Why Egypt is a great place for a warm weather training camp

When I said I was going to Egypt for training, people asked if there are tracks in Egypt. Clearly there are tracks. But why should you go there?

To me, Egypt is the most interesting country in the world with the best food, beaches and things to do/see.

Olympic Center Maadi

Olympic Center Maadi

View from the hotel room.

The sports center in Maadi, on south side of Cairo, is very convenient as there is a track, two gyms, a hotel and restaurants, all at the same place. The area is closed and there is a security with a metal detector on both the gates and the entrance to the hotel so it is very safe place to be.

The track is empty all day, until the clubs come train there in the evenings. The access costs normally 50LE so just over 2 euros. You can definitely feel like you’re in Egypt as there is a small mosque right behind the 100m start line and you hear the prayer call five times a day.

The Tolip Inn Maadi hotel is also very decently priced, and if you are invited by a federation, you can get it with the price of Egyptians and sports federations, which is half of the price. The cheap price includes breakfast and WiFi. The hotel has all day room service and a bottle of water costs 18 cents, a pasta 50 cents and a big plate of chicken and rice 2 euros for example. I was ordering drinks and food all week and final price was 220LE, which is 11 euros.

Prices

Flights to Cairo are quite cheap from all around Europe and hotels are cheap also. When you arrive to the airport, you just have to pay 25 euros or dollars with cash for a visa. The airport is a great place to exchange money also as the rate is much better than anywhere in Europe. You can buy almost anything while in Cairo and feel like you’re not spending anything as even expensive meals are max 4-5 euros. Even when shopping on the markets, the prices are really cheap for Europeans. Also, if you know any Egyptians, you will not spend anything at all. Egyptians will offer you everything everywhere and not let you pay for anything. I paid my camel tour guy a nice tip and that was it the whole week.

Facilities

Track in Maadi

The tracks in Cairo are in decent condition and mostly have everything you might need like hurdles etc. There are many tracks and also it’s possible to use private gyms, which are really nice. I went to try BeFit 360 gym and it was one of the nicest I’ve ever been to. They also had a restaurant with healthy breakfasts, smoothies, salads etc, and even a lot of gluten free options. Honestly I’m not a salad person but the salad I ate there was the best salad I have ever had.

Things to do in Egypt

If you go to normal training camps to Spain or Portugal, your activities are limited to going to the beach, shopping and going out. In Cairo there is more history and culture to see than almost anywhere in the world, and plenty of other things to do. You can visit the pyramids, the museums, take a boat trip on the Nile, go see other attractions, and even the beaches are just couple hours drive away. The beaches in Egypt are in my opinion the best in the world, so that should be included in the trip. You can also go out to nice clubs and do your shopping and other normal things. There is everything you can imagine to do and more.

The food

Appetizers

Egyptian or Arabic food is my favorite food. Everything you try is so delicious and for an athlete’s diet it’s also healthy. There are soups with herbs, a lot of fruits, hummus and other protein filled appetizers, and a lot of well seasoned chicken and meat. The portions are huge and normally Egyptians order food for about ten people even if it would just be two people eating, so you’ll never be hungry. Egyptian lemonade is amazing and doesn’t taste like anything I’ve tried elsewhere and their other drink, sobia, is my favorite drink ever. It’s like coconut milk but better. I really thought I was gonna gain weight on this one week long training camp as I was eating so much, but really the food is so healthy you can eat a lot and be ok.

Food in EgyptFood in Egypt

The people

Egyptians are amazing. They take care of you and make sure you always have everything. They’re outgoing and friendly and want to show the best things about their country. When I needed to use blocks for example, two girls came to pick me up in the morning to go to a track where I could do some starts with them. As soon as you walk into someone’s house they ask what do you want to drink and eat and you can’t really say no to eating. Only problems I have with Egyptians are that they’re always late and 99.99% of them smoke. I hate smoke and really know only one Egyptian person who doesn’t smoke. The lateness is something that I can deal with since it’s always expected. The crazy traffic in Cairo makes it rather impossible to be on time anywhere and it’s normal to be late all the time. But the good things about Egyptians make you to be able to overlook the smoking and lateness 😀

Is it safe?

I have never felt like I wasn’t safe in Egypt. The US feels much more unsafe than Egypt. Actually the US the is only place on earth where I don’t feel safe all the time. Of course I couldn’t go anywhere alone, but there’s no need to. Someone is always willing to take you anywhere. The traffic might seem crazy and people have no idea what lanes are, but after a while you get used to it and even the driving seems rather safe. There are police and security everywhere and you always go through security and metal detectors to hotels and any attractions.

