Let’s start from the beginning. I’ve had, not a terrible, but not a great pre-season heading upp to SAU. I did Ursvik Ultra in an ok time, not as well as I’d hoped but still ok. You can read a short report on that race here. But after that I couldn’t really get into running again, something was always aching or I’d get a cold. So when it was finally time for SAU, I hadn’t gotten the milage I wanted and I didn’t feel I was in the best shape for this race. As an extra icing on the cake I had, just two days before the race, cut the tip of my thumb off whilst chopping an onion. Exactly what you need before a race in the mountains with no aid stations, exposed wounds.
The day before the race I went for an easy test run along Kungsleden, but almost immediately I felt something was wrong. I got dizzy and really tired just after a couple of kilometers. I turned back and felt extremely hungry even though I had been eating well all day and just finished off a plate of fish and potatoes. I started to doubt I could do the race when I felt like I did. 107 kilometers in the mountains is not something you want to do if you’re not feeling 100%.
After my run we all went to the chapel for the regular pre race meeting. We got some info on the trail, it was looking good this year with little snow and good conditions overall, and had a few laughs.
I woke up early on race day, hoping breakfast would be served a little earlier than announced. Unfortunately it didn’t, it started right on time. I had some food and then went on to pack the last things before the race. That means adjusting the amount of gels and so on, getting dressed and get ready to start.
When I got to the start a lot of excited runners were already there, ready to get out on the trail. After a group photo and some chatter runners amongst, it was time to start. When Roland shouted it was time to go, a small group of runners took off in a staggering pace. I knew I wanted to be among the firsts so I ran right behind them. Even if I had to quit I wanted to get a good start. I felt good in the beginning but I knew I couldn’t keep up this pace for long. My stomach started to act up almost right away and I felt sick as soon as I thought about eating something. I decided right away, if I couldn’t get something in my stomach before Kebnekaise I would have to quit the race.
After a while I noticed it was only four of us left, my brother Jonas, Sten, another guy and me. That’s when I started to slow down, I knew they weren’t going to keep up that kind of pace, or at least I hoped so, and I thought I had gotten some space to the runners behind me. So I settled for a more comfortable pace, but after just a kilometer or two I saw someone ahead of me. It wasn’t my brother nor was it Sten, but I felt good catching someone. We ran together for a little while, chatting, but soon I felt I needed to push on. I didn’t want to leave to much of a gap to the front runners.
Halfway to Keb I meet my brother who have decided to quit the race because of a previous injury. I tell him I’d probably join him soon if I can’t manage to eat something. He wished me luck and we moved on in different directions. I keep going and feel a little better, most likely because of the slower pace. When I have a couple of kilometers left to Keb I try to eat a gel and to my surprise it stays down. This gives me hope and I decide to go on with the race. This is a bigger decision than it might seem, because after Keb there is little point to go back, you might as well continue on.
When I arrive at the Keb base station I notice a runner in the distance and I know it’s Sten. I check my watch, to note the time, so I can see approximately how far ahead of me he is and I start the chase.
“I try to measure the gap every time I see him and I notice I’m catching up, fast.”
He is about 2-3 minutes ahead of me and I figure he’s slowed down a bit so I try to catch him as fast as I can. I believe it’s better to go hard and have contact fairly soon than having to chase for a long time.
I try to measure the gap every time I see him and I notice I’m catching up, fast. I keep up my pace but I’m trying not to go too fast. And just after the suspension bridge I’m just 20-30 meters behind him and this feels like a good distance, I no longer need to rush. I keep this position for a while before I finally catch up to him. Now everything was like two years ago, me and Sten in front and no one breathing down our necks, as far as we knew.
It had started raining earlier not much though, just drizzle I barely noticed, but now the rocks started to get slippery and sharp. I guess the sharpness had nothing to do with the rain, they were still sharp as knifes though.
We kept on going like this for a while, nothing really exciting happened except for some scary falls, no serious injuries though, just bruised egos. The only thing different from two years ago was my condition, I felt great. I still had a little trouble eating but not nearly as bad as in the beginning. In fact, I was eating well now, at least I thought so. A different story would be revealed later though. At some point I started to notice Sten was slowing down, I didn’t like this, I wanted to keep up the pace when I still felt this good. So when he stopped to do something I went on ahead of him to pick up the pace. I know he wants to be ahead so I figured he would catch up soon and go in front of me, but hopefully with higher pace now. And that’s exactly what happened.
