Yesterday I was lucky enough to be taking part in the very first Ultravasan 90k trail race running from Salen to Mora. Although a new event the trail is best known for holding the worlds largest, oldest and longest cross county ski race called the Vasaloppet which has been running for 89 years. The trail is on a mixture of boggy moorland, technical trails, narrow wooden gang planks and gravel fire roads with a total elevation gain of 867 metres. I say I was lucky because on 23rd September last year when the registration opened for the event it sold out within 29 mins……pretty impressive for a first event.
This was going to be my longest race to date on road or trail so although my training had gone well I still wasn’t overly sure how I would perform and I knew I would be up against some tough opposition. One of the worlds best mountain/trail runners, Francesca Canepa from Italy, Swedish runners Sophia Sundberg and Frida Sodermark both National 100k champions and 7th and 12th at Comrades this year and Lena Gavelin an accomplished trail runner with a 2.30 marathon PB.
I had no real game plan except to run within a specific HR range until 65k and then run as hard as I wanted from then on (according to how trashed my legs were!!). This can be particularly hard as heart rates can vary so much when running over mixed terrain but my plan was to not let it go overly high early on, 90k is a long way with plenty of time to race.
From the gun at 5am (yup, I had been up since 2am!) I settled into my comfortable pace as the first section was a reasonable climb on gravel paths but within 5k I had been passed by a pretty brisk moving Francesca. I was a little taken aback at her pace as she had openly said in the press conference that she wasn’t a fast runner but had bags of endurance. I stuck with her for a few ks but with the miles ticking off at sub 7 pace I decided to take the foot off the gas and watched her fly off into the distance. I kept telling myself to keep calm and not worry about anyone until the second half as I knew the first half was much more technical than the faster second half to Mora. Within 13k we hit the first section of technical single track trails which although pretty flat were hard to run over. Slippery tree roots and rocks interspersed with narrow gang planks over boggy sections resulted in slowing the pace. This type of terrain was the order of the day peppered with long sections of gravel trails and boggy fields flanked by beautiful lakes and through pine filled forests.
I had been getting regular feedback from Martin who was feeding me at 8k intervals along the trail that I was closing in on Francesca and by 32k I had indeed passed her and was relieved to look back and see there was no one hot on my heels.
By the next check point at 42.2k (3hrs.18) Martin decided to inform me that I wasn’t the lead women and in fact there was a Swedish mountain goat 41/2mins ahead of me. This obviously came as a bit of a surprise as I hadn’t seen anyone since the gun and understandably got me a little anxious. This gap continued for a worryingly long period of time…..each checkpoint I was getting feedback that the gap was either growing or staying the same and that she looked strong……’who was this girl’ I kept muttering to myself.
I was still feeling strong but knowing that anything can happen in the latter stages of an ultra I didn’t want to push too hard too early, so I maintained my composure and pace hoping she would come back to me, after all I was running at 7hr pace (the expected women’s finishing time was 7hrs 45).
By 55k I had received news that I was indeed gaining on her and by 64k I caught sight of the lead women’s bike. I was feeling good so decided to pass her wide on the hill we were starting to climb, when she was least expecting me.
Finally I was in the lead….all good but then I was the hunted! I was terrified that any of the other girls were closing in on me and was determined to push on for the last 25k and get this thing done. The Ks ticked by and I was still feeling strong, my legs felt surprisingly good and the other competitors (45k and relay runners had joined us at half way) were giving me great encouragement but I was still running scared. I so desperately wanted to be the first winner of the historic Ultravasan but I couldn’t be certain I would be until I was safely within the last k. Lack of energy can play horrible tricks with your mind and the last 5k was really quite hazy….I was terribly dizzy and felt very sick. ‘For gods sake its only 3 and a bit miles’ i kept repeating to myself but those 3 and a bit miles can be the longest and cruellest part of the race and anything can happen. With 600ms to go I turned on to the only tarmac section of the course towards the Vassaloppet Hus and historic Vassaloppet finish arch. I was shattered but elated to be the first woman to make it to Mora….with 200ms to go it is customary to be given a Swedish wreath to wear over the line, all well and good but after 7hrs 9 mins of running it was a little heavy!
It really was a great day for many reasons, firstly I must thank the organisers. The Vasaloppet team were incredibly professional and the whole event was impeccably organised. From the GPS trackers to the course markings everything ran like clockwork. It wasn’t an easy race, it really was a proper race for me as the other girls definitely tested my endurance and mental strength right up until the finish line. I must also thank Martin for feeding me all the way along the trail, its not easy knowing what I am going to want to eat or drink as I run towards…..i don’t even know what i want. He was also brilliant at giving me time splits of the other girls at the same time as keeping me motivated and pushing me on.
I have also loved hanging out with all the other ultra nuts, I have said it before but the ultra community is pretty special….what you see is what you get and they are a great bunch of lunatics. The number one lunatic has to be the legendary Steve Way. Although Steve came runner up to the other rather legendary Swedish Ultra god that is Jonas Budd, his first trail ultra performance can only be seen as a worrying warning to all the top trail runners out there that Steve is only going to get better at this malarky.
* leaving my trainer behind in a bog twice. Not good the first time!
* Beating Steve Way in the wee off at doping control after the race.
* 3 trail poos and 4 trail wees (sorry to the guys who caught me with my pants down!!)
* Winning 3 wooden Mora horses (this was the main aim of competing in this race after all??)
* Seeing myself on national TV (and not on crime watch for once!)
* Not eating a single pork pie during the race yesterday
* Not a single blister, chaff or black toenail (thanks you ASICS)
* 8 gels were consumed and 8 S Caps swallowed
* Sharing a celebratory cigar with Steve after prize giving (yup, we are so pro-athletes)