A lot happens in life. Sometimes you plan things and try to apply them in everyday life. Sometimes it works, sometimes not at all. We often ignore "alarms" and signals that the body sends to the brain, the body that screams and yawns for help but ... we do not have the time, desire or energy to listen. We "like the situation", we ignore what is not "convenient", we choose what is quick and easy and often what is "difficult" is forgotten.
Exercising was no surprise to me earlier in life. I loved being out in nature when I was younger, walking, running, cycling, swimming .... I am proud and happy that I was born in a wonderful area: the city of Rijeka in Croatia in 1973. During my upbringing I found wonderful nature experiences just minutes from the residence and the sea was the playground for everyone! Then I also fell in love with basketball until 1994. Running was just a complement, a way to complete training or to transport quickly when the buses and cars were stuck in traffic. When I moved to Italy after a short parenthesis in Germany, a lot changed in life! My asthma got worse due to all pollution in the air around Venice. I felt very bad for many years.
In June 2003, I managed to injure my back at work. A monster disc herniation came stealthily and slammed hard. The pain changed my everyday life thoroughly and completely erased the sport from life. I could barely walk without pain. I struggled hard in order to avoid surgery as there is always a risk of even more serious consequences. Those days,weeks and months I had just one single goal - to learn how to accept the pain! It got so tough that it took me about 10 minutes to move my body from the bed to the toilet in the morning. Among other things, my asthma got much worse and I used about 1 Ventolin pump per week. Absolutely incredible and very dangerous to health.
Not being able to exercise regularly (not even walking without being in pain), an increased stress situation at work and life in Italy that was not easy, things in life changed quite quickly when my son was born in 2005. My wife and I started thinking about getting one more child, we really wanted it but at the same time it was quite impossible to do that in Italy without family support. We simply wanted a better life! But what we wanted was something that instead became something completely different. The move to the unknown...
The choice to emigrate!
The day before Christmas 2007, I had a car accident. A rear-end collision where a car drove on the job's little Fiat Punto that I was driving. Everything flew in "slow motion" inside the car. Shortly after that it turned out that I got a classic whiplash injury and all the symptoms came creeping up gradually. I was given painkillers that really weakened my body. I couldn't do a thing at home and my wife had to work incredibly hard to solve the everyday puzzle with a "half disabled" man at home. The situation became a red signal for me and we just waited for "one last signal" to decide how and what we would in the future in life.
The signal came quickly. I had just started working again after 3 months of recovery and rehab after the accident and then, in April 2008, Berlusconi won the election in Italy... again. Thanks for that. We knew immediately that we were leaving. My wife wanted to move to Croatia where I was born and have a family but I chose something else, I chose Sweden instead. Partly because the language turned out to be easier for me. The system, the society as well as the labour market and the social part are very stable. Sweden still has one of the best economies in the world and I, like my wife, wanted/needed an improvement in life, not a deterioration. Then there was also the fact that my wife as a Swedish citizen who knows the system and society well could potentially facilitate a fast(er) integration.
We decided quickly and not even two months after the election in Italy we moved to Sweden. The move went well.
Restart in Sweden
The fact that we could get some help from my wife's family felt nice and safe. But I quickly learned that a Swedish family is very different if you compare it to a "regular" family from the Mediterranean. I had to quickly change my expectations.
My health got a real boost after moving to Sweden because we rented a house in the country and for the first time in my life I had to arrange the wood for heating, cut the grass and do lots of other things that include and involve the body on a completely different level than what I was comfortable with in Italy.
Just before we moved to Sweden, I also weighed 135kg! After a few months in Sweden, I managed with just a little exercise to change it to approximately 100kg! I felt much better, the pain in my back was under control and for the first time in many years I could smile and enjoy life. I could run a few steps and play with my son, I could swim in the summer and do a lot of other things that most people think are normal. Even the asthma got almost immediately better and under control after the move! My doctor in Rottne near Växjö (where we moved from Italy) thought that my lungs were absolutely catastrophic as in anyone with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and lung capacity was very poor but I myself experienced that I could finally breathe and that I could for the first time after many years and decades, breathe without major problems. The large, severe asthma attacks never came back!
