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Getting Dirty in Belgium at European Cross Champs, December 17th 2008

I ended my 2008 season on high notes, by finishing 27th at the European Cross Country Champs in Brussels, Belgium on Sunday. This was only one place off of being the best Finn ever, but this is time wise the closest a Finn has ever been to the winner at Euro Champs, so I am very pleased with what might be the best result so far in my career! I knew I was in good shape but didn’t have a clue of where my good races in the States would transfer into in the rigid European competition.

The muddy and hilly course was one I liked. I don’t mind getting dirty in the middle of a race and the toughness needed to keep fighting and changing rhythm suites my style of running. Sergey Lebid of Ukraine won his 8th Euro Cross title edging Mo Farah in the last 500m of the 10k race. I started out quite conservatively, but as we anticipated with fellow Flagstaff-runner, Irishman Martin Fagan the pace of the pack was controlled for the first few kilometers. My aggressive way of charging into the up and down hills and into the sharp bends started paying off after the halfway mark as I was picking up places left and right. I was up at 24th with 500m to go but wasn’t quite able to hold on to that in the finishing downhill even if that’s usually my strong area… I had fought well and will now probably have to continue my Cross Country career a little further, even though my collegiate XC experience is now solely a memory - but certainly a teaching and rewarding one!

My preparations for the Championships included only a few faster runs in the last two weeks. I did a PR in the 800m 10 days before the race, without having done any speed work and did some good workouts on lower altitude, but mainly, a fter wrapping up the semester at NAU early last week I have been extremely relaxed in my free time. The goal is to continue with that mood until Christmas home in Finland with my family!

Speeding into European Champs XC, December 2nd 2008

The NCAA Cross Country Nationals was run a week ago and the quality of racing was the top of the top. Galen Rupp, a US 10000m Olympian from Beijing won the individual title, with the Oregon Ducks claiming the team title for the 2nd year in a row. The axe of the NAU Lumberjacks was a little dulled in the race, but as everyone brings their A-game to this meet satisfaction should be measured by how you feel, not just based on placing. We got 6th as a team among the 31 teams that had qualified through running well earlier in the season. That is not a shabby performance, but as I was the only team member who was satisfied with my race, with placing 44th and improving my time by 20 seconds from last year we aren’t a happy jack pack. I ran my race under control even after the first K being the fastest in the race and stayed between 25th and 50th place all race. My five K splits were 14’58" and 15’22" to end up with 30’20" after a good kick to finish up my Collegiate Cross Country career.

I took a well deserved week off from school and put in some low-altitude training in Oceanside, SoCal following NCAA:s. I’m grateful for the Threw family for letting me stay at their house and experience a true American Thanksgiving while enjoying the sun and getting a couple runners highs during runs on the beach. I am looking forward to the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels, Belgium on December 14th as training has been going excellently and I haven’t represented Finland in a long time. Hoping to be able to wear white & blue with pride!

Running Euphoric in Colorado, November 16th 2008

The NCAA Mountain Regional Champs at 1500m:s altitude in Fort Collins, Colorado was an euphoric experience for me. I felt amazing and led the race for the first 5k, with a big pack close behind me. I was running 3’00”/km -pace pretty much all the way and after letting the leaders go at 6k, finished on pace and according to the race plan, relaxed, in 30’00”. Our top-gun David McNeill took home 1st place and with the rest of the team having a good race too, we took 2nd place as a team behind the Colorado University Buffaloes. We will join 30 other teams in Terre Haute, Indiana to compete for the 2008 NCAA Cross County titles in 8 days. Today, a day after the race in Colorado, I was still in a runner’s high on a longer, sunny, run with a couple teammates in the ponderosa pines in Flagstaff. Running is giving me a lot of joy

Rolling on from Portland, Oregon to Fort Collins, Colorado, November 6th 2008

We went out hard as a team, pushed through the middle part and finished strong at the Big Sky XC Champs in Portland, Oregon last weekend. The Lumberjacks went 1-2-3-5-8-9 with our top 5 runners finishing the 8km course in less than 24 minutes. I was excited about getting a new career fastest time of 23’36” over this distance, knowing I still have room to improve before the season is over. The temperature in Flagstaff is dropping, while I am still upping my mileage and will reach 190km this week after 183km last week. I have yet to figure out why my body is able to handle hard workouts better when doing high mileage, but I have learnt that I need to take better care of my body when combining these. There is no reason to switch out of a working formula, so I might just have to stick with it. Next up for the Lumberjacks is the NCAA Mountain Regional Champs on November 15th, where we won’t need to go all out this year, because we’ve been running well all season - we should have a spot at the NCAA Champs in the end of the month guaranteed.

