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"This isn't something you die for once. You die eighteen times, every single day"

Trishul Cherns, 1300-Mile-Race

Nächster Ultramarathon

Jesper Olsen , 19. April 2005

The 20.000 km report

After having done a look-back at 5 000km and 10 000km, I thought it would be appropriate to sum up some of the experienses & observations during the last 15months and 20 000km.

It won't be great poetry, as I will try to limit it to general observations reguarding the fyscial effects of the run, the mental/motivation-related aspects of the run, the different nature & cultures encoutered, and a small note from the "political science" part of me ;-)

Body/fysical

- Yesterday; during one of my 3 preparation-days in Vancouver planning the logistics of the Canadian part of world run, I participated in a 10km "fun run"; the Vancouver Sun Run. The result was 43:50min (www.sunrun.com).

The slowest pre-worldrun time I remember having on a 10km is 42-something when I started running competetions; as 12 years old. So the time I was capable to do after 20 000km of this present run was both the slowest I have ever done and a little more than 12 minutes slower than my personal best of 31:29.

- Than pretty much spells out what a run around the world does to you as an athlete ! ;-)

You become much slower than you would imagine; but eventually you also gain much more physical endurence than at least I myself had expected. I felt that side of the world run when I - to my surprise - won the 19. Colac 6 Day Race in Australia after approximately 14 000km of running at 50km a day since London. The reslut was a bit modest, 754km for the 6 days (http://sixdayrace.org.au/colac), but I was able to do it feeling comfortable all the way and enjoying myself !

- And continuing with my run the day after the race without much trouble ! I had NOT expected that :-)

Mostly this is ofcourse due to adaptation. The body adapts to the slow 6 min/km that I do i average, during a 6-7hour average running day, w. 5 hours of effective running and 1- 2 hours of stops, food, navigation, documentation pictures & gps-transmission; and afterwards setting up tent or finding a motel, finding food etc. etc.

In the first 2-3 months/3000-4000km the body struggled with the adaptation. It was the period where I experiensed the most 'near-injuries' and had my, luckily !!, only severe leg injury: a pulled/strained muscle in the upper left leg, wich was quite uncomfortable to run with for a few days.

But from there on there has been astonishing little trouble with the legs themselves. Many of the classical running & ultrarunning injuries like shinsplints, achilles injuries, knee injuries etc. hasnt been big problems. And often due to the fact that there is pleanty of opputunities to slow down, change shoes, diet, pace, streatching patterns etc. etc. when I feel that an injury might be approaching. Usually there is a small indication the 5-8 days before it begins/would begin to be a "real" injury; the trick is to know how to listen for it !

Still; there is ofcourse more than pure running injuries ! My biggest problems so far has been 2 - 3 cases of severe stomack problems, causing 2 rest-days in total: one in Krasnojarsk in Siberia and one along the costal highway 101 in Oregon, USA. Besides this, the main thing, much to my surprise, has been hand injuries; wounds that wont heal for months or even half years has been a noticeable discomfort. Both probably due to a higher pressure on the immune-system in general.

Another interesting observation has been the pulse/hart-rate change. Before this run I would with 200 to 250km training pr. week have about 120 beat pr. minut (bpm.) when doing a pace like 6 min./km. The first 2 months of the run it was the same or a bit elevated to 125 bpm. But after about 4 months or around 7000km it began declining graduately. After about 8 months it reached a steady level of 65 - 85 bpm. at 6 min./km. (!)

- Wich is low consideration that the rest pulse rate moved from 31-36 before I began the run, to about 45 to 60 in the first 2months, and graduately to 38-42 on the "good days", 50 -55 on the "hard days" and around 50 in average at morning or before sleep.

My guess would be that the body when dooing 5-8 hours running a day has accepted that as the natural level of activity and got very effective at this task its been given. Wich also fit well with that I have duing that time come to eat considerably less than usual - again a sign that the body has become more effective. Some of my helpfull support-crews lately has been commenting that I was actually eating unrealisticly little ;-) Though I have found that I gain too much if I eat the amounds I usually would; even when I was training 20-50 % less km than I run now; :-)

Also the eating patterns has changed in the way that I tend to eat allmost evenly around the 24hours; including 2 night-meals around 2 & 4 am. Thus all of them small meals.

On the more uncomfortable side is the reaction of teeth. I have lost the outher layers of the low/gum part of the 3 middle teeth in each side of over and lower mouth so that there is a 'dent' into the teeth where they emerge. Not as painfull as you'd imagine, but a cause for concearn ofcourse. Luckily it hasnt affected the front teeth; so "the runner" dont look too battered yet ;-))

The general physical feeling is well; but with a lot more tiredness than usually and a high level of rest & sleep needs. Not very surprisingly I guess !

