“For many people, comfort is the goal in life.
But comfort is not the same as happiness.”
Running to feel alive
Swedish ultra runner Tobias Lundgren runs every day, all year long. “Running is part of me. To understand my body and mind; this is what keeps me going,” he says.
But it has not always been like that.
Eight years ago Tobias was becoming overweight. He’d never been much into sports and after graduating from university, he got a sedentary job as a project manager in the Netherlands.
But the idea to compete in a marathon motivated him to make a switch to a more active and healthy lifestyle.
He completed his first marathon in Amsterdam in 2011 and in 2012 he ran his first 50K race. Now he runs races of thirty hours or more.
It wasn’t an easy journey though. He had to cancel his first marathon in 2010 after he got injured. He learned he had to build up his training more gradually.
“The transition from a non-runner to a runner is never immediate. For someone with a sedentary lifestyle, the body is extremely weak and can only endure limited training. The body needs time to get stronger. Cardiovascular ability improves quickly, but joints, tendons etc. require more time to strengthen. This was my first important lesson about running,” Tobias says.
In 2015 Tobias completed his first Spartathlon, the legendary race of 246K from Athens to Sparta, in the footsteps of Greek messenger Pheidippides.
“The feeling of running a race like Spartathlon is difficult to explain. I find more satisfaction in distance than I do in speed. In fact, I don’t run an ultra-run like the Spartathlon for the challenge, I do it for the sheer pleasure it gives me,” says Tobias. But, a race like Spartathlon cannot be attempted without a strategy in place. Tobias explains, “You need to do your research. Preparation is the key to success in Spartathlon. Create a plan that works for you.” The fact that only a third of the runners make it to the finish demonstrates how daunting the race is.
What a regular week of Tobias looks like
“Heading out for a run after work has become a habit. It rarely happens that I skip a day. Running clears my mind and it makes me feel good. I generally mix easy and hard days. Easy days are 10-15 km at an easy pace. Other days are either tempo or intervals or a longer run. On the weekends I generally do a 20 km run one day and a marathon or longer run the other day.
I guess my training is rather “polarised”. It’s either 5 km pace or slower or it’s faster than 4 min/km pace. Lately, I am experimenting a bit with also training in other zones. I like the process of experimentation, to see what works and what doesn’t. Finding a balance between consistency on the one hand, and variation and finding new stimulus on the other hand.”
A normal week would be around 150 kilometers, most of it at an easy pace (5:00 – 5:30 min/km). I do one or two speed sessions per week, either a tempo run (mostly 5 km) or an interval training (mostly 10 x 500 m). I do some biking in the gym occasionally, mostly as a part of recovering from a race and yoga once in awhile, but I find it hard to get the time for it. Once or twice per week I go through a basic strength routine in the gym and I do a daily 10-minute stretching/flexibility routine for injury prevention.
I have been spared major injury issues. My back would probably be my weakest link and I know that for me that is something a need to be working on. Foodwise I eat just normal good quality food. At home, we cook everything from scratch. You would have to look hard to find anything with preservatives or E-numbers in my house. I don’t take any supplements.
Tobias’ race preparation
“I usually do a two- or three-week taper where I gradually reduce mileage but maintain intensity. I guess that is fairly standard nowadays. Tapering makes me nuts, by the way… Psychologically I find it a very difficult period. My body is screaming for training and you are giving it less and less… For me it’s torture!
I don’t like to run with waist bags or backpacks. It depends on the needs of the race of course, but I do my utmost best to avoid carrying anything besides a couple of gels in my pockets.
I don’t think I have any silver bullet solution to how to deal with the unavoidable difficult periods during long races. The longer the race, the more important the mental aspect becomes. And you need experience to build up your mental toughness. Experience means you recognize a rough patch when you enter one and you accept it. You don’t panic and most importantly, you know you will get over it.
For some reason, I always get a dip around the 200 km mark. Suddenly, I just feel totally miserable and I start questioning my sanity for signing up for the race.
But, after a while, I get over it. Sometimes during races I look at other people’s faces, I listen to their breathing and I tell myself that maybe I have pain, but I’m not by far suffering as much as my competitors around me.”
What Tobias eats while training, before and during a race
“I’m big on fat and I probably eat more fat than most. I usually start my day with a big bowl of Greek yogurt. I never eat any light or low-fat products. I don’t focus specifically on protein. I am pretty sure I get enough of it anyway. I eat normal food in normal portions…
I’m not very picky with food before a race. I have trained my stomach and it rarely gives me problems. I guess I’m a bit lucky there. Pancakes, sushi, pasta: it’s all good.
I try to avoid sugar as much as possible, but during long runs or races that is what seems to work best for me. I can eat two gels per hour but mostly I probably eat 1.5 per hour. I don’t carbo-load; it doesn’t make much sense for races of 200+ km. I’m big on ice cream, by the way. During a long run I can eat three Magnum ice creams. Works for me!”
Tools that Tobias uses to keep track of his progress?
“I keep track of my training quite well and have done so almost since I started running in 2010. I use a Garmin Fenix 3 and I get a lot of data from it. I keep an eye on estimated VO2max, heart rate, and cadence among other things.
Running is a predictable sport. What you put into it is what you will get out of it. Of course, at races, unexpected things can happen.
I prefer light shoes with a low drop. I train a lot on Nike Free Flyknit – it has just such a remarkable “ground-feel”, but if I want to go for a fast marathon or 100 km, I prefer a lighter shoe with minimal cushioning. Here my choice is Adidas Takumi Ren.
