June 16th 2018
45 km, 1030m gain
This race report has been a long time coming, seeing that we’re almost three months post race day. Given that the race will take place again next year though, and probably – hopefully – for many years to come, it still seemed a good idea to share our experience out there on the trails! Because boy, was that an experience. EcoTrail Stockholm 45k is a beautiful trail race in and around Stockholm, starting in Stora Skuggan and ending right by the Vasa museum in Djurgården. The vertical gain over the 45k measures roughly 1000 meters, and the 2018 edition of the race saw 187 finishers (70 women, 117 men). The aid stations are spread out as follows: 22k (Hagaparken), 28k (Stora Skuggan), 37k (Kaknästornet) and 41k (Manillaskolan).
This year’s race was following a very dry spring, so we didn’t really see any muddy trails at all. Still, we ran in trail shoes and would say that’s necessary regardless. We also ran in hydration vests, with two 350 ml bottles per person (sports beverage choice: Tailwind nutrition – we replaced these halfway through). Our plan was to rely mostly on that, but we did supplement with water from the aid stations. It was, after all, pretty warm!
Our training leading up to the race had gone smooth and felt balanced, and we both felt ready to go all in. Looking back, we logged about ten 30+ k runs in the three months prior to race day, hovered around 100k per week, and we have many years of running a lot under our belts. The 45k distance, however, was going to be new territory for us (but only by a kilometer or so) and as far as race experience goes, EcoTrail was our third race ever – so we’re definitely beginners in that respect! And one more thing, before we get to race day – we’re a married Swedish-American couple, 31 and 33 years old respectively, and do all of our training and racing together (which happens to work for us).
When race day rolled around, we were looking at a beautiful day and summer temperatures of around 20-23 degrees Celsius. We drove in from out of town, and parked on Bergiusvägen, right off of E18, which was about a 10-15 minute walk from Stora Skuggan. There were plenty of spots available. Given that this race is so close to the center of Stockholm though, it’s easily accessible via public transportation. We got there roughly an hour prior to the start of the race (which was at 10am), and killed the time by warming up, stretching, doing a little yoga, and snacking on some bananas and bread (we had had oatmeal for breakfast at home at 7am). All the crew-members were very nice, the atmosphere was pumped up and fun, and – because we all know this is important to know – there were plenty of porta potties around (although lines do form, so make sure you hit them up well in time). At 9:45am, Miranda Kvist, the founder of Team Nordic Trail, a.k.a. the race organizers, did a race briefing in both Swedish and English, and then it was about time to make it to the starting line. We had our baseline goal being a 4 hrs. 30 min. finishing time, but we were really aiming for a sub-4 (sort of secretly, but we both knew what the other person was thinking).
Legs felt light, easy, ready – eager to get going after all the anticipation and the two-three taper weeks we had had. But as we darted away from Stora Skuggan and up the first steep hill, I (Sophia) got a first taste of what was to come – sharp stomach cramps, quickly filling up my whole chest and sort of ‘pushing’ up towards the collarbones. Thinking it would pass in no time, we didn’t allow it much thought – or talk – and continued onwards, nimble on our feet throughout the first technical section, a narrow trail with plenty of roots and rocks along the water. Then up, up, up the hills to Lappkärrsberget – strong legs and deep breaths – and thereafter some pavement pounding through the built up area along Stocksundsvägen, before lovely waterside trails take you all the way to the Royal Gardens of Ulriksdal.
We found ourselves without company pretty fast, after just 1-2 kilometers, but were caught by Charlotte (a new friend of ours, who went onto winning the female race!) and Marcus (another new friend, who we bumped into again during Ultravsan 90k just a few weeks ago!) right as we crossed over E4. They had been shadowing us for a little while, before we formed a happy group of four. Right around the same time, we went across the first split timing mat, and Charlotte and I came through as 2nd and 3rd females. Our pace was above expectations and we noted approx. 51 min after the first 10k. There was, however, a silent fight being fought already. Those stomach cramps seemed to have no intentions of going away, and I really had to put my head down to keep hammering on. The four of us chatted away and stayed together for a couple of kilometers, before the long-legged Marcus stretched out his stride and took off somewhere in the woods of Igelbäcken, where trails are narrow, technical, hilly and so much fun for roughly 7-8 kilometers. This was our favorite section of the course. Charlotte and the two of us sort of seamlessly took turns pacing, and before we knew it, we were heading back across E4 and through the split timing mat again, still as 2nd and 3rd females and Michael as a solid 16th among the men. There is another hilly, woodsy section right after (you only run the same route for about 1k, basically from E4 to Igelbäcken and then back), before you hit up some gravel road in between the highway and the waters of Brunnsviken. You mark 20k somewhere around here, and this is also when we had to let go of Charlotte. The cramps were getting so intense it was hard for me to think about anything else, and it was getting difficult to keep up the 5 min/k pace we were doing. When we hit the massive hill leading into Hagaparken, it almost felt good to stop running and instead hiking up the slope (the first part is runnable, but then it gets too steep – the vertical gain is approx. 60 meters over 300 meters). Down on the other side, at 22k, you’ll find the first aid station. Now, we’ve heard people complain about the long distance between the starting area and the first aid station – but hey, part of the concept and the intention is for this race to be more challenging than your average city race! We think that’s awesome. Anyway, we had positioned our parents/in-laws right by the aid station, ready to hand us new bottles with sports beverage. We grabbed our bottles and intended to stop for only a few seconds, but my shape was going downhill – and fast.
