August 17, 2019
90 km, 867 m gain
Sälen to Mora, Sweden
This RR will focus more or less solely on our experience from the start in Sälen to the finish in Mora. For those interested in descriptions of the course and other facts about the race, please head to last year’s Ultravasan 90 2018 Race Report, where we shared a more in depth-story. When it comes to the majority of the training for UV, you’ll find that explained in our KIA Fjällmaraton Race Report. Here, we’ll only touch upon what we did the 14 days between the two races (which is something we’d find very interesting to learn about from others – so hopefully you’ll like this). Ok, here we go!
Fjällmaraton 43k took place on Saturday August 3rd. The day after the race, we were primarily sore in our quads (from all the downhill running) but felt quite good otherwise. We took a long walk in Åre village before hopping on the train to Stockholm. After 9 hrs of mostly sitting, however, our feet had more or less doubled in size. It was a little hard to get our shoes back on, but after a good night’s sleep, all was back to normal. (It was quite funny.)
Monday then meant a long walk, Tuesday a 20k bike ride, Wednesday a 10k run. Thursday another 20k bike ride, Friday an 8k run, Saturday a 20k run. Sunday we took off completely. Race week we started by going for a 10k tempo run on Monday, then a 6k run on Wednesday and a 5k shake out run on Friday morning, up in Sälen. That summarizes those 2 weeks in between nicely. We felt heavy for the first one, but had more pep in the step the second.
As per what we did last year, we went up to Sälen on Thursday. After going for that morning shake out run on Friday, we picked up the bibs, prepared everything for the race, cooked and ate lots of food and just took it easy. We had high hopes of being able to sleep a little better the night before, this year, because we thought maybe we’d be less nervous this second time around. Well, Mike fell asleep at 9pm and slept like a baby until the alarm went off at 3am. I, on the other hand, was apparently overwhelmed by nerves and didn’t sleep at all. Like, not at all. It almost felt as a relief when it was time to get up, despite the tiredness. Anyway. It was finally happening. Our second attempt at Ultravasan 90k!
The start was as magical as it was last year. The atmosphere, the music, the darkness, the anticipation. We bumped into a new friend of ours from Fjällmaraton at the start line, which made the time tick by a little quicker as we were waiting. And then 5am rolled around, and off we went. As opposed to last year, when the primary goal was to finish and making the men’s medal time was a bonus (we ended up coming in at 9:14), we had higher expectations this year. The goal was set to sub-8, and hopefully a top 10 female and a top 50 male. An 8 hr finishing time means a 5:20 min/km average pace.
For those of you who follow us on social media, you might remember that I ditched my training watch earlier this year. It only holds me back and steals my mental focus. Mike tracks and does so enthusiastically, however, but doesn’t like to obsess over times for each kilometer. He therefore set his watch to only showing the time (as in, the actual time, such as 9am) and with the help of that and the kilometer signs along the course, we’d be able to calculate how we were doing every so often, without having it in our faces constantly. Naturally, you start out faster than what the goal average pace is. We clocked a 4:54 min/k up to Smågan and got there in 44 min, and over the next section, to Mångsbodarna, we maintained a 5:19 min/k and got in at 2 hrs flat. To here, it was overall smooth sailing. We felt good, strong and energized, and had really only seen one mishap: Mike slipped and fell on one of the boardwalks. It was SO hard to run some sections because of the slipperiness, and as we came out of the woods in this one place, the person ahead of us threw herself to the side to avoid getting wet (the boardwalk was half under water), but I just galloped through it. Behind me, Mike slipped and fell, managed to straddle the board and cut open his hand, all the while people were coming from behind, ending up in a bit of a domino scene. Anyway, Mike was thankfully okey and just wiped off all the blood from his hand on his shirt (what is this sport doing to us?) and we continued onwards. This happened just a few minutes away from Mångsbodarna, where we had our crew (my mom and stepdad) waiting with replacement bottles. (We both ran with 2×350 ml bottles with Umara sports beverage.) We stopped for a very short time, and then took off again. Thinking that we were maybe in the 10-20th position among the females, it came as a great surprise to hear we were in 5th. Awesome!
Not long after, I started to feel very nauseous. This would become my companion for the rest of the race (unfortunately) but thankfully, I didn’t know that at this point. We chugged on, and definitely experienced a first wave of tired legs approaching Risberg. Compared to last year, the 2019 edition was much wetter, meaning the soft ground steals so much momentum from you. Running along somewhat swampy trails that are also going uphill is a killer. I still feel like we kept a good pace here though, coming into Risberg at 2:59, clocking a 5:29 min/k pace from the previous aid station. We knew the terrain eases up in the second half, so we felt hopeful that we’d be able to ramp it up later on.
But the nausea had no plans on going anywhere. From about 30k and all the way into Mora, I primarily lived off of water and some salt tablets, to rid myself off some cramps. Water sloshing around in your belly and salt in your mouth might not be the best way to decrease nausea, but there and then, you can’t really think clearly. I mustered a small bite from a snickers bar twice, and a few sips of energy drink, but other than that, I was running on empty (except a cup of Coca Cola in Eldris – god bless). Generally, I do quite ok with low energy availability (others find it very hard – we’re all different), but of course, I got tired and wasn’t able to push as hard as I would have wanted. Mike had some minor stomach issues on his behalf, but nothing too severe. He couldn’t really get down much energy drink in the last 1/3 of the race, but got down 6 Umara gels throughout the day, plus some Coca Cola at the end. In other words, we are no role models when it comes to managing race nutrition. We’re far from having it figured out, and find it very frustrating. Anyway. Let’s deem it a work in progress.