Let me know if you want to know more details about where to go, or how to do a good vacation or training camp in Egypt!

A little more exotic warm weather training camp, in Egypt

Who knew you would need to go to a warm weather training camp when you live in Barcelona? Until last week the weather was fine, but last week and this week it’s max 10-14 degrees during the day and much colder in the evenings when we normally train. That’s not a weather to sprint and getting over hurdles is impossible and even dangerous. Luckily only one day it was so cold we couldn’t do training 100%, but otherwise even rain hasn’t disturbed any training this season.

But to go to Spain? Portugal? Tenerife? South Africa? Or even Cuba?

Monte Gordo, Portugal

As I had plenty of vacation days still to use this year, I thought I should go train somewhere for a week. I was thinking about going to Monte Gordo in Portugal as it’s just a short flight away, but unfortunately for the hundreds of European athletes there at the moment, the weather is exactly the same as in Barcelona.

Tenerife, Spain

Another option I thought about was Tenerife as flights inside Spain are super cheap, but that sounded just too boring since I’m going on my first proper holiday the whole year. Tenerife is also full of European athletes this time of the year.

Cuba

I also thought about Cuba as I’ve always wanted to go, but I heard that the track my friends train in on camps is in bad condition, but should be renewed by February. Maybe next time…

South Africa

My next option was South Africa, as there are good facilities and it’s another favorite place for European athletes, but I’d like to go when I have good friends there so that had to be moved to another time too.

Cairo, Egypt

I love Egypt and have a lot of friends there so Cairo ended up being the choice this time. The weather is warm, the food is amazing and there are so many things I still haven’t seen even I’ve been there before. Many people have asked me are there tracks in Cairo? Yes there are a lot of tracks and in decent condition. The track and gym I will be using are in an Olympic training center in Maadi, on south side of Cairo. My hotel is at the Olympic center, so it can’t get any more convenient.

I have six days of really hard training in Cairo, and after returning back to Barcelona the weather should be nice again, so preparation for the indoor season can continue well.

Team Transfers

No team transfers for me this year!

As the last team transfers for 2018 are approacing in athletics, I decided to stay with FC Barcelona in Spain and HIFK in Finland for the upcoming season. Even I compete mostly in Spain, it’s mandatory to have a club also in Finland to participate in Finnish national championships etc.

How does it work?

In athletics if you’re good enough, the clubs pay you to represent them. You must compete for them so they will get points etc, and you might be asked to appear in some events and of course wear the club’s gear. The clubs often pay a signing fee, and also bonuses based on how well you do in certain competitions.

Transfer deadlines

In Spain all club transfers must be done before the end of October, and in Finland before the end of November. You cannot switch clubs in middle of the season. Last year I was able to join both of my clubs mid-season as I had not competed in a few years at all.

My options

Just before the transfer deadlines for each country, I got a great offer from a big club in Spain and also couple good offers from big clubs in Finland. These clubs offered me much more money than my clubs.

At the end I decided to stay with FC Barcelona since the medical facilities benefits and the gear are no match to any money offered. Also, who doesn’t love Barça 🙂
In Finland the decision was a bit harder to make, but at the end we negotiated terms that I was happy with and I stayed with the club I liked the most and whose staff has been very supportived, HIFK.

I’m very thankful for the trust and faith the clubs have in me, and will do my best to represent them as well as I can 🙂

FC Barcelona

HIFK

Hurdle training

I started running hurdles when I was 14-years-old. I ran them couple times at age 13, but then I was a high jumper. At age 14, I ran the national indoor record for 14-year-olds and realized I might have some talent for this. Hurdles always came really naturally for me, and I love hurdle training, so after that age I only focused on hurdles. When I ran well in World Youth Championships at age 17, I started taking it more seriously. Still, when I was asked why do I run hurdles, I said: ”I’m too slow to be a sprinter.” 😀

I have been training in Finland with multiple coaches, in the US with multiple coaches and some of the world’s best hurdlers, in London with multiple coaches, and also seen hurdle training in many other countries. Now I’m training in Spain. It has been very interesting, everyone works different way, and you just have to find the way that works for you. I believe I have now found the best training for me.

What makes you a good hurdler?

