Three days passed since the race took place and i'm still not able to fully process everything that happened over the past weekend in Sweden. While still waiting for the news about my lost luggage with all my running stuff (somewhere between Oslo, Vienna and Cyprus), i will try to put together the story.
As i mentioned before, after the success at Cyprus Ultra 50M i made a decision to take part in my first 100 Miler and i chose Arctic Ultra, an awesome small race directed by my good friend Remy Brandefalk. I've put together a solid training plan and in the upcoming 6 months i logged almost 2000km of running, including 200 in the freezing Slovakia - together with Andry, as she made a decision to try her first 50 miler. Time flew by like crazy and after nice 2 weeks taper in January the day D had come. After a 12hr journey we finaly arrived to Arvika at 2 in the night and Remy dropped us at a cosy camping hut, just few hundred meters from the race base camp. Here we reuinited with a lovely couple Gilbert and Maggie from USA - I met them first time at Cyprus Ultra 2013, where Gil was the only finisher of the hardcore 135 mile race.
That night i couldn't sleep almost at all, thousands of thoughts, pre-race nerves and stress.. Finaly the morning came and we started to set up the race packs. We went for a short warm-up run through a small part of the course with Andry - it was magical! White, frozen forrest, silence, just the sound of the snow and ice under our feet. We felt ready!
During the day we went to a nice thai restaurant to stock up for the last time, finalised our race sets and after 7pm we moved to the start area. Outside was a burning fire, buzzing pre-race atmosphere, adrenaline building up. As the 8pm approached, we gathered outside to a live performance of a young talented swedish musician performing "I see fire". Holding hands with Andry, i had goosebumps all over my body and this song will stuck in my head for many weeks to come..
We moved to the start line, race directors Remy and Tobias shouted the countdown in Swedish and.. boom! - snake of white headlamps started moving towards the forest.
I was focused, this was it, the dream coming true.. With controlled avg pace slightly under 7min/km i cruised first few loops, i honestly don't even remember how the first 30km passed. The 10km loop was going for a short section through the snowy forrest, passing near the lake and towards the city of Arvika. The bigger section was through the side streets and parks of the city, returning back to the lake and up to the base camp. I always stopped at the camp, signed my time on the dashboard, refilled electrolytes, took salt sticks, coke, grabbed some food and went off. The first small complications came at around 30km , where my stomach started to feel bad and i threw up. Luckily, this was fairly quickly resolved by a double dose of Saltsticks and coke and after another hour i was completely fine and was able to refill the calories - Remy offered me an amazing chocolate drink which sat very nicely in my stomach and tasted like a dream :)
Everything was going pretty smooth until the 6th lap, where i started to feel few hot spots on my feet - sign of the starting blisters. I knew i have to take care of it fast, before it gets worse.. so after i finished the lap, Remy offered to help me out with taping.
This was the first time i started feeling the pain in my right ankle as i've put down the shoe, but i didn't really pay much attention to it. The blisters were fixed, and i took off into seventh lap. Feet felt a little better, but i could feel swelling going on, so after finishing the lap i decided to change the shoes for Altra Olympus, which had much wider toe box (and are also 2 sizes bigger than my size). This helped significantly and in the next lap i was almost 15 minutes faster. I finished the first 50miles (80k) in 11:50 and rewarded myself with a nice plate of pasta. At this point the stomach was completely back to normal and i really enjoyed the warm meal.
In the 9th lap i was accompanied by Gilbert, he decided he will stay with me , even tho he was already faster at this point - i was fast-walking with the poles, the pain in my ankle was getting worse and running was not an option anymore.. It was very nice to have a company and time was moving much faster. But i didn't want to hold him back, so i told him to move on in the next lap. Eventualy he finished in 28 hours, and after that he took one extra lap pacing another struggling runner! That just summs up his great character and shows why they call him "The Machine" :)
Meanwhile Andry started her race and was nicely ticking the laps. When i saw her first time, she was running in the front pack with the men! Eventualy she settled back in a steady pace and was still moving with a great speed. I continued with my 10th lap, step by step, pounding the icy ground with my sticks like a crazy drummer.
