Spiritual journey

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spiritual journey starts in high mountains, when muscles are braking down, lungs craving for another sip of oxygen, legs become so heavy and super mellow at the same time that even small rocks feels like the huge boulders. after continuous exhaustion i need to find the balance between what i can and what i can’t. it is so depressing, as i always could, but now i am climbing from the darkest place i have ever been. digging hard is my choice, as long waited and promised enlightenment is just few steps away, so no matter what i keep pushing towards it. enormous running effort slowly absorbs me and finally i vanish by becoming the one with sacred mountain and mother nature. after reaching my own peak, chakras are opened. it is exactly the moment when exhaustion, suffering, love, gratitude and peacefulness are blended in the mind and it all trigger something unique, that didn’t existed before and was not imaginable or possible to accomplish on my own. finally, i found the peace with myself, discovered religion and reached satori, nirvana, zen, you name it, which transforming me into the living buddha

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Chinese experience

49896316_2185968231657863_6411207457808318464_o“are you chinese”, asks me asian looking woman in the hotel elevator bringing me away from hong kong. shortly i thought that it was addressed to my co-traveller and japanese friend Hiroaki Matsunaga, but woman was staring straight into my eyes. surprise, confusion crossed my face, so i have just managed to mumble the question back, “am i”. however, she kept looking at me begging for an answer and it kind of boosted required morning energy, which i usually absorb from the strong bed coffee trying to wake up from the deep night sleep. “no, i am not”, i was laughing confidently, finally being able to give her straight answer, “but definitely will ask my mum”, added on, as comical side was finally awake. life is crazy, people even more and though it sounded like a joke, apparently it wasn’t, since humour was still tightly sleeping at that early hour. it happened so quickly, that i couldn’t figure out what triggered this ridiculous question, but a lot of laugh later on definitely made my day

Marathon Des Sables (MDS) Peru: snake

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I am literally running out of my own skin and parts of my body are falling apart. Lips and toes stopped being one piece few days ago and their nudity already is new norm and weird piece of art, which will remind me about this journey long after it will be done. This is the moment, when being the snake, sounds like amazing option – able to shed the skin and run hurtless.

However, nothing is painless at #MDS and everyone pays his own price. Blisters, headaches, vomiting and peeing blood are the symptoms, which almost everyone suffers. Dehydration, high core temperature and heat stroke are things what MDS’ers risk here each day and not being snakes they can’t transfer heat into energy. But medical crew can and each day they heal hundreds of runners and prepare them for more pain next day. Those who survive the stage come back and do it over and over again – ultras just simple like suffering.

However people in the camp step by step are changing, talks becoming louder, smiles getting bigger and laugh just confirms that just one day stage left to become the real desert snake!

Marathon Des Sables (MDS) Peru: simple life

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At Marathon Des Sables campsites we are living like a big family and it has its own charm. Somebody is eating and somebody is farting at the same time in front of you. However, it is new reality and norm that anybody gets angry or frustrated. We are definitely building something unique here, as being almost 24/7 all together is not just about recovery and running. Most likely those difficulties, disappearance of privacy and shame are the things, which makes our relations so special. It should be similar to high mountain expeditions and though I have never done one myself, feeling that instead of fighting cold and snow we are fighting heat and sand as well as unpredictable human factor in very stressful daily situations with a lot of unknowns. The only difference is that we do it with total strangers, whom we met in bivouac Zero for the first time.

Big brood of strangers is divided into the cells which consists of 4 to 5 tents with their own stories and colourful personalities, so build the good and supportive team takes time. I live with Ozzie, Mauritian, Japanese and the Cow. I would say we are one of the most international cells and Cow being the most interesting from the rest of group. Though being Japanese he clearly doesn’t have nationality. Seems that running with super warm cow costume in the desert with heat reaching up to +40C is the essence of his life. Although it is a bit weird and I am a bit unsure that he will be able to finish all the stages, probably he the best got idea of life. Life is simple and just we make it too complicated. Furthermore, everyone here with his own reason and though reasons differ, most of the runners want this simplicity in their complicated or super busy lives. Very likely deep inside most of them a super jealous to Cow, who found meaning of life just being the one

Marathon des Sables (MDS) Peru: lessons learned

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Heat and sand creates miracles in the desert, sadly mine wasn’t so sexy today. Remember while ago I was writing about magic of never? Guess what, #MDS surprised me with another one.