I have always been good at hurdle drills and hurdle technique, but have been lacking power, explosivity and speed. The best hurdlers are really fast and powerful. This does not mean you have to lift 100kg power cleans, but you have to be able to use the power at the track and be explosive. This is a thing that we have been focusing on this year, and it has been working really well. At the moment I am faster than I’ve ever been. For hurdles the main focus has been rhythm.

Frequency

In hurdles your step length doesn’t matter the same way it does in sprinting. There are only 8.5 meters between the hurdles, and it’s all about who can take the three steps between the hurdles fastest. I have been quite good at this before, but the lack of explosivity and speed has made the space between the hurdles a little long for me especially at the end of the race, and I haven’t been able to utilize the quick steps I can take. Also my trail leg (the leg coming over the hurdle from the side) has been slow, so that’s been another main focus in training.

Good exercise for trail leg

Hurdles with one step is one of my favorite exercises for the trail leg. You really have to get the leg around quick as the next hurdles comes up so fast. I normally do 5×8 hurdles with 14 feet spacing (this is 12 my coach’s feet). Sometimes I do this with 84cm hurdles, but mostly with the lower 76cm hurdles.

My favorite hurdle workout

In the video there are pretty much all the exercises I do on my favorite hurdle workout. It’s all about rhythm and frequency. First is little hurdles with one step, with seven feet spacing. Then three steps with ten feet spacing. The short spacing makes you really have to be quick and move your feet fast.

Then it’s time for higher hurdles with normal 13 meters start, but 7-7.75 meters distance between the hurdles. This is a great way to work on the rhythm and also to bring the trail leg around quickly.

Normal training week

I train six days a week and on two to four of these days I do some hurdles. Normally once a week just the one step drill, once a week a workout focusing on the rhythm, and once a week hurdles with more regular distance and with more hurdles. I haven’t done any starts yet at this point in training, but this will soon be done at least one or two days a week.

My first hurdle race indoors is already 7th of January, and I hope to be ready to run fast. You never know what to expect in the first race of the season, but I hope it will be as happy surprise as my first race outdoors. It’s looking great right now! 🙂

Liga Catalana hurdle

Warming up for my first hurdle race in 5 years, May 2017.

New wardrobe

Got Nike gear, happy days! 😀 When I wasn’t training for a few years I really didn’t buy almost any new workout clothes. As I wasn’t able to go to gym or do anything more than couple times a week, it felt pointless to waste money on workout clothes. Only reason I bought some pants was because none of my older ones fit. When I was sick I gained over 10 kilos so clearly the S size clothes were way too small. Now I’ve lost that 10kg (will write more about that later) and all those pants are too big.

FC Barcelona

Barca gear

Last spring I got new gear from FC Barcelona and was still training mostly in clothes I got when Puma was sponsoring me 2012-2014. So all of my training clothes were about five years old. The lifespan of training clothes probably isn’t meant to be even five years…

FC Barcelona gear
We also got new gear couple weeks ago as I wrote, so now there’s no lack of Barça gear for me 😀 A big winter jacket was probably the best part, since even it would be 20 degrees during the day, the mornings are freezing in Barcelona.

Nike

Nike outfit

Now I’ve been fortunate enough to get new gear also from Nike (all thanks to manager Juan Pineda). Last weekend I put in place my new Nike gear and threw to trash all the five year old worn out clothes. I hate throwing away anything (even old socks, luckily I got so many pairs of Nike socks that I managed to throw away about half of the old broken socks 😀 ), but it was their time to go!

Nike gear package

New shoes

Last spring I was also training in old Puma shoes from maybe 2013. I only bought new Nike shoes because my training partner’s shop had 50% discount. But those already have holes also, so new Nike shoes came at a perfect time.
Nike actually accidentally sent a wrong size at first, but luckily I was able to give them to my training partner Adelina who happened to be the right size! 🙂

Nike Pegasus 34

Why I don’t just buy more?

The struggles of athletes, training clothes and shoes are so expensive, and they’re worn out in a few months! Good spikes and trainers cost over 150 euros, tights 80 and even shirts 50. They are so overly priced. You buy one set of clothes and shoes and spend 1000 euros. Think how many thousands that is in a year if you need training clothes for every day of a week at least, and have to buy new shoes every few months.

So next time you’re looking at someone’s old shoes thinking why they use such old shoes, trust me, I’m sure they would get new ones if they could! 🙂

Barça doctors, gear and stuff

One of the biggest benefits of being a Barça athlete is that we get to use the medical facilities. The medical center is located in Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, same place where the FC Barcelona football team trains. If you are a football fan (which I’m definitely not) and lucky, you might see some players around.Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper

Normally you can call there and get an appointment to the doctor the same day, for MRI maybe the next day, and physiotherapy you can start right away and go every day if needed.

