I left last years Vasaloppet with a creepy indescribable feeling. The race itself doesn’t need any introduction or portrayal. I have been writing about it on this complimentary cyberspace site more than a few times and I haven’t altered my view at all.
Vasaloppet Sunday is the big day. And while I was profoundly and truly captivated as a kid watching German TV and the “Sport aus aller Welt” program, seeing all these thousands of skiers racing in the direction of this first climb, it really takes time and understanding for Swedish culture to fully get it. Personally, I do not know any other one-day sporting event that influences an entire country and its society in such a way as Vasaloppet does. Everybody knows about it. Every person appreciates it and everyone, to my full surprise every year, can judge the finishing times.
I’m fully sold on Nordic skiing and living in a country that makes it easy
to train this sport, makes Vasaloppet the logical yearly pilgrimage. In 2022 I did
the main race. Deprived of a qualification time that can be recorded in other
XC ski competitions one need to start in the very back. I was privileged to get
the chance to move up to start group 7 that year.
The morning of the race, people start queuing for hours to nick a perfect
start spot. Preferably in the very front of their heat. That meant that I walked
down to the start, waited for hours to put the skis down walked back to the
hotel and had breakfast. After some time, its back to the start and then the 2nd
queuing will sooner or later start as thousands of people try to get up this
first steep hill. I waited there for approximately one hour with complete halt.
So, the real race feeling never came up. Image running the New York City
Marathon and waiting on the Verrazzano Bridge after 500 meters of running…
Full tracks but still remarkable crowds along the scenic course were great but the definite performance on the day was hard to measure. Something that left me unsatisfied. With only two seasons of proper ski training, I could be aiming for a qualification time to get me further up the ranks. Something that theoretically is a goal in the future. Until now I might have the endurance, but I miss the raw strength that is needed to call Vasaloppet a race. Therefore, we decided to not do the main Vasaloppet this year and participating in the Öppet Spår, the open track, competition the weekend before was the top decision.
No cues, not as many competitors and no traffic jam on course made up for everything.
Joint with a sunshiny day that shaped an appropriate Dalarna propaganda day was
fairylike. We arrived at the start in Sälen on time. Didn’t had to wait for our
starting bibs and just went to the starting corals 15 minutes before the start.
After last years disturbing queuing experience this set the day off in a dazzling
and happily unspectacular way.
When the gun went off, I could ski the first climb and even appreciated some parts of the course completely on my very own. A feeling of freedom that I experienced at the Nordenskiöldsloppet last season. A feeling that I love when XC skiing. Wouldn’t it have been for one of the nastiest energy bonks I ever had, this would have been an astonishing day. I totally bashed awfully early on in the race and only came back after gasping 2 Maurten caffeine gels and nearly half my hydration belt.
After 5:24 I arrived in Mora. Very happy and lastly knowing how fast I can
ski the course. I was fitter last year so that still leaves room for
imagination and enthusiasm. The big and “real” Sunday competition will be on
the agenda sometimes. Then with an upgraded body posture, a qualification time but
still with the same love for this sport and its supreme race.
With no races in sight we made sure to create proper motivation for serious training. Some flat loops around the local park, paired with several start groups made sure that there was no lack of motivation and COVID-19 safety.
Our little DIY half marathon turned out to be an amazing happening and left some empty tanks together with tired but smiley faces all around.
Once digging around some thrift store in Dublin I picked up an enthralling book with the title “Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer” by Lynne Cox. Reading this book, was essentially the very first time I found out about this 195 km2 atoll 47 kilometer south-southwest of Long Beach, California – Catalina Island. Since then the isle only came across my courtesy segments when somebody swam a new record time for the well-known channel crossing from Los Angeles to Santa Catalina Island. Correspondingly the odd shark encounter along the Catalina shorelines was something that now and then flashed up to me while reading the news.
Once my befriended Ötillö organization publicized that they are heading Stateside and to Santa Catalina Island for their very first contest in America, I was captivated. But to be frank, although I was charmed and struck by the location, I seemed to have forgotten about the competition. I can’t really recall who made me aware of it but it hit me by surprise that I had to find out that I was in California on holiday anyhow when the race was meant to take place.