Mental/motivation

- This point has varied a lot depending on wich contry, enviroment and climate I have been running through. And perhaps most of all: wether I have had compagny !

>From the beginning in London I ran toghether w. Alexander Korotkov from Sct. Petersburg, Russia. An astounishing strong runner who besides beeing responsible for all the logistics needet to get me running the 10 000km across Russia, also did some tuff preformances (1. place in a 12-hour invitational race in Finland, wich we did while we were running through; Alex did 143km !!) untill he had to stop due to a very severe tendon & spine injury, in Eastern Siberia.

Ofcourse it was a hard thing to see Alexander get injured and eventually stop the run after 9 800km and 8 months, of them 5 (5!) months of running through and into new agonizing injuries wich probably occured due to trying to compensate for the initial injury wich he got shortly after the 12-hour race in Finland.

Around the same time the japanese runner, Kazuka Kaihata, who had been running with us since Sct.Petersburg got a severe knee injury wich forced her to walk for 2 months of our route out to Vladivostock.

- Obviously that makes you wonder when it will be your turn.. And to some extent I had a hard time convincing myselves that I would be able to continue the run without getting the same fatal injuries; and continue it alone.

Due to very good support in Australia (organized by the never-resting mr. Phil Essam :-) I didnt really get problems w. running alone there; not even the approx. 1500km running across the Nullabor Desert - there I had Peter Gray as crew all the way; an ultrarunner who not only is a more experiensed runner then I, but who also own the most valuable aspect of a sportsman: to take pride in helping other athletes as well !!

But especially the lone running up the Californian highways and into the Oregon and Washington states in the US on the way to Canada, was amongst the tuffest mental parts of the run. Beeing alone in the cold rain, at times lost, half-injured, not knowing if there would be support further up the route and having a fall-incident down a small ravine made me very close to not beeing able to face continuing the run.

My littlesister and her husband took a holiday to Seattle to come down to meet me (Thanks ! :-) yet after about a month of slightly painfull struggle alone - I had difficult recognizing them when they met me (!). (The only situation that remind me of what I experiensed during those weeks leading up to it was the scenes from the old movie "Deer Hunter" where one of the caracters had played 'Russian roulette' a time too many.. The situation in my run beeing that I for a week or two had realised that I couldnt handle the fysical & mental struggle, but decided there was no other option than to continue the run; wich makes you shut out the outside - and inside - impressions for a while.. ;-).

It is my definate experiense that the loneliness is the main thing to worry about in a run like this. Besides this its a matter of using the common strategy of ultrarunning: to allways focus on the short-term & intermediate goals and not be too intimidated of the long-term perspective. In the world run this means to motivate yourself to reach the next major city/competetion/runner compagny on short term, and crossing the present continent at intermediate term - but NOT contemplate what lies between me and the finishline in total km or year/months. That was part of the mistake I made when running in California; taking daily looks at the distance and months remaining to London (5-7 moths and 6000 - 8000km) ! Distances wich still is as incomprehensive to me as to any other athlete :-)

Nature

- The obvious question "What has been the most scenic place ?". Difficult to answer ofcourse; the Nullabor Desert in Australia certainly has its beauty at surrise & sunset alone out there in the silence; the Lake Baikal in Russia holding around 30% of the worlds freshwater reserves; the Reedwood Forrests along the Highway 101 in California with its more than 1000 year old trees with space enough to put up a tent inside the hollow ones; the Finland winterlanscape wrapped in deep snow covering lakes and dense forrests; or the big cities w. their "artificial nature" of architecture - among my favorites Sydney, Omsk; San Francisco; Helsinki, Copenhagen..

Yet I am not in doubt what place I would enjoy the most to re-visit:

A valley about 25km from the friendly 20 000 pop. city Biribizhan in East-East Siberia. A green valley w. a slow clear river winding through its middle; the railroad & carpath on a low mountain shelf on one side; and small groups of birch and fruit trees on the flat plain of the valley.

The surronding mountains not too high to keep the autumnn sun out; and not too low not to invite for an interesting climb !

The valley itself, a couple of km wide and about 30km long; not to small to make you wish for "lebensraum",yet not too big to make you feel lonely in this siberian abundance of nature.

And perhaps most of all: the blue sky and cleanness of the air that you would not imagine coming from europe yourself.

- All just waiting for a wood cabin to be build and for someone to enjoy this luxury ! :-)

Cultures

- In general I have been astonished by the very positive 'culture of friendship' that I have encountered allmost everywhere my run have brough me !

Most of all in Finland where my fellow runner Alexander and I were accomodated every single day of our run across the Southern part of the contry to the border to Russia (and that in luxury accomodation) - often met by the Finns picking us up at our finish point, driving us to a warm house, leaving the house, ready made dinner & desert, to us to enjoy. Themselves staying at friends or at a log cabin. A support and helpfullness I up to this point still cant really comprehend - but appreciate on a daily basis here 18 000km later. For them especially, I will take much hardship to keep this run going.

