Finnish long-distance runner Diana Wikblom enjoyed a summer of personal bests as she left behind a foot injury. Aonach caught up with her following a remarkable performance at the Vantaa Marathon in Finland.
Photo Ari Lassila
After a summer filled with personal bests across several distances, Finnish long-distance runner Diana Wikblom firmly put the bad memory of her foot injury behind her by knocking an impressive six minutes off her previous marathon time in her final competitive race of the 2023 season.
The past year has been a learning experience for the 49-year-old as she discovered an unexpected love for cycling, wholeheartedly committed to the consistency of training, and cemented her goal of participating in the next year’s World Masters Athletics Championships.
Fresh from her success in Finland’s Vantaa Marathon, in which she finished seventh in her age group, Aonach sat down with Diana to hear about her journey over the past few months and discover what the future has in store.
A Quest for Experience and Improvement
In May, Diana attempted the Helsinki Marathon, the second marathon of her running career. Still, she was forced to withdraw after suffering from plantar fasciitis, which causes heel pain. After a few weeks’ rest and plenty of physio, she got the problem under control and launched herself into a summer of 18 track and road races, ranging from 800m, 5k, and 10k to the marathon.
Photo Anna-Lena Mäenpää
“All summer, I have trained and focused on shorter distances because I needed more race experience. I had nerves at the start line and needed more practice with race preparation. I treated every race as good training instead of a quality session. I clocked PBs on all distances, and my 10k per kilometer pace is now four minutes, 28 seconds.”
As an advocate of putting hard work in every day, she begrudgingly took up cycling at the beginning of the summer to reduce the daily impact on her feet. “I did not like the bike initially, but the one-hour morning sessions felt good. Cycling is like recovery training; it is low impact, and my heart rate is low. Being alone with the sunrise and birds singing was also beautiful. I now miss it because it's cold and dark early in the morning.”
A slow afternoon trail run, an antidote to the road running, often followed the morning bike rides. She undertook a challenging workout in those extended running sessions, running six intervals of 20 minutes each at a marathon pace, interspersed with five minutes of easy jogging. She also incorporated eight sets of one-kilometer segments, alternating between a marathon pace and a slower pace, effectively managing her energy by varying her speeds.
Battling Fueling Challenges and the Elements
A summer focusing on shorter distances left her only a few weeks to properly prepare for the marathon. Having competed in a half-marathon two weeks earlier, she found she was tired from all the training, and the Finnish weather was already colder. “I knew I was in good shape, but I wasn't sure if I could run a long distance at the pace I wanted.”
In the week leading up to the race, Diana was eager to resume running, leading her mind to grapple with whether to run at a slower pace or go faster. Nevertheless, she exercised restraint, recognizing that maintaining a steady pace was essential to avoid exhaustion, and the goal was to finish. She commenced the race at the rate she had trained for. She kept that pace until the final 10 kilometers, when her energy levels waned, partly due to the cold and wet weather.
“Because I had not done many marathon training sessions due to time, I also had a problem with my stomach taking in the fuel. When I run for over two hours, it seems like my stomach gets tired and can't handle the fuel. I had decided that in the beginning, I would take on more fuel because then my body could accept it, so I have it for later.
Initially, she had intended to pick up energy drinks from the first two stations during the first lap and skip the third, then return for two more bottles later. However, her thirst got the best, and she grabbed a caffeine-infused water bottle from the third station.
“Around the 30-kilometer mark, I suddenly felt like my body could not handle anything. I feared that taking anything would send me to the bathroom. It's better to get tired than have an upset stomach because I know how that goes... If I had managed to consume a caffeine gel, I’m confident the mental boost provided would have helped me run much harder at the end. Instead, I relied on my remaining energy reserves.”
Championships and Endurance Aspirations
With winter coming, the Vantaa Marathon was the last big running event of the year in Finland. Looking ahead to the spring, Diana’s plans will take a different course. “I've decided not to enter a marathon during that season because it seems unwise to risk injury. Instead, I intend to participate in shorter races, focus on training, and possibly compete in a half-marathon. Come autumn, I will select a marathon and train a little longer than this time.”
Photo Ari Lassila
Next year, she will transition to the 50-54 age group, and it's an important year because the 25th World Masters Athletics Championships will be held in Gothenburg, Sweden. This event covers a wide range of competitions, from track events to half-marathons, and competing is one of Diana’s goals for 2024. However, her eyes are on looking even further ahead.
“The stage is set for the 2025 European Masters Marathon Championship to be held in the beautiful Finnish town of Jyväskylä, about 270 km north of Helsinki. I aim to be in peak condition and compete. My long-term goal is maintaining good health and continually improving my pace—it's a long project.
Discover Diana's methods for maintaining her well-being and her tactics for averting injuries in our Athlete blog.