Heart rates one's life, October 23rd 2008

The Lumberjacks flew across the country to race at Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Indiana this past weekend. This is one of the biggest and most competitive Cross Country meets in North America, with over 80 Division 1 universities entered. We had won this meet last year, so we knew how to race here, but as we had only been ranked 16th in the country before the race, no one was expecting anything from us.

I have had some health issues last two weeks back in Arizona, so I have worked out on my own lately. On October 6th after a fine 6xmile workout I stretched and took an ice bath, just as after every other hard workout. When I got out of the ice bath I felt a little strange, and it was because my heart rate jumped up to over 250. After a couple minutes my pulse was down to 248, and that’s when NAU head trainer Ryan Pinson ordered me to stick my head down a bucket of ice water. After two head baths the heart rate dropped by 80 beats, so I repeated the procedure. A minute later my heart was pumping normally again. I have seen a cardiologist and we’ve done a bunch of tests but haven’t been able to find out what caused the abnormality in my heart. When discussing my issue with Dr. Jack Daniels I learnt that he had had something similar when he was a top level athlete. He called the condition Parachiasmal Atrial Tatrocardia and taught me how to deal with it as an athlete. I am carrying a heart beat recording device with me everywhere now to be able to record if I get PAT again, but nothing abnormal has happened and running is going fine!

We had an extraordinary team effort at Pre-Nationals with all our top seven runners placing in the top 70 and the team placing 2nd in the Men’s Blue Race. Watch the race video at FloTrack and see my post-race interview. I wasn’t able to contribute to my team with as good a time as I had hoped, running 24’02” over the grassy 8k, but improving my placing from previous years means we’re moving the right way. I guess the rain earlier in the week slowed down the course as runners across the board ran slower times than before. I was happy to run a race without trouble with my heart – now I know it works and don’t need to worry about it anymore…

Our next race will be Big Sky Conference Champs in Portland, Oregon during the Halloween weekend, but the Lumberjacks will certainly train through this meet in order to get ready for NCAA Regionals and Nationals later in November. I’m going to run beyond 110 miles for a couple weeks now, so you won’t hear from me a whole lot. When I’m back I hope to convince and get a go at the European Cross Country Champs in Belgium.

Cowboy Jamboree, October 7th 2008

When the gun goes off I run out to the front no matter how many runners there are trying to do the same. At Stillwater, Oklahoma this past Saturday, I was not the first up the hill at the start, but by the time we reached the 1k mark I was up close to the front of the pack, surrounded by Kenyans. I felt like running in Africa, as the air was filled with dust and we ran through a savannah with the sun high up in the sky. By the 3k mark I had taken the lead as we came through a forested downhill segment, but by this time I had teammate David McNeill and a bunch of Oklahoma State runners also right on my tail. Running still felt easy and the air was oxygen rich, but the wood stick (!) up hills started putting a toll on my legs before the 5k mark. The lead pack started gapping me and I was battling along with a couple Kenyans throughout the course - me passing them in the down hills and them catching up in the up hills. I was able to finish strong in 13th in the time of 24’33”, 36 seconds behind the winner Daniel Kirwa on the 8k course. David got second and NAU finished 2nd behind Oklahoma State as a team as well.

I did not feel like I got everything out of myself at the finish line, so I’m thinking I wasn’t mentally strong enough when I let the lead pack run away from me. I will run with a slightly different tactics at Pre-Nationals in Indiana two weeks from now as I have promised coach Heins not to take an early lead. I usually like to be in control of the race up front, but it will be a good learning experience to try a different strategy and try to run even splits over the whole 8k.

