A Grain of Sand

The marathon is just a little grain of sand on an endless empty beach. But take this grain on your finger tip and dig the lens from your pocket. Do you now notice the sharp edges and the reflected light breaking in its sides so that the grain shines like a diamond? It’s neither a lost child nor the emerald of the kings crown, it’s just a marathon race. It’s a time gone by and, as if it were a totally meaningless emptiness, we summarize it not by the minerals it contains, but only by its borders in the dimension of time.

Two hours, twenty eight minutes and forty seconds.

What does it tell you? Nothing, I guess. It might sound fast to you or slow, but nothing beyond. Would you run marathons only to create a number? You might as well choose a day to die or select a partner because of her family name so that it fits to yours on your tombstone.

So let me describe to you the quartz and the basalts in this little grain of sand, let me tell you about the marathon of Hamburg beyond numbers and facts. Let me first tell you about the waking up at 5 o’clock and the breakfast which was served in our hotel room. How much do you eat so that you don’t get empty during the race nor get pain in your stomach? Do you take the U-bahn train or do you walk all the way to the start? And let me tell you about the Japanese Yuki Kawauchi who was among us in the elite field of the race. He is the only world class athlete who runs more than ten marathons each year and many of them below two-hours-ten, which is beautiful, even more because Matti mentally prepares for the marathon by reading this book about Japanese marathoners written by a Finn and this books seems to be full of facts or lies and other stories about Japanese runners and that’s why it is the Japanese running book and the Japanese they are crazy runners and so on.

I started the race out real slow with legs that were protesting but they shut up and I could go faster and then suddenly I flew with the birds and I was sure that I ran an incredible race with mighty powers but at the same time you fear that this flying machine of you will crash so if it crashes let it crash late so you continue and count every kilometer because the powers still lasted this far.

But then it starts. The other guys who ran behind you they pass by and your legs they don’t want to come with them but you tell them that they have to so they do and you run in front again because it feels better to you but a few kilometers later those guys pass by you again and they gain meters and meters and meters and the road is still so long but you know that Matti, the one reading in Finnish about the Japanese, you know that he is behind you and you want to keep it like that because he is a good friend and those good friends are te ones to fight against so you do and you feel the blood coming out of your body on different places but you forget about that pain because you just look hard for energy and you find a hidden source so you continue. Still you count the kilometers, much slower now, and you repeat the number that you have left behind and you just continue and you realise this thing is so small, this grain of sand, but you know they measure it and nobody looks at the beach so you continue in order to let it  be fine when put into numbers.

Two twenty eight forty.

And in the evening you fly back to Finland with pain in your legs and the sun sets while you are above the thin clouds and this is such a weird thing if you think about it, and when you see through the holes in the clouds the line, thousands of feet below, between the dark sea and the dark coast, you know it is a beach. Who really cares about these grains of sand? But still, you think, maybe I take another chance two weeks ahead.

Hamburg Marathon
Hamburg Marathon 2014, photo by Jeroen Deen

The waking of the bear

The second weekend of April? Ask Jaakko Nieminen or any other Finnish runner, and the answer will be: Karhuviesti [the relay of the bear]. Indeed, after the long winter sleep the bears have awoken, and fast they run! They run from the old town of Rauma all the way to the Karhu-sportshall in Pori.

Fifty kilometers, seven runners. The wind in the back and the sun on our shoulders, although they say that it always rains and the wind always comes straight from Pori. A day later, Matti Rauma confesses that over the years only the toughest conditions survive in the memories of the runners.

For the first time in my life I wore the mustakeltainen [black-yellow] outfit of the Turun Urheiluliitto. As a true marathoner I feared the 6.3km that I was supposed to run: it was surely too short. But guess what, I burned my soul and spit out my tongue, I ran harder than I could have imagined before and so did all the others and that’s how we won the whole road relay, in the best winning time in a decade. The team included Kennedy Charicha, a friendly guy who came last year from South Sudan and discovered the art of running here, in Turku. Although still learning the language he already is a true Finn and an inheritant of Paavo Nurmi’s breath.

Jukka Kero on the lead. (photo from http://www.porinkuntoilijat.fi )
Jukka Kero on the lead. (photo from http://www.porinkuntoilijat.fi )

Our team also included two members of the Kero-family (Jukka and Jaakko) who once came running out of their mothers womb and will never stop. Of those, Jaakko has run the European marathon championships in 2006 and he is now in his young forties and still possesses the power that many youngsters desire. The brothers and the others, Johannes Brunila, Kennedy Charicha, Matti Rauma, Maunu Toivari and I, ran with the wind and it was Jukka, who, as a real bear, took the lead in the last kilometers of the race and left of the other teams not much more than a few broken bones and salty shirts.

