D33 Ultramarathon and little bit more

So, for the first time since June 2014, I found myself in a running event. I suppose it also came as a surprise that this was my first race over any distance since turning 50 last July (though I was classed as a “supervet” in Sweden last June as they go by year of birth not date of birth). It was great to catch up with old friends before and after the race. It was a good run out and I was generally happy with it apart from my knee (the ‘good’ one – the one with an ACL!) giving me grief from about mile 20 onwards. Although billed as trail, this event is largely on tarmac, and even when it does hit trail, it is so hard packed it might as well be concrete. I knew that, and after running it in 2012 told myself to avoid it in the future. But with the big 55 Mile Ultramarathon/66 Mile Cycle Sportive double challenge coming up in April I wanted a good middle distance Ultra just to force my self along a bit more than I’ve become used to. The good news was that I didn’t need my inhaler at all (Asthma kicked into touch) and the BGL was kept in check – great (BGL 6.5 Diabetes taught a lesson). I actually think I did OK on the race – only 8 minutes slower than in 2012 despite the knee (Garmin Stats Here)

In the evening (after the compulsory beers) I got loads of ice on my knee, and more the following morning. Then with my good friend Bruce we tested the “tired legs” with a lovely 30 mile bike ride through Aberdeenshire. Given how tight my legs felt, yesterday I felt surprisingly strong on the bike and the knee held up really well. In fact the cycle really worked wonders for the stiffness in my legs in general. So training for the Double Challenge in April is going well, but I know I still have a lot of work to do. I confess my legs were more stiff in the hamstrings and glutes for the last 12 miles of the Ultra than I expected. So, more stretching, more Yoga and more strength training to come. 5 full weeks to go – Braw Times 🙂

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A 53 mile Ultramarathon / 66 mile Cycle Sportive Double

Dear Friends

On April 25th I will be running the Hoka Highland Fling Ultramarathon (53miles/85km). About 10 hours later in the early hours of the 26th I will be on my bike attempting the Etape Loch Ness Bike race (66 mile/105km).

When I entered these events last year I was uncertain as to whether I could get fit enough for either. Thanks to the encouragement of friends and family I have pushed quite hard through the winter training and the double now looks possible.

This year I am raising money and awareness for both Diabetes UK and Asthma UK. As someone with both conditions I hope to highlight that they do not have to hold you back and that exercise can help in controlling them. If you can spare some cash I can assure you it will go to two great charities and make a real difference to people’s lives.

Many thanks, Steve


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Jättelångt 70km Ultramarathon, Sweden. A guest blog by Anders Linder

A few years ago, while running with my stroller carrying my first kid I was training for my first race – Stockholm half marathon. At the same time I was listening to the radio and a guy was talking about a trail race north of Stockholm. He explained: ”We follow Roslagsleden. First we do a half mara as a warm up, then we go on for a full mara, and then we cool off with a couple of kilometers before the finish”. 68km, I didn’t know it was possible to run that far! The name of the race was Jättelångt (in Swedish it means “Really Far”) and a thought was planted in my head.

Last year, on a subway station in Stockholm I met Steve (aka Tentsmuir) and Alexia who were obviously heading for the same place as me – the start of the 50K Sörmland Ultramarathon. They asked me for directions and we started to chat. Another runner in the subway had finished Jättelångt the very same summer and I thought if I can pull of 50K maybe it is time to give that race a shot, but it would not be in 2014 because I had already signed up for Stockholm Marathon just two weeks before the start of the ultra. Steve and I decided that we should take a few long runs during the year, me training for the mara and Steve going for a 90K race in Scotland. The year went and we just met once – no long runs. Then Steve suddenly said he was ditching the Scotland race due to lack of mountain training, but that he instead signed up for Jättelångt. He said “Come on, you know you want to”. This would be the last chance to have that long run together and that was obviously all the push I needed to sign up. This would be my third race in four weeks, with (personal record times!) of both the half mara Göteborgsvarvet and Stockholm Marathon in the legs. I was a bit nervous at the task of running almost 70K and at the same time very nervous in speaking English for 8-9 hours which was my expected time to finish the race. We met before start and I learned that Steve understood and talked Swedish very well! Nice! However a few times I had to use the Swedish word “omväxlande” (varying) which was new to Steve. A good word which would work as a true answer to both the following questions: “What do you think of the trail” and “how do you feel right now?”.

