I won’t lie. Sitting down yesterday to start this recap, when the past seven weeks have been defined by injury, didn’t feel super inspiring. But it’s also a part of sports – setbacks, that is. And as my mom would have said: “Det är inte hur man har’t, utan hur man tar’t” (a Swedish rhyming idiom, loosely translated “What matters isn’t how things are but how you handle them”). In the end, I want to say I haven’t dove straight into a dark hole and stayed there. If someone would have asked me prior to it all, how I would have dealt with the idea of two months away from running, I probably would have said something like “I could never deal with that” or “I’d go under” or something very dramatic, such as “I’d say shoot me now”. But perspectives change. Upon the run where my injury surfaced (it came out of the blue, but more about that later), we had our first backyard race scheduled three days later. The first disappointment was thus realizing that I wouldn’t toe that starting line. And then you think you’ll be back in a few weeks, and what’s a few weeks in the grand scheme of things? And then you start listening and reading about other similar stories, and you see no improvement – and then you all of a sudden start to think “it’ll probably be a few months”, and somehow that’s okey too, because the realizations have come gradually. It shows how the human brain works: we might need time to get used to new things, but at the end of the day, we’re excellent at adaption.
But first a few notes on the actual injury, for those interested (if not, feel free to skip ahead a few paragraphs!). I went from feeling so strong the entire year all the way until mid-October. Mike was taking a few days off due to some hip issues, so I was doing a couple of runs by myself. I went for an easy 10-12k on Monday October 14th. About 8k into it, I felt a sharp but not overly painful sensation in my left foot, right behind the 3rd-4th toes (as in, on the top of the foot, towards the ankle). It subsided and I just assumed it was nothing. I had had no prior injuries/foot problems whatsoever. The following day I went cycling, and then on Wednesday I left home for another 10k run. I didn’t make more than 1-2k before that sensation I had felt two days before had come back and intensified A LOT. I would call myself pretty pain-tolerant, but I had to turn around after another kilometer or so and couldn’t even run home – I limped quite badly. The rest of the day was just a matter of random ways of damage-controlling it all. Ice, elevation, you name it. Nothing quite helped. During the night, my whole foot throbbed and was so painful I couldn’t sleep. A stress-fracture wasn’t the first thing that popped into my mind, actually. Those often come on more gradually, while this showed up more or less out of the blue. The next day, Mike and I actually went to the emergency room. I’m not exactly a frequent doctor-goer, but it seemed so intense I couldn’t help but to think a nerve had been caught, or maybe I had a blood clot or something else bizarre? My foot was beginning to swell and had turned blue, too, and it seemed a good idea to see an expert.
“Det är inte hur man har’t, utan hur man tar’t”
Long story short: no X-rays have showed anything yet, but the assumed diagnosis is a 3rd or 4th metatarsal stress fracture in the left foot. I was equipped with an air cast and crutches early on, and the air cast I can’t speak more highly of. First, as opposed to a “real” cast, the air cast can be taken on and off. You don’t need to sleep with it, and when you’re just hanging out at home and not doing much walking around, you can take it off as well. It also offers up a little more flexibility, while supporting and taking any pressure off the bones in question. With the air cast on, you can put weight on the foot – but any longer adventures are discouraged. Since I can’t quite sit still and need lots of fresh air to feel even remotely like myself in the absence of running, I’ve relied on my crutches for walking. I’ve had the boot on, but instead of walking “normally”, I’ve used the crutches to take further pressure/weight off the injured foot and thereby been able to extend the lengths of the walks. Crutch-walking is no joke. I need to dress as if going for a light jogg, because I build up so much heat I’ll be sweating like an animal a few minutes later otherwise. I’m happy to feel how much stronger and durable my upper body has become throughout this – not just from the crutches, of course, but also thanks to the time spent on strength training (I’m still not there when it comes to my goal of doing pull ups, but I’m getting closer).