(Not) an injury

On Saturday I felt sharp pain in my psoas tendon on the last set of hurdles, had difficulty walking for the whole weekend and there was a little swollen and bruised area. I tried to take care of it well (ice, compression, anti-imflammatories, rest and eat healthy), and went to see a doctor yesterday. The doctor did an ultrasound and said there is nothing visible so it was likely just a micro-rupture and should be better in just a few days. So nothing to worry about, I am just having an easy week of training this week and back to hard training next week.

It’s such a relief that you can see a doctor so quickly and at least for my mind it helps a lot to know what is wrong, and in this case that there is no real injury. After the doctor I already went to the gym yesterday, so I have been so lucky to only have missed one and half days of training in the past two months.

Podologist

Podologist's test

At the medical center they also have podologists and make insoles for shoes. It was interesting to see the podologist’s study of my feet and what could cause my ankle being locked all the time. This has been happening for years now. I also got an MRI of my ankle in August, but there was only a thickened tendon from spraining it previously, and instability. The Barça physios showed me exercises I should be doing every day and I have been working on it a lot. The ankle is already much more stable and less painful.

New gear

Last week was great despite this little scare as we got new Barça gear. I think majority of Barça athletes choose to represent them just for the gear 😀 We had been guessing that the new gear was black as the football team has already been wearing black clothes for a while. Black it is, and I love it.Barça gear

Camp Nou

As me and my training partner Adelina were looking for the place to collect the gear at Camp Nou, we somehow got lost inside the stadium, and ended up to the football field. No one was asking what we are doing there, but as we headed back inside the tunnels of the stadium, someone nicely came to escort us out.

Team transfers

I ended up getting a last minute offer from another Spanish club. The offer involved a lot more money, but I should have given up the clothes and the medical benefits, so I ended up turning it down even I’m sure the team would’ve been great also. But knowing me, the medical benefits are the most important.

Anything else you would like to know about being a Barça athlete?

Camp Nou

How can a clumsy/accident prone person hurdle?

This is a question I’m asked so often. Everyone knows I have accidents all the time, or some other crazy things happen to me. But for some reason I can hurdle, and I’m quite decent with the hurdles, especially with technique that requires a lot of balance and coordination. When I was training before this year, almost none of my injuries came from hurdling, mostly I had overuse injuries like fractures, or tore muscles when sprinting, or I was sick.

So what all has happened to me recently…

Terrorist Attack

I am so lucky nothing actually happened to me this time. I went to get a bubble tea after work at my favorite bubble tea place by La Rambla. I had parked my motorcycle on the upper part of La Rambla and drove the 1km home (about 5 minutes) after. As soon as I parked my motorcycle at home I see Instagram stories of the terrorist attack as people I know were there. The attack must have happened a minute or two after I left.

Motorcycle Crash

In September I crashed my motorcycle and had to delay the start of training a bit, but I only had minor injuries; couldn’t move my neck for three weeks and my ankle wounds are still not completely healed two months later. The “work accident” physiotherapy was great though, so not much harm done. Except for my motorcycle, it was in the shop for 10 days after new parts arrived as it had to be completely fixed.

Moving Incident

When I was better from this and just ending my sick leave, I moved houses to a different area in Barcelona. I had rented big a van and parked it outside my apartment shortly to carry down a sofa bed. While I was carrying it down, I hear someone honking and a woman runs into my apartment yelling something in Catalan and I try to tell her I will move the van in a minute as it was really difficult in the tiny one-way street. I see the woman and her husband backing away and thought they’ll just go on the next street like they could have. But no, as soon as I’m inside my apartment, I hear a loud crash. They had backed up to speed up more and crashed into my rental van. The worst part was that they had a baby, a 5-year-old, and a grandma inside the car while crashing into my van. I run outside to see what has happened and the woman starts hitting and kicking me and the van and I start calling the police. There was dozens of people nearby and they were all yelling “don’t call the police, they’re dangerous”. First call was cut off when the woman punched me in my ear, but I managed to make a second call and when the woman heard I’m talking to the emergency person, she runs back to the car and they drive off. Even after they had left, people kept telling me I should not call the police as they know who they are and said they are dangerous people. The police finally arrived after one hour (my friend thanked the police saying I could’ve easily died in that hour we waited), and told me I need to go to the Mossos (the Catalan police) office to make a police report.