Doing the Right Things, September 19th 2008

My cross country season started off at the Aztec Invitational at Balboa Park in San Diego, California last Saturday. I had an amazing race, beating the course record for the 64th edition of this race, but I also got beaten. Kenyan stud and rumored son of the legendary Henry Rono, Aron Rono, got me by a mere 18 seconds over the 8km course. This is not a fast course however, so my 24’34” isn’t anything to brag about.

Dissimilar from my normal summer routine, I took a short break from running this July, and have thus only been back running twice a day for a little over a month. I must have been doing the right things since then as I am already in a decent shape. Or is it the break that has made my body ready to accept workouts better? Sometimes it’s hard to explain why the body feels a certain way, but I’m definitely taking pleasure of the way mine is working now. I enjoy running in Flagstaff a lot and my schoolwork is only a good counter weight to the physical exercise. Having a good time with what you are doing is halfway to success!

Building Aerobic Base in Arizona, September 1st 2008

As the summer is over I have again traversed over the Atlantic and back to Flagstaff, Arizona. I have started the Master of Science in Applied Geographic Information Science -program at Northern Arizona University, so I will pretty much continue my studies where I left them after getting my Bachelor of Science in the spring. There are a bunch of new faces on the NAU Cross Country team I am training with, but both the quality and quantity of my training partners are excellent. I was appointed captain of the team of 20 guys battling for the top 7 spots in major cross country races. My plan for the fall is to run 5 or 6 races on US soil and hopefully run those well enough to represent Finland at the European Cross Country Champs in early December. My running is right back on track as I can manage 100 miles weeks without trouble. Living in Flagstaff and studying makes it a lot easier to structure the daily life with double runs, compared to the days of my summer holidays. I am still in the aerobic base -building face, as the main goals for the season are still months away. This is the time of the year when I eagerly explore new trails and enjoy the nature around me and the escalating heartbeats inside me.

Charging in Rome & the Adriatic sea, July 5th 2008

As an elite athlete there are a lot of pressures. Mostly pressures from one’s own expectations, but also from coaches, supporters, fans and even family. Sports on this level is tough physically, but definitely also mentally. Since I have been orienteering the last few summers, followed by a cross country season in the fall and track and road running all spring long I have not had time off from sports in a long time. This summer will be an exception and I believe this will be good for my future endeavors. I have charged my batteries on a real holiday, one I haven’t had in years: I snorkeled in the turquoise Adriatic sea, enjoyed some really tricky old town sprints at 5 days Puglia orienteering and saw all off Rome’s sights riding a scooter. The summer is supposed to be a fun time, and I am making the most out of this one. Training starts again next week and I will be refreshed for the upcoming seasons. My time to race will come.

An Orienteer's Dream Came True in Jukola, June 21st 2008

Not in my wildest dreams leading up to this year’s largest orienteering event did I dream about starting out on the last leg in a minute’s lead. Waking up in the middle of the magical northern night in a lake cabin and watching my teammates on the TV -screen pass on the Jukola relay in the lead was unbelievable. Most of the guys on the team are friends since childhood and we have shared the dream about leading

I started out on my leg relaxed despite having all the eyes of the orienteering world set on me through the GPS unit on my back and managed the first three kilometers without trouble. After a denser part of the terrain the pack including OK Linné’s Mathias Millinger, Vehkalahden Veikot’s Tero Föhr and Delta’s Valentin Novikov caught me and the pace increased significantly. I hanged on for the next few kilometers, but since this was to be my longest run in the terrain in a year my muscles and my coordination was lacking the strength to run the pace of the world’s best. By the time we reached the end of the unforked part of the course I had already fallen off the pack and knew that I had a chance to catch the opponents again without mistakes on the short forked legs. I managed to handle the rest of the course without mistakes, and totaled less than a minute of mistakes for the whole 14 K. Even with such a good performance I could not catch Föhr and Millinger who I occasionally saw in the end of the race. Novikov kept his superb pace to the end and brought Delta to victory while I was able to secure Lynx a fourth place finish in front of Halden SK’s Anders Nordberg and Kalevan Rasti’s Thierry Guergiou. A total of 13,681 orienteers with more than 25 different nationalities partook in this years Jukola relay. I am grateful to my teammates Juuso Metsälä, Aleksi Leskinen, Antti Parjanne, Ville Koponen, Aapo Leskinen and Roman Ryapolov for giving me this extraordinary opportunity and I'm extremely happy to improve the all-time best in Jukola of Lynx from a 17th to a 4th place.