After some family internal debates and preparations I contacted my dear friend and fellow SwimRun aficionado Herbert in the quest for a probable companion. It did not take long to get in contact with Robin Pomeroy. Robin and her friend had an brilliant day during Herbert’s SwimRun contest throughout Hanging rock state park (check their website and sign up for next year’s race). It appeared to click immediately between Robin and myself. She was eager to race and we both had a similar “it is early in the season and I’m not a 100% fit” pretext on hand. Paired with the appreciative support by the wonderful dudes of ARK SwimRun, this turned out to be a great little adventure in the making.
My family and I coasted into LA airport, stayed a night in Long Beach and then found us on a ship to Catalina Island the next morning. And what a two hour journey that was. We could not believe our eyes when we saw a troop of 20-30 dolphins playing beside the ferryboat about 20 minutes before we arrived at Avalon ferry port – A fantastic experience.
Avalon is a small distinct community island town. Pretty rare for American standards no fast-food chains or comparable shops are permitted on the island. This in itself creates a great touch and the little town was an remarkable host for this race even though the start was in another town called Two Harbours further down the coast. We spend the days prior to the race relaxing and hiking. For a good reason Catalina Island is labeled “California’s Galapagos Island”. I have visited both places and there are certain parallels for sure. Unhurt landscape harmonizing with wonderful wildlife and incredibly clear waters does not feel like a place that is less than two hours away from a demanding 4 million people metropolitan that goes by the name of Los Angeles.
Sunday morning came fast and we found us on a cruise ship to the start area. Aboard the ship we found a lot of familiar faces and friends (thank you swimrunshop.com for the rope!) and it was entertaining to catch up with everybody prior to the competition. When we landed at Two Harbors Robin and I organized our equipment and relaxed as good as we could. I was more than fascinated by Robins proficient tactic. Never before have I seen someone write down the distances and specialties of each swim and run leg so carefully. Instantaneously I knew that not much could go wrong on this beautiful and sunlit day. After dull month after dull month of Vitamin D withdrawal in Sweden, it was untainted frenzy to sense all these sun rays on my pastel coating.
Some high-fives and sociable hugs later, the race was on. After about 1 kilometer of flat running, the first real test came up on us. A pretty steep climb that immediately stretched the field. We were fortunate enough to arrive at this ascent with the first group and started this battle with a suitable power stroll after roughly 5 minutes of “real” running. As Alan Parsons once sang: “What goes up, must come down.” And how it came down. Fundamentally the very first downhill set the tone of the course character. And that should effect my body for some weeks – a proper aching in portions of my legs that I never knew exist.
Trails in the US are different to the trails at home. Although it seems that some trails line bend after bend after bend, these Jeep trails basically went straight down. And we weren’t used to that at all. The price that we paid was sore legs and a slow performance when it came to jog down the mounts.
So after this first shock for the legs I pretty much looked forward to calm the system down in the pacific with a 1.500 meter swim. Albeit we took it easy, we passed the premier checkpoint in first place in the Mixed category. We did not hold this place for long. The first swim was quite choppy and Robin and I had to find our rhythm as we had never relay trained together before. We managed very well but I was pretty astonished by the swim abilities of the field. Some other mixed teams passed us with pretty imposing speeds.
We went on and looped back to the area where the competition started. The running was fantastic. The grimy jeep thoroughfares were fun and easy to run on. After the 2nd swim section, the first long run to Parsons Landing Bay came up. It started with a long and very steep uphill. We cooped very well and, again, found an effective power hike rhythm that we kept to the top. The ridgeline was something else and it was more less impossible to not soak in the pure attractiveness and solitude of Catalina Island.
We ran on and mainly I had to suffer pretty badly on the downhill slope. What a beast of a steep ramp that lead us all the way down to next swim share of the race. We found out the hard way that the downhill presentation was dreadful. While entering the aid station before the swim another mixed team passed us. We checked sometimes while running on the ridge if somebody was chasing us. We never saw anyone. So they obviously knew how to move their bodies downhill. We clearly didn’t…
But we had no time to think about that. The imminent swim looked like a rollercoaster. We opted to swim without a rope as the hostile surf was rolling to the beach. A good choice but a bumpy swim nevertheless. I was happy to enter solid grounds after what felt like ages in the sea for a 700 meter swim.