Today (this part was written on December 8th), it’s been seven weeks and four days since that disastrous run. Mentally, I’m doing fine. Physically, I didn’t see any improvement, more or less, for the first five weeks. That was hard, and scared me. I drew up all sorts of terrible scenarios in my head, be sure of it. I was expecting some sort of linear improvement from day one, but that’s not what happened for me (so if you’re in my position – don’t worry). Instead, about two weeks ago, I felt like I turned a corner all of a sudden. I didn’t go from very painful to completely pain-free, but over the course of a few days, I started to feel more comfortable walking around the house. I still roll to the outside of my foot a little bit (to avoid placing full weight on the sole), but I think that’s more because I’ve been doing that for so long it’s hard to reprogram the brain. On Wednesday, December 11th, I have my third X-ray. As I mentioned, none of the previous ones have showed anything (and neither has ultrasound), which is typical for stress-fractures, but now I’m really hoping the films will show callus. If they do, it means the bone is healing and turning stable, and I can start to reintroduce weight-bearing activity. If they don’t, then more time is needed. And while I say I’m hoping, I’m also keeping my expectations low. My foot is still tender and I can’t walk perfectly normal yet, so it’s very likely I’m not quite there. During these seven weeks away from running, a spinning bike (lighter resistance in the beginning, but today I had some heavier and it seems to have been fine), walking and various strength sessions have been my training. I would love to introduce swimming/aqua jogging too, and I probably would have done so earlier hadn’t it been for the fact that we live a fair bit away from the closest aquatic center + I’ve been dealing with a nagging cold for the past two weeks. Both Mike and I are intrigued by the idea of more cross-training in our plans, so maybe we’ll make it a thing for both of us eventually. That’s my little injury recap. Seven weeks don’t make a whole year though, so let’s zoom out and look at more fun things – the rest of 2019, for example.
*Injury update: X-ray on Dec 11th showed callus! I wanted to hug and kiss the doctor as she showed me the films. A stress fracture of the 3rd metatarsal was confirmed, and I can plan for a slow return to running around the end of December-beginning of January. I won’t rush into anything, but take my time to not have to go through set-backs. In the meantime, I’m enjoying walking without my boot and pushing harder on the spinning bike than I have so far. It’s getting better and feeling more stable for every day that passes, and I can’t even describe the joy that I feel 🙂
So, if we just pretend we’re in the beginning of October, we’d be telling you how thrilled we are with our 2019 running year. We’ve upped our mileage a little more, been even more diligent with variation as far as different sessions, and many (but not all) of our races exceeded expectations. Mike has scored himself three top 10-performances and I three podiums, plus a joint win for us in the duo category at Fjällmaraton. What’s important in times of injuries is of course to remember all the good parts – the job we got done, the results we achieved, the goals we met. None of that disappears just because of a broken foot, even though it’s easy to feel that way. Mike coordinated some injuries and a very stubborn airway infection, so we share the feeling of “meh” when it comes to the last part of this year – but we’re also agreed we should be beyond pleased with everything we accomplished before the curtains went down. I also think ending a year a little so-so can instill in you an even greater sense of motivation in the next year to come. Also: our bodies got a proper rest. Maybe a little longer than we would have ideally wanted, but we’ve said for many years that taking a few weeks completely off of running after the racing season every year could be a good idea. Who knows, maybe we’ll note that down in the calendar for 2020? Resting as a prehab method instead of a rehab method is of course much more inspiring – albeit beyond hard, as I’m sure many of you can relate to. Pulling the e-brake when you’re in a flow and not wait until things go wrong is notoriously difficult for most athletes/active people.