During the official Jättelångt speak before start they give you the basic race rules: 1) No littering 2) Help a runner friend in need 3) If you release a cow you buy a cow. Simple.

A bonus for me was that Steve’s wife Alexia (a veteran ultra support crew member) – together with their friend Nina – would be meeting us several times during the race. I later learned that the race rules along with the support car would prove vital. It was a cold, sunny but windy day with a reported wind speed of 10 m/s (at times up to 24 m/s). Lucky for us we would have the wind at our backs:


I started with a wind jacket, long sleeved Team Nordic Trail-shirt, long 2XU compression tights, Gococo compression socks and Salomon S-LAB Ultra shoes. On my head I had two buffs (!) (one for the head, one for the neck) and sunglasses. Everything but the glasses and long strides would change from start to finish. Steve, bring more experience to the trail, suggested that we should keep a steady 6:30 min/km pace. We started a bit back in the field of around 200 runners – soon catching up a friend of Steve’s from the Stockholm Hash House Harriers Marathon (John Cleese). He was easy to spot in his leopard pants and particular running gate. Steve told me we should follow him since he would be a perfect pacer.

The first 10K went smooth.


The scenery was varied with a bit by the shoreline, a bit of easy trail running and some tarmac. Although easy trails there are some rocks/roots you could choose to jump over (Anders) or trip over twice (Steve). A somersault and a bleeding knee later we continued. Nothing stops the man it seems (Ronaldo would have stayed down).


“THIS IS NO BANANA RACE”, the information sheet had told us. So you have to bring what you need in order to finish. In the backpack bladder I had Tailwind sport drink which is said to be the only nutrition you need for a full day out. But since I like to eat I also brought some gels, bars, salt pills and candy. Despite the poor no banana-promise, the official stops had lots more than I could handle and I ate all the milk choclate, hot dogs (!), bananas, nuts, olives I could. As I said I like to eat, and run. (Eat and Run – Scott Jurek, is a great book by the way although I clearly failed to learn anything from it..) After the first drink stop the trail continued into the wilderness which made our pace drop rapidly due the high grass/vegetation before it changed back to rock and boulders which really slowed us down.


It was a bit hard to find the trail going off from the beach but Jättelångt is famous for being a difficult route to follow. It is said that 98% of runners have taken the wrong turn somewhere which means that the actual race will probably be a bit longer than the original 68K. After 21K my legs still felt good and the second “water stop” also included a BBQ, cakes, chocolate and coffee. Once off the trail we had left the ocean and headed off into the woods, passing occasional meadows ominously devoid of cows (see above).


Then, at one point in the middle of the woods, we passed a lone guy on drums doing what I guess would be a full day of Drum Solos for the Runners. Much appreciated!

Heading up to 30K and the Väddö villiage we met Nina and Alexia. I started to notice in my legs that I had indeed been out running for a while. Steve changed his socks and shoes, ditching his trail shoes which had him fall over (twice) and were by now cramping his toes. Instead he opted for a pair of Saucony road shoes. A French runner, Frederick, whom Steve had met the night before had told him that from this point on the race was less technical. I still felt alright and didn’t bother to change socks (Mistake ONE) and I didn’t even bring any other shoes (Mistake TWO).


Leaving Väddö we followed the beautiful river for a couple of kilometers until we noticed two guys in front of us heading over a dike and off to some buildings.Two elderly men waived at us so we took the same path. This lead us through a small shopping mall. Having the visitors and staff cheering for us provided a boost. As we exited there was a drink station and I also had a brief chat with another Team Nordic Trail (TNT) runner.

We would see him several times during the rest of the day, not easy to miss with his ZZ Top style beard. After the drink stop we had quite a few kilometers of tarmac which wasn’t too funny for the legs. I started to feel a bit low on carbs and took the first gel about 40k into the race. My next personal goal was to cross the mara distance, then head up to 46k where there was a big stop at Erikskulle where I would meet my friends and family.

