Brons Bronze Pronssi

Seven years after winning a bronze medal in the Dutch national marathon championships, I did it again. This time not in The Netherlands, but in Finland. It was a special marathon, with only competitive participants, 23 in total. Jaakko Nieminen won the title (2:26), and Mikko Tolonen won surprisingly silver (2:28) – he did not only surprise us, he also surprised himself. My own finishing time was 2:29’35, clocking just below 1:13 halfway. Although I had to take a short break after 30k with stomach pain due to a tactical mistake (speeding up uphill), I consider this race one of my best marathons ever, as the route was very tough, with almost continuously hills and several kilometers on non-tarmac roads. According to the organization, we ascended and descended nearly 300 meters during the race. Along the route, we were provided with spectacular ruska views, personal drinks every 3k (!) and helpful volunteers, making me love this wonderful country even more than I already did.

I have been able to pick up the training very soon after the race and am now preparing for the Amsterdam marathon, which will be on October 18th. There and then I will try to break my personal best, which is 2:23.

Tolonen, Nieminen, Feuth

Check out Jaakko Nieminen’s blog for his winning perspective of the race (in Finnish).

Cogito – thoughts on what we are

Cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am. The proposition by Descartes is especially of importance when running at -10 degrees temperature, without jacket, without hat, without gloves, just your body and your mind and the power of the sun and almost a meter of snow covering the marshes. The proposition is usually explained as a proof of existence by thinking: you can doubt nearly anything, the only thing you can’t doubt is that you exist.

However, while running, and the sun and the coldness ‘are’ (although nothing demonstrates its existence as relative as does the coldness), I discovered that this proposition is also a statement about what you could call ‘the soul’ or ‘the person I’, as you could also interpret Cogito ergo sum as ‘I am my thinking’, so as the thinking stops, I am not anymore.

For example, one could also say: the wind blows, so the wind is. Also this is true, because the blowing is what defines the wind. Surely the wind does not think, but that does not mean that the wind cannot be. Only, the wind isn´t me. If Descartes would have written: I think, therefore I am; the wind blows, therefore it is; the light shines, etc. – if he would have constructed his proposition thus in a wider context, it would be clear that he defines the ‘self’, or, if you like, the ‘soul’, as the ‘thinking’. My body is merely the material requisite to be meAs the body dies, the brains do not function, the ability to think is forever lost and thus the soul ceases to be.

The being, though, does not necessarily vanish when the body dies. For instance, the idea, or the concept of the person (his soul) can persist in the third person. Mozart, for instance, still exists in the third person, as do many famous people from the past, who left there footprints. Even people who have not existed in the reality can actually exist in the third person, as their (fictive) existence may have impact on our thinking, just as real persons of the past may do. Thus, although I am an atheïst, I must admit that God exists, at least in the third person, as the idea of Him exists and has major influence on peoples thinking and doing, but it does not imply that he also exists in the first person.

The concept can also be implied to the animal: the further emotions and higher thinking are developed in an animal, the more we regard it as an animal with (bit of) a soul. Dogs (especially those with long hair and sad eyes) are of course the philosophers among animals, they surely have to some extend a sort of soul, cats are bipolar beings, full of affection, they may have a soul too, and also elephants, horses, cows and reindeer, but not the snake or the fish (not even the goldfish, they are simply too simple), nor birds – not even the parrot, although it can learn to say ‘cogito ergo sum‘ if one bothers to teach him those words.

Cogito ergo sum not only tells me ‘what’ I am, but also ‘when’ I am: I am when I think. When we sleep, when we are severely drunk or in other conditions in which the consciousness is impaired, we are in a lower degree.

These are the things that kept my body warm while running, today. As often before, I can feel that during the running my consciousness expands, and thus, while running, I am in a more vigorous way, my existence intensifies.

(Descartes lived most of his life in Amsterdam, not in Posio).

To pass by and to forget

Today I passed by another runner – I thought. It was at the bridge near the waterfall in the turn of the river, there where the sound of the falling water is louder than the call for freedom. There, below at the waterside, you will normally find fishermen waiting for luck, but now it was a dreary evening as it had been raining all day long and the fields turned dark early today, so there was nobody but me and that other runner.

The other runner wore a blue jacket. He came from the left while I came from the hill behind me. The man ran with slow stride but took big steps and this combination brings just a perfectly medium speed. I thought I would pass by him since I felt just like speeding up as I had some nice loop behind and I longed for home like you sometimes do. So I did. I mean, so I passed by the runner. I passed by the man in blue like you pass by people many times in life and then you just simply forget about them.

As soon as I had passed by the man in blue, I was ready to forget him and think about the race two days ahead. But just as the sound of is footsteps faded, I heard them getting louder again. Although the birds they were singing no matter the rain and there was some wind and there was the sound of the falling water and so on, I could hear nothing but the steps of this man in blue. They were loud now and I could almost feel his breath and then I realised this was a hard man to pass by. He was one of these people who don’t like to be passed by and be forgotten and then they decide to hang on.

I kept the pace because I knew he was pushing but he didn’t give up so downhill towards the footbridge I speeded up and uphill I wouldn’t drop the pace anymore so then I was sure this man in blue he would drop but he didn’t, as his footsteps and his breath were still in my back. We were approaching my house, so I said to myself: I decided to pass by so I will speed up so he will drop dead down the path and when it’s fully dark I will come back and throw his dead body in the river like they do in the movies.

I speeded up, but guess, you guess right, he still hung on, so I turned to full speed as if chased by a hungry bear and it was only then that he finally dropped off. At the turn of the road, at the yellow house for the alcoholics, I waited to great him so I raised my thumb as he passed by and I heard something like ‘hyvä vauhti’, which means good speed, but he didn’t stop and he ran down to the railway bridge and then disappeared.

But I couldn’t forget him.

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 )
Jukka Kero on the lead. (photo from )

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