Standing on the start line of Ultravasan at 5am with my fellow Ultra trail runners I couldn’t help feel I looked slightly out of place. There I was in my Adidas Adios Boost road shoes, shorts and vest…… no compression socks, calf guards, backpack, head torch, buff or beard – I felt under-prepared!
The 5am start had meant that we had to get up at 2am for breakfast and then transfer from the finish area where our hotel was all the way back to the start area 90km west in Salen. It was a long car journey but this would be nothing compared to the adventure I had to look forward to get back!
The first 13km of the race was very comfortable as it was a combination of road and wide gravel tracks. A good group had formed including myself, Jonas , Thomas Lorblanchet and the polish runner, Krzysztof.
Elov Olsson from Sweden had pushed on ahead from the start but we were aware that he was just going for the early sprint prize at 22km (5000 SEK) and so we let him go without too much concern.
We gradually picked up the pace as we took the steady climb on the road and were hovering around 6:10m/m pace. This was exactly the sort of speed I was looking for at this stage and so I was pleased that the group was happy to run at this pace. Unfortunately I was also already aware that I wasn’t feeling quite as comfortable as I would have hoped to at this point in the race. Nothing serious but my effort levels just seemed a little too high and I also had a slightly unsettled stomach, possibly caused by normal pre-race eating habits changing due to the 5am start. I hoped this would all just settle down as we progressed into the race.
At 13km I picked up my first nutrition bag from Sarah consisting of water and a ChiaCharge flapjack and headed off into the first section of “technical trail”. This basically consisted of a combination of single tight track woodland trail with slippery tree roots, rocks and bumps and then gang planks guiding you over some of the more “boggy” marshland. This section lasted around 9km and would be my first real experience of proper racing on this sort of trail…… I found it tough!
Krzysztof took the lead at this stage with me following on the single track and Jonas tracking us in third. I have read one of Jonas’s interviews after the race where google translate converted his description of me during this point in the race as “stressed” …… a perfect description I would say. I was really having to focus 100% on my footing through this section and I underestimated how mentally tiring this would be for a “novice”. Once we got out of this section and through to the next checkpoint the more technical trail was interspersed with wider easy gravel paths and these provided a welcome relief to “road runner” Steve!
By around 35km into the race I really started to notice that I wasn’t feeling as fresh and as comfortable as I should do. The unsettled stomach hadn’t improved that much although, I was happy that I had managed to get the whole flapjack down me, but the effort levels and leg fatigue were still higher than I would have hoped with over half the race still to go….. maybe it was “one race too far” before the much needed break.
I tried to not let the negative thoughts get on top of me too much and thought I would focus on the halfway split into Evertsberg. There was an extra 10000 SEK (around £900) sprint prize for the first man through the checkpoint and so I thought with my recent road speed I really should try and go for it. With about 7km to go before the checkpoint I made a deliberate effort to push on a little and passed Krzysztof taking the lead. Jonas came with me and as the kilometres clicked down getting closer to the sprint prize we gradually increased the pace. It was a gradual uphill section (but not that technical) through to the checkpoint and I was quite surprised that even up the hill I was having to sub 6m/m to start pulling a little gap on Jonas.
With about 1km to go to I managed to get a small gap which I took through to the checkpoint ensuring I picked up the sprint prize, good news but I knew that I had perhaps used up more effort than I really should of and as I backed off a little to take on my second flapjack for nutrition, Jonas powered on past me!
I kept the gap to Jonas quite small for a mile or 2 but then I entered the worst part of the race for myself….. technically speaking it went a bit “tits up”
I had to make an unscheduled pitstop in the woods, my unsettled stomach which I had had from the start had got the better of me and once I got going again I had lost sight on Jonas.
We then had to make our way through some of the hardest terrain of the race which consisted on some seriously “boggy” marshland. Without Jonas in front of me with the local knowledge to copy, I made a real meal of making my way through it and at one point pretty much stopped in my tracks trying to work out if I was really meat to be running through this swamp!
A little further down the road I then had to make another unscheduled stop to pin my number back on my bib strap as it had come off and the marshals doing the manual number checks were no longer able to read it. While I was messing about with this I was then gutted to see John-Henry from Norway pass me by dropping me down to 3rd place.
The official splits below tell the story….
The “Oxberg” split above shows where I lost the race. Jonas’s splits show I lost 6min in this one section and also me dropping down into 3rd place.
The rest of the race for me was about damage limitation, I managed to work my way back into 2nd place (although this did include a small incident where I fell flat on my face on one of the single track technical bits) and then we hit the final 25km which was the easiest and fastest part of the course.
This was where my road speed and road shoes were meant to come into their element and I was hoping I would be able to pick up my pace to 6m/m, the trouble was I wasn’t able to take advantage of the fast terrain as my legs were already completely shot from the previous 60km of trail antics.
Managing the leg pain in places I didn’t even know I had muscles I accepted that the best I could hope for was around 6:30-6:40m/m and so when I got to the next feed station with Sarah, I was pleased to find out from her feedback that I was managing to pull away from 3rd place.
I took on a couple of gels over the next 2 feed stations and just kept on plugging away at the same pace. From about 20km to go I was just focusing on getting to the next kilometre marker without slowing any further….. I’ve never been so desperate to see the finish line in any race before!
Coming down the finish straight, the sense of relief of not completely blowing up was massive and I was able to enjoy and thank the great crowd support from the Mora locals.
A finish time of 6:12:28 for the 90km (6:38m/m) for 2nd place. If you had asked me before the start of the race I would have probably said that sort of time would have won me the event but I didn’t take into account how awesome Jonas was going to be on the day. Jonas took a further 4 min out of me in the final 30km for a winning time of 6:02 which was a stunning time for that course. Even without all my “incidents” in the middle section of the race I don’t think I would have had a chance of the win, my lack of experience of trail running and the extra impact it had on my body showed…… I have some homework to do
As events go, Ultravasan is probably the most professional and well run I have ever been to. From the race infrastructure to the hospitality shown to me as an elite athlete it could not be faulted and I can’t thank the Vasaloppet team enough. Special thanks must go to the race director Peter Fredricsson and Jonas himself who both were the driving forces behind setting up the race. I think it is only fitting that Jonas should win the 1st edition with such a powerful performance and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it…..although I perhaps would have liked to have given him a closer run for his money! At least Holly managed to kick arse in the ladies race for “Team England” which was great to see and also gave us both an excuse to have a cheeky celebratory cigar!
I’m now going to have a couple of much needed down weeks before I embark on my next campaign which will be the build up to the World 100km champs….. the blog will be a little quiet for 2 weeks but I promise it will be back soon with some more crazy training….. one thing this weekend has taught me is that I can’t rest on my laurels…. there is ALWAYS someone faster than you!
Check out the video summary of the race… it’s in Swedish but you’ll get the idea, you will also notice my “gimpy” right arm is even more gimpy than usual – a real sign I was finding it hard!
Full Garmin details below – Results HERE