After a relaxing midsummer in Finland I will now head south, to Italy and the Adriatic Sea for some snorkeling and scuba-diving. Don’t expect to see me too serious within the next few weeks – I’m on vacation!

A summer without Championships, June 10th 2008

The Finnish Orienteering Federation made my summer planning significantly easier by deciding not to select me to the Finnish World Orienteering Champs selection races. Therefore, even if I feel like I’m in as least as good a shape to fight for a medal at the world champs sprint distance as last year (when finishing 9th) I will not be competing at WOC this year in the Czech Republic. This is a huge disappointment to me after having competed at the last four World Orienteering Champs and being the best Finn in the sprint distance twice. As I have not taken part in enough races in Finland this spring I was told it’s not possible to select me.

Doing two sports seems to rise to a problem in my career once again. I was trying to qualify for the Olympics in the marathon while the orienteering season had already started in Europe. As my time in the Ottawa marathon was not fast enough for the Olympics I decided to shift my focus to orienteering, but obviously too late. The Finnish orienteering federation does not give the third fastest runner in the country even a chance to run in the WOC qualification races. Whenever I partake in running in Finland I am known as the “orienteer” and have never been a part of a permanent national squad or training group. It seems to be an easy excuse for national team coaches to put the blame on the other sport. I have learnt that I have to be good enough so that there's no way they can bypass me in selections.

I am still in the process of recovering from the marathon, but think I will be fit enough to run the anchor leg for my club, Lynx, in the Jukola relay this upcoming weekend. With 30 000-40 000 friends of orienteering gathering to this orienteering fest a buzz will be certain. My plans for the rest of the summer will include some travelling and enjoying the endless northern sunshine without the stress of getting enough sleep and performing the next day. I’m sure I will run some fun races, but relaxing is the main goal.

Gambling in Ottawa results in 2.18’50” marathon, May 27th 2008

The Olympic B-standard time on the marathon is 2.18’, but since the Finnish Olympic Committee required the A-standard of 2.15’ from me to have a chance to go Beijing, I was willing to do some gambling and try to hold on to that pace. This would mean I had to improve my PR with more than four minutes, but since my training has been excellent I thought I want to give it a go. My preparations had been going a little too smooth until Friday morning when I was due to fly to Ottawa. A low pressure weather system had rolled into Flagstaff and it was snowing heavily, cancelling my flight. I formed a carload full group of strangers trapped in the snow and rented a car to drive down to Phoenix. After a fair bit of fighting with US Airways I found myself in Chicago by the end of the night, not in Ottawa as I had planned. By noon on Saturday and a following bunch of outlandish incidents I arrived in the sunny capital of Canada.

Sunday morning was warm, with hardly any wind and the 2.15’ -pacemaker I had decided to follow did an excellent job. My group hit the first 5K splits right on pace in 16’08”, 15’51”, 15’53” and 16’07”, but after reaching halfway in 1.07’35” the pace slowed down significantly for a few K’s. My 25K split was 1.20’27” and then I reached 30K in 1.36’55”. At this point I was still hurrying along with six other runners but at about 33K in a slight uphill the group started breaking up. I did not want to increase my effort in order to save my tired leg muscles and had to let a few of the contestants go. At 35K my pace had slowed down, as I reached the mark in 1.53’49” after a 16’56” 5K split. The last fight home was going to be lonely and indeed tough. I fought the next 5K in 17’07” and still believed I could reach the finish in sub 2.18’. When I passed my family members who were cheering soon after 40K I was shouting “Berlin - Berlin” to myself, to keep up the hope of a sub 2.18’. (That time is probably going to be the standard to get in to the World Champs in Berlin in 2009.) My focus was on trying to get the signal from my brain to my quads to lift up my knees. That was not quite working as my pace slowed down to a 3’35”/km -pace on the last 2,2K to the finish. I did not go down at the finish line because the organizers caught me right away and took me out of sight in a wheelchair. My watch had stopped at 2.18’50”, but it wasn’t until 20 minutes later I was able to open my eyes to see these numbers. I had a slight fewer of 37,7° Celsius and a significant blister on the outside of my right foot, but those were all just details – I had just made a new PR!

