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Recouping on Safari, December 13th 2011

Zanzibar is the illusionary place - nothing is what it seems. We experienced a version of this soon following the last update, waking up on the middle of the night with bad minded strangers in the house. Loosing all material belongings at knifepoint not only made updating my blog challenging, but also forced to reevaluate ones values. Human relationships and experiences are unreplaceable, while the thieves captured much more electronics than I truly need. Knowing how to recoupe from a knifepoint robbery I'll be able to cope with life's small miseries better in the future. Having the crooks behind the robbery behind bars would also be quite a relief.

The robbery did not stop me from running but I took a short break resently as we were chasing the migrating wildebeest etc. around the plains of Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater. It was the perfect break to get out of the tropical island for a while and since we were fortunate to spot all of the Big5 (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard, buffalo) along with quarreling hippos, hugging zeebras and a sunbathing crocodile it has to be considered a success. Since then I have had days when running twice in the heat has felt quite repulsive. Lying down in the hottub and watching a movie would have felt like a better option after a day at the office. I need to soon find some races to keep my motivation up along the way leading up to the Rotterdam Marathon in April.

Life goes on on the Spice Island, September 24th 2011

The tragedy of the passenger ship Spice Islander which sunk outside Zanzibar two weeks ago has been touchable. I didn´t personally know any of the victims, but for a small society like this loosing hundreds of people in one night is quite substantial. The reason for the ship sinking might never become officially public, but it seems obvious that there were way to many people onboard that sorrowful ship when it weighted the anchor from Zanzibar port. I am certainly hoping this was a big enough shock for the leaders that implementing good governing practices on the Island will finally see sunlight.

Running, work and life in general on Zanzibar have become a routine. Similarly relaxing on one of the beaches around the island is a norm during the weekends. I have not caught on to all common zanzibari habits, but being up and running slightly before sunrise is one I predominantly follow and enjoy. It’s not only that dawn is when the conditions for running are best, but the mental energy one gets for the rest of the day is overwhelming.

Yes, that is me starring in the McDonalds commercial on Finnish TV. I was asked to act in the role of a Swedish race walker only on the terms that the Finn, Jarmo, would walk away with the win. Perhaps it’s fortunate that I am far away from the viewers of the commercial in order to escape the swarms of fans.

Kareem Ramadan, August 30th 2011

Fasting while the sun is up during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Since I live on an island where 95% of the population is Muslim I have also been fasting during the holy month to show respect to their traditions. As I have continued running twice a day I have made some modifications and do eat breakfast after the morning run in daylight, in the privacy of our own garden. (I also take a sip of water every once in a while when I’m sure nobody sees.) Ramadan is the time of healing for the soul, body and spirit and as there is no lunch hour or snacking time there is more time for other tasks, such as reflecting on daily thoughts. The first few days of fasting were the toughest, but since there isn’t much food available around town, the hunger is kind of simple to withstand. The Ramadan fasting truly tests ones spirit. Before I was rather skeptical whether I could survive a day without eating anything, but now I know that I can handle a run even without having eaten anything for the previous 10 hours. I think I have become mentally stronger? The hunger and headache before the run is soon forgotten when the kilometers start rolling…

So I am back on Zanzibar and some kilograms lighter than at the start of Ramadan. I’m convinced fasting is one of the reasons my workouts have been successful. I have acknowledged before that I’m quite a chubby marathoner, but haven’t before been able to found the means to lose weight. Ramadan is a lovely excuse for not eating. The weather on the East African coast is sunny but “cool” on local standards – the daily low being 22 Celsius at sunrise.

My competition season 2011 was rather compact, but since coach Holmén was not big into racing himself during his career this works out fine. During 2011 I won the Copenhagen Marathon and was a onetime Finnish Champ. We have not yet planned in all the races for the coming up campaign, but performing up to Olympic Standards in the Rotterdam marathon in April is the clear motivator for the next 7 months.