Financial crisis 2008 and jobs in Sweden
Shortly after moving to Sweden, the economic crisis came, which really affected the labour market. There were no vacancies and the few that were available were not available to anyone who did not speak Swedish. I made a simple decision and invested in studying 100% of my time and learn Swedish in a short time in order to be able to get a better chance in the labour market. My wife helped me a lot with this!
After 1.5 years we got the chance to move to Gothenburg when I got a job there and for the first time after many years I had a good feeling. My family got "bigger" as we wanted and in 2009 we had a daughter and life suddenly got much better. The responsibility on the shoulders was of course greater but we struggled with good flow. Both my wife and I invested incredibly much in our family and day after day we felt better in a more stable family environment where things worked without major problems, with good routine and increased joy! Finally!
To smoke life
I was not 100% satisfied. I quit smoking in 2003 just a week after my wife came to Italy where we met, but first the stress of life before and after moving to Sweden as well as the job search during the financial crisis and then life without family during the probationary period at the new job made me became “weak”. I "needed" to smoke again to calm down.... I simply needed an apology of course. Fortunately, this idiocy lasted only a few months and ended in the summer of 2010.
How can one be so stupid it's not so easy to explain! .You know exactly how wrong and bad it is, how this irritates and even provokes all loved ones around you but still you do it anyway . You also get angry if you get criticism against smoking. I smoked for approx. 8 years and in the meantime I had to fight in Italy with severe asthma problems because I worked in the restaurant industry where pretty much everyone smoked, all the student friends smoked, so the vicious spiral was quite expected... or not!??
I quit smoking the last time in 2003, from one day to the next. The same decision and a great will to succeed was made even this time but the goal was slightly different, I knew that that was the last smoke... There was one cigarette left in the package, that one was there just to tease me and to challenge me. I won! The package went into the garbage months after my decision!
Elegant as an elephant.
Fight against obesity ... Things started to get a good routine, we were happy but there was something that was not OK. I was never 100% happy with my health. It was unbelievably much better since moving from Italy but still, I thought I would lose weight, a few more kilos. The mirror still showed an elephant!
Not much else happened on that front before the summer of 2013 when my kids took a picture of me that showed me everything! The whole perspective on my "volume" which was great. I looked at pictures from the beach afterwards with my daughter and I was ashamed of what I had in front of me. I felt an incredible desire to do something! The first thing I said to my daughter was: "that old man is not your father!" ....
Yes, this is the story that influenced my decision to start running...
I purchased my first running shoes in September 2013 and the 4th of September I did my first run around the block. I came home after approx. 2 km sweaty and "half dead" and threw me directly in the bathtub and "cried for help"! Everything felt wrong, very wrong. Every step hurt. My back, knees, my legs, feet .... t.o.m. the hair was in pain. A few days after the first run, I repeated the experiment during lunchtime at work. Same thing, hurt, hurt and hurt ... especially in the back. The pain was killing me at every step. I felt a stabbing pain from toe to brain and back and sometimes my knees collapsed out of control. The first sessions were incredibly hard on the body and soul. It takes an awful amount of stubbornness and patience when everything just screams to STOP!
After approx. 3 months I managed to reach the 10k distance. I was incredibly happy with the distance and fell in love with the sport. I started reading a lot about it, about the technology, all the tiny details and enjoyed watching movies on YouTube and Netflix that were about people representing the sport. At the same time, I joined several groups on Facebook where you got a daily "dose" of motivation, inspiration, tips and more and ... I just wanted to go out and run!
I can not run! It hurts!
The weeks passed, spring came and then came the first inevitable injury. Plantar faciit. That noxious pain under the foot at every step. I read a lot about the issue. I started to focus and read a lot about medicine, biology, motor skills and physiognomy. My body was not made to run!?! Not there and then. I was a 40-year-old man who started running from scratch. I weighed 101kg at the first step, went down pretty fast to 92kg and went up even faster to 98kg. This because the muscles weigh more are the fat itself. I did not know that .... but I quickly learned that I needed to be more patient with my wishes and future goals with the sport.