ING Ottawa marathon was the right choice for me this year, but I wouldn’t recommend this course as a fast one. The first half had a lot of rolling hills on it, while the latter part is pretty leveled. Whenever the route came close to downtown there was good crowds, but especially on the second half more cheering would be desired for the already tired runners. The conditions for running fast were pretty good, even though the temperature rose pretty high by the end. Now, two days after the marathon the pain in my legs is the worst. I am taking some time of serious running this week, while road tripping around lake Ontario, but I wanted to try to do the recovery weeks from the marathon a little different this time. I have jogged both mornings following the race and running actually feels easier on my legs than walking. I won’t be representing Finland in Beijing, so I have to start figuring out what to do this summer…

NAU Lumberjacks Hot in Sacramento – win Big Sky Conference, May 17th 2008

I contributed to the team victory in a hot Sacramento by running the 10000m in 30’22” on Friday night. My task was to tire out the opponents for Saturdays 5000m and 1500m and thus I was keeping the pace honest by leading most of the race. My mission was accomplished, but it took the energy out of me too. Only Weber State's Seth Pilkington, who has already ran 28'25" this year, hang with me and finally passed me on the last laps. I started the 5000m race in today’s baking 39 Celsius degrees with the task to keep the pace slow. In the end I was watching teammates David McNeill and Ben Ashkettle secure a double victory from the side of the track, but I knew I had accomplished the goal for the first half of the race before dropping out.

Following is a few relaxing days in Sedona and Flagstaff before I depart for Canada’s capital on Friday. I will be running in the early morning all week, but after yesterdays 10k time trial I won’t need to do anything to toughen me up before the marathon. I have run in both a snowstorm and a heat wave this week so I am ready for whatever conditions Ottawa will offer in a week.

Recovering from American Culture Shocks, May 5th 2008

I am currently finishing up my third school year in Arizona and will actually be “walking” for graduation next weekend. Graduating includes dressing up in a funny gown and cap. Wearing this outfit for graduation is only one thing on the long list of culture shocks that I still cannot comprehend. Living, studying and training in the US has been a great experience and I will return next fall to represent Northern Arizona University in athletics for one last year, even if the yanks around me have some bizarre habits.

Distances are always given in hours, since the average American drives his big car everywhere. Even with “these crazy gas prizes” that you hear complaints about every day – gas still costs only half of what it costs in Finland! Breakfast can without a hindrance be consumed until noon and even as long as until 2 PM on weekends. Maybe because of this the most popular lunch among students is the famous peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. It’s quick, easy and quite nutritious but I had never seen one before I stepped onto this continent. Back home we would eat our sandwiches for breakfast – unheard of in the US. Probably due to their diet the American people have the largest percentage of obesity, but why does all free t-shirts have to be huge? E.g. when NAU is giving out representation t-shirts to athletes, there are seldom any small enough for distance runners, unless you are looking for a full-body dress. Another item I had not used before entering the US, but nowadays always carry in my back pocket is a check. Instead of paying with bills and coins you write the sum you owe on this piece of paper which the vendor then takes into his bank to make the money utilizable. A tedious system, but at least the banks are kept busy handling these pieces of papers. Now when Finals week is coming up the library must be jam-packed, as students tend to study at the library. I don’t have a problem sitting in my own room studying and I’m getting the best grades of the people I’m around. Academics in the US are on a lot easier level than I was used to from my two years at the University of Helsinki. At Helsinki I would barely pass my classes, here I'm in the top end of my class. Did a suddenly become smart when starting my studies in a foreign language?

My running has been excellent lately which has upped my confidence on my chances in the upcoming marathon contest. I have focused on long marathon paced workouts and tried to keep a clear rhythm between easy and hard days. From today on I am lowering my mileage and starting adjusting my body to the early morning racing schedule I will be facing in Ottawa. I have run more than 150km for all except one week since February, so my body should appreciate the extra energy that will be available. I have a feeling I will also get some extra energy from relaxing in the creeks of the picturesque Sedona between runs.