A attired set of pleasant single trails was the course makers “thank you” after this wash machine and after a short run we had a 1300 meter swim on tab. This time the water was qualm and left a little bit of time to enjoy the views. Crystal clear waters permitted the observation of the homegrown fish culture and led to another 3 kilometer run on the dirt roads. We used the clean running to gain valuabe grounds and I was particular happy to constantly sync super well with Robin.
Next up was the lengthiest swim of the competition – 1600 meters. The waves and the light current was a test. But the major challenge we had to face was the cold water. We never really warmed up during the preceding runs and hurt a lot when we stepped back on land. The gales hit us hard and the bodies never really had a chance to warm up. It took us quite a while to get some heat back in the bodies but faster running on the next 4 kilometers certainly helped a bit.
We went on and never really had more teams in sight which made it tough sometimes to go that extra bit out of the comfort zone. But we kept the positive vibe and spirit. When we started the last 1400 meter swim the wind never allowed the bodies to fully recover. We had to take the very last energy reserves to make it through a swim portion that appeared to never really end.
Later than sooner it did and we arrived at the beach and were content about the simple fact that we survived this last stretch of unfriendly water and ran to the finish line. After 5:54:21 we finished as the fifth mixed team. Though the last swim took ages, it all went fast once we crossed the line. Robin was taken care of by Micke Lemmel as she had proper hypothermia. I was also in bad shape and was stuck in the shower without coins for the warm water. What a fight and massive thanks to Johan Carlsson for organizing all these coins to get me back on track. That was a very long time without clothes in that shower…
Once everyone was back to normal we could enjoy a very relaxed and sociable after race hang-out by the beach and drank too much beer and ate too much delicious burgers. When we heard our names at the price giving we weren’t too sure why but it turned out that our performance was good enough to qualify for the Ötillö world champs. That was a positive surprise and we celebrated it on the ferry journey back to Avalon with everybody and a ARK sponsored free bar. That was some way to kick off Ötillö SwimRun in the US.
It didn’t take them too long. 04:28:16 for 90 kilometres of skating is fast. Doing this during an icy and unpleasant Swedish winter night does not make it easier. Swedish Biathletes Oscar Brandt and Christofer Eriksson won this years issue of the Nattvasan. A team-of-two competition on the famed Vasaloppet course, the Friday ahead of the big race. This version of the Vasaloppet is a unique one and creates its very own magic. I catched up with Östersund-based soldier and biathlete Christofer Eriksson to hear what happened on this “different” night out.
runssel: When you did the Vasaloppet back in 2008 (Finishing time 04:50:13) you were on your own and the visibility was slightly better I guess. 10 years later you come back to race the course again. This time with Oskar Brandt and by night. How did that come about? Christofer Eriksson: I heard about the Nattvasan race last year and the concept really appealed to me. Since I’m competing in biathlon with skating technique, I thought this race would suit me well. My friend Oskar Brandt is also a good biathlete, so I thought we would have a good chance to finish in the top ranks.
Winners Nattvasan 2018 – Oscar Brandt and Christofer Eriksson (Picture: Nisse Schmidt)
runssel: Leading up to the Nattvasan, how did you guys train? Any specific simulation to copy the unique requirements of a competition like this? Christofer Eriksson: We didn’t do any different training from our regular biathlon training, except taking it a bit easy the last days before the race. Both me and Oskar have competed in the patrol competition during the Military World Championship in biathlon, so we are familiar in competing together as a team. Our army experience about the importance of teamwork and maintaining a high ”combat value” was also very useful. Since you compete together you have to communicate a lot during the race to be able to ski as fast as possible without someone falling behind – you can’t just do your own race like in a regular biathlon/ xc-skiing competition.
Christofer shortly before the start in Sälen. (Picture: Pär Wikström)
runssel: You took the lead early on. Did you guys follow any specific tactic? Were you skating behind each other? Who was leading? What was the most challenging thing? Christofer Eriksson: We were a bit surprise to get the lead so early in the race, that wasn’t our tactic from the beginning. After we got the lead we decided to go with a high and steady pace and changed the lead skater regularly to keep the pace high. For me the most challenging factor was the cold, Oskar had some problem with dehydration and muscle spasm after our hydration packs froze early on. Because of our iced-up backpacks we were forced to stop at the aid stations. Hence we knew that we need a pretty big lead to the other teams.