For races longer than 100 km, comfort becomes the most important aspect. I have run virtually all my longest races in Brooks Pureflow. And for the occasional trail, it’s Salomon Speedcross.”
The distance and terrain that Tobias likes and exceeds in
“Trail running is not really my cup of tea. I love it, but I’m not very good at it. As I live in Amsterdam I don’t really have a lot of opportunities to train technical trail running.
Road ultra’s up to 250 km is where I have quite a bit of experience. I am a trainer at Running Holland in Amsterdam where I train different groups, but I am increasingly focussing on individual coaching.”
In September 2017 Tobias completed his third Spartathlon in as many years.
The race didn’t really go as planned or hoped for, as he had a hard time to keep his eyes open:
“… a couple of times I sleepwalk across the road but manage to wake up before falling into the ditch. I drink coffee and warm soup at the CPs. Extra energy gel. I pour water over me, but nothing helps. The only thing that seems to work is to avoid walking so I try to keep running as much as I can. I consider to sleep for a while but decide against it. How will I feel when I wake up…? I decide not to take the risk. At Tegea (195 km) I have a little present for myself – a Red Bull. It kicks in and with the arrival of sunlight it somehow wakes me up.”
Nevertheless he beat his 2016 record with 12 minutes….and he ran a sub 3 hour Amsterdam marathon, just two weeks after that!
November 2017, less than 8 weeks after the Spartahlon, Tobias ran Bislett 24 hours race in Oslo for the second time. “The race takes place in a basement under the Bislett stadium. It’s a weird environment to run in, but for some reason I really liked it,” he says. “After 24 hours in the catacombs I ended up with 205 km and an 11th place (men). But I really need longer
to recover between long ultra’s, that was my most important takeaway. Both physically and mentally, it takes longer for me to recharge my batteries. 205 km was far from my goal of improving my PB.”
Upcoming challenges 2018
Running that perfect 24 hours race is still out there and that is my ultimate goal, I think. However, executing the perfect 24 hour race is something really difficult. Maybe more difficult than A to B races. I am sure there will be at least one 24 in 2018, but I am in no hurry. The biggest challenge in the first half of the year will be the Elfsteden ultra (Netherlands) in May, 230 km. In February I will put on my trail shoes for the Transgrancanaria race (125 km).
Tobias’ passion to train and coach others athletes
Tobias is a level 3 certified running coach (Dutch Athletics Federation).
“I want to understand the athlete in depth before I provide any advice.
What makes someone tick? How does the athlete’s personal life look like?
I want to have a thorough understanding of the present situation before creating a training plan.
So, my first step is to write an athlete profile together with the athlete. That forms the basis for creating a long-term- and a detailed training plan. An athlete cannot be expected to do a complete overhaul of their personal life in order to follow a new training plan. It needs to fit in. I like simplicity. A training block should focus on a main goal. Each training should have an objective. It should be part of a plan to make the athlete a stronger runner in the long term. Then the specific goals can differ of course.
I am currently coaching a few runners. They are all extremely motivated and passionate runners and I take great pleasure of being part of their journey.
Tobias’ best tip to take your running further
“Pick races or challenges that inspire you. And only you know what you find inspiring.
I love running and I love the process of trying to become a better, stronger, more complete runner.
Personally, I am not very competitive and I am almost never disappointed after a race. If I (once in a while) win it’s great, but if I don’t it’s also fine. And if I don’t beat the goal I set out, it’s also cool. Every race it’s an experiment and whatever happens, I almost always learn something from it. Every year since I started running I have been improving my race results and I think the reason for that is that I have focused more on becoming a better runner through constant tweaking and experimentation. Then the results will follow.”
How important is sleep for his performance?
“I’m not a big sleeper. I usually sleep about 6.5 hours and that is enough. I can’t sleep much more than that, even if I try to.
Due to race nerves I rarely get many hours of sleep before a big race, but strangely, that doesn’t seem to matter much. The theory says that you should sleep as much as possible, but for me, I get by fine with what I get. As I said before, running after work really clears my head and I never have any work stuff in my head when I go to sleep.
Jetlags? Well, it takes a couple of days, of course, to get into the rhythm, but that has never been an issue when racing.”
It really depends on the race. For a long race I would take 3-7 days off from running completely. Then an easy week with reduced mileage and little intensity. The week after that I would be back on 80% of mileage and intensity, I think.
Tobias’ races and performances:
List of ultra results (d-u-v.org database)
PR marathon: 2:55:45
PR 50 km: 3:45:35
PR 6 hours: 76782m
PR 100 km: 8:11:47
PR 24 hours: 222010m
3 completed Spartathlons (fastest: 30:40:28 (2017), best place: 45th (2016))
2016 Sakuramichi 250 km: 29:20:20 (13th place)
2015 Ultrabalaton (10th place)
2016 100 km Sri Chinmoy Amsterdam
2016 6 hour race Bottrop
2016 24 hour race Reichenbach
Contact information if you’re interested in Tobias Lundgren as a coach
email: tobias.lundgren @ gmail.com
Race report Spartathlon 2017
Race report Bislett 24hrs 2017
I believe I was born to run: Tobias Lundgren
Dutch Athletics Federation
Spartathlon, running in the footsteps of Pheidippides
The video in this article is embedded with permission of Runner’s World The Netherlands which holds all copyrights.
Also published on Medium.