Fastest time ever over a half marathon, April 23rd 2008

The Finnish Championships over half marathon in Sjundeå was as good a race as I had expected. The first 5k was heated and run in 15’39”, followed by a 15’28” second 5k in front of the home crowd. By this time the lead pack had been reduced to four guys and I felt very comfortable running this pace. The next 15’40” 5k still felt good, but I had been going too hard for the training state my body was in and had to let Jussi Utriainen and Obed Kipkurui go during a 15’54” 5k. The wind had not felt bad before, but as I was now switching in the front with only one other runner, Henri Manninen, I could feel it blowing now. I made a move soon after the 20k mark, but Manninen had still another gear left and gapped me on the last 1,1k, even if I ran 3’19” to finish in a disappointing 4th place in 1.05’59”. I had improved my PR with 33 seconds, so I am happy with the time, considering that I am still training towards my peak. Clubmate Kipkurui won the first ever gold in the senior class for my club Sjundeå IF in 1.05'11".

I was able to keep my heart rate above 175 for more than 55 minutes and reached a max of 191, which tells me that my body is able to work hard for an extended period. During a marathon my average heart rate is considerably lower, but at the second half of the 42,195k the heart rate curve resembles that of a faster paced half marathon. I still have to do some hard long runs to be ready to upkeep my goal pace of 3'12"/km for the full distance in the end of May, but being faster than ever before over half the distance helps the mind. This was the best short visit I've ever done to Finland, but now it's time to head back to the montains to focus on the goal - Ottawa Marathon.

Half-marathon on home ground in Finland, April 18th 2008

Me and coach Heins decided recently that a half marathon would serve my marathon preparations better than the 5000m race I'd originally planned to run this weekend. Since my athletics club in Finland, Sjundeå IF is organizing the Finnish Champs this is a great opportunity to run on home ground in front of (hopefully) a home crowd. In the four marathon races I have run there has never been more than two spectators that knew me before the race, so this experience of road racing will be exciting. I am hoping for a fast race in my first Finnish Champs race on the road and think that Jussi Utriainen and fellow SIF team-mate Obed Kipkurui will provide a fierce competition.

10000m Personal Best set at 29’16” in Palo Alto, April 6th 2008

I am happy with finally setting a new personal best on the longest track distance after being stuck between 30’ and 29’20” for a couple years. Last night's 29’16”68 is right on the bubble for making it to the NCAA national championships in June, so my summer plans are not quite clarified yet. The race could not have been a better one for me – I was running in a pack and was able to stay on the inside rail for all 25 laps on this calm, cool California evening. I reached the halfway point in 14’32” and was able to stay relaxed and almost on the same pace for most of the second, 14’44”, half of the race. My famous “fish-on-dry-land” –look didn’t commence until the last kilometer, according to my cheering teammates.

Is there a physical barrier set that regulates how fast I will ever be able to run over 10000 meters? Is the limiting factor my heart, the limited availability of fast twitch cells in my body or my VO2max capability? On the last two kilometers in last night’s race I was able to hear the fight in my brain, often shown in comics, between the devil and the angel. One voice was telling me to slow down and not go with the runner in front of me; the other one was reminding me of my goal and urging me to push through the pain. Due to the stressful situation I'd put myself in I was unable to determine which voice belonged to whom. Did the devil want me to gain pain or not fulfill my goals? I know I can train some of the factors limiting my performance, but it’s hard to accept the fact that some I was already dealt when I was born. I have committed to try to find the borders of my athletic capability and I think the marathon is where the trained factors matters most. After running less than 150km this week I’ll go back up closer to 200km again next week to stay on the chosen road.

The further I go the faster I get, March 28th 2008

I spent my Spring Break week, last week, inhaling oxygen-rich air, switching between Joshua Tree National Park, the beaches of southern California and a dry Arizona desert. When we headed from Flagstaff me and NAU teammates Cameron Liston and Dan Lanzilotti didn’t have much of a plan so we just winged the trip as the week went on. The change of scenery was good, but most importantly we got plenty of warm sunshine while working on our fitness.

