My Spanish brother-in-law was the one who mentioned it for the first time, the Laugavegur ultramarathon of 55 k in Iceland. We had just run Tromsdalstind Skyrace (one of the races of Tromsø Skyrace, Norway) and were eager to find another race for 2017. I thought 55 k was far too much, I didn’t even take it seriously.
Only until my husband gave me a different sort of Christmas present: a trip to Iceland. I knew the picture. Now there was nothing else to do, but to start training seriously. Of course I was thrilled, and it felt good that he believed in me.
Tromsdalstind Skyrace was quite tough. The mountain itself is 1238 meters high and we startet at sea level. The time limit was 12 hours though, so there was really no time pressure. During the Laugavegur ultra, on the other hand, there are two cut offs at 22 k and 38 k, and I did not see them as very easy. I had run a mountain race in Spain of 23 k in about four hours and 15 minutes. The time limit in Iceland was four hours at 22 k, so I would only just make it at that speed. The two races can of course not be accurately compared, but it gave me an idea. I also read blog reports indicating that two hours would not be enough for me to then reach the cut off at 38 k (time limit: six hours). I would need to reach the 22 k cut off in much less than four hours to really stand a chance.
Conclusion: I knew I had to train a lot. It would help to lose some weight, and to do interval training. I threw myself into it, and it felt great. When I have a big goal like that, it takes up a huge part of my thoughts and I can get almost extreme, searching all over the internet for blog reports, information about shoes, daydreaming about new routes in the forest, and so on.
When I came as far as to 22 k while training, I had a well known problem with my knee. Runner’s knee. Incredibly annoying, because my legs apart from that felt just fine. My longest distance came to be 26 k this year, then I understood that I had to go see a physiotherapist. He told me I could not run such long distances any more before the Laugavegur race. That made me think I would not be able to make it. I thought I would have to at least have run 35 k beforehand. Apart from that, of course, my knee could also stop me. He gave me shock wave therapy. I only had time to get it twice before the holidays, and off we were to Spain. There I ran 8 k, then felt the pain again. I felt a bit bad and worried again, no more running until the Marxa al Bartolo, 23 k. That was six days before Laugavegur Ultra Marathon.
Marxa al Bartolo, 23 k
It went so well, I could not believe it! I did it almost 40 minutes better than last year, and with no knee pain. I got new hope: probably this meant I would have more time to hit the second cut off in Iceland. I would reach the first one in about three hours and a half, that would give me more time. Still: were six days too little to recover completely from the race in Spain? I knew for sure I wouldn’t have sacrificed it though. I love the marxa, it was my first mountain race in 2015, and I was very motivated to do it this year for the 3rd time.
Back to Norway, then Iceland
The trip back to Norway on the 12th and then to Iceland the day before the race went fine.
Me and my husband Javier were as prepared as we could be. Our children were with my parents, we knew they were having a good time at their summer house in Sweden. We even slept a few hours before getting up at 3.30 am to catch the race bus at 4.30 am. Good for us that in Norway it was 10 pm when we went to sleep at 8.
The waiting part before a race is always the most difficult one, I think: I even thought at one point, why on earth did I sign up for this?
Those thoughts went away quickly, and it felt good to start. The scenery was spectacular from the very beginning.
We were prepared for rain, I had just bought a new running jacket meant for wind and rain, which was a very good idea, because it did start raining heavily. I was very happy about my jacket at that point, as well as the woolen layers underneath. As a Norwegian, I always speak of wool and how great it is, well at least under such conditions wool is definitely the best! Norwegians dress our children in wool during winter and summer, and there is a reason for it. Icelanders seem to know!
Anyway, the rain stopped, but then there was snow/hail. We were moving up some hills, it was tough, we had to run through quite a bit of snow. I was so focused though, on the cut off at Alftavatn, that I just looked at my tomtom watch and did as best as I could. Didn’t have many negative thoughts other than trying to get through the snowy parts, which I didn’t like to much- I was always relieved when I had a break from them.
No more snow, no more rain, no more hail. I could see the lake Alftavatn down there.
I was expecting an icy downhill path, which we were told of in one of the emails sent to us before the race. There was no ice, no snow, and the way down wasn’t really hard. I usually run in the northeastern Oslo forests, which have some difficult steep paths with tree roots and stones all over. There was a very steep part here, though, one had to be careful- it was a good thing at least that it was not foggy.
I reached the cut off in about three hours and 15 minutes. It turned out to be 21 k, not 22- good thing. I was tired now, had just gone through the toughest part of the whole race- quite a few height meters uphill, then down, and with snow. I went to the toilet (hoping not to get a troubled stomache- luckily it has always gone well during races but not always while training) and had cinnamon buns, a banana and energy drinks, the drinking station was better than I thought beforehand.
