is the end of our run my friend”, he said to me.

Assuming that he’d sprained his foot I turned around, expecting to see a big root or something. That’s when I spotted a broken glass-bottle sticking out of the ground.
Broken side up.

Taking his shoe off, blood in different colours dripped onto the pavement. I cleaned out the wound with water from my Camelback – spraying it in the wound – and started to lay down a protective bandage.

Conveniently – and much appreciated – this is when two women stopped their car and offered us a lift to the hospital.

kristoffer-bleeding

While waiting to see the orthopaedist, Kristoffer decided to stick the remainder of a sparerib in between his bandages to imitate a bone sticking out.

When we finally got admitted, the nurse asked what kind of injury he suffered from.

– “Well, I have this loose piece of bone here and it sort of hurts when I pull on it”, Kristoffer said. Grabbing the “bone” and pulling it out.

The initial confusion the nurse must have felt soon turned into laughter, and the mood for the whole visit was set.

After a number of questions and a general check up we were left to wait for the doctor. We hanged out in the examination room until Kristoffer hopped away to take a leak. Instead of doing so, he spotted a young female whom he suspected was a medical student.

– “You look like you want to become a doctor!”, he yelled and pointed at the young girl.

He wasn’t wrong. Assisted by a nurse the medical student started to feel out Kristoffer’s damaged goods. After a couple of – according to Kris, very painful – shots of anaesthesia and some minor poking, the doctor arrived and took over the scene.

Laying down more anaesthesia the doctor shoved his finger up the cut (actually passing the skin where all the nerve endings are present) and felt around after shards of glass. He didn’t find anything.

The medical student was left to sew up the cut and then the nurse put a new bandage on. We said goodbye and left the building.

stiched-up

As I had suspected, the process of getting home wasn’t going to be easy. Kris was limited to jumping short distances on one foot – a little longer if I was supporting him.

I went back to get him a crutch. Now, neither one of us had ever used crutches before and we made the mistake of only bringing one crutch. In the meanwhile Kristoffer had found a car willing to take us along. The two guys in the car were friendly and chatty. We dropped Kris off and since they were headed west, I tagged along for the ride.

The two guys were painters, just returning from having hung their paintings in a new wing of the hospital. They dropped me off half way home and I ran the last stretch.

Then I went dumpster-diving. But that’s another adventure all in itself.

Pushing the limits

During this adventure I discovered something very exciting about running which completely changed the way I look at it. I discovered that it’s not all about the legs or the feet, but that there are other aspects that can aid you in almost a magical way.

One evening in the spring of 2013 I was skyping with my good friend Kristoffer, when we slided onto the subject of endurance and at one point he asked me, “What’s the furthest that you have ever run?”.

I had to the furthest run a distance of 30 kilometres, and to break that we decided that tomorrow, we are going to run 31 kilometres. After we’d hung up I thought, “damned, that is going to be tough”.

My doubts had settled the next day and I was up early, frying pancakes to bring with on the run. The weather was sunny but not to warm. We packed and divided in our backpacks, nuts, pancakes and 3 litres of water. Before leaving I filled up my stomach with oatmeal, sour-milk, bread, half a sausage and some tea.

We set off around noon and navigated ourselves eastward out of Lund. The running was easy and the golden rape fields gave us a spectacular background for our odyssey. We swung our legs left and away from the highway onto a smaller tarmac road that meandered through the landscape. High spirits drove us forward as we with guesswork navigated to Skrylle (forest east of Lund). When we got there we took a break, jamming down some pancakes and drinking plenty of water.

kristoffer-running

Before leaving Lund we had made up a route and estimated that it would be just over 38 kilometres. A little more then planned but not enough to discourage either one of us. At this point we estimated that we had run 14 kilometres and were now about to take on the 10 kilometre trail throughout the Skrylle forest.

The trail which our feet trod upon were smooth, rocky and often moist. Sometimes our path took shape of a wider gravel road but for the most part we ran on narrow single-track trails. The later part of the trail turned out to be quite hilly and challenging for the lungs. We came out of the forest and arrived back at the recreational centre which was filled with school-kids having a field trip. We took a 15 minute break, filling our stomachs and emptying our bladders.

skrylleskogen

With 24 kilometres behind us and 14 to go we took of for the end show. But I wasn’t tired. It felt strange since I was struggling with finishing a half marathon just the other day. But there I was, running alongside my friend and everything just worked. We kept a steady pace and our routines for food and water had been solid. I remember I was pondering this and I think it struck me then. I was still running because Kristoffer was still running besides me.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but I had imagined it to be harder. At one point Kristoffer felt his knee a bit and we slowed down and did some walking. When it felt better again we returned to our jogging pace. Then there were micro pauses of goofing around, taking pictures, which probably helped a lot.

dan-running

Entering Lund we were still struggling with both our legs and the mental game because there was still one or two kilometres left to go. But the last kilometre we ran quite fast, pushing away the pain and fatigue. Arriving back at down-town Lund after 4 hours and 56 minutes.

Maybe you’ve guessed it. But what I discovered that day was to which extent the mental game played a role. More specific it was a social factor. We were strong as a unit and helped each other along the way. Both directly with verbal motivation but more to it indirectly. I didn’t want to fail him, and I didn’t want him to fail. That made me stronger.

kristoffer

You would think that there is a linear equation for running controlled by our bodies physical performance capacity, determining how far we can run. But with running I claim that there is this big X-factor which is the brain, not only being able to produce a plenitude of hormones into your bloodstream, but also determining spirit and very much influenced by surrounding factors.

This was me pushing the limits. Next time I’ll push it some more.

rape-field