Our 2019 can be summarized like this: January-July saw really great training. I had a minor thing going on with my calf in April, but that was nothing that stopped me – and it also got me to buy a balance board, which has now become a staple exercise in our injury prevention. Besides that, we were very consistent with 100-120k per week and got a few weeks of cross-country skiing in to break it all up (the “empty” spots in the chart below of weeks 3, 10 and 11 were spent skiing). We tuned up by running the fun (and free of charge!) race Aros Marathon 50k in the beginning of May, which lead to a 1st female and 9th male placement. In mid-June, we laced up to race again – this time Jättelångt 70k. Hot weather caused me some sort of heatstroke and my first DNF, but Mike pushed through and finished 5th – a very impressive performance considering that more than 50% of the people toeing the line dropped out. After Jättelångt, we did our last massive training block for the season, and logged our biggest week ever: 141k. (A goal for 2019 was to do 160k/100 miles, but we’ll have to save that for next year.) Then we participated in Fjällmaraton in the beginning of August, and Ultravasan 90k just two weeks after that. Three weeks later, we headed north again for Höga Kusten 43k, and three weeks after that, what turned into the last race(s) of the year: Åre Trail Tour. After that, just as we mentioned, we were supposed to clock out the racing year by doing our first backyard at Lidingö Backyard, but my foot and Mike’s sickness put an end to those plans. And… the rest is history. Here we are. Let’s look at some details of this year, shall we?
Weekly kilometers run in 2019
Typical training outline
This hasn’t changed much from last year – we still have three staple sessions per week (long run of 25-30k, tempo run, intervals/speed-work) that we always do, and the rest of the days we do what seems to fit in. If we’re looking to do higher mileage, we add in another long run. If we want to spend less time on our feet, maybe another tempo run. And depending on the race goals coming up, we adjust accordingly. Generally, we do 100-120k/week during training, and less during taper/recovery. One day of rest per week is holy.
In preparation for UV90 (this as well as last seasons’ big goal), we really find that back-to-back long runs are key – and long-long runs as well. This season (Feb-July) saw seven sets of 50+k (most 60+) over two consecutive days (six sets in 2018), and for three weeks in July, we did a 50k run every week. We’ve never done training runs over 40k before, so this was a big step. And what was so amazing was not only noting how much less we were hurting at the end of the last one, but also how easy it felt mentally to set out to do “only” 30k another day. To be able to shrink the perceived challenge of 90k is such an advantage. To not be overwhelmed by the sheer distance of it all. And doing these long training runs we feel help us a lot.
Stretching/yoga has somehow become a very integrated part of our daily routine. Some people need to really make an effort to do that, but have an easier time making space for strength training – but we do the stretches almost without thinking about it. Strength training is something we do, but we’re more inclined to postpone and cheat in that department. However, introducing that balance board has been an awesome way of adding some (minor) strength into the daily program. We typically do a few minutes per foot/leg at night now, or maybe even when standing by the stove, making dinner. I can’t even tell you enough how useful of a tool this is. We rely on our feet so much, yet very few of us do any designated foot-strengthening. We thank Dr Dan Leijonwall in Stockholm for that tip!
For speed-work, we’ve been more consistent this year than last (when we “accidentally” sometimes forgot it was time for one of those sessions). The sessions are about the same though, but the times a little quicker. If you’re interested in the details, you can see all of them in our 2018 Training Recap. And even though we often dread speed-work (we much prefer the long runs over here!), it’s very motivating to see how quickly you improve over those 500-2000 m distances once you spend a day a week practicing running fast. And the flow! The flow when speed work works out is incredible. You literally feel like you’re flying.
Some nitty-gritty business
Comparing the total numbers for 2018 with those of 2019 will be a little misleading. Over the course of the first nine months this year, we had clocked about 3100k of running. In 2018, that number was 2600k, and we clocked 3500k for the whole year. One of our goals was to do 4000k this year, and it seems safe to say we would have met that without these recent bumps in the road. Conclusion: we are happy with our mileage, even though the number will be lower over the course of the 12 months this year than last.
When looking more closely at the part where we place a lot of focus – long runs – we see an interesting development. Again, we’ll have to keep in mind that we’re looking at 12 vs. 9 months, but still – last year, we did 38 25+k runs in total. Eight of these actually took place in Oct-Dec, when we put in a lot of good training in 2018 (for the sake of comparisons). This year, we have done 29 25+k runs, and 26 were 30+. In 2018, 20 were 30+ (and seven of those were in Oct-Dec). Jan-Sep we’re thereby looking at 13-26 – an increase by 100% from 2018 to 2019! That we’re certainly thrilled with. And as far as even longer distances, 2018 saw six 40+k endeavors and 2019 eleven. That’s also an increase that we should be very pleased with.