I was a little shocked by what just happened and was just sitting in my apartment until 3am until my friend who is a police here said I really need to go to the hospital first and then to make a police report. I went to the hospital and the doctor made a report of the injuries I had. I told her my ear is a little red and she responded that my ear is bleeding and I have a large hematoma behind the ear. Also had some bruises. Then I head to the police station at 5am and one police just keeps chatting me to forever and asks me for a dinner date before I managed to get into the station. The police filed the report and sent it to a court. They apparently also made a child support report as the children were in the car that crashed my van and had to watch their mom hit me. At 9am I finally got out of the station and had to move all day, so needless to say I was too exhausted to train the next day.

Plate Hit My Head

So, next. Two weeks ago I came to work at 8am and open the fridge to put my food in there like every other day. As I open it, a large metal plate falls from top of the fridge and hits my head. I got a really bad headache and a bump on my head. After resting at home I go to the “work accident” doctor again and they sent me to a CAT scan. A little over exaggeration for a metal plate hit, but I guess you can never be too sure.

Christmas trip

Now my work wants to go for a skiing trip before Christmas. I have been skiing and snowboarding most of my life, but last time when I went 1.5 years ago, I end up falling so badly I broke 3 ribs from 20 spots. One rib is still sticking out a bit from my chest. After I fell I couldn’t breath for a while but then got up and my friends were sure I’m just fine and we continued snowboarding (and after skis). Only at night, when I couldn’t move anymore with so much pain, I said I’ll need to stay at the cabin for the night (and my friend responded “come on, you’re being so boring, you can go out no problem” 😀 ) and the next morning we drove hours back home and went straight to the hospital to get an x-ray.

As my training is going very well and I will start competing 7th of January already, there is no way I am going skiing anytime soon. I will also attempt to avoid any other activities with any chance of an injury! 😀Catalan Liga hurdle

Great news, treatment works!

Today I received the results of my allergy tests. If you were not aware I spent years choking, in pain and spending too much time in hospital and it turned out I was allergic to almost all food. The results showed that I’m still extremely allergic to dust mites, all pollen, hay, horses, cats etc., but ALL of my food allergies have been cured! I’ve had treatment for almost two years now and even in May I still had a lot of antibodies in my allergy test and now there was nothing.

This does not mean I can start eating bread and cake right away though. The allergies might come back if I start eating these foods I’m allergic to. Only of the things I have already been eating that I used to be allergic to (milk, eggs), I can be pretty certain that the allergies won’t return. My allergy doctor (who works with FC Barcelona also) advised that for as long as I’m competing I should avoid eating cereals as these only give delayed reaction and I won’t find out until in a few weeks or months if I start choking again and if the allergy results. But with fruits, vegetables and nuts for example, I can start eating tiny pieces as with them I feel tingling and swelling of my mouth right away, and increase the amounts all the time.

So, I still have to limit my diet quite a bit, but I can start eating more things slowly, and I don’t have to worry about checking every label of gluten-free products to see if they have wheat starch for example.

This all clearly makes my life a lot easier, and one day in the future hopefully I can even eat (regular) cake and pizza again 🙂

My favorite dessert at the moment

Gluten-free red velvet crepes with chocolate and mascarpone from Copasetic in Barcelona 🙂

Crepes

New season!

As most probably know my summer after only three months of training after five year break from hurdles competitions went much better than expected. As my goal was to run under 14, I never expected to run 13.25. Especially with pneumonia.

Of the three months of training I had a hamstring tear for a month and edema and bursitis in hamstring and hip for two months. But as my history with injuries is longer than anyone can remember, that was quite an achievement for me.

In my almost 2 months long off-season I’ve been just resting to get those injuries better and have seen FC Barcelona doctors to try to see what we can do for my ankle that has been bothering for years now.

The training season was supposed to start in beginning of last week, but I crashed my motorcycle while driving in the rain and have been recovering from the injuries a bit over a week now. My ankle looked the worst but is already almost 100% recovered, now just have to get my neck better.

The positive about this crash is that it happened off-season and I learned how careful I have to be when driving in the rain. Also, I’ll for sure wear my motorcycle gear as soon as it arrives.

I’m sure soon I’ll be training 100% again and I’ll try to keep updating this blog regularly now 🙂

FC Barcelona hurdles