Crisscrossing the Alps, August 12th 2011

I have spent the previous 3,5weeks crisscrossing the Alps with Mrs Boström during our honeymoon. While chasing the sun we came across a bunch of magnificent venues and probably shared more sweat than the average honeymooners. Our exploring instincts were fulfilled and all stress was relieved. Our route was not planned in detail beforehand, but ended up being Munich – Fuschl am See – Heiligenblut – Tobblach – Cortina d’Ampezzo – Canazei – Malsecine – Peschierda – Edolo – Livigno – St.Moritz – Laax – Munich.

While in the Alps I wanted to try some running disciplines unknown to me. As I admit being a bad uphill runner participating in the Grossglockner Berglauf 12km course with 1500 meters of climbing was out of my comfort zone. The final uphills were grueling but I was satisfied with the 10th place finish and the magnificent views. One week later Dolomite Skyrace – included in the Mountain Running World Series – offered 1440m climbing during a 23km long course. This time there was two separate hills so the course included also downhills. The original course was to climb up to 3152 meters, but due to a snowstorm the course was altered and I was informed that the new course would be only 18km… thus the second climb become a drained mans fight against collapsing. I had to let last year’s World Series winner and another competitor pass me on the last kilometers and ended up in 7th. Great experience, but wish I will make it back on a year when all the peaks are tackled along the course.

After another week of relaxing and wine tasting on lake Garda and hiking in the Engadin I participated in the Swiss Orienteering Week in Flims. Since I had not orienteered in a few weeks the navigation proved challenging in the first stages, but caught on by the end of the week and I was able to fully enjoy the awesome orienteering venues finishing in 6th spot. Considering Switzerland is the powerhouse of orienteering I was happy to get top challenge the best!

One Wedding and Three Races, July 14th 2011

A great posse of friends and family gathered in Raseborg on midsummer, as I put a ring on my Matleena´s ring finger. Everything went like in a fairytale and all seemed to have a great time – thanks for the experience and all the greetings!

Soon after the Big Day I added a new country to my list by visiting St. Petersburg, Russia. The city was pretty, however the people were so rude that it lowered the overall impression of the place. A few days’ trip to Estonia’s beachy Saaremaa followed soon after and from Friday onwards we’ll be at our actual Honeymoon in the Alps.

My training has changed quite a bit under coach Holmén. The program I follow states the length of each run atop of all the specifics for the workouts. Even if this gives me less opportunities to wing it as the days go by, perfecting the recovery might be what I need to make the most out of my training. I have for now done frequent workouts and more strides than previously. Following a couples weeks’ break after a disappointing Jukola I’m doing 3 very different races within a week – 1500m in Sjundeå IFs relay at Finnish Champs last weekend, Huippuliiga SprintO in Lohja yesterday and Glossglockner Berglauf next. I have had the joy of running most of my runs during the last month with two NAU teammates of mine, Mark Fruin & Cameron Liston. The company has definitely pushed me along in the tougher session.

Holmén takes over coaching responsibilities, June 18th 2011

The former European Champion in the Marathon, Janne Holmén, will be coaching me from now on. London 2012 is my goal and since my development has stagnated in recent years we have, together with my current coach, Jari Ikäheimonen, decided to bring in some new winds to the training routine. Ikäheimonen will remain in my support crew. I have, as my best for the marathon, run 2.18’51” in Ottawa in 2008.

This weekend I will run the anchor leg for my club Lynx in the Jukola orienteering relay in Virolahti. The problems in my left hip are under control and I have been able to do some good quality workouts in cool Finnish summer conditions lately. Orienteering wise I have come upon a fresh problem, as I had forgotten how to take action when a mistake occurs… Last year we were 4th at orienteering’s showpiece to the world – with a race like that I do not need to remember how to miss your bearing in the woods.

Sciatic Pressure from Piikkiö, June 7th 2011

It’s slightly over two weeks since I ran the victorious Copenhagen marathon. I have never recovered this well from a marathon, which makes me believe I had a lot more in the tank than the 2.21’ time I ran. I was able to run two days later and didn’t feel any muscle soreness a week later. It was not until I participated in the Finnish Champs Sprint Orienteering this Sunday that I felt the recovering process is not complete. My left hamstring had been tight earlier, but now it seems that it’s the sciatic nerve that is trapped and hindering a complete leg movement. Today it’s preventing me from running.