Since we run trails and in hilly terrain (especially the races we participate in), we don’t really look at times and PB’s much. Sometimes we feel a desire to do a road marathon just to see how fast we could go, or wish we had a track close by for “proper” 1, 5, 10k times. But those are quite fleeting desires, and really only coming from our egos. We love the trails, after all, and are our happiest out in the woods or mountains. With 2019 in mind though, we did run our quickest ever marathon distance, as a part of a 50k trail race we ran in May. We clocked in at 3:25 then, and snuck in right under 4:07 for the full 50k. Our goal before that race was coming in under 5 min/k, and we ended up doing 4:57. Mission accomplished! We had the same goal at Ultravasan 90k, which would have meant a 7 hrs 30 min finishing time. There, mission was instead not accomplished and we came in at 8 hrs 26 min, or 5:38 min/k. It’s fun and slightly addicting, looking at times, wouldn’t you say? And that’s coming from someone who ditched her training watch in May and hasn’t regretted it one bit… I really love running without one – but I’m also interested in sports physiology (which I actually got my minor in) and times are, after all, an excellent tool for judging improvement. I ask Mike for information whenever I feel up for it, and I’m authorized to log on to his Strava if I want to look at any details. That works for me. I ran all the races this year without, and it was interesting to see how unusual people around me thought it was. Quite a few times during Ultravasan 90k other runners asked “do you know what time it is?” or “what’s your average pace?” and I obviously just told them I had no watch and then passed the questions on to Mike (and in my head, I thought: why don’t you look at your own? And if we’re at the same place at the same time… shouldn’t our average pace be the same…?). But so many were SO fascinated by the no-watch thing. I just happen to love it. It means no stress for me.
Last year we participated in five races/race weekends, this year six. A few fairly pricey ones, others more affordable (and one entirely for free). Overall, it turned into a nice combination of experiences, all set in beautiful locations of different types. I think the indisputable highlight has to be Ultravasan 90k again. We dreamed of a female podium beforehand however fell a little short (8th), but the whole day from start to finish was amazing. And the most remarkable thing of all was definitely the fact that we weren’t hurting (more than the usual tiredness) at the end. This was a completely new experience compared to 2018, and something we thought was so cool. If you’re interested in reading more about any of the races below, just click the race name and you’ll be brought to the race report written about each one (available for Aros, Fjällmaraton, UV90 and Höga Kusten).
- Aros: this is a free 50k race taking place in early May, following the old train track bed from Uppsala to Enköping. It was such a friendly and well-organized local event we would happily return to – and we encourage all of you to do the same! We thought of this as a tune up/test race for upcoming bigger goals – we wanted to try doing 50k under 5 min/k, since the 5 min/k was the goal for both Jättelångt and Ultravasan90. We succeeded and had a really great day out there, despite some stomach issues towards the end.
- Jättelångt: A “home” race for us, or at least close to – Jättelångt follows Roslagsleden and ends in our closest town Norrtälje, so it feels very similar to where we live. The first portion of the race even hugs the coastline, and offers up some running over boulders and rocky beaches. The area through which this race went was badly hit by the storm Alfrida in January this year (2019), so what we thought was going to be a pretty quick (because it’s mostly flat) race turned into part OCR, part running, due to plenty of fallen trees over the trails. To top it off, it was a very hot day out there (by Swedish standards), so the drop out rate was over 50%. I, Sophia, was one of them. Mike, on the other hand, stayed true to his New York upbringing (summers there get insanely hot) and powered through by himself, scoring a 5th place.
- Fjällmaraton: This was a race we were so excited about beforehand – we were going to race as a (mixed duo) team for the first time ever! The only cloud in the sky was the fact that Mike was diagnosed with Lyme disease the day before the race, and there was a whole lot of back-and-forth before we decided we were going to participate anyway. Running in Årefjällen – especially under a clear blue sky – is something all runners should go do at some point. Mike had a partly rough day but we made it through and finished strong, even claiming the first place amongst all the duo teams!