Well, the sport that changed, developed into something else eventually. I prepared my body to run my first Gothenburg half marathon and 90% of all my run sessions were of asphalt and some gravel roads (just as "transport" to/from the road again). As a consequence, the injury came and my first problems as a runner .... Or yes, as an "elephant runner" because I was still extremely slow, breathing like a locomotive and sweating like a pig at every session. Anyway, a colleague at work was the one who motivated me a lot with his discipline and his training. Another colleague told me about "low drop" on the shoes as well as "cushioning", "grip" and much more that contained some strange and "picturesque" words usually in English that meant little or nothing to me! Sometimes I had the feeling of being bullied with unnecessary facts/information and that "show offing" to show knowledge of something I apparently had no idea about. But, one thing I had understood well there during a conversation with my colleague - the forest. The forest would help me heal, the diversity of the surface, the soft trails etc. I wanted to go there!
The forest! A new planet...
"Running in the woods, in terrain with a forgiving surface will help your feet and your body will develop better!"
Said and done. From that day I got stuck. I needed the forest and the forest wast the place that helped me from that day on both healing my body and my mind/soul.
Well, my feet needed time and patience. The problem with an acute plantar fasciitis does not go away in two days, but running in the woods helped a lot. I increased in distance, felt stronger, bought new shoes that were better suited to forest surfaces, started running togther like-minded people as well.
Running with friends
Running with other people in the woods suddenly became a big thing for me. I listened to all the stories, tried to keep up and run at the same pace and wanted to learn more and more about the sport that I began to love more and more. Not only because I noticed week after week how my body became stronger, how asthma was more and more under control, my weight was "optimized" etc ... but I got the chance to make new like-minded friends as well who (strangely enough) were much more social than my colleagues, neighbours and other Swedish friends/family. When we were out running, we talked about things we love, we talked about life, about new challenges and all that in a simple and "boundary free" (honest) way without all the "barriers" that people usually have. Everything felt much simpler and somehow "more honest" and quite genuine with these fellow runners...
My newfound friends helped me a lot (usually without even knowing it). I grew as a person and as a runner. They inspired me with new goals and interesting challenges. They talked about gear, smart advices and they motivate me when I had a low moment and felt weak or vulnerable...
It's as simple and uncomplicated as a family should be! I am very grateful for that!
First step as Ultra
My first trail race was the Sandsjöbacka Trail 34km in January 2015. I loved every step of that race! I loved the pain, the gag, the mud, the cold and all the mistakes one can make during the first race. When I reached the finish line, I felt the euphoria in my body and that immense joy in every single cell of my body. An amazing feeling indeed! I wanted to experience that again! I needed to learn more of the sport, I loved being in nature and I wanted to experience all this for many hours. Everything pointed to one thing: I was ready to the "Ultra" planet!
I signed up for the 100 Miles of Istria 110km course. I was scared and longed for the race with respect to the distance and the upcoming challenge. I did not know what to expect during the race. No clue. My sessions then consisted of 10-15 km of trail running on simple trails and as a maximum I got 30 km during a training session. My longest run prior the race was a 34 km run where the last 4 km were not beautiful to see. But I still wanted to challenge myself and see what the "Ultra world" had to offer ....
100 Miles of Istria - 110k
I was there, scared, I knew I was not optimally prepared for the race but I was ready in my head and I wanted to give everything I had to finish that "home race" because I was born there, just a few miles from the start, we were up to the top and I could see the house where my parents live and the city I was born in. I remember the feeling during the climb to the top, the long night in the woods, the pain of the descent and the joy that i experienced until the finish line. I remember the struggle during those last 25 km! Incredibly tough .... But it's nothing compared to the euphoria and joy and gratitude for life when I crossed the finish line! Absolutely wonderful and absolutely incredible! It is extremely difficult to describe in simple words the emotions that flowed throughout the body and mind.
After the adventure in Istria, I trained a lot in order to improve my running abilities and in 2016 I managed to finish my first 100-mile race! I finished that race really happy with the achievement yet indescribable tired in every single cell of my body! Crazy enough, the only thing I was thinking about while chewing a tiny pizza slice was how to complete the same race but a little better the following year! I did not hesitate a single second when I answered my sister after the finish - I will be back! It was 2016!
