A few years ago, while running with my stroller carrying my first kid I was training for my first race – Stockholm half marathon. At the same time I was listening to the radio and a guy was talking about a trail race north of Stockholm. He explained: ”We follow Roslagsleden. First we do a half mara as a warm up, then we go on for a full mara, and then we cool off with a couple of kilometers before the finish”. 68km, I didn’t know it was possible to run that far! The name of the race was Jättelångt (in Swedish it means “Really Far”) and a thought was planted in my head.
Last year, on a subway station in Stockholm I met Steve (aka Tentsmuir) and Alexia who were obviously heading for the same place as me – the start of the 50K Sörmland Ultramarathon. They asked me for directions and we started to chat. Another runner in the subway had finished Jättelångt the very same summer and I thought if I can pull of 50K maybe it is time to give that race a shot, but it would not be in 2014 because I had already signed up for Stockholm Marathon just two weeks before the start of the ultra. Steve and I decided that we should take a few long runs during the year, me training for the mara and Steve going for a 90K race in Scotland. The year went and we just met once – no long runs. Then Steve suddenly said he was ditching the Scotland race due to lack of mountain training, but that he instead signed up for Jättelångt. He said “Come on, you know you want to”. This would be the last chance to have that long run together and that was obviously all the push I needed to sign up. This would be my third race in four weeks, with (personal record times!) of both the half mara Göteborgsvarvet and Stockholm Marathon in the legs. I was a bit nervous at the task of running almost 70K and at the same time very nervous in speaking English for 8-9 hours which was my expected time to finish the race. We met before start and I learned that Steve understood and talked Swedish very well! Nice! However a few times I had to use the Swedish word “omväxlande” (varying) which was new to Steve. A good word which would work as a true answer to both the following questions: “What do you think of the trail” and “how do you feel right now?”.
During the official Jättelångt speak before start they give you the basic race rules: 1) No littering 2) Help a runner friend in need 3) If you release a cow you buy a cow. Simple.
A bonus for me was that Steve’s wife Alexia (a veteran ultra support crew member) – together with their friend Nina – would be meeting us several times during the race. I later learned that the race rules along with the support car would prove vital. It was a cold, sunny but windy day with a reported wind speed of 10 m/s (at times up to 24 m/s). Lucky for us we would have the wind at our backs:
I started with a wind jacket, long sleeved Team Nordic Trail-shirt, long 2XU compression tights, Gococo compression socks and Salomon S-LAB Ultra shoes. On my head I had two buffs (!) (one for the head, one for the neck) and sunglasses. Everything but the glasses and long strides would change from start to finish. Steve, bring more experience to the trail, suggested that we should keep a steady 6:30 min/km pace. We started a bit back in the field of around 200 runners – soon catching up a friend of Steve’s from the Stockholm Hash House Harriers Marathon (John Cleese). He was easy to spot in his leopard pants and particular running gate. Steve told me we should follow him since he would be a perfect pacer.
The first 10K went smooth.
The scenery was varied with a bit by the shoreline, a bit of easy trail running and some tarmac. Although easy trails there are some rocks/roots you could choose to jump over (Anders) or trip over twice (Steve). A somersault and a bleeding knee later we continued. Nothing stops the man it seems (Ronaldo would have stayed down).
“THIS IS NO BANANA RACE”, the information sheet had told us. So you have to bring what you need in order to finish. In the backpack bladder I had Tailwind sport drink which is said to be the only nutrition you need for a full day out. But since I like to eat I also brought some gels, bars, salt pills and candy. Despite the poor no banana-promise, the official stops had lots more than I could handle and I ate all the milk choclate, hot dogs (!), bananas, nuts, olives I could. As I said I like to eat, and run. (Eat and Run – Scott Jurek, is a great book by the way although I clearly failed to learn anything from it..) After the first drink stop the trail continued into the wilderness which made our pace drop rapidly due the high grass/vegetation before it changed back to rock and boulders which really slowed us down.
It was a bit hard to find the trail going off from the beach but Jättelångt is famous for being a difficult route to follow. It is said that 98% of runners have taken the wrong turn somewhere which means that the actual race will probably be a bit longer than the original 68K. After 21K my legs still felt good and the second “water stop” also included a BBQ, cakes, chocolate and coffee. Once off the trail we had left the ocean and headed off into the woods, passing occasional meadows ominously devoid of cows (see above).
Then, at one point in the middle of the woods, we passed a lone guy on drums doing what I guess would be a full day of Drum Solos for the Runners. Much appreciated!
Heading up to 30K and the Väddö villiage we met Nina and Alexia. I started to notice in my legs that I had indeed been out running for a while. Steve changed his socks and shoes, ditching his trail shoes which had him fall over (twice) and were by now cramping his toes. Instead he opted for a pair of Saucony road shoes. A French runner, Frederick, whom Steve had met the night before had told him that from this point on the race was less technical. I still felt alright and didn’t bother to change socks (Mistake ONE) and I didn’t even bring any other shoes (Mistake TWO).
