It’s only a week left to my big goal of the season; the ultra Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (119 km, 7250D+), commonly referred to as TDS (a.k.a. UTMB’s little sister), and I’ve suddenly realized that neither Jakob nor I have given you the slightest tidbit of running-related information since my race report of UTMB last September. How can this be? After all, we’ve completed a few races since then. Well, put simply: life has gotten in the way. And it’s done so in the best ways imaginable, for the both of us. Starting with myself, miss H and I received a longed for gift in January, with the arrival of Panda’s baby brother, Teddy, and as you can probably imagine, our lives became exponentially more hectic as a result. Jakob, on the other hand, eternal bachelor as he has diligently tried to remain, was finally made honourable by our gorgeous childhood friend miss M, whom he married in April. Congratulations, fanfares and adulations all round!
So now, to the important stuff: the races! Let me give you a brief recap of the last year, so as to bring you up to speed. Duly inspired by my awesome feat of completing the UTMB last year, Jakob signed up for Sandsjöbacka Trail Marathon in January, aiming to run 82 km from the castle of Tjolöholm in the south to Slottsskogsvallen in the north, passing through the beautiful countryside of western Sweden on the way. Home turf for the both of us. Since Teddy was due to arrive around the time of the race, I had no choice (an ultimatum was made by my wife, suffice it to say) but to leave the crewing over to my dad and miss M’s dad, and by the looks of it, they made a suberb job. The race started in a pretty severe cold (-20°C) with frost and snotty icicles lining the runners’ nostrils and mouths, and the whole race was run in sub-zero temperatures. Deprived of my expert advice and assistance, Jakob managed to add an extra 17 km to the race by making several wrong turns at strategically important crossings, but still managed to finish the race and acquired 4 qualifying points (according to the new system) to the UTMB. Way to go! On a side note, the race was won by the always fantastic Sondre Amdahl, my very own running coach.
Next up was ecoTrail Oslo in May, where I opted for the shorter version of 45 km rather than repeat the complete loop of 80 km that I ran last year. The organisation had improved several of the minor hiccups from 2015, i.e. offering better markings of the trail as well as an extra checkpoint with water at Vækerø with 9 km left of the course. Despite having stomach troubles which forced me to a couple of unscheduled pitstops, the race was a very nice one and running along the quay in central Oslo for a finish at Sukkerbiten next to the Opera house will always be a beautiful way to finish a race.
The newly re-christened Gaustatoppen Opp (it’s now called Viking Challenge, after their main sponsor) was a very spontaneous challenge, presented by my good friend Hedda, the mountain queen as you may recall. Unfortunately she had to drop out a few days before the race in the middle of June due to a knee injury, but I made the three hour-trip north to Rjukan with two other friends, Eirik and Eskild, who were also enlisted. Gaustatoppen has been made famous by the world’s most extreme triathlon, Norseman, where the tiny station on the top (1883 m) is host to the finish line. Gaustatoppen Opp is a bit less extreme, but the 12 km we were to run from Rjukan (300 m) to the top made for an interesting climb of around 1600 vertical meters. As I was focusing all of my effort on TDS later this summer, I took this race as an opportunity to acquire some sorely needed uphill training. The race starts at the outdoor stadium in Rjukan with all of the runners squinting up towards the top and wondering how in the name of Christ they are supposed to run all the way to the summit, and passes the hydroelectric powerplant Vemork before turning up into the woods for the first climb up to a plateau above the town. Vemork, by the way, was made famous during World War II as a target for the Norwegian resistance to prevent the occupying Germans from making an atomic bomb. After the initial climb up to Trolltjønn, we had a few kilometers of farily flat, but muddy and technical running to the bottom of the mountain proper at the little lake Aslakstaulvatn. From here, a murderous climb awaited us with 850 vertical meters in around 4 km. It was tough and slow going for the most part, but excellent training for both legs and head. I was met at the top by my two pals who had started a few minutes earlier with the elite group and who had run much faster than I would have managed, and we drank a delicious cup of hot chicken soup each before heading back down again. The two of them via the intra-mountain railway halfway down the mountain to the bus stop, and me descending the 700 meters on foot on the outside of the mountain in order to get a bit of proper and technical downhill training. Yeay.