The sprint O races this past weekend were joyful events. I took it easy in the qualification in the morning to save my incomplete energy for the afternoon final. Since my speed has weathered during marathon preparations my only option to reach up to the medal fight was to gun it from the start. I was leading on the first control and kept up the rocket pace for quite a while. My route choice to the 2nd control was bad, but then I was able to navigate through the Piikkiö streets and parks without trouble until the 15th control. On the last 500m of the race when the terrain turned from urban to forest I lost more time than the total I was behind the winner in the finish. I had reached the limit of my physique on the day, but at least I was able to obey the rules, going around the forbidden cliff, all the way to the end – which seemed too challenging for some of the best… 11th place in a the national Sprint Orienteering Champs 2 weeks past the marathon was an OK performance anyhow.

Win in Copenhagen Marathon, May 23rd 2011

11870 runners started in yesterdays Copenhagen Marathon. After 2 hours and 21 minutes I was the first one to cross the finish line! I started out in 2.17’-pace, but from 16km onwards was pushing through stormy wind on my own. At the halfway point (1.09’50”) I had already opened up a 2 minute lead and this kept on growing on the 2nd half. Denmark´s capital is a flat, but with some 100 turns on the course it’s a challenge to upkeep a steady rhythm – especially when you are on your own. I cannot complain about the crowd along the course though. Being the first one to come through the streets probably encourages the spectators to cheer slightly louder and that helps the runner conquer his thoughts of easing in. My 5k splits were 16’22”-16’06”-16’33”-17’01’-17’09”-16’56”-16’59”-17-08”&7’28”, so no disastrous bonking. After having aimed only at fast times in all my previous marathons I wanted to go for a big city marathon win this time – and it feels great to achieve this. Considering the conditions the time was rather good, but in the finish I still had some energy left. In the right race I believe I would have a realistic shot at qualifying for the London Olympics.

The short story in video of Copenhagen Marathon.

Going for the win in Copenhagen, May 20th 2011

This past winter I have chosen to live where I can run in warm conditions and instead travel to get to races. This decision implies I was traveling 30 hours just prior to last weekends’ races, which is not exactly ideal preparation. My body, however, felt great on Saturday and despite the challenging orienteering in the Huippuliiga race in Särkänniemi amusement park I pulled of a 5th place finish. On Sunday I was already beaten before the 12k Finnish Cross Country Champs and could only manage a 6th place. That equaled last years’ performance (when I was fresh of a stress fracture) so I cannot be satisfied.

Next up is my big goal for the spring. On Sunday morning at 9:30 I am starting the Copenhagen Marathon. I ran the first marathon of my career also in Denmark, in Odense, so one circle is closing on Sunday. I still have not been able to race for the win in a marathon – this time this will change. I don’t know exactly who else is towing the line, but I am ready to race. Denmark is a flat country, so if everything goes as planned the time might be decent too.

The Work is Done in Africa, May 12th 2011

The Masika – long rains – made my last week in Zanzibar pretty wet. This allowed me to perform excellent ultimate marathon workouts and I now feel ready to attack the top spots in Copenhagen Marathon on May 22nd. In all my previous marathons I have aimed for a certain time goal, which makes the racing mentality quite different. This time I’ve got pacemakers, but will not be too worried about times – competing is the objective.

I have left Zanzibar and will spend the summer in Europe, mostly in Finland, when the country shows its best qualities. Before Copenhagen I will run two races this weekend in order to sharpen up – Huippuliiga sprint orienteering in Tampere on Saturday, followed by 12km at the Finnish Champs Cross Country Champs in Nivala on Sunday.

Now when I will be away from the Swahili culture for a while I have the courage to evaluate how life differs from that I used to be used to. Daily life on Zanzibar involves much less bureaucracy – things are done and worried about when reason arises, not before. Planning the future is not really essential here so if setting up a meeting a week in advance one should not expect to find the person on-time, or at all. This could be considered an unorganized system, but somehow, no matter how messy this seems, life goes on without a worry on the face.