But also in Russia the support has been amazing; expecially in Siberia where the small villages as well as the big Siberian population centres met us with all they could provide: homemade food, presents (more than we could carry !), accomodation in all from houses where the rain would go right through, peasant homes, big-city appartments, small Siberian hospitals at low-seson, administration offices, a bakery, various (former) party-hotels to extreme luxury homes of "new russians".

Interesting also were that the russian way of helping allmost allways went through the local administrations, who would support us w. accomodation, food and even financially (of reasons I have difficulty to find w. my "western logic" !) while the help recieved in the rest of the run would mostly be from private persons or sponsors.

I imagine that this difference relates back to the "old system" in Russia where the State took care of all matters.

Also Australia has been fantastic in its support of the run. Here it has been a combination of ultra-organizors like mr. Phil Essam (vice pres. of the Australian Ultrarunners Association), the longdistance & ultra runner community as well as the danish population down there. Some of the support & crewing efforts over the long open hot streatches of landscape was in many ways as impressive as any part of my own effort in this run !! :-)

So far only the Californian/US part of the run and the short Japanese part has been not so positive an encounter. Probably becouse these societies are so motorized and with so dense an infrastructure that a runner making his way through the contry does often rise more suspicion than support. Yet when there were helpfullness there, it was certainly warm !

And my impression just starting the long Canadian part of the run is that it certainly is a friendly place to be as a runner. Allready a few days before reaching the border up to Canada I had a canadian team helping me !!!

- If I make it to the finish line back at the 0-meridian at Greenwich Village in London, it will perhaps most of all be to the honour of those that has helped and supported me. In a run like this, no matter how strong an athlete, not much can be achieved without outside help :-)

- The 'culture of friendship' and helpfullness of people met in all these contries by the way makes a vast contrast to the average 'conflict' image of the world given in allmost any "News" section of a newspaper of tv-station. It could be interesting if some of this common quality of friendship was brought more into perspective when defining the various international political agendas and problemsolvings !

From a political science point of view...

- Carrying along with me a masters degree in political science & international politics (though a bit outdated by now ;-), I ofcourse cant help making a few observations during a run like this:

(What else it there to do during the daily hours on the Siberian gravelroads, in the Australian desert or along the American highways ? ;-)

My first major impression after leaving the european part of the run behind me, was the vastness of the Russia; also in a political science sence !

Especially in Siberia there are an amount of ressources (mainly oil, coal, wood, diamonds and gold; among the largest known reserves i the world) I have never encountered elsewhere.

The problem beeing, naturally, that Siberia is too remote for an efficient use of these ressources; providing the paradox that the lovest living conditions (economically and measured in 'western convenienses' like warm running water, sanitary systems, elektricity, telecommunication, outside supplies and other infrastructure related issues) that I have seen so far in during this run has been in Middle & Eastern Siberia. And at the same time it also contains some of the vastest wealth in natural ressources in the world.

Besides beeing an infrastructure problem, it seems more fundamentally to be politically related. It's too remote from the main part of the population, wich is in European Russia, and especially its very remote from the decitions of the political and economical elite (Moscow; Sct.Petersburg and Nichi Novgorod).

- And for the sake of preserving Siberia's extremely beautifull nature it's perhaps good so; though its a luxury saying so without having to endure the everyday living out there. The people in the villages and cities out there doesnt have much of a choice. There is a travel in the area of 5000km at least.

Though discussion this, for example with local administration (the benefit of our support beeing mostly directed through the local & regional administrations), you often find that one of the explanations of this is an idea of reserving these ressources for "later" - 20 or 30 years from now. Wich makes good sence w. for example oil; but wich still wont be much of a help as long as the infrastructure isnt there !

At the present a highway is beeing build across Siberia, from the Ural Mountains to Vladivostock on the Pacific coast. If it gets completed (we ran on the gravel & rock preparations for it the last about 3000km out to Vlad.) as planned in 2008 it could give a huge lift in the prosperity of this incredibly vast area.

Still there are many other factors. For example the relation to China, just south of the border of Middle and East Siberia. As far as I could understand and observe, there is a big Chinese immigration across the border and seemingly a military tension (most of the newest and largest - LARGE - military compounds I saw all across russia were along the Chinese border); while many of the local administration near the border orient themselves more towards the Chinese politics than what is the official word in Moscow - wich has its own sence as Moscow is 6000 - 8000km away and the chinese colleages only 20 - 100km away ;-) And in Eastern Siberia the local adm. often told of cooperation across the border despite what the official governments had of standpoints.

- Obviously there are many other interesting analyses to make of the other continents, but at present this will have to be all for now. The run has to continue after all.. :-)


© Jesper Olsen , 19. April 2005

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