Vaarojen Maraton 65km Race Report in 2021

Photo: Jere Alén

*Updated after original publishing: I added a funny video at the end of this post.

Last Saturday I ran the Vaarojen Maraton (VM) trail race in Eastern Finland in beautiful Koli National Park. The official race results can be found here. In the end I was 17th male in 8 hours and 42 minutes (out of 100 male finishers). I was 20th overall because three strong Finnish women beat me. Well done to them! Interestingly, I realized later that I ran quite a few kilometers near the third place woman earlier in the race. Later in the race, however either I slowed down or she sped up because she arrived at the finish line about 20 minutes ahead of me. I guess I should have tried to stay with her!

My history at VM

This was my fourth trip to VM but my third time running a race there. I completed the no-longer-existing 86 km race in 2016, the 43 km in 2017, and I travelled to Koli but was too sick to start the 130 km in 2018 (because of a trip to Germany with my brother Scott during which we didn’t sleep much due to Oktoberfest in Munich!). Someday in the future I will toe the 130 km line; probably in 3 or 4 years. I have other running plans for this time of year for the next two seasons (one of which is UTMB in 2023, most likely).

It looks like I ran a few Strava segments faster than the previous years.

Knowing that I have never completed the 130 km event, which is two loops of the 65km course, I mentally treated this experience as a kind of reconnaissance trip. This doesn’t mean I deliberately slowed myself or withheld my effort, but it may have influenced my overall approach. To be honest, I was not mentally or physically fresh for this event, but I did try my best. I felt a bit physically unprepared because of my 120km (24 hour European Rogaining Championships) event a month earlier. I felt mentally less prepared because this time of year is quite busy for teachers like me: The new semester is in full swing after summer break. Additionally, I have a heavier course teaching load this autumn. But hey, on the other hand, the advantage for the event occurring at this time of year is the breathtaking autumnal views!

By the way, I had no idea that the race positioned an electronic timing strip at the bottom of the last hill to measure your time from that point to the end of the race at the top. This specific result is called ‘Mäkikiri’ and I didn’t know about it or that it would be published. This is a cool idea! As shown in the image below, it looks like I did fairly well on the last long uphill section. I was 2 place in my age group and 7th overall. I wish I had known about that. Next time I will try even harder!

Mäkikiri means your speed up the last long hill (I didn’t know about this until after!)

My feet and body

On the way home from the event I took some notes on my laptop. I will paste them here a list with some additional commentary.

  1. I am happy to report that I had a total of ZERO blisters after the race. This is, in large part, due to the (mostly) dry trails, Altra shoes and double layer socks. I am now confident that my feet can survive and perform well on dry trails! Events with wet terrain, however, are still my Achilles’ heel and something I am working on.
  2. I took ZERO pain killers of any kind, NSAID or other. I know that there is a time and place for these, but I am trying to avoid them during running events. I must admit that I would probably have a faster time and better overall result if I had actually used some pain killers, but this is a controversial topic I will save for another discussion. This time, when I had cramps, I took salt.
  3. I fell on the ground only once! I can’t believe it because usually I fall several times.

My nutrition during the race

  1. I used 3 liters worth of Tailwind sports powder (and also two small generic sports powder hard tablets that I had for emergencies). Next time I think I should bring 4 liters worth of Tailwind powder to be safe and a couple hard tablets just in case.
  2. I started the race with 1 liter of liquid, but this is unnecessary as long as I am well-hydrated, which I was. Take only 500 ml next time. At the first aid station (19km), drink 500 ml and then fill 1,5 liters worth. Repeat at second aid station (39 km). As for the final aid station (54 km), one liter to the finish line is enough.
  3. I ate only 5 or 6 Nosht bars though I had 8 with me. I took no other food or candy. This was a good strategy.
  4. Speaking of nutrition, the post race buffet is the best in Finland. Thank you race organizers for this. Please always provide this wonderful blessing (especially since you only provide water at the aid stations!). 🙂

Murmurings

  1. I think the 65km event should start an hour earlier than 7.00 am and the 43 km event should start two hours later than this year at 9.00 am, so 6.00 and 11.00. This would reduce long lines and foot traffic in the second half of the race from the south to the finish line. This traffic was a serious problem on a few of the steep single track sections.
  2. The course could use just a few more signs / ribbons / flags. My friend got lost for a while and I once also took a wrong turn but soon corrected myself. In general, however, the course is easy to follow because it is on a popular hiking trail.
  3. Never sleep in the same room as xxxxxxxxx because he snores loudly and sleep before a race is so important. I shall keep his name a secret. 🙂

Advice to myself

  1. Train running fast downhill on technical terrain before I do VM again. I actually don’t really like this type of training, but I now realize how important it is for this event. This type of training isn’t really needed in most other events I do. But I will do it before the next VM!
  2. I finished one loop in 8 hours and 42 minutes. When I do the 130 km, try to do the first loop in 9.5 hours or less and the second loop in 10.5 hours or less.
  3. Don’t wear two shirts, I was too warm but also too lazy to stop and remove one.
  4. Don’t wear a trucker style hat again because it gets too heavy from sweat, fog, and moisture in the air. Wear something light weight!

Conclusion

Thank you to the race organizers who worked tirelessly to host an outstanding and successful event. Thank you to my travel and running friends for the great time. Thank you to my family for supporting me on these adventures!

Funicular broke so we all had to walk down the hill to the car.

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