We started to get a little behind our schedule but also started not to care very much about pace or finishing times as long as we were going to finish and enjoy the race. We decided to take a longer stop here; Steve to enjoy some of Nina’s massage treatment and me to use a proper toilet, remembering the “no littering” rule! I changed socks on my left foot because it had started to hurt a bit. Nina had some blister plasters which I gladly added. By this point I was also regretting not wearing calf guards instead of compression socks. It was a big boost to meet my three kids and Jenny along with our friend Sofia and her kids. She also said that we looked surprisingly fresh! I wanted to sprint away showing how strong we were, although when we started to run again after the break, moving proved tough.

The course went on some tarmac road and the sun was getting hotter, while I was looking at some horses at the side of the road the route took a sudden turn off into a field on the other side. Lucky for me Steve was the stronger and more observant one of us two and in front of me he noticed the change of direction. He also impressed me with a loud whistle warning and calling back the bearded TNT runner who was about 50-60 meters in front and who had missed the sign and turnoff. A thumbs up and a big broad grin in gratitude from him.


Going into the field just after this turn (above) my right thigh started to ache a bit as well as the little toe on my left foot. I had to slow Steve down a bit and we took some walking pauses. After around 51K I suddenly head a “pop” from my left foot accompanied by a sharp pain. Once I removed the shoe I noticed how the sock was all wet around the little toe and I was unable to put on my shoe again. We were passed by another one of Steve’s friends (I’m impressed at how many runners he knew!) and Svetlana asked if I wanted to borrow a pair of scissors to cut open the shoe. She then looked and said: “oh, its an expensive one so probably not” and, seeing there wasn’t much to be done, she took off. I told Steve to set off and meet the support car in the hope that I would get there soon. Steve left, intending to send the car back to me with more plasters. As he did so I tried to fit my foot in the shoe and even run without it, but settled on just wearing it more or less as a clog. I couldn’t run fast this way but seriously I barely run anyway. At least I was moving. This was also what Steve suddenly appearing from the shadows under a tree shouted to me “You’re moving!”. I told him he should head off and finish the race and we could meet up for a beer once I got to Norrtälje. He thanked me for the offer but said we were to finish this together as we’d promised. I ran about 4K with the shoe like that and once we got to the next aid station I borrowed a scissors, cut open the sock and added a bit more plaster around the toe. Not far from the aid station Alexia and Nina met us and Steve changed back to his original shoes which he started to run (and trip over with) in order that I could borrow his wider and slightly larger Sauconys (45 instead of my usual 43). Suddenly I could run properly again. Not far from finish now, about 15K, and I was sure that we were going to make it although our sub-8 hour time was out the window. During the last part of the course we didn’t talk much just focusing on heading forward and walked almost all the uphills parts, no matter how small. By the 65-66K I was feeling stronger again, we actually starting catching and passing runners as Steve stretched the pace. As we passed the 68km mark we were still in the countryside with no sign of the finish. It was clearly going to be a 70km plus day today. After a final stretch along the canal bank and through the town we finally spotted the finish line. A total of 8 hours 53 mins out running I especially enjoyed the last stretch and seeing my family waiting for me after 70.5km on the trail.

Jättelångt Finish

Seeing all the people in the finish area cheering I felt a sudden moment of gratitude towards everyone helping me towards this day that I almost started to cry. Those people include everyone from Sofia and Anders with whom we stayed the night before, to my family and everyone else inspiring and showing me that indeed nothing seems to be impossible. The feeling didn’t go away when I got a big big hug from Jenny, a chocolate ball (they know me) from the kids, beer from Alexia and the pair of shoes from Steve as a present for me just finishing my first really long run. Without you all I would never have made it this day. It is a memory to cherish for life.


Leaving the Jättelångt area with my family I had sun bleached hair as well as a strange sensation, and a mix of feelings, in my body since I just accomplished something I would NEVER thought I would be able to pull off, that day four years ago when I first heard of Jättelångt on the radio.

Here are the Garmin stats: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/520612178 and below is my foot once I got home …..


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“I get knocked down, but I get up again ….”