Last, but not least, I fulfilled a small dream of mine ten days ago when I finished the most extreme and brutal race I have ever had the pleasure (and pain) of competing in: Tromsø Skyrace, organized by the superstar couple of trailrunning Kilian Jornet and Emilie Forsberg. I have never been this far north before, neither in Norway or in the world. To give you an idea how far north Tromsø is, it’s 350 km north of the Arctic circle and lies quite a bit further north than Murmansk in Siberia and Anchorage in Alaska. The only slightly significant city further north in the world is Longyearbyen on Svalbard, a further nine latitudes closer to the North pole. Tromsø Skyrace (or more precisely, Hamperokken Skyrace which is one of three races in the Tromsø Skyrace circuit) is one of the races in the Skyrunner World Series and is sorted under the Extreme races (the other categories are Sky, Vertical and Ultra), a fact that wasn’t lost on anyone running the race. The clouds were hanging pretty low in the morning, and thus the view of the first climb up to the top of the cable car at 400 m was obscured from us. When we arrived at the first checkpoint at 5 km next to Fjellheisen, the fog was thicker than pea soup and the moisture in the air quickly condensed on my bare forearms and face. The climb up the first summit Tromsdalstind at 1238 m wasn’t particularly technical, but the descent on the southeastern part of the summit most certainly was. It was as steep a slope as I have ever descended and I frequently had to make use of both hands and feet in order to get down in a controlled fashion, avoiding to dislodge rocks on runners in front of me. Despite this, I fell spectacularly on my ass at both of the snowy patches where I speedily slid down on my backside to the end of the patches managing to brake with hands and heels just in time before the sharp stones at the bottom. The Portuguese runner right behind me wasn’t as lucky and managed to scratch up his entire buttocks and back thighs into a shiny red welt.
We ran down the valley, crossing the little river a few times on our way towards a steep hillside resembling a muddy slide with a drop of 400 m down to the valley floor at more or less sea level. The next few kilometers were blessedly flat across a sparsely wooded forest towards the next checkpoint at 20 km. The climb up to Hamperokken was steep, but nothing compared to the ridge itself. Traversing the ridge for 5 km all the way to the summit at 1404 m was a scary experience, especially at the parts where the ridge narrowed to a width of only around two meters, with a sharp drop of at least 200-300 meters on each side. This part of the race went painfully slow since I took enormous care, often holding on with both hands moving around boulders and trying not to enjoy the view. The last scramble up to the top is described thus on the official website; “Last 50m to the summit are a short scrambling to the top, You need to be carefully, it’s exposed.” ”Exposed” is putting it mildly. It’s the trailrunning equivalent of, let’s say free climbing the Empire State building without safety equipment. OK, so I’m exaggerating slightly. But not that much. This part was seriously, definitely and humblingly the most extreme running and climbing I have ever attempted and was at the the very edge of my ability as a trail runner, just barely on this side of my comfort zone. Or slightly on the wrong side of it. We’d been told that to get a valid result, we had to ascend to the very top before turning down into the valley again, towards the lake. Sure enough, two fellows in down jackets and warm sleeping bags met us at the peak and dutifully scratched down our bib numbers to register that we had scrambled to the top. I tell you, I have deep gouges on my wedding ring to prove that I was hanging on for dear life most of the traverse. The descent into the bowl between Hamperokken and the ridge adjoining it to the west went equally slow since the major part of it was loose gravel and stones. On the way back to the checkpoint at 30 km, I passed a dozen runners walking who told me that they would DNF at the next checkpoint and if I intended to finish the race I should run past them, which I did, finding I only had ten minutes left to the cutoff. I filled my water bottles and rushed on, being the last runner to pass before they closed the checkpoint. I have never in a race been that close to a cutoff, but this race had turned out to be quite a handful and I’d be lucky if I’d see the finish line at all. The rest of the race took me back the exact same way I had come, up all of the steep slopes I had slid down on my hands and knees, and I had the safety runners sweeping up right behind me all the way back up to the top of Tromsdalstind and then on and on to the final checkpoint at Fjellheisen. At the top of the cable car, I once again met several runners who had decided to walk down to finish line since they (we) didn’t have a chance of finishing the race in 13 hours, which was the maximal time limit. I didn’t mean to give up, though, and passed at least six or seven runners on my down to the city and the impressive Arctic Cathedral before I crossed the bridge to Tromsøya. I passed the finish line in 13h 46m, and since I had in fact finished the race, I received an official finish time despite having missed the maximal limit of 13 hours. Apart from the terrifying scramble up to the top of Hamperokken, the most awesome moment of the race came when I highfived superstar Emilie Forsberg at the finish line and was waved to by Kilian Jornet, before Emilie interviewed me with a microphone. For us trailrunning and ultraracing nerds, it doesn’t get bigger than that.
And that, dear friends, neatly sums up the last 12 months of running. Keep tuned in for TDS next week! You’ll be able to follow me live at http://utmb.livetrail.net/. Just click on TDS and search for my name, alternatively search for my bib number 6854, and you’ll be sorted.
All the best and promise to update you soon!