Another very different thing is that I was really looking forward to the pass, Tjäktjapasset, because two years ago I got a real energy boost there, just in time. I didn’t need it as much now but I sure wanted it anyway. Even though we had a hard time believing there was little to no snow this year, it turned out it was true, a set from a couple of short snow fields. The climb up the pass was tough, as it should be, we walked most of it but as soon as there was a little less steep we ran. It felt longer than before, and I made a quick stop by the cross, which marks the pass, too see if I could spot any runners behind us. I could see no one.
We finally reached the summit, quietly celebrating the halfway mark. I put on a light rain jacket and Sten changed into a long sleeved t-shirt. The rain had increased now and the air was cooler. We kept on going towards Alesjaure but in a completely different landscape from previous years. What used to be large snow fields with incredibly cold streams was now rocks, sharp rocks, slippery rocks. In fact so sharp and slippery it felt foolish to push too hard because of risk of serious injuries.
“I thought there was a chance for the course record my brother had set previous year.”
You win some, you lose some
Just before Alesjaure I noticed Sten looked a bit tired. A little while earlier we had both taken a fall but gotten up again. Now his legs didn’t seem as quick as before. But I felt fine, well,, compared to two years ago I felt incredible. So when we got to Alesjaure I asked him how he felt. He said he felt OK. I had noticed we were making good time, so good actually, I thought there was a chance for the course record my brother had set previous year. I told him I wanted to go for it, he wished me luck but declined my offer to come along.
I set off in a high pace, I knew I had to push hard to have a shot at the record and I felt good. My legs felt great and so did my head. This part of the trail is always real muddy but it didn’t bother me now. It felt as if I was flying through the bushes, over the hills, past the lake but then something happened. Was I pushing too hard? Had I not eaten enough? I didn’t get it. I reach for a gel in my pack and that’s when I notice my big mistake. I had barely eaten anything. So far, after about 75-80k I had eaten two gels, two bloks and some candy. I immediately tried to eat a gel but it was too late, my stomach refused. I forced it down and kept on going but I had to slow down significantly.
Even though I had to slow down, I wasn’t going slow. I kept an ok pace but I knew the record was gone now, I just didn’t have the energy. Soon enough I heard something behind me, I knew it was Sten. He caught up to me and I told him my stomach acted up and I had to slow down. We kept on going through the technical part just before the Kieron slope. It’s easy to make a mistake here, exhaustion and slippery stones can easily make up a bad equation. We manage to get through unharmed and we’re flying down the steep Kieron slope blazingly fast and over the suspension bridge.
The last part
Only 20k left now, that’s it. But 20k is a long ways. I’m starting to get really fatigued but I manage to go on for a while longer. But soon I have to start walking, then run again and then walk again. The walks are getting longer and the runs shorter and slower. After a while Sten tells me he’s getting cold, I tell him I feel tired and my vision is a little blurry but I’m ok and I tell him to go on without me. I manage to force down an entire pack of bloks during this part, which I need badly.
The last part is tough. I’m wet, tired and have blurred vision. It’s raining even more now and I’m getting cold as well, so I’m going as fast as I’m able. Sten told me he would let my brother know I’m close and that he would tell him to meet me along the trail. That thought was comforting, I wouldn’t be alone for the last part. I pass the bridge, that I would later learn was overflooded, but I didn’t notice this at all, I was just running as fast as I could. Finally I hear my brother ahead of me, he asks me how I feel, fine I answer and keep going. I tell him about my attempt at the course record and my blurred vision and that I ran empty. Suddenly I can see the portal that marks the end of the Kungsleden trail.
Crossing the imaginary finish line
We go under the bridge and up towards Abisko tourist center. I have to stop and walk the first hill and then my brother tells me to run, it’s not far now. I start running again and finally I can see the finish line, or rather the entrance to the tourist center which marks the finish. My parents are there, my brothers wife, Roland who organizes the race, and all the functionaries. I cross the imaginary finish line in 12:35.10. No record, but a full hour faster than my previous personal best. And considering I thought I’d have to quit the race during the first 20k I’m satisfied with the result. The big dream, sub10, lives on another year.
After finishing I sat down inside the lobby and had some blueberry soup, and a banana I believe. My sight was still blurred but I knew it would go away soon. I just needed some energy, a hot shower, a sauna and some fluids. And this year I felt well enough to have a beer later on. I freshened up and sat down to watch all the other runners come in, everyone with a unique story to tell after crossing the finish line.
I’d like to thank Roland, all the functionaries and all the other runners who makes this incredible race possible. See you all next year!