Not a usual Friday night in Sälen. The Vattvasan 2018 is underway. (Picture: Nisse Schmidt)
runssel: What kind of equipment did you use and why? Looking back, would you change anything? Christofer Eriksson: The big difference for this race was that we had to use headlamps and our own hydration packs. We use headlamps during some of our training sessions, so we were accustomed to that. The difficulty was how to prevent the hydration packs from freezing in the cold. We made some modification using insulation for the tube and the bladder, but the tube froze after about 1 hour into the race. That became a massive problem that slowed us down since we had to stop at the checkpoints to hydrate. The best would be to have a support team along the way with hydration and energy. We had some energy bars with us and had decided to eat at least every hour during the race. It felt like I burned more calories than I thought I would – the pancakes in Evertsberg saved my night!
Finished. By any means… (Picture: Pär Wikström)
runssel: Your winning time of 04:28:16 was about 4 minutes slower than the winning time of the main race two days later. Are you planning to come back next year to go faster and defend your title? Christofer Eriksson: It was a really great and fun race, but we haven’t decided yet if we will race next year since our main goals are still within biathlon circus. But I really want to do the race again and ski faster, now with the experience I think we can cut the time by at least 20 minutes in the same weather conditions. But it’s more difficult to do a really fast race like this when you’re in a team and not “co-trained” for it, but if both team members are strong and well coordinated with a perfect team work – you can ski very fast!
runssel: What is on the agenda for the rest of your season? Christofer Eriksson: We have the last competitions in the Swedish Cup and Swedish Championships. Then we have the Military World Championship in Hochfilzen, Austria, in April.
Softly the first couple of sunrays drop into a snow covered valley. The bus just stopped its engine and an exceedingly encouraging chauffeur whishes well to each person that steps off his vehicle. It is early. I check my watch but I do not recall the actual time that is shown. On the screen there is only one data that undoubtedly will stay in my mind for a long time: -29 Degrees. I stop in distrust. My friends text-message a couple of seconds later just approves what my drained brain does not realize. “Fxxx, -29. Fxxx!!!” Before I can even think about the stony temperature I need to guard my fingers in my (way too thin) gloves. I collect my skies and my baggage. Everything is freezing cold. Just beside me there is a massive open space. These couple of resilient sunrays that guise through the forest enlighten a huge field, jam-packed with spectacularly lined-up cross-country spurs. It is Monday morning. I’m in Sälen. I’m at the start of the 94th running of the Vasaloppet.
Just some hours earlier and a couple of time-zones east, my family and I leave Phuket at 3am. Two weeks holiday are sadly over. We head back home to Stockholm. Succeeding a 6 hour stopover in Qatar we lastly reach Sweden and solid subzero temperatures. After sleeping for 1 hour I start the car and get on the road for an 3,5 hour drive north. When I reach the town of Mora, the finish of the Vasaloppet, I can feel the adrenaline leisurely making its way through my sluggish body. Sleep deprivation is, for a reason, a highly effective torture method. Soon I will find out how this combines with a 90 kilometer cross-country ski cruise.
The Vasaloppet does not need any form of introduction. It is an institution, one of those extremely iconic competitions. If people just know about one XC-ski race, they confidently know this one. This race is deep in the Sporting-DNA of swedes. They are proud and everyone seems crazy about it. To cater all demands, the Vasaloppet organizers offer several possibilities to experience the course that’s been skied since 1922. As well as the real-deal Vasaloppet, you have the following possibilities:
Nattvasan – Race as a team of two during the night. Usually you need to ski with the classic technique, in this race you have the possibility to skate.
Öppet Spår Sunday & Monday – Timing for all competitors but no mass-start. You can start whenever you want from 6am-10am.
Stafettvasan – 5 people share the full course.
Tjejvasan – Women only race. 30 kilometer long.
Halvvasan – Race 50% of the course.
Kortvasan – The short-version. 30 kilometer long.
Ungdomsvasan – 19 or 9 kilometer long.
