Image by Frida Berglund Photography
September 28-30th, 2018
7 km Night Run, 425 m gain
24 km Mountain Run, 1235 m gain
400 m Sprint
Åre Trail Tour is a 3-day event during which a 7k night run, a 24k mountain run and a sprint take place. You can pick and choose yourself as to which race/races you’d like to participate in, but in order to be a part of the overall tour standings, you have to run all three. For us, this was the first time racing more than one day in a row, and it came to be such a great learning experience. The Friday run is short enough for you to be recovered for the longer adventure on Saturday, which makes this race tour a perfect one to start with in the world of stage races, multiple day events etc.
We came to Åre feeling a little under the weather – some minor cold symptoms, some aches and pains – and told ourselves our only expectations were to have fun and make it through each race. The actual weather was also a little out of sync, with snow already down in the village and temperatures hovering around freezing or just above. (On the other hand, we’re total winter geeks and must admit we did get a kick from seeing some white gold as early as in September!) We came up from the Stockholm area Thursday to have a day to settle in before the racing would start, and rented a small apartment up in Björnen. Parking down in the village is easy albeit a little pricey – we chose the parking area by Kabinbanan every time, because we knew for sure there would be spots, it wasn’t too expensive (SEK 50 per day) and the walk down to the main square only takes a few minutes. The race weekend took place the same weekend as Åre Fall Market, which meant basically no street parking downtown. But – as mentioned – there are plenty of alternatives.
7K Night Run – Friday
The starting time of 8pm made for a lot of killing time on Friday – a new experience for us to be running a race at night and having all day to get nervous and anxious! The bib pickup took place in the main square in Åre village from 3pm, and the tour participants got to pick up all the bibs for the weekend at the same time. There were also some Oatly drinks, vitamin D samples etc. in the goodie bags that were handed out.
We returned to the main square around 7.30pm. This is where the start and finish would be both Friday and Saturday. There was a fun atmosphere with lots of people and a speaker chatting up the race, giving a few hints as to the course and what to expect. There was also a place to drop your bag, which was much appreciated due to the chilly temperatures. We warmed up by running up and down the first hill of the race (to the left of Bergbanan) and found our spots in the field a few minutes before 8pm. And then at 8 o’clock – off we went! The course basically takes you up, up, up for 3k and then down for the remaining 4. You run mostly on trails (rocky, full of roots and lots of mud), and the whole route had been beautifully lit up with marschaller (a form of outdoor candle) here and there, in addition to the reflective markers that kept us on the right track. With the help of your headlamp, you could easily see where to go at all times. The whole climb is more or less runnable, but we did walk-run some of it simply due to the heavy legs you have when you’re almost at the top. The course zig zags its way up and around Totthummeln, and as we were approaching the end of the climb, the ground turned snow-covered and we were all of a sudden surrounded by snowfall and a magical winter wonderland. And on top of that – the views of the lit up village from the top – just magnificent!
Images by Frida Berglund Photography
We both felt a little sluggish and slow, but chugged on and tried to ignore the fact that we had the worst headlamps of all times. We never run or train in the dark, normally, hence we don’t own the advanced head lamps we saw people wearing all around us. Instead, we brought our little camping head lamps, fit to light up the tent for you or help you find something in your bag in the dark – but not maneuvering going fast downhill technical trails! It really wasn’t a problem until we hit the top, because the climb goes slow and you can easily plan where to put your feet. But when the trail started going downhill on equally muddy, slippery and rocky terrain, we were completely… well, lost in the dark! People were zooming past us left and right – and when passing, giving us a brief moment of light as their super lamps lit up half the woods. We tried keeping as high of a pace as possible and ended up coming back down to the village and the finish line after 46 minutes. This placed me, Sophia, in 5th and Michael in 26th. There’s only manual timing going on, so little heads up to future participants: make sure someone takes note of you and your bib number when crossing the finish line. At roughly 9pm, an hour after the start, there was a quick award ceremony for the top 3 men and women, as well as a give away with some really nice prices (all participants included in the draw). After that, we were pretty cold so we jogged quickly back to the car, took a looong hot shower at home and tried to decompress a little. We fell asleep around midnight.
24K Mountain – Saturday
The next morning, we felt both anxious and excited as to what was awaiting – the weather forecast showed a high of 3°C and low of 0°C, with both mixed participation and high winds. The race organizers had added some extra mandatory equipment (wind proof pants and jacket, extra socks, a reinforcement piece of clothing, gloves/mittens and some sort of extra energy source, such as a bar) due to the circumstances, and we’d been told (and seen pictures) that we’d see knee deep snow in some spots, as well as a river crossing. Hence, no doubts about getting wet! We got up around 7am, had a bowl of oatmeal and got ready. The start was at 10am, so we made sure to be down in the village by 9.30am. Again, the atmosphere was bustling and fun, with lots of market goers and wonderful smells from all the food stalls. The race crowd had grown into a decent size over the past few days and measured roughly 100 people. At 10am, we all shot up the same hill (next to Bergbanan) as we had done the previous night, and we stayed on that same course for the first few kilometers (fun to see it all in daylight!), before splitting up and continuing further away from it all instead of chronicling back. The first climb gave way for a long sloping downhill, a great place to pick up some time and let your legs recover if you’re a skilled downhill runner. We’re not, so we saw some people skipping past us here, seemingly seamlessly. The downhill then turned into a swamp (another weakness of ours), which more or less continued all the way to 9k and the first aid station. The whole stretch is perfectly runnable (with the exception for the river crossing, but that really only meant getting freezing cold up to your knees for a few steps and then forgetting about it) and offers up beautiful views and pretty surroundings. We tried keeping a good pace here but definitely struggled in parts – the whole phenomenon of swamp running is still very much unexplored territory for us, so we have lots of improvement to work on here! After the 9k aid-station (where you could munch on dried fruits and nuts and drink hot sports beverage), the terrain got easier for a little bit before making way for some serious mud business. At this point, you’ve almost reached the tree line so the scene around you is open, vast and just breathtakingly beautiful – visibility was limited due to the weather, but our heads were spinning around like crazy, trying to catch a glimpse of lakes, peaks and everything in between.
