Tromsø Skyrace is unlike any other mountain race I have ever done. The route is planned with no nonsense lines, the majority isn’t even on trails but just wild mountain side or forest and you can drink from rivers and streams making the aid stations unnecessary. In all it’s a wildly different experience to usual races…I guess that’s why I love it and keep coming back.
This would be my fourth time heading above the arctic circle for this event. The first version of the race in 2015 was on a shorter course but with the worst weather and saw me run my heart out to win my first skyrace. The second was a tough battle where I came up short placing second to Tom Owens. The third I was back for vengeance beating Bhim Gurung into first. Every time the race was always decided on the third and final big climb back up to Tromsdalstinden, where the racer with the most heart would manage to push through the 1200m climb (having already climbed over 3000m) to secure first with still over 12km to go.
I assumed this year would be the same and after the first climb it looked as if it would be. Running alongside Andy Symonds and Dimitry Mityaev we all reached the top of the first climb together. Turning right instead of left for the long race it almost feels like a joke. You look down a 50 degree slope that is just a mixture of massive boulders and loose stone. I always seem to think to myself “is this really the right way?”. Perhaps this was more of a shock for the other runners because I felt as if I took my time on the descent but still earned quite a gap on them.
Reaching the bottom after 1200m of downhill no one was in sight. I didn’t really want to run the remaining 5 hours alone but started to realise this was probably going to be the reality of it. So far I hadn’t put in anymore effort than I was certain I could maintain so I decided to just keep my speed economical and see if I could hold the lead.
The second climb is up 1400m to Hamperokken which includes the ridge section. Due to safety concerns much of the ridge was different from years previous with us using many tracks running just below the exposed knife edge. This proved to be more tiering and less fun but I understood the reasoning. Coming to the summit I had the pleasure of scrambling alongside Kilian who was filming. I put in a bit of extra effort here but was soon on top and ready to head down. This descent without snow is extremely sketchy with a great deal of loose rock (for the first time there was no snow on the course). Knowing my biggest chance of not winning would be injury I tried to be as careful as possible but also didn’t want to loose the 4 minute gap I had built.
Once down I made my way back across the valley. I found myself thinking back to the previous times when I had been racing this part of the course, picturing the different scenarios I had been in. The first year was the fondest which saw me make up a 2 minute gap on Luis Alberto Hernando before climbing my heart out back up to Tromsdalstinden.
Unlike previous years, I was now in full control and knew I should be able to maintain the effort. A dream scenario perhaps, but I actually found myself wishing I was racing alongside someone. These thoughts soon disappeared as the final brutal climb started in earnest and my legs started to feel heavier. The last kilometers to the top climbs 450m; I started to zig zag on the mountainside to keep more of a flow. Now I was certainly glad for my buffer.
Back on top I re-joined the shorter skyrace route and started overtaking people. Although the three main climbs were done, there remains a “runnable” 5km path that climbs 300m before the final descent into the city centre. The path continually climbs steeply and then flattens, always giving you false hope that you are nearly done. The last years I have always felt too weak to run all of this so I was intent on running well here and didn’t allow myself any hiking. I was pleased to find that I had enough energy to climb strongly and ran all the way up.
Reaching the final descent Kilian was once again waiting with camera in hand which spurred me on to smash down with as much pace as if I was racing him. Once at the bottom I was relieved when he said farewell so I could slow up once around the next bend. From here the mountain running is done, it is just 2km to the finish and a well needed chair to sit in.
A different racing experience to previous years but still one of pure wild skyrunning. There is a certain magic to this skyrace you won’t find anywhere else.