Today I was puking my guts out on the way to the first stage finish line and even wondered how good runner I am as was chicked and passed by few elderly gents. Tried desperately to keep up with them, but had no chance doing so. The more I tried to stay hydrated the more water I have been loosing, the faster I tried to push myself forward, the slower I have been moving. Battle was lost and the only hope left was not making hydration situation even worse and dangerous in those extreme heat conditions. Mitigation of expectations is must in the races like this and the better own manager you are the better race outcome is. This time it was as low as no matter what reach the finish line, but to do that I needed #hydrateordie.

Though I was desperate and surprised by all his new experience, actually it didn’t make difference, because I just like running no matter how hard it is. Sorry for those who think that I can compete with Usain Bolt and Mo Farah in their preferred distances at Olympics or stay close to Rachid Elmorabity in his playground. Everybody has Achilles heel and I am happy to find out my third one. Failures are just part of the process and yet the best way for improvement, when lessons learned are identified. Definitely, on my vomiting odyssey, I remembered poor Jim Walmsley during this years Western States Endurance Run and probably it was very first time when I could really got under his skin and into his shoes. However, my shoes didn’t move at all, as all energy was used for marking the course with the pieces of food from my stomach, so after a while I simply have no power left to lift my #megagrip‘ed legs at all. Water wise, professor Prof Tim Noakes would be super proud, as I definitely wasn’t waterlogged and done all stage with one litter of water in extremely hot desert conditions. Sounds stupid, but the more I drunk the more I watered plants all around me. So, looking from this perspective I wasn’t totally miserable and have done few great things in the sake of science.

No more excuses. Certainly, the fastest won the first stage, of Marathon Des Sables PERU however no less demanding five ones left through the #IcaDesert, so I won’t stop at the finish line, as tomorrow is yet another splendid day!

 

Photo Fredrik Ölmqvist #MDSPeru2017

Marathon des Sables (MDS) Peru: bivouac Zero

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For me all races start much earlier than H-hour or gunshot announcing the beginning of the stage. Marathon Des Sables isn’t the exception at all. It started way back in Lithuania when I have begun packing all mandatory equipment and necessary food into CamelBak Octane 16 pack. Sounds silly, but getting ready for 6 days self-sufficiency in the desert requires a lot of effort and as usually I have been very negligent and slow, so basically packed everything just last minute before departure. Despite, great tips, which my stage-pro-runner friends shared with me, I had to be very creative, as so many unknowns were waiting for me. Experiences, from the past MDS races, were so individual that definitely one size hat couldn’t fit all. Moreover, traveling itself was already the race and I was hardly involved in competition with time, boredom, sleep, proper food, jet lag and numerous hours spent on the planes and busses reaching campsite Zero.

In the Zero was easy to notice and distinguish first time entries like me and regular MDS participants like Rachid Elmorabity and Remigio Huaman, famous for their wins at previous MDS races. However, in the camp Zero everybody was alike and different at the same time with his or her own agendas and various reasons being in complete wilderness. In the newly established desert campsite life was just flowing and this river of simplicity was nothing-similar compare to civilization, which I have left hours ago in Lima. I was there as fruit of greed mixed with luck and pure coincidence, the offer, which I could not resist, in order to discover undiscovered and becoming better version of me.

From now on MDS race road-book clearly became my new bible, as contained all necessary information, which structured my daily life for upcoming week. Moreover, it contained first insights on the racecourse, which was top-secret information up till now and had more than 10 commandments, what I shall and shall not do. Trail religion is strict and cruel, but guess super necessary one to protect the lives of runners and make us as one to survive. However, it punishes runners with time penalties even for the smallest faults, so being absent minded I was already waiting for the first nail to my cross.