Well, it finally happened: Last weekend I failed absolutely to complete a running challenge, even one of my own design. It was not a race, but the final 30 mile training run in preparation for the Cateran Trail 55 Mile Ultramarathon later this month. I have been really struggling with my longer runs of late, knocking in 3-4 runs of 20+ miles plus over the last 5 weeks with a good variety of other distances in between. But I finally had to face the fact that holding down the two simultaneous lives in different countries, the constant travelling home and to conferences, the two chest viruses and a twisted ankle this year have collectively taken their toll. The requisite miles, yoga and cross-training I need to enjoy, rather than simply complete these larger distances has simply not been there. So with reluctance I came home on Sunday and officially shelved the Cateran Ultra for another year. I felt quite deflated, and this was not helped by a spectacularly heavy fall on my Tuesday morning trail run to work. The 10kg backpack only added to the weight of the impact.  The resulting skinned knee, hands and elbow emerged with lovely gravel rash and splinters, while the knee itself swelled up slightly. But the nurse at work was lovely and didn’t laugh too much as she got out the Dettol and wire brush to clean my leg up. The running mojo knocked out of me, and not for the first time this year. I had, indeed, been “knocked down”.

“But I got up again”: The same weekend a Scottish friend of mine in Stockholm, Kim, sent me an email informing me that the annual Stockholm Hash House Harriers Trail Marathon was scheduled for 1st May (or five days later). I’ve known about Hash running for some time. They describe themselves, quite fairly, as “A Drinking Club with a Running Problem“. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a couple of the Stockholm Hashers so I emailed one of them (alias “Titan Dick” in the Hash world) and asked if I could tag along. He said no problem, he’d let them know I was coming.

The great thing about the Hash Marathon was that it was broken up into 5km sections with a beer stop at each. You could join and leave, or leave and re-join the run at any point. When I opened the blinds on Thursday morning, the snow was coming over Stockholm quite horizontal while the day before it had been 23c. Good – long strides could cover up the bloody war wounds. I joined the local train and jumped on the carriage to see if I could spot the the Hashers. One of them (Laid Bird) I already knew and Titan Dick had told me to look out for her. So – a few basic introductions were made to the others.

When we got off the train, the snow had at least stopped, but it remained chilly for the rest of the day. After being introduced to the basic rules of Hash running we set off on an interesting ROUTE (across Stockholm from Solsiden to Drottningsholm). It was mostly trail / small paths with only a few small sections on tarmac. On the first sections the HARE had failed to show up so we followed a particularly devious route through the trees partly based on the Hashers intuition about where this individual might like to have sent us. In some places on this section, there was no path at all through the trees. Despite this I managed to stay upright and to my surprise my knee felt fine all day. We completed slightly over the full marathon distance in c 5.17 of running time – thus surprisingly knocking the Marathon du Medoc into second place on the Personal Worst table. But this was precisely what I needed: a good long run, a really interesting route with no pressure, good company and a few beers on the way. The “On-Inn”, après party on the island of Kungshatt was equally enjoyable with sauna, hot tub, food, drink and a large number of Hash House Harrier drinking rituals. All good fun: “On-On” and all that.

So having started the week quite dejected with my running, I finish it with another trail mara under my belt and a start number for the fabulous 68km Jättelångt Trail Marathon next month for which I am at about the right training stage. And all morning this song has been going through my head which sums up just how I feel right now. Sing along if you know the words “I get knocked down, but I get up again …..

Asthmatic Info: Ix puff of Ventolin at the start of the race. Asthma stayed away despite the biting wind.

Diabetic Info: despite the beer & buns on the way round, BGL highest was 6.9. BGL lowest was 3.2. Finished the event at 5.1.

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Wilderness, Wolves and Running Mojo

Running means different things to different people. For me it as much to do with keeping an active connection to nature as it is about the health benefits and the bragging rights a race medal or T-shirt brings. But you don’t always have to run to get that connection. As those who follow this post know, I am as happy wandering up a mountain or struggling through a rain forest as I am on my weekly running routine. I love being in wilderness locations and running is my way of moving into it quickly, but at a pace where you can still see, smell and observe wildlife without hinderance. So what do you do when you’re out of energy or recovering from injury – or in my case both? An ankle twist after a nudge from another runner on a night run had combined with a virus which had knocked me for six. After an excellent start to the year winter running, I now could barely complete a six mile run without feeling nauseous and having to lie down for a couple hours after (or waking up with fever). Time to take a short break from running and go on a road trip.