The cramps were getting so intense it was hard for me to think about anything else.
At this point, it was mentally very tough to let go of the idea of a top 3-performance for me. It was hard to not get overwhelmed by disappointment, when you’ve worked for something so hard. We ended up jogging away from the aid station, moving significantly slower than before. There were multiple stops, both to walk and to sit down, before we got back to Stora Skuggan (29k) and the second aid station. I tried dumping water over my head, thinking it could be heat exhaustion (really though, I was just desperate to make myself feel better).
Michael refused to let me give up, however, even though I claimed I wanted to (it was two-folded for sure), so we chugged along. Chugged, chugged, chugged. Kilometers have never gone by so slowly. We checked off the section through the residential part of Gärdet, made our way from sidewalks to trails again and did notice that we were running through the very pretty and very off the beaten path-y area of Hundudden (it really is amazing there is all this nature just a stone’s throw away from downtown Stockholm). Plenty of hills, mostly single tracks and some technical trails. When going across the bridge to Djurgården, it did start to feel like we were at least going to make it to the finish line in one (two) piece(s), but five kilometers have never felt so long. My watch died around here, which gave Michael the infinite pleasure of having to answer my question of “how much more do we have?” roughly once a minute. In order to not let this become just a depiction of a long struggle – the trails here are equal to those in Hundudden – it’s quite hilly, it’s majority single tracks and it’s… fun. Such fun, fast trails to run when you have the day for it, that’s for sure!
Michael did an overall amazing job holding my hand and making us both go on. He had a really good day but still stayed with me, and I can’t thank him enough for it. He has said afterwards that he, too, was a little scared but somehow he felt confident we could make it all the way around. Our ‘deal’ is that we stick together unless one person has to DNF, and then the other person will finish for both of us.
When we hit the outskirts of Rosendal, we started running and didn’t stop until on the other side of the finish line. You basically just go past the gardens on the gravel road, follow the Djurgården canal and then across the road, before passing the Wasa museum on your right and sprinting to the finish line in Galärparken. There, I crawled up into a ball and cried a little. Friendly TNT people asked if everything was ok, and were told yes, yes, she’ll be fine – it’s just been a rough ride. It took us 5 hrs. 31 min. which put me in 25th place and Michael in 70th. And funny thing is – those stomach cramps were gone 10 minutes later. Gone and didn’t come back that day (but a milder version did happen again the next day when going for a recovery run). It certainly makes you wonder how much of it was in between the ears, manifesting itself in a crackling body, and how much was actual physical problems. We’ll never know, obviously, but in retrospect – what a good lesson this was. We are both (truly, not just for show) so grateful. Because in reality, something like this is bound to happen at some point. We got our fair share now, and… the world didn’t end, after all. It stunk, obviously – but no one died.
As far as the race goes – go run it! It’s carefully and very nicely organized, you’ll be running on some really fun trails and you’ll get to see some quite awesome parts of Stockholm lots of people are completely unaware of. The food at the finish line was very tasty (Michael’s input here, I stayed away from any food for a good while) – and big props to TNT for serving a vegetarian meal only. The aid stations offer up the usual spread of water, sports beverage, chips, snacks, fruit etc. and there is a fun, energy-filled vibe going on everywhere.
A note on disappointment: in an attempt to be honest and make anyone who has gone through something similar know they’re not alone – it was unbelievably hard to accept that it wasn’t our (my) day. Obviously, the whole experience falls into the category of teeny, tiny things to ‘complain’ about. In the grand scheme of things, who cares? But right there and then, feeling light-headed and almost fainting, crying on a random park bench in the Gärdet, I felt so small! So fragile! Afterwards, it seems silly and exaggerated – but I do think if/when I/we go through something like this again, we’ll be a lot calmer and quicker to let go of any expectations. And that’s awesome.
Thanks to Team Nordic Trail for the experience!