Race Report Karhunkierros 160 km
My first 100 miler! This is a lengthy post, please don’t read it.
What a pain in the a$$ that was! Actually, it was more of an acute pain that pulsed throughout my entire body. In particular, my toenails and feet are in a bad way. Both big toenails detached. One got infected so I am now on antibiotics. That will really help me with “the runs”. Luckily I bought some probiotics too.
Last Wednesday we said goodbye to Turku and drove about 6 hours north to small village outside of Jyvaskyla, Finland. We paid for one night in a cottage on a lake. There was only one newspaper in our cottage. It was in Russian… I guess the security services knew who was coming. We mostly just slept poorly that night and then continued Saturday up to Oulu and then east to Kuusamo. We got a much better cottage this time, conveniently located next to an Angry Birds indoor park for kids. Also next to a lake. Pretty much everywhere in Finland is next to a lake. Tis the land of some thousands of lakes.
Thursday evening I slept profoundly (as Bridget put it). Usually I can’t sleep the night before a race. Fortunately I had already prepared my gear for the race. I had one REI large duflle bag for the start and the finish of the race. In this bag I stowed clean clothing, sandals, some food and other essentials. Along with this bag were two ‘drop bags’ filled with extra food, drinks, and spare shoes/clothes that would be distributed at predetermined locations along the race course. One bag was dropped at 53km into the race. I was able to access that bag twice as the race was an out and back. The second drop bag waited for me at 80km, the point of hopeful return. I always pack too much extra gear. I need to streamline drop bags in the future.
Friday morning we made our way – in the car – 20 km north to Ruka, the start of the race. Ruka is essentially a ski village. The kids played near a lake (yes, another lake) and I took care of the necessary check in procedures. At 12:00 noon I was ready to go. There were 49 of us at the start line for the 160 km. I looked around and saw that most everyone looked fit and healthy though I noticed a range of body types: a few beer bellies, a few meatheads, a few of this and a few of that. Unlike marathons these days, there is not yet a particular body type that seems to perform the best at ultra distances. My body size is actually nearly perfect for normal marathons – light and small. Unfortunately, I haven’t been running long and I don’t really want to train for only marathons (and I have a funky duck-like gait on my right side, so I’m not even going to try).
So why do I enjoy running but not necessarily only for shorter distances and normal marathons. And by “shorter” I do not mean easier because running a super fast marathon would probably be as bad (and good!) for your body as a slower paced ultra marathon. For me, the answer requires one to consider my life over the past few decades. I will not get sentimental or try to provide you with an ‘Oprah moment,’ but I have done some thinking on this topic recently. In short, I was the kid who stayed outside playing longer than anyone in the neighborhood. I was out late in the summer on the trampoline, climbing trees, or enjoying the sunset. I built snow forts in the winter and created cross country ski missions for myself that involved packing food and a thermos of hot chocolate for the trip. I used to ski quite far – for a kid – to a certain canal and tunnel at a park near the local airport. I really enjoyed being outside, and even more, being active outside. As I think about my past I recall loving scout camp and nature, though my parents didn’t do anything outside (sorry Mom and Dad – it’s true). My Mom once made our Dad take us “camping” and that was it. The circumstances of this “campout” are hilarious, but I’ll save them for another time. Let me just say that the kids ended up “camping” in a tent and a certain parent slept and stayed in the van – and that parent was watching television, yes, in the van. 🙂 So I enjoy being outside for long periods of time. I should probably get a job as a forest gnome or something.
At 12:00 noon someone fired a gun or blew a horn (I can’t remember) and we were off. Comically, the first 200-300 meters of the race was uphill, so we were all power hiking. Not the most impressive way to being such a long race with so many onlookers. They must have been thinking “Oh, this really is going to take a long time…”
I don’t really desire to mentally review the race, in chronological order, aso I think I will focus on a few particular themes. The first theme being “The Walls.” A proverbial wall is a moment in a race when a runner feels like he or she is unable to continue, or worried that continuing is not an option. Hitting a wall happens for different reasons. For me, I hit my first wall only about 2-3 hours into the race, which is far too early for this to happen. So what did happen? What happened, is that I pushed too hard at the start of the race, not knowing that all the super steep ups and downs were within the first 10 kilometers. I basically thought that the course would kill me and I wouldn’t be able to finish. I didn’t realize that the path would include less elevation change down the road. So there I was thinking about how my quads and calf muscles were already burning and we were just getting started. I hit the wall and thought I might have to soon drop out of the race. Fortunately, I was able to slowly pass through this challenge and come out ready on the other side. I slowed my stride, ate some food and drank some electrolytes. Runners, who are not total beginners, know that this will happen to them, but still, when it happens, at that moment it feels as if nothing can help and resistance to the wall is futile.