Not all car journeys are the same.

I’d been in contact with Lars Gabrielsson at Nordic Safari since last year. Fortuitously he emailed me the week I first got ill and told me the wolf activity in the area of Västmanland was high and the pack easy to follow due to good snow coverage on the ground. I booked a 2 day tour for the following week and spent my recovery time contemplating if searching for wolves from a 4x wheel drive car actually constituted eco-tourism or could be in any way exciting.

Alexia and I left Stockholm on the early train to Västerås, only an hour to the north west of Stockholm. Lars met us at the station and took us first to his place to pick up the day’s supplies and offer us breakfast in his home. From there we travelled less than half an hour into the wolf territories of Bergslagen and immediately Lars pointed out several sets of older fox and wolf tracks in the snow. So I’d learned something straight away: wolves use the forest roads to move about, marking their territory at cross roads and road junctions and conserving energy in terrain otherwise covered in deep snow. I’d not expected that. We stopped at various points and learned to distinguish the various tracks left by foxes, deer, moose, wild boar and wolves. We took a walk along one of the tracks, Lars testing us as we went on what we’d learned and relating his favourite stories from his time as a wildlife guide.

As we drove towards our projected lunch stop Lars spotted tracks crossing the road. We stopped. These were new and looked as though made by several animals. We moved along the road to a junction and parked the car. A latrine right in the centre of the T-junction was surrounded by fresh tracks. And I mean fresh! We took a moment to eat our lunch and drink some coffee before heading along the road following the tracks.

Fresh Wolf tracks

You could clearly see the size difference of the various animals. The group we were tracking consisted of an Alpha male, a female and a youngster. Just seeing them so fresh in the snow was exhilarating. Lars believed he knew where the wolves had come from so we made it back to the car to take a 20km drive around the forest. We passed through several hamlets and farms until, sure enough, we found the wolf tracks on another road – once again they had come right down the middle.

We travelled on to our B&B at Pensionat Udden where we were also to have our evening meal. I was quite sickened to see a wolf skin stretched out on a table and wondered if it belonged to Nordic Safari or the owners of the guesthouse, Allan and Eve. It transpires it was neither and belonged instead to another tour group. Though supposedly there for educational purposes, I can see this as nothing other than a sickening trophy of a hunt. It brought the poetry of to mind, in particular a verse by Robert Burns “To A Mouse“:

“I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An’ fellow mortal!”

In all my time as a hunter I never understood the need to collect trophies of the dead. I shot for food, forestry regeneration projects and for land management – but never for trophies (and not in the last 20 years). I looked at this pelt and silently apologised to the remnant of this once gorgeous creature. Lars, whether sensing our displeasure, or simply relating his own also expressed his distaste. We moved on.

We were treated to a wonderful supper by our hosts (the meals are outstanding!). And in conversation with Allan we learned that the guest house was also a functioning farm with over 250 sheep. “So how do you feel about wolves in the area?” I asked. “Not a problem” came the reply “we have good fences and, besides, they are great for our economy. You are here because of them”. I’d heard the same response from people living in the Indira Gandhi Tiger Reserve in India in 2003. If only we could get that message across to those determined to wipe out the wolf population – that they are valuable as a source of income, more so alive than dead.

On the very same day as we were tracking wolves in Bergslagen, a group of campaigners (The Wolf Association of Sweden) were struggling in their fight to protect a genetically rare wolf called Susi who is on her last stay of execution further north (go on, get onto Facebook and give them a ‘Like’).


She and her partner have taken seven deer from the Sami since November. But that is not why they want to shoot her; they get compensated for their losses anyway from the government (I have been told) and will spend more to hunt her and her fellow wolves than the cost of their kills. Rather her pelt is valuable; a hunter will get some satisfaction about boasting that s/he killed a deadly predator – hardly a fair fight as she wears a tracking device and does not own a firearm. And all this combined with the erroneous fears driven into our souls as children about the big bad wolves. In truth, the scary wolf we fear the most is the one we imbue with HUMAN characteristics. It is the fear of the werewolf, and associated fairy tales (even the one in Little Red Riding Hood is dressed in human guise), rather than the timid real wolf that drives this passion to hunt this species to extinction. And on the 14 February, the day of our wolf trip, hunters on skidoos chased her, corralled her and tormented her. They were not allowed to shoot her by the courts (not yet), but they harrassed her anyway. Brave.