Finishing the 10th lap and closing on 100km felt good, i stayed for a while at the basecamp. Andry called me at this point that she had a bad stomach distress and was throwing up badly.. She managed to get to the basecamp to finish her 4th lap and got saltsticks treatment - those pills are just magical! :) I kept moving into the 11th lap, but i suddenly had an uneasy feeling. Until today i can't really build a clear picture of what was happening inside my head, everything is a little bit foggy.. Around 3km into the lap Andry catched me and walked a little bit with me. She started to feel better with her stomach and as i was moving very slow i forced her to move on as she had still a good position in the race and plenty of time to finish. I was more and more worried about my pace, trying to do mad calculations in my head with the remaining time till the cut-off. At this point i slowed down to almost 15min/km and started to feel dizzy (probably from the crazy math efforts!). As i reached small uphill at 105km, suddenly without any reasoning - to this point i don't really understand what was the trigger - i stopped in the middle of the hill and all i could focus on , all i could hear in my head was "you're done". No questioning, second guessing, no what-ifs.. Just an empty feeling and a burning desire to just lay down and put those shoes off the swollen feet.. I've been reading about these kind of situations in many race reports, and i always thought, i would at least try to start reasoning with myself, that i would have the power to revert the situation and move on. NOPE. Nothing like that, the brain wasn't capable of anything - i picked up the phone and called the race director that i'm done, out of the misery. In a few minutes i was sitting in the car, getting a lift to the basecamp. It was over :(
I'm still trying to find answer to the question, if i could've done anything differently.. I did my training right, the nutrition was right, drinking right, pacing was ok.. Could i push a bit further with the pain? Maybe. Did i reach my limits? Maybe.. But what i know for sure, that it will make me even more focused on my dream of finishing the 100Miles race. I will be back in Arvika in a years time, that's for sure.
While i was licking my wounds at our hut, icing my ankles and slowly realising the feeling of defeat, Andry was still madly fighting - even tho she dropped few places, she kept moving, switching run/walk.
Finaly she managed to complete the last round and crossed the line at an amazing time of 10:50 in the 4th place!! By this time i was already back at the basecamp waiting to give her a finishers hug :) I am very proud of her achievement in her first 50miler , and it also helped a little to ease the pain from my failure. She'd put up a great fight, one tough woman! ;-)
The two nights without sleep took their toll and soon after we moved to our cozy appartment, had a struggling shower and crashed into the beds.. But sleeping was not an easy task with all that pain.. Plus my mind was getting more clear and i got hit by the fact, that i'm not coming home as a finisher.
Next morning brought even deeper depression, but checking my facebook and finding all the positive commends and words of encouragement was really heartwarming and helped me to get over it. Also Andry did a great job lifting my spirits :)
Soon we started to hear the great stories of the night, amazing fights were battled in the freezing darknes. Every single person in the race was an inspiration, all the different characters connected through the love to this mad sport :) Like one big crazy family.. Remy and Tobias did an absolutely professional job with this race, handled all three distances (30k, 50M, 100M) with ease and everything was just amazing. The food, the basecamp, individual care of each single person in the race.. they deserve my deepest respect and huge THANK YOU!
Before our departure Remy invited us to a dinner at his place together with Gil and Maggie and we spent a last nice moments all together. We have a deep bond and a life time friendship with these people and we really hope we will all meet up again in the near future!
I would also like to express my thanks to all the companies, friends and family members that helped us in one way or another on our 6 months journey to Arctic Ultra, the support during the race (the comments i saw at my stops at the basecamp were just amazing!!!) and lifting my spirits after i had to give up. Without you it would be much harder!
So.. i gotta shake it off and move on :) Mountain Madness series starts in 2 weeks with a 15k race, March will bring two marathons and in May comes the Crusader Castles Ultra 50M, where i also have some unfinished business.. Time to recover and hit the road/trails again! In January 2016 i need to be back in Sweden, stronger than ever ;-)
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