I hit my second wall just after the first drop-bag / aid station, at 53 km. My stomach was not feeling right – I think I ate and drank a bit too much. I usually try to eat about 200-300 calories per hour on these runs, but I think I over did it. One might think that more food would be helpful, but no, it did the opposite. I walked for about 10 minutes after the aid station and finally my stomach decided to make a move. Well it was really my bowels that decided to make a move, if you know what I mean. I felt better thereafter.
Now I deviate from the narrative about hitting proverbial walls.
I began running again. I passed quite a few people at this point. A nice guy named Sami passed me. About 10 kilometers from the halfway point, I met the leaders of the race who were already on their way back. It was actually most inspiring to see them. I wonder if I can be like them some day. Maybe yes, maybe no. At the moment, it didn’t matter. I arrived at the 80km aid station, which was a nice tourist information center with seating for a restaurant. Seeing as the time was 23:30, there were no normal customers, just runners and race staff. In my case, there were only two runners – the guy who passed me, and myself. Rather than sit at the table, for some reason I felt more like collapsing on the floor. I did. One kind soul brought me the best cup of hot chocolate I have ever had in my life, and some porridge with blueberry sauce and honey. The porridge was ok. I’m not really a fan of porridge to begin with. I quickly ate about half of the porridge and stood up to leave. I said my thanks to the wonderful race staff and was on my way. One of them blurted out “wow, that you were fast.” Yeah, I have learned that one should “beware the chair” at aid stations. If you get too comfortable, you are going to have a hard time moving on. Of course, however, there are times when one should stop for a while and rest – like I did last year for about one hour during the Canadian Death Race.
Back to the walls. I hit the third wall a few hours after the 80km turn around. Why? Tree roots. With fresh legs it can be an enjoyable challenge to run through a stretch of intertwining and interweaving tree roots. After 80+ km, it is no longer fun. I stubbed my toe many many times. This trauma eventually led to the loss of both my largest toenails. At this point I had to walk a bit through some of the deep roots.
The kids just got home so I need to finish this…. Chaos ensuing
The last wall was the last portion of the race – the steep ups and downs. I mean really steep. Like hiking on one’s toes. I even used my hands to help climb up. The last 10 kilometers probably took 4 hours, when I can run a normal 10 km on flat in about 40 minutes!
I have more in mind to share but I must go.
Thanks to my lovely wife Bridget for watching the kids before, during, and after the race. It will be a long road to recovery (for both of us).
Thanks to the NUTS race staff. They were extremely well organized and helpful. I’m talking top-notch organization. But guys, I want a t-shirt. 🙂 The cool knife is, yes, cool, but can you please increase the price of registering just a bit to include t-shirts? I’m running out of past race shirts. You can only wear them so many times….
Northern Finland was beautiful. Reindeer a plenty.
Thank you all who tracked me. During the race I repeatedly thought about people following me online and it made me want to go faster so you could go to sleep. 🙂
Oh, it never got anywhere close to dark the entire night. The sun dipped below the horizon for about 2 hours, but it was still very light outside all night long.
See photos below. I added some commentary.
Coming in at the finish line.
This is actually before the start.
Post race relaxing.
My leg. Bruised or torn calf muscle. Pain.
Chillaxing with little me after the race.
Professional photo from the race.
Time about 23:25. Just arriving at the 80 km aid station / turn around.
Near an aid station.
Because I look good filling water bottles ?
At an aid station. Refilling beverage.
Very flattering picture here. At the 80km aid station. Porridge.
Get me out of here, I’m a celebrity! Finnish finish line.
At the finish. “Yes, I loved this experience so much that I don’t ever want to do it again. You know, don’t ruin a good thing, right?” ha ha.
Partial screen shot … total 49 runners. About 10 people dropped out at some point along the course.