One has to respect the African spirits – not afraid of anything – as I have experienced on several occasions. While running the brutal Kilimanjaro halfmarathon I came upon a Ugandan runner a few kilometers into the race. As I came upon his shoulder he sprinted to gap me by some 20 meters, only for me to catch him a minute later. Again he sprinted in order to gain a few meters on me and as I was running evenly I caught him soon again. This pattern was repeated for a few kilometers, while we were ascending the slope towards Kilimanjaro. Even if I was rather strained I found the whole episode quite amusing – I don’t quite know how far behind me the Ugandan finished, but his efforts proves the bravery which is incorporated into all Africans I have met so far.

I don’t have experience from all over Africa, but it seems Africans lack initiative taking. If there is one shop selling a product and being successful, you are likely to soon find others spring up next-door. You will likely not find local dukas (shop) trying to separate themselves from others – aiming just to survive, not strive. Instead of trying to find out new ways to do business or handle affairs, reliance on the old ways is highly respected.

If you were to go out and ask for 10000 Shillings (5€) for your sick mother a poor african man is more likely to fill you’re request than a rich man. I have not tried this as such, but I have experienced the African anti-materialism. The poor man happens to just have eaten, so he figures you’ll need the 10000 Shillings more than him right now. The rich man would be worried about losing assets, which he might buy something for in the future, so he would deny your request. It’s up for everyone to judge which one is a better way out, but challenging our useful ways of rational thought is refreshing!

10 Mila Rash, April 30th 2011

Even if 10 Mila as a race is miles behind the organization of the orienteering worlds larges fest – Jukola – running a relay is always fun. In Sweden’s 10 Mila the 10 guys on the team needs to orienteer throughout the cold spring night minimizing the overall risk in navigation. Orienteering is perhaps the most individual sport there is, as the orienteer traverse through unknown terrain hidden in the woods from the spectators. In a relay though, you are responsible for the overall result of your team. It puts pressure on each runner and brings out characters not often seen in the loners of the woods. I have been out in the forest training twice this week and I can feel the 10 Mila rash all over my body. The excitement is rising – I’ll be out running the 8th leg for Lynx in 8 hours!

Bloody Irrational Spring, April 18th 2011

Coach Ikäheimonen was worried about my blood values earlier this year, so I have had my blood monitored in detail this spring. Since it seems that I have 8 liters of blood (norm 5l) of which 1kg is oxygen transporting red blood cells everything on that front should be in order. I have learned that hemoglobin is a weak indicator of the red blood cell status in the body, since the variation due to differing hydrating state is great. My HB was measured 13 digits higher (148 g/l) after fasting compared to the following day (135 g/l) after breakfast. As I wish to keep the sport clean I have included a table of all my blood examinations here in order to prove I am not hiding anything. My legs have started to feel a little lighter lately as I have dropped the mileage considerably. I partook in the Swiss Sprint Orienteering Champs in Bremgarten a week ago and run the Finnish Half Marathon Champs this past weekend. Neither one resulted in any big trophies, but running 1.07’00” in the half, improving 40 seconds from a month ago is a promising sign as the Copenhagen marathon is only a month away. Check out the television clip covering the Finnish Champs.

I don’t like to do something because you’re “supposed” to do it. Societies are structured based on norms of action, which eases the daily counteraction, but since I have been fortunate enough to encounter several different cultures I’ve learned that these norms differ significantly from one another. Me living in Zanzibar is not exactly following the norm of newly graduated Finns nor that of a European distance runner. Neither was my yesterday’s long run in a sunny Zurich between my flights back to Zanzibar. I have also tried to refrain from having weekly routines and seldom take the same route from one place to the next. I have acknowledged that my odd actions might be a pain in the ass for some. If I was born a few hundred years ago I’m sure I would have been a world explorer, but now I may still discover the contradicting ways of different people, which I feel can be very valuable in our global world. We, westerners try to always be rational, but there is a lot we can learn from others.