My outdoor season started off with a 14’36”12 5000m at the Willie Williams Classic in Tucson last Friday night. The heavy training I have been doing lately, including a 200+km and two 170km weeks, did not leave me chanceless in the race. Me, Joseph Simuchimba and Craig Curley switched off laps frequently over the whole distance and battled all the way home the last stretch. I finished in a close second behind Simuchimba, but amazed with my finishing speed. I cannot quite find an explanation why my faster running, such as two 200m:s I did in 28” at the end of a longer track workout today gets faster from high mileage. The high mileage improves my running economy over longer runs, but obviously also for fast stuff!

The Stanford Invitational 10000m on the first weekend of April will be my first high level race for the season. Having already raced 100 laps on that track and feeling strong in the past workouts I can go into the meet feeling pretty confident. While on the weekly bagel-run on Wednesday morning with Mo Farah, Reid Coolsaet, Jan Fitschen and about 30 other runners I started counting how many of the guys training in Flagstaff at the moment could break 30 minutes in a 10k? The number would probably be somewhere around 40. Considering that only 5 Finns broke that barrier last year I am pretty content to be residing surrounded by these people now. Last year my 29’24”41 from Stanford Invitational was the fastest time by a Finn for the year – in 2008 the time will be faster.

Excellence in training – dazzling relaxing, March 14th 2008

I ended my indoor season with two races in Pocatello, Idaho at the Big Sky Indoor Championships at 1400 meters above the sea level. I was pushing the pace in both the 14:49.72 5000m and the 8:33.35 3000m race and have to be pretty happy with the times, even if my placings at 4th and 9th respectively did not quite satisfy me. I knew that my best chances would lie in fast races and raced accordingly.

With a constant sunshine over Arizona my mood has been high and my workouts excellent. I have started to do some workouts on sea level or at a slightly lower altitude than Flagstaff to get used to the feeling and pace when running with plenty of oxygen. My Big Goal for the season will be to run a fast marathon in Ottawa, Canada on May 25th and therefore I went down to Phoenix to run a half marathon last Sunday. The course at the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon was hillier than expected, so it was a challenge to keep the effort as even as a marathon run in the end of a 169km week. Me and my roommate Jon Little, who is going to pace me at Ottawa, finished hand in hand in 1.09’24”, so without the hills on a good marathon pace.

While we were down in Phoenix we attended a Phoenix Coyotes NHL game against the Ottawa Senators. When I grew up in Finland it was every little boys dream to one time see the stars on the collector cards we were collecting play for real. Even if the weather permitted running in shorts twice yesterday, totaling 37km for the day, in Flagstaff, I was able to acquire some great vibes up at Snowbowl Ski Area during the afternoon while slaloming down the steep slopes of Agassiz Peak. One has to set up stunning emotional experiences like this while training hard to beat off the mind-numbing sleep-train-eat-sleep-train-eat -cycle.

Hunting down indoors, strength & elk, February 28th 2008

I improved my mile PR 4’30 to 4’26”84 a couple weeks ago and have done a few speed workouts to get ready for the indoor Big Sky Conference. I will represent NAU in Pocatello, Idaho in the 5000m race on Friday and then try to come back in the 3000m on Saturday. This is an important training period of the year, where I am building up the base of my fitness, but racing at Conference is always exciting and at the same time a refreshing workout. I have been up in the 100-mile-week range already and will get back up there again starting next week. As my trackresults over longer distances haven’t improved since I came to the US I have to try changing things around. I have started doing a runner’s lifting program set up by Phil Wharton twice a week and think the mile PR is at least partly result of that. I have felt like I have been doing the right stuff all along at NAU and know my body can take a lot more mileage nowadays, but what I want is the quicker finishing times. My first year and a half at NAU was stressful in school, limiting my recovering time, but that is definitely not the case now. After we’re back from Conference I will spend part of my free time hunting down an elk – I am really looking forward to that experience as I have even been dreaming about it.

