In this post I briefly reflect on my participation in the NUTS Karhunkierros 100 miler race from 2016 – 2021. I have included some links to the events and related race reports/ videos. I am grateful that I have been able to travel to this race each year other than in 2020 when the event was cancelled because of the COVID pandemic. I am overwhelmed with gratitude when I consider the logistics of traveling, staying healthy, and completing this race five times. This is truly my favorite running event in the world. It might not be the hardest 100 miler, the hottest, the coldest, the most technical, etc. etc., but I love this event and the NUTS crew for their excellent work in creating and hosting this race.
First let’s have a look at three charts that show the temperature, number of starters and finishers, and my time/placement across the years 2016 – 2021. Below the charts I include more about my memories from each year.
Charts: Temperature, runners, and my time/placement
* in 2018, I was 8th male but 9th overall because an amazing Finnish lady runner beat me.
** in 2021, I tied with 5th place winner but I am listed as 6th. #notbitter
My memories from each year
2016 – This was my first attempt at a 100 miler. Full original report about this event here. So what do I remember about this event, now five and half years ago? Well, I do remember that the conditions were excellent. In fact, one of the race organizers or volunteers told me that weather was perfect. That gave me hope that weather would always be like that in Finland during long races. Alas! The very next year would soon disabuse me of such a persuasion.
I remember that during the race in 2016 there wasn’t much wind, the temperature was cool but not cold, and the sun was shining all day and all night. This latter point about sunshine could be a serious problem in some races due to heat related issues, but the Karhunkierros course is almost completely covered in thick forest. As for the light at night, I distinctly remember running at 2.00 and 3.00 in the morning and marveling that it wasn’t dark at all. The race organizers smartly require racers to bring a headlamp (and other emergency gear) but in all my years at Karhunkierros I have never needed to use a light for any reason.
This distance was beyond my ability to comprehend, at least in the sense of actually finishing. I recall that within the first few hours I thought I would never cross the finish line because the terrain was so slow, technical, and difficult. However, I am so glad I didn’t give up at that point because after 15 kilometers the terrain levels out a bit and running is quite possible for long stretches. It’s really those first and last 15 kilometers that are the most difficult.
I don’t remember exactly when I realized that I would be able to finish the race, but I do recall extreme happiness – and relief – as I descended that last hill with the finish line in view. It’s impossible not to pick up the pace at that point: my family was waiting… and so was the best soup I have ever tasted.
What I learned in 2016? Don’t rely on one type of food for the whole race. I ate so many small cinnamon rolls; to this day I can’t even look at them. Also, get some shoes with toe protection from the tree roots. I lost many toenails that day. Finally, I learned that 100 miles is possible!
2017 – The was the year of snow and torture that resulted in my slowest time ever. In fact, this was the only year with a 12.00 noon start during which racers from other distances passed me before I arrived at the finish. I remember sharing salt tabs with a fellow Turku local who was one of the top runners in the 55km that year.
Here is video that probably includes me (I remember the drone). Here is a video of someone else but that shows the amount of snow on the trail.
What do I remember from 2017? I recall starting much too fast in snow and passing runners who then later passed me due to my puppy-like naïveté and enthusiasm that thought I would be faster on my second attempt at this race. I was in for quite a surprise! Once again I thought that I might not complete this event, but this time because of the snow. It was really deep and there were no packed trails. We were trying to run in snow that sometimes came up to our knees and higher. What an energy drain! Luckily, I was pleased to find that the snow eventually receded and then even completely disappeared from the trail after a few hours. So much so that at an early aid station I threw the shoe spikes I was wearing in the trash because they were too heavy and I didn’t want to use them anymore.
Since this race is an out-and-back, we did have to face the snow again, but by this time hundreds of runners had crossed it and cut deep paths through the deepest sections.
I honestly don’t remember much else; just snow, slow moving, and disappointment that my time would be behind the previous year. And yet this time I managed a top 10 placement. The attrition rate this year was considerable – nearly 50% dropped.
What did I learn in 2017? Do NOT wear narrow trail shoes in a 100 miler, even if they have toe protection at the tips. I wore the same Salomon Speed Cross shoes for the entire 29+ hours. My feet were possibly even worse than 2016. I also learned to have patience when conditions are more difficult and that I must accept going slower. Finally, don’t eat so many pieces of pizza to fuel you during the run; my body soon got tired of the same thing after hours and hours.
2018 – If 2017 was the year of snow and cold, 2018 was the year of HEAT. I emphatically remember profuse sweating and the need to submerse my hat in water whenever possible. I nearly jumped in a river to cool down, and as I think about it now, I should have done that to cool down. This heat led to dehydration and at about 137 km (Base Camp) I stopped to rest because I hadn’t peed for hours. I forced myself to cool down, drink lots of liquid, and wait until I peed before continuing. This seemed to take forever but as I look at my notes, it was only 13 minutes. Well worth the effort because I made it to the end again in the top 10 and I didn’t have any further health problems from the dehydration.
This was also the first year that a female runner beat me in this particular event, something I am sure will happen more in the future. Here is a video in which I do a nice jump at 02:05. And here is a link to a training guide for ultra runners that my 8 year old daughter made.
What did I learn in 2018? Little Omar candies work fairly well for nutrition. Clif bars, on the other hand, require too much liquid to digest. No more Clif Bars. Finally, I relearned the same lesson from 2017 – don’t wear Salomon Speed Cross shoes. Why did I do that again? My feet and toe nails were horrible.
2019 – This was probably my worst year, though on paper my race training included higher milage than ever before. As we will see in 2021, however, focusing only on more mileage is not necessarily the best training. As for my comments immediately after this race, I wrote about my displeasure here on Facebook.
I really thought I was ready for a breakthrough performance in 2019. The first half of my race actually went quite well. On the way back, however, my stomach turned against me and I was forced to walk much more than expected. Had there been an aid station between Oulanka and Base Camp, I probably would have dropped. This was the one race that I probably should have abandoned my attempt, but I was too stubborn so I kept going and barely made it to the end. Things actually started to pick up during the last 7 kilometers and surprisingly, I beat my 2018 time by exactly 60 seconds, though I missed out being a top 10 runner for the first time since 2016.
The weather was a bit cold and cloudy. It rained some too, but mostly on the runners who arrived later in the day, after me. Strangely, I have forgotten much about this race. I think my mind wants to forget the discomfort and pain. The experience was so discouraging that I decided then that I would take a year break from the event and return in 2021.
2020 – Cancelled because of the COVID pandemic. As I mentioned above, I was planning to skip this year and so I didn’t even register initially. As time went by however, I changed my mind (in part because all other events were getting cancelled) and decided that I would register, but the event never occurred.
2021 – This event was so recent that I won’t write much in this post but if you are interested, here is my full race report for 2021 (I saw a bear!).
Finally, in 2021, everything came together thanks to researching and implementing better training. Although the weather was a bit cold and rather windy (and the wet course was slower than normal), I had my best race in terms of time and finishing position. This is the first year I had a wrist watch with a battery that could last for the whole race: Here is a link to the event in Strava.
What did I learn in 2021? I learned the importance of training different energy systems to maximize and enhance Vo2 and threshold running. This book influenced me to modify my training – it worked. I also learned that having a group of guys to train hard with every week pays off. Thanks Lari and Esa!
What is next? I will sign up for 2022 and take it one year at a time. As for my running philosophy, I will end with a quote from Emil Zatopek:
I am not particularly interested in beating my opponents. Above all I am interested in improving on my own performance. Why should I profit from my opponents’ weaknesses?
Bonus post (2015!) from my wife about being an ultra runner’s spouse.