As we went for our night time walk to try to hear the wolves howl, I thought of Susi, of the small pack we’d tracked today and of the powerlessness of the conservation movement in the face of a largely ambivalent human population. It had been a good day for us. Lars knows his animals and his territory very well. We had seen moose and deer and we had tracked wolves. But it had been a thought provoking day too. One which only fuelled our commitment to raise awareness about this endangered species.


When we returned to Sickla the following day, I went for a night time run in the forest. There is no wolf pack in the forest, yet I could not get the thought of them out of my head. I kept thinking of the the image of that small family unit patrolling their territory in Bergslagen, and how the farmers there seem at peace with them. And as I came to a clearing in the forest I imagined the very different situation Susi finds herself in. I imagined her on the rock ledge in front of me, howling. I had my energy back alright, and I was running again. A particular poster from the Wolf Association of Sweden seemed appropriate.

Run with Us Wolves

I’d not just found my running mojo, but also a renewed determination to channel some of my energy back into the fight to save Susi in particular and the wolves in general. They really are a benefit rather than a curse. If you have doubts about that, take less than five minutes to watch this film and learn How Wolves Change Rivers – and so much more!

And what of Nordic Safari? Would I recommend it? Absolutely!

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“Asthmatic runners are like stammerers who sing”

Winter has finally arrived in Sweden. Actually, it’s been here for about a week. Having been home in Scotland for a couple of weeks where temperatures seldom dropped below +5 c, the prospect of a run at -5 c in the snow did not seem too appealing. Why? Well the asthma of course! The last few nights have been restless and the breathing deteriorating steadily. It came to a head today on only my frst morning back in Stockholm. The shock of the icy chill outdoors as I made my way across Stockholm last night was matched only by the dry and oppressive heat in the flat. Swedes keep their flats ridiculously warm (or Scots keep theirs more comfortably cool?). In combination these factors set my lungs ablaze as I woke out of a deep sleep to a pretty brutal wheezing attack. So a combination of not enough sleep, coupled with sitting on the end of the bed pulling hard to get the air in and generally feeling disgruntled – that was my start to the day. These episodes always drain me and I thought about scrubbing the run scheduled for this morning. I sat, drinking coffee, looking at the snow falling outside and waiting for the tiredness in my chest muscles to move on and the pain in my shoulders to go away. Being an asthmatic runner can be tough.

By lunchtime I felt strong enough to contemplate a small joggette: 3 miles (5km) maybe? – just to see if I could get into the winter running again (we’d had a week of sub-zero in early December). So on with the running gear (& the spikes).


After last year’s fall on the ice which saw me destroy my inhaler (see above) as my full weight landed on it (and my coccyx), the spikes have become a permanent feature of my winter running.


To my surprise and delight, I eased into what turned out to be a very pleasant ciruit of Nacka Nature Reserve. It’s a familiar location to me and one which allows for a variety of distances depending where you want to exit. I couldn’t believe the difference from this morning when for over an hour I was trying to get my breathing in check. There I was, on the run which proved to be painless and easy. I suddenly realised I was nearly seven miles in and feeling good. I wanted to push on for more. Just before Christmas a friend had said to me “You asthmatic runners are like stammerers who sing!”. I decided I liked today’s song so much I pressed on over the undulating ground and finished with a nice distance of 21km exactly (Garmin Stats Here) – a sub two hour, sub-zero impromptu half marathon. That will do nicely.

Of course, as I’d not set out to go so far, I’d not eaten lunch, so I did a blood test (it’s a diabetic thing) and was pleased to see my BGL was sitting at 6.2. Given that I ran nearly three hours after having breakfast and had not taken any carbs onboard, I was surprised both at the level and how good I was feeling. Clearly the porridge had set me up perfectly (and hopefully may serve as a lesson to those T2 diabetics that overfuel on their running). This has been a great end to what has proved to be a cracking start to the running year.

The year so far

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Ultramarathoners: How’s Their Health?

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