Almost two years since my last proper running race and much has changed for me. The two main things being the graduation of my training mountains from the relatively small hills around Bergen to bigger, more alpine mountains of Romsdalen and finally undergoing an operation to fix the niggling injury in my big toe (which turned out to be fractured sesamoid bones).
It was as if I was a new man standing on the start line of the Fjällmaraton in Åre, Sweden. With so much time since my last race, I had trained better than ever and could run with a relatively pain free foot…but all the same question marks were still there. How will I race with so little actual race practice? Will the toe last the distance, or will this be the end of me finally enjoying running again? Do I still have the mental fortitude for racing hard?
With no apparent warning everyone started sprinting from the line but thankfully the pace soon relaxed and allowed me to enjoy the first climb, which was the biggest of the 45km route. The real shock was when we rolled over the top and the descent began. I had truly forgotten how intense a proper mountain running descent can be and it seemed what used to be my strength, wasn’t coming quite so naturally anymore.
It’s not as if I lost much time though and thankfully came into the first aid station after 15km and 700m climb in the lead group. From here it was mainly gradually uphill for the next 20km with some small descents on gourmet runnable soft single-track trails. Without any super steep big climbs, I can’t remember where I started to feel tired, but the course did seem to be slowly grinding me down. I was now in the lead and was determined to not look back but keep running as strongly as possible.
Seeing a gigantic moose put a smile on my face and I managed to remember to try and enjoy the ability to run and race after so long, not so hard considering how nice the course was.
I had beaten my support crew to the 30km aid station but didn’t waste much time in filling my bottles with water as opposed to the planned Mountain Fuel gels. Thankfully the pit crew got to the 37km aid station instead but by this point I was on the long downhill towards the finish and looking forward to being done.
Whenever you lead a race, you have the inevitable fear that suddenly a competitor will magically appear alongside you looking fresh as a daisy. It is therefore a painful game of trying to hear if the people that just cheered you on start cheering someone else as you run off into the distance. A few times I thought someone could have been just behind me but as it turns out I had a minute lead at the top and had grown the margin by the finish line.
It was after just under 3hours and 38minutes that I crossed the line with a big wreath around my neck and had an interview that degraded from Swedish to Norwegian to English.
Many questions still remain, but it’s a good start to what could be a late but long season. Next up is the OCC and my first try at any of the UTMB race distances. Exciting times ahead!