Left image by Frida Berglund Photography
But back to the course – where were we? Oh, the mud. Yes, for a few kilometers, you’ll be trying to avoid sinking too deep into mud and to keep running even though it’s quite tough. It’s possible! It just takes some grit 🙂 The wind started hitting us hard around halfway (12k), so Mike had to stop to put on his wind jacket, and we saw others doing the same thing. Around 14-15k, we’d climbed (very gradually though, no big hills for a good while) high enough for the mud to be replaced by a thick snow cover. Thanks to the runners ahead of us, we could chug along a pretty well-trodden path though, so it wasn’t too difficult. At 16k, you’ll get to the second aid station (same offerings as the previous) and the trail also makes a sharp right turn. From here until 20k, you battle some steep ascents. This whole section – while hard and quite uncomfortable when out there – has grown to become our favorite part. It literally felt like we were traversing the Arctic/conquering Mt Everest/doing something completely nuts. The wind was picking up big time and coming straight on, bringing with it freezing rain and zero visibility. Here we wondered – why didn’t we bring clear goggles? Instead, a hand over your face/eyes was necessary and every ten steps or so, we’d force ourselves to look up and make sure we were heading in the right direction. When going across Lillskutan (the highest point of the race), we had formed a group of four with two other runners, and together we moved slowly but steadily.
Once we started descending, the conditions mellowed out. The snow gave way for mud, the wind subsided, the visibility improved. The terrain stayed very technical though, especially the path taking you down from Lillskutan to Sadeln. Once down there, we hopped on the same trail as we came up hours earlier, and could let our feet go as much as possible all the way to the finish line. When crossing, I came in as 5th and Michael as 42nd, and our time was 3 hours 12 minutes. It truly felt like we’d been out on an awesome expedition – covered in mud from top to bottom, soaking wet and smiling from ear to ear. Many would have a hard time understanding how the past three hours could qualify as the best way to spend a Saturday, but to us, that’s crystal clear. It’s the beauty of nature, the challenge, the overcoming the discomfort. This race checked all of our boxes, and a huge plus for serving a warm, yummy vegan stew at the finish line (heaven). There was an award ceremony where they honored the top 5 in each race, so I was called up and given a nice pair of base layer wool pants from SWEARE. Following the award ceremony, there was another giveaway – and I won a hydration vest from Ultimate Direction! They really had some awesome stuff they were giving away, and lots of it too. Afterwards, we went back to our place and warmed up, had dinner and just relaxed the rest of the evening.
Sprint – Sunday
The last stage took place on Sunday at 11am. The race organizers had created a sprint course (a 400 meter loop) on the lake side of Holiday Club, where they also had buns, fruit, nuts, drinks etc. set up. Let’s be honest – our legs didn’t exactly feel up for sprinting and it was our first time doing anything like this so we brought with us plenty of nerves. The race(s) basically went down like this: first, you run a qualification loop by yourself (interval starts, 30 seconds apart). The time you achieve here will be added to your overall tour time, if participating in that, and it’ll also determine if you make it to the final rounds. The top 24 will go through to the quarterfinals, and from there, the top 3 in each heat make it to the semifinals. Same procedure follows there, and so six people will run the final. Depending on where you end up position-wise, you’ll also get bonus minutes, which will be subtracted from your overall tour time. And that’s exactly the procedure that went down for the men on this windy Sunday, and Michael made it all the way to the final! He had to battle some seriously talented guys out there (and ended up racing against the top 4 in the overall tour in the final), as well as overcoming a good chunk of nervousness and race anxiety. It’s funny how 400 meters of sprinting can seem so daunting and scary, but a 24k race across a mountain in tough conditions feels totally cool. Anyway – Michael performed amazingly and thanks to both a quick qualification time and the bonus minutes he got from his 6th place, he climbed all the way to 7th place in the overall tour! A fantastic result!
A then a quick note on the ladies – we were only 12 women competing, so we all just ran a qualification round and then everyone made the semifinals. Here, our qualification times were unfortunately lost so they had to do a draw as to who should run which heat. I ended up running against the three women who went ahead and formed the podium after the final and stood zero chance of making it through. I’m by no means a good sprinter (it’s my first and foremost weakness as a runner) and these ladies were on fire. So fast! I was blown away. So I had the pleasure of standing to the side, watching both finals, and it was a whole lot of fun. As far as the overall, I ended up in second place behind the orienteering superstar Helena Karlsson, who won both the 7k night run and the 24k mountain race. The race organizers did an award ceremony for the sprint and for the overall, as well as another give away with the leftover stuff. The prize for 2nd place in the tour was clothes from SWEARE.
We had such a blast throughout the whole weekend and couldn’t recommend this “race trio” more. It adds to the race weekend when you also get the chance to make new friends and chat with like-minded people, which comes naturally after seeing each other toe the line day after another. Everyone involved with the organization of the races was super nice and friendly, it was so much fun taking part in a tour and – obviously – running in the mountains is the best there is. It’s totally worth the trip, even if you live far south (our drive is roughly 7-8 hrs). The fall foliage, the snowcapped mountain tops, the feeling of having most of it to yourself – you can’t beat that. We made a trip out of it and stayed for a whole week, which enabled a few glorious run excursions post-race weekend. We definitely encourage you to do the same thing. That’s pretty much it – don’t hesitate reaching out, if you have any thoughts or questions!