DIARY: Long before trail running

After losing my mother a few weeks it is natural that thoughts turn down memory lane. We are staying in Denmark until the 5th of September. When bad events pop up in life my way of dealing with it is to crowd them out with positive experiences.

Selfie at Marselins Forest in Århus


After working from Denmark the week following the funeral, I had decided to take Aoife to Århus, the town I studied in for six years and were I still have many friends and dear memories. Aoife worked on something called the ‘Aarhus Convention’ and was curious to see the town itself. It is the second city of Denmark with roughly 300,000 inhabitants.

‘Aarhus Main Plaza’

On the way up we drove to one of the most scenic town’s in Jutland – Silkeborg – where my sister and her husband live with their kids. Silkeborg is an outdoor person’s mecca with its beautiful lakes and forests and plentiful rolling low hills.

We spend some time socialising Friday evening after the two hour drive and then went to Søndersø in the morning for a walk around the lake. I had done a tempo run there on New Year’s Eve 2007 trying to break 15 minutes for the 3.9 km loop. I ran injured , as always back then, and only got around in 17:21 (in my defense the route proved to be extremely hilly and my heart rate bounced along at 188 bpm for most of the run!).

This year I let the girls do most of the walking while I walked back the way I came to spend 30 minutes swimming in the lovely dark and cool waters of the lake, the sun soaring down as Denmark is being baked in 26-28 degree summer weather so far.

The first ‘Long run’

Our trip then went to Aarhus to meet more old friends and take a tour of the ‘Old Town’ a reconstruction of old Danish towns from the 19th century, 1927 and 1974 eras.

Old Town

After some late night shenanigans, I took Aoife downtown and then onwards to the beautiful Moesgård Beach – a shallow sandy beach in the midst of the deciduous Marselis Forest. This place has very special running significance to me: back when I began running for fitness again in 2002-2003, my ‘long run’ (not that I knew what that meant) was a run from south Aarhus out through Marselis Wood to Moesgård strand where I would turn back – a trip just under 17 km along breathtaking forest trails parallel with the blue Baltic Sea.

I had only been back twice: once running the 12 km Marselis Race (in summer 2008) and on the 28th of December 2007.

Trail running?

It struck me that back then I never thought about the difference in terrain. I made no note of the short steep ascents and descents nor did I have any notion of such a word such as ‘trail running’. I did not wear a watch because I couldn’t afford one and I ran in a cotton t-shirt. There were no ‘running socks’ just ‘tennis socks’. I would never (and still don’t for that matter) have identified myself as a ‘trail runner’. The woodland was simply a nice place to run and the surfaces just happened to vary. It probably struck me as distinctly unproblematic because my father had dragged us through wild bushes and rough forest floor (generally in pitch dark) from the age of six. My brain, like most from that generation here and my father’s before me, did not think in dichotomies like ‘ road running’ and ‘trail running’. There was just running. It didn’t take an education – it was the most basic human skill to just run over whatever type of path happened to be in our way.

 Moesgård Beach behind the rolling grassy hills of Marselis Wood

Perhaps we should get back to that?

Fat adaptation before fat adaptation …

More memories came flooding back and I took Aoife out to my old dormitory to show it off. Apart from the ‘good times’, I had experimented then with lots of things I am experimenting with again but that I had completely forgotten.

Memory lane: I’d forgotten  that Denmark is not so bad looking…

For instance, I would go to the gym for a spell 7 days per week. After 3 weeks of very heavy lifting where I would eat insane amounts of food after each session (such as drinking 1 litre of chocolate milk followed by a huge meal of bread, cheese, ham, and rocket!) and sleep several hours midday for recovery (the joys of being  student!), I would have a week of ‘fasted training’. My gym was about 5 km of undulating cycle away from the dorm.

So I would rise early, have some water, cycle to the gym, start with 20 minutes cardiovascular work, 15 min core work and then a full gym routine with very light weights and very high reps. Then I’d cycle home and only then would I have a mainly protein based meal. This was an old bodybuilding routine to gain lots of mass and then strip off some fat in the week in between. Not a routine I would employ now but interesting that I was already employing fasted training almost one and  half decades ago – long before I would first read about in the context of running.

All this I would largely forget as I left Aarhus behind and travelled to Ireland in 2004. Only slowly, as I re-entered running some years later would these things begin to come back.