Leaving Väddö we followed the beautiful river for a couple of kilometers until we noticed two guys in front of us heading over a dike and off to some buildings.Two elderly men waived at us so we took the same path. This lead us through a small shopping mall. Having the visitors and staff cheering for us provided a boost. As we exited there was a drink station and I also had a brief chat with another Team Nordic Trail (TNT) runner.
We would see him several times during the rest of the day, not easy to miss with his ZZ Top style beard. After the drink stop we had quite a few kilometers of tarmac which wasn’t too funny for the legs. I started to feel a bit low on carbs and took the first gel about 40k into the race. My next personal goal was to cross the mara distance, then head up to 46k where there was a big stop at Erikskulle where I would meet my friends and family.
We started to get a little behind our schedule but also started not to care very much about pace or finishing times as long as we were going to finish and enjoy the race. We decided to take a longer stop here; Steve to enjoy some of Nina’s massage treatment and me to use a proper toilet, remembering the “no littering” rule! I changed socks on my left foot because it had started to hurt a bit. Nina had some blister plasters which I gladly added. By this point I was also regretting not wearing calf guards instead of compression socks. It was a big boost to meet my three kids and Jenny along with our friend Sofia and her kids. She also said that we looked surprisingly fresh! I wanted to sprint away showing how strong we were, although when we started to run again after the break, moving proved tough.
The course went on some tarmac road and the sun was getting hotter, while I was looking at some horses at the side of the road the route took a sudden turn off into a field on the other side. Lucky for me Steve was the stronger and more observant one of us two and in front of me he noticed the change of direction. He also impressed me with a loud whistle warning and calling back the bearded TNT runner who was about 50-60 meters in front and who had missed the sign and turnoff. A thumbs up and a big broad grin in gratitude from him.
Going into the field just after this turn (above) my right thigh started to ache a bit as well as the little toe on my left foot. I had to slow Steve down a bit and we took some walking pauses. After around 51K I suddenly head a “pop” from my left foot accompanied by a sharp pain. Once I removed the shoe I noticed how the sock was all wet around the little toe and I was unable to put on my shoe again. We were passed by another one of Steve’s friends (I’m impressed at how many runners he knew!) and Svetlana asked if I wanted to borrow a pair of scissors to cut open the shoe. She then looked and said: “oh, its an expensive one so probably not” and, seeing there wasn’t much to be done, she took off. I told Steve to set off and meet the support car in the hope that I would get there soon. Steve left, intending to send the car back to me with more plasters. As he did so I tried to fit my foot in the shoe and even run without it, but settled on just wearing it more or less as a clog. I couldn’t run fast this way but seriously I barely run anyway. At least I was moving. This was also what Steve suddenly appearing from the shadows under a tree shouted to me “You’re moving!”. I told him he should head off and finish the race and we could meet up for a beer once I got to Norrtälje. He thanked me for the offer but said we were to finish this together as we’d promised. I ran about 4K with the shoe like that and once we got to the next aid station I borrowed a scissors, cut open the sock and added a bit more plaster around the toe. Not far from the aid station Alexia and Nina met us and Steve changed back to his original shoes which he started to run (and trip over with) in order that I could borrow his wider and slightly larger Sauconys (45 instead of my usual 43). Suddenly I could run properly again. Not far from finish now, about 15K, and I was sure that we were going to make it although our sub-8 hour time was out the window. During the last part of the course we didn’t talk much just focusing on heading forward and walked almost all the uphills parts, no matter how small. By the 65-66K I was feeling stronger again, we actually starting catching and passing runners as Steve stretched the pace. As we passed the 68km mark we were still in the countryside with no sign of the finish. It was clearly going to be a 70km plus day today. After a final stretch along the canal bank and through the town we finally spotted the finish line. A total of 8 hours 53 mins out running I especially enjoyed the last stretch and seeing my family waiting for me after 70.5km on the trail.
Seeing all the people in the finish area cheering I felt a sudden moment of gratitude towards everyone helping me towards this day that I almost started to cry. Those people include everyone from Sofia and Anders with whom we stayed the night before, to my family and everyone else inspiring and showing me that indeed nothing seems to be impossible. The feeling didn’t go away when I got a big big hug from Jenny, a chocolate ball (they know me) from the kids, beer from Alexia and the pair of shoes from Steve as a present for me just finishing my first really long run. Without you all I would never have made it this day. It is a memory to cherish for life.
Leaving the Jättelångt area with my family I had sun bleached hair as well as a strange sensation, and a mix of feelings, in my body since I just accomplished something I would NEVER thought I would be able to pull off, that day four years ago when I first heard of Jättelångt on the radio.
Here are the Garmin stats: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/520612178 and below is my foot once I got home …..