But as they say, there’s little meat on runners bones, so back we went to Turku and halfway we stopped for pizza and a pint of beer and we raised our middle finger to the police on the road who then came chasing after us with sirenes and helicopters and all that but we were the bears and we were not to be caught. Oh no, I’m lying, we drove back and went early to bed because the next day we had to wake up for a long run. Thus on sunday morning we ran through the forests and over the hills and the power of the day before was still in our legs although now the rain was pooring down on us. Does it matter at all? No, it doesn’t, not when you feel that the bear inside you has woken.

It has. With all the tough trainings that went so fine and the Karhuviesti and the light feeling inside when I run through the fields I am full of desire for the races which are soon to come:

Saturday April 19th: SM maantiejuoksu (Finnish championships 1/2 marathon)

Sunday May 4th: Hamburg Marathon

A sunny day in March

Today I participated in the CPC half marathon in The Hague. As I arrived at the starting area, I got a bit stressed because it was so full of people, so different from my own dear Finland. Imagine being in a forest where the trees walk, talk, are dressed in full color clothes! But then I noticed the faces, all happy faces. It was the earliest summer day ever in Holland, it was impossible to feel unhappy or be angry so all these people just smiled. They smiled inside and outside, they smiled inside-out.

It was a bit too warm and windy for a fast race, so I jogged easily in the beginning and just sticked to the pace which brought me to 1’10. Quite satisfied though, since I have not been able to train very regularly lately.

On the way back home I changed trains in Utrecht. A guy, looking like a junkie, asked me for 1,80 euros because he needed money for the train back to Amsterdam, he said. Of course, I know these guys, so in stead of refusing or giving him the requested money, I offered to buy him a ticket so he could give the three euros which he kept in his hand to me. Fuck, he thought (you could read it from his face). He sat down and scratched his chin. With disappointment all over his face he stared at the euros in his hand which he was going to loose. ‘Better give me money,’ he said after some time, ‘I also need the money for a sleeping place, you know.’ I couldn’t help laughing, of course he just wanted to buy alcohol or drugs but I don’t care because that’s his own responsibility, so I gave him the little cash that I could find from my pocket. ‘I’ll have to come up with a different trick next time,’ he said laughing, and waved me good bye.

That kind of day it was.

Pine trees and ducks

If you look carefully around, you will find most precious things all along the road. Yesterday evening I went out for a fifteen kilometer run. The path on the Varissuo hill was covered with crusty snow. Although the track is forbidden for runners in winter time, in order to keep the path optimal for skiing, I decided to take my change since the winter has hardly been a real winter this year .

Just after the steepest part of the hill I stopped to walk a little bit – wasn’t the run mend for recovery after the tough training on the indoor track the day before? For a minute I paused and looked around. The pines stood straight along the path and seemed to reach higher than the stars. I admired their verticality and its contrast to the inclination of the ground on which they were standing. I tried to imitate them, stood on one leg and reached with my arms as high as I could. For a few seconds I succeeded, but then my foot started to tremble and I had to come down to the ground with both legs.

Ducks on ice sheets in the Aura river
Ducks on ice sheets in the Aura river

Today morning I did my exercise in the park by the Paavo Nurmi stadion. Although there was a thin fresh layer of snow, the path was in perfect condition. Four times ten minutes at marathon speed. And the squirrels playing in the snow and the blue tits singing. Running is the truest pleasure, I thought. Back home along the river, brown water with sheets of ice drifting on it. Again I paused, this time wondering about the ducks who were standing on the ice rather than swimming on the water. Why, I thought, did they ever choose to be ducks?

Diamond-shaped footprints of a duck.

As I was looking at them, my eyes caught another peculiarity. A beautiful picture was drawn by footprints in the snow at the river shore. They told the story of a duck walking away from the water, changing its mind and turning around. The footprints were shaped like diamonds. But look, a few meters ahead they changed into Algiz-shaped footprints. Could it be that the duck had started to run, and therefore its footprints changed, I thought.

When coming home I took my camera and ran back to the river to catch the story with the lens. Just as I returned to the place, the story revealed itself. A big grey crow was marching around, threatening the ducks by his cold shrieks while leaving behind the footprints I had been wondering about. So the story was not that of a duck who started to run but of a crow and a duck. Much more interesting indeed, leaving me with even more questions as I headed back home again.

Diamond- and algiz-shaped footprints on the shore of the Aura river
Diamond- and algiz-shaped footprints on the shore of the Aura river