Relaxed 8’44”55 3K at sunny altitude, February 9th 2008

As I live less than two laps around from our 300m indoor track here in Flagstaff it wasn’t a big change to my daily routine to start off my indoor season by doing a 3000m race today. There was only four runners on the start line, all from NAU and the strategy was simple – follow the rabbit Ben Ashkettle in 53” seconds per lap. I did as told to for the first 2000m and was able to finish up alone on pace in 8’44”55. That converts to a 8’23”96 on sea level, so not too bad for four weeks after the marathon and not a whole lot of fast running. Despite the snow on the ground we are running in shorts in Flagstaff as the spring sun is constantly shining and from now on I will join my teammates in workouts. A bad workout is always followed by a good one, sooner or later, but having teammates around you makes a huge difference on both good and bad days.

Snow didn't shut me down, February 5th 2008

The everyday life of a distance runner is getting back on its track again as it’s been three weeks since the marathon. I have done a broad variety of unspecific training while recovering from the 26-miler: yoga, elliptical running, a running specific strengthening program, sprint orienteering at the Anza-Borrego Desert O Fest in Southern California and a bunch of cross-country skiing in the foothills of the San Francisco Peaks. This has all been refreshing but the crave for running has taken over and I have exceeded the running load coach Heins has set up for me. Running felt great up until yesterday, when I had my first bad workout of the year. I’m back on the indoor track. Flagstaff has been attacked with snowstorms during the last few weeks and there’s about 30cm of snow on the ground right now. Being from Finland, which is associated with lots of snow here in the US, I found it quite amusing as the whole of Northern Arizona University was closed down yesterday due to a snowstorm. So now, with all the trails covered in snow, this is not the best place in the world to train!

Houston - we have a problem - 2.19'31" solo run, January 13th 2008

The temperature was perfect and the sun was shining on the runners under the skyscrapers in Houston, Texas today. Despite the wind I thought the conditions were there today. But the fellow runners were not. I started my race conservatively, hitting 5’37” on the first windy mile. From there on I started picking up the pace and came through 10K on pace to 2.17’ in 32’42” together with a Canadian runner, Jeremiah Ziak. At the halfway point the clocks showed 1’09’14 for the two of us, so I was falling behind my goal pace. From here on I had to keep the fight up solely by myself as Ziak started fading. The next runners in front of me were minutes ahead. I was able to run 5’15”-5’13”-5’15” for the beautiful 17th-19th miles and I believed I could negative split in the race. Pushing though the wind alone proved to be too stressful on the body and I started feeling some tightness in my quads and hamstrings on the way home through the parks outside downtown Houston. I had plenty of energy left – it was my muscles that had taken too big of a hit to be able to keep up the fight. I rolled back in towards the skyscrapers in a constantly slowing pace, still alone, afraid of straining my hamstring or quads. I got one last booster in downtown as I saw the figure of an Ethiopian runner getting closer in front of me. I caught him with a mile to go and came through a fabulous home stretch lined with cheering Texans and finished 7th in 2.19’31”. That was 32 seconds faster than my last marathon in Paris in 2005. Weird about this race – my 1st mile was the slowest and even with 20768 other runners I only saw 2 of them during my last 21 miles!

My mile splits:

My energy level was fine in the end and after the race so I know that its my muscles that need strengthening. My respiratory system is strong enough to reach the times I have as my goals in the future. Maybe Beijing was a dream that will not come true, but I still have years ahead of me. I know as a fact that the marathon is my distance. I also know that I don't want to run solo next time.

Going to give it all out in Houston tomorrow, January 12th 2008

Time is going by slowly now. It is 13 hours to the start of my career’s 4th marathon. The previous ones have been in Odense (Denmark), Fukuoka (Japan) and the last one in Paris in the spring of 2005 (2.20'03"). Tomorrow at dawn I will start at Houston and I am planning to go out conservatively in a 5’20” mile pace (3’30”/km) to then pick it up after a few miles. Previously I have thought about the distance as 42,195 kilometers, but as the race take place in the US I am going by 26.2 miles. It will take as many steps to reach the euphoria that waits at the finish line, but hopefully I can fool my mind of how long the distance to the finish line is on the last part of the race. Anyone who has run a marathon knows that the mind does not function properly in the end – no marathon is easy, but I hope my legs will take me to the end stop in less than 2 hours and 17 minutes.

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