I was feeling stiff
I was now feeling very stiff, my hips were stiff, I started running and I felt a bit of pain so I took an ibuprofen. I have never taken painkillers during a race before, but I thought, for a 55 k race one should be ok. I didn’t feel any pain anywhere after that, just general fatigue, which is very normal. So I ran, walked, tried to make myself a goal for the next 16 k until the second and last cut off. I figured if I ran 3,5 k every half hour I would be more than fine. And so I did. That way, I kept focused, even when my legs felt tired, even when other runners passed me on that flat, slightly boring, desert-like part of the race.
And then, I reached 26 k, my longest distance this year. Good feeling to get past that. Then, 32, my longest distance ever. After 32, I was quite sure I would make the cut off. Which meant I would make the race! That is really how I was thinking, I knew I could make the race unless they put me on a bus back to Reykjavik.
Ermstrur- the second cut off
It is really incredible how the human body recovers. I was running alone for a while, runners passed me, but then I started passing other runners, suddenly, I felt better. And then, there was a sign saying «Ermstrur 3 km». I kept focused, hoped to see it, then there was a slight uphill and I thought- might it be round the corner? I asked a runner, she said she thought we were close- and there we were, there was the downhill, I could see the huts, the Icelandic flag (more beautiful than ever), and I so much wanted to get there and feel the happiness for real. So I ran down the hill and got there, a volunteer registered my arrival, and then there was chocolate, and coke, and energy drinks, and cinnamon buns. This race was so well organized although in the wilderness- just imagine the logistics behind it. I felt great, now I could relax, I went to the toilet again, took my time.
The last part: 17 k
Believe it or not, 17 k didn’t seem that far to me at this point. I knew I could relax a bit more, walk, do the last part without too much stress. I just had to get to the finishing line, hopefully within three hours so that my final time would be just below nine. I tried to send messages with my phone, but here was no coverage. Still, I was happy I could take some photos, finally I had the time for it. The landscape changed a bit, but it was still as beautiful, we ran down a valley and I could see a glacier to the left.
Suddenly, I had time not to focus so much anymore on the race itself. I started thinking about stuff that worries me back home in Norway- every day things, nothing big, but they were negative thoughts, so mentally I tried to wrap them into some gift paper and store them away. Soon enough, I had other things to think about. I saw some nice flowers, took a photo.
There were several rivers to cross (we had to cross about 10 during the whole race, or maybe more), wet socks and shoes, a hill so steep we had to hold on to a rope (really cool!).
An Icelandic runner said something to me in Icelandic, I said I was a Norwegian, and she started speaking Norwegian to me. She had lived five years in Norway, such luck! Felt great to speak to someone in my own language. Icelandic has a lot in common with our language, but still, it is a difficult one to understand for a Norwegian.
I decided to hang on to her, as my motivation now needed a new kick start. She was good at running downhill, and now, finally, we were running a lot downhill. I had just passed the marathon threshold, I had done 42,2 k and knew that there was only a bit more than 10 k left. She told me about a different landscape in Thorsmork (the finishing area), that there are trees there.
Later, I had coverage, and sent my husband a message. He wrote that there was a buffet (we had a pre paid dinner awaiting us), and he would wait for me. I said I only had about 6 k left. I was walking then, uphill again, quite relaxed.
With only 3 k left there was a new drinking station with coke, among other things- I mostly remember the coke, because I thought, coke is good for the last part, sugar is good when there is so little left,- I knew I was close to finishing my first ultra marathon. The man at the drinking station asked me where I was from. When he heard, he said in Norwegian: «Ha det godt!» «Have a good time!» There was a beautiful path here, surrounded by flowers, I really loved it, it went mostly down, then a bit up, then down, then I heard the voices from the finishing area, and when I finally got there, a volunteer told the speaker what my number was and the speaker said my name, what a wonderful detail. I cried right then, then saw my husband. He was waiting for me and took this photo:
Someone put a blanket around me, there was a tent with food and drinks and there I met the Icelandic runner again- we had got separated in a hill, but she finished only a couple of minutes after me and we took a photo together. I also met a Canadian runner in the changing tent who had been passing me and viceversa several times before Alftavatn. Her reaction when she saw me was so genuine, she was really happy that I had made it- which in turn made me happy; I felt that solidarity.
I then had a quick shower and that great meal with Javier. We had both made it. I always knew that he would make it, but I wasn’t that sure about myself. Now I knew something different about myself, isn’t that the beauty of it? Discovering what you are capable of, while having a good time. I ended up as number 82 out of 139 women and my time was 8.22.14 (the time on the picture had not yet been regulated for my starting time as the fourth group on our way). My goal had just been to finish the race, but it went much better than I had expected.
I did it! This hand made medal, that I have dreamt of so long, is now mine.