Sicilian Spring, March 28th 2011

The last two weeks have been quite hectic. Since I left Zanzibar two weeks ago I spent one week in an icy Helsinki on a training course for my work, then ran Lisbon Half Marathon in 1.07’40” before going back to Helsinki for 24 hours – and I am writing this update in Sicily. While running high mileage was focus numero uno here I also partook in the Mediterranean Open Orienteering Champs. All in all it has been a good break to run in chillier conditions than those of Zanzibar, even if it’s been hard to convince friends that it can be too hot for running where I live!

You may now officially title me Master of Science, since my Master’s Thesis with the title The Utilization of GPS In Orienteering Mapping In Urban Helsinki and Rural Kenya was approved. I started my geography studies in 2003 so it took me a total of 7,5 years to get my Master’s degree from the University of Helsinki. The Thesis can be read here.

I ran up and down, March 11th 2011

The Kilimanjaro Half Marathon was a great experience and the winning time quite astonishing 1.03’50. I ran rather seriously and finished in 1.11´56”, in 62nd place and clearly ahead of the next muzungu. It is not a course I would recommend for anyone aiming at a fast time, since you literally run uphill for the 1st 10,5km and downhill for the 2nd 10,5km, finishing on a gravel stadium. This leaves your lungs shouting for air in the uphill and your quads uproaring during and long after the finishing section. Anyhow, it was a well organized event and overlooking Kilimanjaro keeps ones moods up even during though times.

My goal of running up Mt.Meru was demolished by the Arusha National Park officers’ bureaucracy. Due to some inhospitable animals on the lower slopes every hiker needs a park ranger to accompany them. The park was not able to provide me with a ranger for the first 21 hours I was waiting at the entrance gate and then a regulation that one is not allowed to ascend the mountain in less than 3 days was made up to prevent my success. I hiked & run on the lower slopes among giraffes and zebras, but was very disappointed with not reaching the top. I will attempt to ascend the neighboring Kilimanjaro later in the year.

Since returning to Zanzibar I have been able to focus on running over flat terrain again. Since the temperatures constantly hover above that ideal for endurance athletics I have been forced to slightly adjust my training paces. According to some researchers the human body’s performance level is subpar in the early morning when the temperature is the lowest. It´s definitely a challenge to find the correct training paces to develop aerobic and anaerobic running capabilities ideally.

Earlier this week I had a 2 hours 45 min progressive run on the program. I always carry some money for water and dalla-dalla transport and this time I had also brought a simple road map printed at work along. After 1.25’ running the road on my map disappeared under my feet and I was lost. After running in circles quite desperately on tiny trails for 45 minutes I was fortunate to find a fellow willing to leave his burn-clearing to guide this Finland uniformed explorer to the nearest gravel road. There’s quite a clash to trot along to the rhythm of the latest club hits by Tiesto while running through rural tropical settlements & forests. Since the majority of the population is Muslim dogs are rare and the mind rests in the everlasting, ever-changing scenery. After getting back onto bigger roads I increased the pace and was able to eventually find my way back to my house, but there’s still work to be done to bring the maps & databases up to date at work! The log of this long run and all my other training logs can be found on Movescount.

Running to the mountains, February 25th 2011

I would have to be a pretty darn important person in Finland to have a guard in my house’s front yard 24hours a day, a maid doing all household work inside and a gardener taking care of the outside, a team of drivers waiting for a gig outside the office and a handful of persons from the staff assigned for handling various byrochracy issues. That´s the treatment this mzungu gets on Zanzibar though.

Almost two months into my life in Zanzibar I am still grateful for the running conditions, except for the high temperatures. The track on Amaan Stadium is in better condition than most tracks in Finland, the dirt roads crisscrossing the neighborhoods and forests virtually endless and the possibilities for massage are diversified and very affordably. I have been able to prepare ice baths for increased recovery, but the amount of ice needed when the afternoon air is 34°C is absurd.