- UV90: Ah, Ultravasan. Just as magical and humbling as last year, all the way from the start to the finish. The 2019 edition was, however, a lot wetter and muddier than the previous one. We started out strong, had a dip in the middle and picked it up in the end – and didn’t suffer nearly as much as in 2018. Last year, all of our joints and muscles hurt so much the last 1/3, but this year, none of those sensations rolled in. We were tired and achy, sure, but it didn’t feel like we were going to break into two. Amazing! We finished in 8 hrs 26 min, as 8th female and 58th male. And as we didn’t make that female podium dream come true this year, it only means we need to come back to chase it again (and maybe again, and again). The recovery time this year was also peanuts compared to last – then we could barely walk the first few days, and it took 2 weeks until we were back to normal. This year, we went for a 50k bike ride 3 days later, and a 10k run the day after that and felt totally fine (albeit a little heavy-legged).
- Höga Kusten Trail 43k: an almost impromptu sign up – we made a new friend at Fjällmaraton, Maja, who mentioned she was going to run Höga Kusten Trail and we had somehow not really seen or heard much about it prior – but the race video on the website had us hooked immediately and we managed to buy spots from someone else (the race typically sells out in less than a day)… so we ended up going! The course is so beautiful and the ending to the race quite brutal – it takes you up two separate hills of 300 elevation meters each in the last 6-7k of the race. We had a pretty great day out there, despite some questionable weather, and made it all the way to the top of the last climb (where the finish line is) in one (two) pieces. This was the first time we split up at the end – I was trying to hold onto a podium position, which worked, and Mike was running low on energy. Highly recommended race – although come prepared: this is a very technical trail race in some sections.
- Åre Trail Tour: We participated last year as well, and were very happy to return – plus to see the number of signups being much higher! We were a whole bunch of both men and women completing the full tour (including a 7k night run on Friday, a 24k mountain run on Saturday, and a sprint on Sunday) and it came down to the last day, who would claim the spots on the podium. Mike had an awesome performance in the sprint last year and climbed many positions, but struggled with some health/hip things this year. He still ended up 13th overall! I had three good performances and actually ended up winning the women’s tour, which made me very happy. I was so nervous before the sprint because I’m… well, I’m a terrible sprinter! And I knew it would be a tight race if certain other participants did well (and they did), so it made for a nail biter until the very end. (Click here to read last year’s Åre Trail Tour Race Report).
I looked at what we wrote in this section last year – for example, we wanted to do a 160k/100 mile-week (which we already touched upon – that still remains a goal) and also get in the habit of doing double sessions every so often. With regards to those doubles, we can’t brag about ever doing two runs in one day, but we did indeed do running + biking or running + kayaking in the same day this summer. So I guess we can say half-accomplished there. We also mentioned bringing more variation to our sessions – and this I think we have actually done. In general, we’ve done a whole lot more sessions with a clear intention than what we used to, and that has felt great. Hoping to continue in the same fashion, naturally. Otherwise, the goals for next year aren’t super specific – they’re more like consistently high mileage, no injuries, keep the running joy going etc. We don’t really have any races picked out just yet, but are of course glancing at mountain races and Ultravasan 90k again. We’ll see. For now, and probably for another month or so, focus will be primarily on getting back into the swing of things and avoid any setbacks in my rehab. Mike is kicking back into gear right around now, after his slightly “off” fall, and we’re crossing our fingers we’ll be hitting those trails together very soon. I know it’s easier said than done, but boy oh boy am I going to appreciate every second when I’m finally back to running. That’s all from us – we hope that you’re ending your running year of 2019 injury-free, of course, but if not, we wish you the best of all recoveries. And remember – you’re not alone! Good luck with whatever challenges you have in front of you, and you’re of course more than welcome and encouraged to share some of the year that’s been or the one we’re about to enter. Happy New Running Year!