So we arrived a little low on energy but still high in spirits to Evertsberg at 4:09 elapsed, with a 5:36 min/k from Risberg. A quick refill and a nice round of supportive words from our crew, and then we ended up leaving at the same time as an Instagram friend of ours (check out @sweadventure), which meant the following kilometers went by nice and quickly as we all got in a bit of chatting as distraction. After the nice downhill section right after Evertsberg, it’s impossible to not hit a dip. It gets hilly in an up-and-down-kind of fashion, which is really hard to handle after ~5 hrs of running. Naturally, we slowed down a bit. We came into the arms of our crew in Oxberg at 5:34 elapsed, after keeping a 5:43 min/k average from Evertsberg. In this section, we had also been passed by one female, so I was bumped down to 6th position. It was starting to feel hard here for sure, but at the same time – hey, only 30k to go! That’s our normal “short” long run that we do every week without much blinking, these days. Strengthened by that, we left with a good dose of energy from the crowds (less in our bellies) and chugged the 9k – the most dreaded 9k of the whole race – to Hökberg. Why is this part so hard? (It wasn’t without a smile on our faces that we saw Jim Walmsley hit a rough patch here too.)
Arriving in Hökberg at 6:32 elapsed and clocking an average of a whopping 6:18 min/k from Oxberg, we felt like we had at least done the hard part now. Our 8 hr finish wasn’t going to happen, we knew that, but considering our stomach situation and the fact that we were pretty gassed (Swedish: tom på energi), an 8:30 (which was still doable) was something to be happy with too. Here though, the speakers didn’t do a proper job, we think. They mentioned male 90k runners and a bunch of 45k runners as their chips were registered (all relatively far away from any top placements) but didn’t mention my placement at all. We left thinking I was still holding down the 6th position, but learned afterwards that I had been bumped to 7th. We managed to pick up the speed a tiny bit over the next 10k, to Eldris and the final aid station, and got there at 7:34 elapsed after maintaining a 6:08 min/k average pace. Here, the same thing was repeated as far as the speakers – Mike heard he was in 60th-something place, they mentioned 45k runners in the 70’s and 80’s, but not my placement (or name). Again, we didn’t think we had seen anybody pass (but it’s hard, both considering you’re tired and the fact that there are women running both the 45k and 90k distances) and thought we still had 6th place. In reality, I was in 8th. At this point though, I was so focused on just holding onto top 10. Not only had that been a major goal in itself beforehand, but I also got energy from knowing that the Vasaloppet organization honors the top 10 with both prize money and an award ceremony on the stage. It might seem silly, but that would have been a big deal for me/us! So with those goal images in my head, and Mike yearning for a top 50, we tried to push as hard as we could. We felt as if we were literally flying the last few kilometers (our splits showed around 5 min/k, but it felt like we were sprinting for an Olympic gold in the 100 m dash), and we passed a bunch of male runners in the last section. Making it over the last bridge and yielding left, into the finishing stretch towards that iconic portal, you feel like a million bucks. We came in at 8:26, after a 5:50 min/k average pace from Eldris (and 5:38 min/k over the whole course). The announcer declared I had come in 8th place, and even though I wished he had said 5th and even though we wished we could have taken in energy and made sub-8 and all of that, we were of course super happy.
Well, super happy until… until we asked a staff member when the award ceremonies would be held, and we were told they were going to honor top 6 this year, instead of top 10. Yes, it’s silly to care that much. Yes, it’s “just” sports. But there and then, I got really, really disappointed. I got upset with the speakers at the aid stations, not paying close attention to the top runners in the female race. I got upset with the organizers, changing the award setup and not announcing it. It’s all fading away now, but some of it still lingers. I’m hoping that it’ll just get me and us more determined to redeem ourselves big time next year. Aside from the touch of bitterness you all might pick up on, we had an awesome day. It’s impossible not to. It’s hard and it’s beautiful and it’s… yeah, awesome.
Ultravasan 90 remains a magical experience, and we love this race so much. Despite all the hardship you go through when following in the historical footsteps through the woods of Dalarna, you want to do it over and over and over again. We came across the finish line already with a yearning for more, and will do our very, very best to come even better prepared next time.
And last but not least, a quick note on recovery: last year, after the race, we could barely walk for a few days after. The last 1/3 of the race was a massive pain cave, with muscles and joints screaming for help. This year, we didn’t battle any pain at all during the race. Sure, lactic acid discomfort and tired, tired legs – but no pain-pain. Neither did we afterwards. Sure, stiffness and soreness – but again, no pain-pain. In other words, one more year of dedicated ultra distance training has worked wonders for our bodies. The adaptation they’re capable of is nothing short of amazing. With that said, we’re more than motivated and excited to finish off this racing season and then roll up our sleeves as we go into another training winter. That’s all from us this time – run safely, and ask away if you have any questions!