SAMURAI SPIRT AND TRUE LOVE

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UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) was my biggest trail running nightmare to date. Nothing went to plan. After almost 100 miles of running I found the courage to drop from the world’s biggest trail race. I told myself it was a valuable lesson learnt but in truth my confidence was totally destroyed.

I had to pick myself up and found fresh motivation in the form of curiosity. To satisfy that curiosity, I decided to take a risk and, for the first time in my life, travel to my childhood dreamland, Japan, the land of ninjas and samurais, to race the UTMF (Ultra-Tail Mt Fuji). I knew I hadn’t fully recovered from UTMB, which was four weeks earlier, and my quad muscles hurt like hell, but I thought ‘it’s better to die trying than not try at all.’ And so, after more than 12 hours in the air, I finally stepped foot in the land of brave ultra running warriors.

Carbo-loading in Japan is not a problem. Rice is served everywhere and with everything – a bit like French fries in many parts of the world. The food in Japan is amazing, so it was a joy for me to try and gain a few additional kilos prior to the UTMF. I ate lots of miso soup, sushi and grains, all of which probably played a vital role increasing my glycogen storage.

The UTMF race itself is a 105-mile loop around the iconic Mt Fuji and while I felt confident in my ability to run a solid 100k (62 miles) so soon after UTMB, there were a lot of unknowns as to how I would cope after that distance. With that in mind, I decided to take it easy and let the race develop naturally. That, however, is not an easy task when you have crazy Norwegians like Didrik Hermansen and Sondre Amdahl racing! It meant that my first kilometers were probably a bit faster than I’d promised myself they would be, but ‘what the hell’ I thought, I felt fresh and full of energy. For a good part of the UTMF I was running with Didrik, who was extremely fast on downhill sections, so every time we began to go uphill I worked my ass off to try and lose him.

We chatted as friends but at the same time both knew we were fighting for position and to beat one-another to the finish line. At one point the trail hit a big, constant uphill and my Norwegian mate fell back. It was a real shame as the comradeship we shared on the trail was wonderful.

Even more wonderful was the love I felt at UTMF aid stations. Indeed, I’d even say I was in love with the aid stations. Weird? Not really. Knowing the love of my life and support crew, Gintarė, would be their waiting for me, I ran like the wind into the aid stations. Gintarė, as always, fed and watered me and provided the motivational boosts I needed to run such a strong race. Sometimes, like at UTMB, she is cruel and brave enough to stop me from hurting myself. She knows best. Gintarė is my true love and without her the trails wouldn’t exist. In Japan she became my code of Bushido.

I left the aid station at 55 miles to enter the dark on my own. The rain continued to pour but with a full stomach and a scent of love, I started to think that a UTMF win could be possible. I convinced myself that such an idea was stupid. Then suddenly I noticed race leader Arnaud Lejeune up ahead on the trail. He looked drained. Bloody hell, perhaps those thoughts of a race win were not so stupid after all!

I pushed myself hard in a bid to show my rival who was the boss. It seemed to work. What I hadn’t taken into account was the course, which then took me by surprise with some brutally steep climbs. It was really tough, especially in such wet conditions, but the grip of my X-TALON 200 shoes gave me an advantage.

There was now so much rain, mud and technical terrain that the race began to remind me of Grand Raid Reunion, which I did almost a year earlier. Suddenly I felt suspicious about everything, especially my pace. Is it good enough to win? I feared the Frenchman (Arnaud) would sprint from behind and steal my victory by few seconds. I was passed in the latter stages at Grand Raid Reunion. No way was I going to let that happen again and with the spirit of samurai – a mantra I kept repeating throughout the race – I forced myself to the finish line. Banzai!

There was now so much rain, mud and technical terrain that the race began to remind me of Grand Raid Reunion, which I did almost a year earlier. Suddenly I felt suspicious about everything, especially my pace. Is it good enough to win? I feared the Frenchman (Arnaud) would sprint from behind and steal my victory by few seconds. I was passed in the latter stages at Grand Raid Reunion. No way was I going to let that happen again and with the spirit of samurai – a mantra I kept repeating throughout the race – I forced myself to the finish line. Banzai!

I kept repeating throughout the race – I forced myself to the finish line. Banzai!