The same year I ran my first and so far the only marathon! I chose the Venice marathon because I got to run along the Brenta River, which is of great importance to my family. My wife and I have Venice as a starting point of our family that was formed in that area. During the race I got tears in my eyes several times and my heart rate increased when I passed nearby the hospital where my son was born. Finishing the race in Venice, which is of enormous importance to us, was just a big bonus for me. I was filled with happiness, joy and euphoria! Amazing! That one was and still is one of my "special races" that I will always cherish in my heart!
In 2017, I invested a lot in my overall fitness and managed to complete several challenging races that I dreamt about just a few years ago! The 100 Miles of Istria (once again), The North Face® Lavaredo Ultra Trail and the iconic UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc)! These three races shaped me a lot as an ultra runner. I managed to grow as a person who can fight against pretty much everything, I gained better patience and structure in life, and I learned a lot as an athlete because during these tough races I had the chance to dig deep and learn a lot about my body, my overall fitness, the psychological side of ultra-running as well and what I need to do if I want to match my goals in the future.
All these challenges, these long races, the pain, the tears and the joy, all the hours of training out in the woods, the hours I take from the family to be able to train they all represent tiny life adventures where I have a chance to learn and improve. A 10 km run session in the woods can sometimes be as exciting as a 100 mile race. It depends a bit on what you feel/obtain as result afterwards. There are many emotions that can be triggered during a single workout or a race. The distance is less relevant. It is clear that the long distance has its special impact of course. To fall asleep while running as I did during the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in 2017 or to hallucinate as during the 100 Miles of Istria in 2016 represents the experience that you get afterwards as a result - the importance of what you as athlete are able to save in your head and muscles as a valuable memory and you learn how to use the knowledge that in the future ... I call it the adventure of a lifetime.
Some adventures change a person incredibly. I had such an experience during my “Mountopia” adventure organized by Dynafit where we got the opportunity to climb three peaks in the Alps for three days. During the three days, I was given the chance to readjust the limits of my "comfort zone" several times. I had to dig deep and change my mind about what might seem impossible to most people. There is actually little that is really impossible in life. We set our own limits and create our own barriers and often struggle fighting, pushing our limits enough and reaching a certain goal. It may be that you are not ready or mature enough at a certain point in life. "The road to success is always under construction". We need to move forward. It's a part of our nature. Opportunities come and quickly vanish and rarely come back!... At least not in the same form!
It is very much understandable that the diet must change with a specific activity or in this case related to an "extreme" sport. It requires a lot of energy during every week while training and there is an incredible energy loss during those long runs/races. You have to learn to manage the energy intake in an efficient and smart way that works for you. We are all different and we all work differently, although certain biological and chemical principles apply to everyone.
In 1988 I decided to quit eating meat and become a vegetarian! I am vegan nowadays and would really love to see the world to change in the future. The human behaviour as today needs to change. Food is incredibly important for everyone and I often wonder how it can be that nowadays only a few think about what they actually eat, where the food come from, how the products you buy are made/produced and what rules and conditions are applied on daily basis during the process. We do not seem to care much about that. It seems that for most people it's enough that the food is prepared quickly and that is cheap. But at the same time I see the impact on us, the world around us and the future .... The future does not look that bright if people continue acting like that. Of course, everyone has the right to decide for themselves as best they can. But at the same time it is also the case that nowadays we know certain things better than our prior generations. We know much more, the knowledge is just a few clicks away online on the internet ready to be acquired. This means that if you really want to, you can get information fairly quickly. We seem to have completely lost empathy, feelings and understanding of what we eat, how we eat and what the consequences are because of our decisions, habits and so called traditions. We are too many on the planet nowadays! We need to care, to understand, to respect! We cannot ignore the facts.. not any more! We must become more diet/food-conscious, we need to understand the consequences of our actions. We must optimize the food production processes with respect for nature, animals and finally our children and grandchildren... our future.