There are a few local runners of high standard, but the time synchronization to meet up with them for runs has proven to be very challenging. There were some qualification races put on by the Tanzanian Athletics Association last weekend and I aimed to do a long workout (5km+4km+3km/3´) at the beginning of the half marathon race. There were however no official instructions on when and where the start was nor how to get there, so after an hour of hitchhiking and trekking I confronted the lead runners on a remote road and jumped in after the number 5 runner had passed me (as advised by officials). I do not know exactly how far into the race we were, but ended up passing a couple guys and enjoying the cheering of supporters along the road back to Amaan Stadium. I had an excellent workout and arrived through the stadium marathon gate at 3rd, but continued through the finish line to complete the last 3km dash I was executing. Don´t think I qualified for whatever spots they were racing for, but it was a good preparation for the Kilimanjaro Half Marathon this Sunday. The start there is located close to Moshi in northeastern Tanzania at an altitude of 850m while the halfway turnaround point lies at 1450m. I don´t have a time goal, but the standard of the field is expected to be pretty high since last years winning time was 1.05´!

Following the Sunday race I am aiming to climb Mt. Meru (4560m) in Arusha National Park. This is the little brother of Mt. Kilimanjaro and should not be quite as touristy, but still provide amazing scenery and a great challenge to cope with the altitude. Most tours take 3-4 days to scale Mt. Meru, but my goal is to spend only 1-2 days on the mountain, depending on the fitness of the ranger I´ll find at the gate. After a long period on the rather flat Zanzibar Islands it will be good to get some hills to try to challenge gravity and get sore quads going downhill.

Slowhow in 6°12’41”S, 39°12’11”E, February 1st 2011

It’s a month now since I left Helsinki for Zanzibar. The change has undoubtedly been big and adapting to the lifestyle here has only begun. My work at the Revolutionary Government of Zanizibar has been about what I expected from it and all the warnings concerning things not functioning have come true. Finland has exported its snowhow this winter, but these guys definitely specialize in slowhow.

I have my own house some 6km south of Zanzibar’s Stone Town, and 200m from the Indian Ocean. Trainingwise my home in the township of Mbweni offers access to both dirt and paved roads atop on the possibility to runs on the beach and crosstraining in the Indian Ocean. This was one of the reasons I opted for a house outside of the UNESCO World Heritage site, where I was first offered an apartment. I commute to work into town on a moped, while I live in the countryside. The only obstacle for my running pursuit is the heat – I wake up at 5:30am for the main workout of the day and wait until the sun is about to set for the 2nd run. Due to the behavior of dalla-dalla (minibus) drivers and the nonexistent pedestrian ways running after sunset could be considered a suicide attempt, so I’ve tried to avoid that. Last week I managed to run 200km, so the rhythm I’ve adapted to is effective.

Here’s a lection on the African time conception: On Thursday I asked my gardener to plant a banana tree, a papaya tree and a passion tree in my garden as I pressed 10,000 Tanzanian Shillings (5 €) into his hand. He said it would be done tomorrow. Two days later, on Friday, two banana trees and an avocado tree were leaning towards the fence in my front yard. The caretaker of my house showed up that afternoon and we agreed where the trees would be planted. On Saturday the trees were sticking up from the ground. I texted the gardener thanking him for the trees and asking about the missing papaya tree. Today, on Tuesday, I have two banana trees, an avocado tree, two passion trees and three papaya trees in my front yard! "Pole pole!" (Swahili for slow, take it easy) – it took some time, but that’s just the way things work on this continent. I am very pleased to have my own fruit orchard and hope I some of them will bear fruit before its time for me to leave Zanzibar.

Goodbye white Helsinki - Welcome white Zanzibar, January 2nd 2011

I am leaving the winter of the century in Helsinki for Zanzibar today. I got the post of GIS and Database Junior Professional Officer in a Foreign Ministry Development Project on the Tanzanian Island and will start work on Monday. Not only are the training circumstances in Zanzibar better than in Helsinki during the winter, but I am also looking forward to getting some valued work experience through this job.

There’s at the moment 70cm of snow in Helsinki and the winter has only started. The only resemblance to Zanzibar is the white color, since that’s also the color of the beaches around this Indian Ocean Island. The temperatures might be slightly too warm for running, especially now when it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, but not having to deal with the stress of traveling to escape the snow will easily overweight that barrier. This was just an opportunity way to good to pass on. Making big changes like this is never easy, but I have learned through previous ventures that experiencing new cultures and surroundings are greatly rewarding.

Happy New Year 2011!

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