I made my decisions when I was 15 years old a bit after a few experts told my mother that I only had a few months left to live. My allergies towards almost everything, the sick organs slowly failing.... my diet was slowly killing me. I was dying. It was just lucky enough that we went to a campsite with other people in one occasion in 1988 where we could eat only vegan food. I thought at first that everyone was weird and a little stupid. After a few days, I realized that it was me who had to change things in life because it was me who has never felt better after just a week in the mountains with a vegan diet! Yes I could not eat legumes because of my allergy but still.... I felt incredibly alive and healthy after just one week! After that trip, I have never tasted meat again! I felt better, improving week after week and my blood levels were good again after only a few years! I started eating a vegan diet almost in connection with the ultra- running when I immediately noticed that all my wounds healed much faster, the recovery becomes easier, smoother and faster. I feel better now as a 47 year old than I ever did before in my life! This is something that one might want to think about. From a dying teenager to a happy "mature" ultra runner! Not bad, right!?
Goals for the future
Like everyone else, I have my goals. Running is now a part of me, of my routine, and I need it to maintain the balance between work, family and life. Running long distances at least during the holidays represents an opportunity for me to replenish my "batteries" with new energy, good feelings, remove the stress factor from the equation and get focus and concentration to move on in life and maybe find motivation or inspiration to do "other" things. Because it's like that nowadays ... I often talk to myself during my long rounds and interesting thoughts flow in my head.
What I'm happy about with the sport that I love is the fact that l feel really good while running and everything else is just a bonus! Getting a chance to visit interesting locations and see beautiful places, meet fantastic people is fascinating and rewarding and especially during the long 100-mile races, when you are out for many hours. You get a good chance to be with yourself, you get a chance to clear your head, to dig deep inside and get to know yourself on a completely different level.
It is understandable that I want to be stronger as an athlete, perform better and run faster! I also know what I need to do in the future. I need to train my whole body with better/proper discipline. I need to take away some of my time that is now given to running to train/practice the whole body using other techniques, mixing sports and why not, involving my family as well. My family has of course the top priority in my life, but at the same time it is also the case that the day has 24 hours and we need approx. 7h of sleep. This means that I have approx. 7 hours every day where I can do other things (because about 9-10h goes to work). 7 hours is not a little time to train/run/practice even if you are sometimes really destroyed and exhausted after a long day at work or a tough evening at home. You can always go out and walk/hike/run for an hour and "restore" both body and mind. I have never regretted a workout. Of course I have had tough workouts and/or days where I was not OK, maybe low on energy or simply tired with no interest for exercise. At that point it's sometimes important to adapt the pace or your own requirements and readjust to a propere level without pushing, especially when the body and mind are not in sync. Sometimes it's really appropriate to listen to the body signals and adjust accordingly!
What I want with my fitness is to be healthy and strong for my family and share life with them with joy and a smile on my face. I want to set a good example for my children and why not give inspiration and motivation to those people that need that tiny push and try new things in life and why not start a healthier lifestyle. Running gave me the chance to restart my life from a point of no return. I guess that I got my second chance in life. I'm still learning of course, but I'm loving it!
Some smart words from me as a summary .....
I have made many mistakes during these years since my first run in 2013. I wanted, as many others do, way too much and way too fast. This is perfectly normal for us humans. We are inspired by others and we want/need to achieve these goals (sometimes unreasonable goals) as fast as possible. At the same time, life in between happens to us and big problems usually challenge us in form of injuries and remind us that we must take care of the body with respect accordingly with our capacities. The fitness "evolution" is quite slow, it takes time but during the process we may have the opportunity to enjoy beautiful views, wonderful trails and nature around us! We have the luxury of having amazing surroundings here in Sweden and the trails are incredibly close to us where we can replenish our energy. There are many well made outdoor gyms as well where we can exercise outdoors and why not combine running with a some strength training. Our bike lanes are among the best in the world if one should fancy a ride and we have the luxury of being able to swim in the summer as well and combine several sports during a workout session. It is not often that you have such a luxury of training choices and opportunities as here in Sweden!
Take care of each other and run with a smile!
A big thank you to my family for their love, support and encouragement.