Blåbärsloppet – 9 kilometer kids race
With a friends visiting and spontaneous holiday re-planning my only chance to undertake the course was the Öppet Spår Monday. It turned out to be the best choice. With a cruel mass-start of 16.000 people the main race would have been far out of my comfort zone. While I was training for the competition I established a loose time-goal. With the fitness I was building up I could see me do the course in a time of 7:15, perhaps eye to break the 7 hour mark. As we had to re-plan our holidays I saw myself not able to reach this goal. Now I just wanted to do the course and finish. I knew that I was going to be worn-out straight from the start. I set out with the flawless objective to eat four Kanelbullar (a traditional Swedish cinnamon roll) and drink as much as possible at EVERY aid station. Typically I’m not the finest feeder during competitions. I had to pay the painful price for this numerous times. To get through this mission in one piece, I knew that I had to have a blameless nutrition approach. It turned out to be a life saver.
Lacking the hustle of split-times and the subsequent stress, I had the chance to experience the route in its full and exceptional splendor. I got changed, organized my skies and gear and made it stress-free to the start. Once I arrived there just shortly before 8 am most people were already gone. I put on the skies and hit the spur. While I was slithering into the vale the sun became clearly visible and the stout sunrays made me smile. After some meters the first and major climb of the course commenced. I took it easy and found a comfortable tempo. When I entered the plateau the morning sun had lighten up the forest and the course that was winding through it. It was one of those moments that make it all worth it. However I was skiing I made sure to look around frequently and bath myself in this splendor of a picture-perfect Dalarna daybreak.
There are seven checkpoints along the 90 kilometer route. All are laid-out the same way. On the first checkpoint, Eldris, I familiarized myself with the offering. After that I established a little routine which I sustained until the second last station, Mångsbodarna. As mentioned earlier, I ate at least 4 Kanelbullar. Occasionally I took some more which I was consuming along the way. Due to all the hustle beforehand I needed to hydrate a lot. Throughout the plane trip I was already taking care of my hydration but I could feel that It was not enough. Before the start I prepared a flask with water which I was carrying on my waist. I armed this bottle with 6 gels. The strategy was to have a steady and reliable energy reserve. Through training this worked fine but little did I think of the severe temperatures that I was expecting. Once I tried to drink just shortly after the 15 kilometer mark, the bottle was iced up and I couldn’t get any sip out of it. I’m going to file this in the “Rookie-Mistake” folder.
Some “expert-friends” stated that the spur was “slow” and the conditions mostly harder then the years before. The cold did not allow the skies to slide the way they should. Seeing the finishing times, it is apparent that the times in the top ranks are significantly slower than the years before. This could be a pointer that my mates are real specialists 😉 Fortunately it did not made a huge difference for me. It did not matter and I’m not in a place to feel a massive difference as I still face other struggles such as skiing technique. As usual I had no difficulties on the lengthy, flat sections where I could double-pole my way through the field. Likewise the uphill sections do not bother me too much. A fact I need to look into is the downhill part. Way too many people passed me. A fact that would have concerned me but did not this time. I got on with it and remained in my auto-cruise approach. 1.000 meter height gain displayed my Garmin after the contest. It did not feel that heavy for me. Furthermore I enjoyed the long uphill stretches. Not so much the many short and sharp inclines that spiked up the course-contour.
Just a couple of kilometers after the Oxberg checkpoint, roughly in the middle of the path, my left stick broke. It was not even a severe uphill part when I could not believe what had just happened. I tried to stick the top piece of the broken pole back into the other part to use it somehow. It did not work and I continued holding the broken part of my fancy Atomic Redster Carbon Ultra stick, that I just bought two months prior to the race, and used it as good as possible. The problem was that the imminent part was a pretty hilly one. So I fought my way up and down the slope and was so happy when I arrived in Evertsberg. Every aid-station had a massive Swix service point. They provided an incredible service with all sorts of poles, skies and waxing service. Superfast I had my new stick and was able to continue. Thanks for that Swix. No thanks to Atomic, as they requested a picture of the broken stick (that I obviously left there) to permit a recompense!
More and more clouds sheltered the sun and there was no need to wear sunglasses any longer. By now I was very close to Mora. Every single kilometer of the course was well marked with a big sign that showed how much is left until the finish and also to the subsequent aid station. What appeared to be a frightful view on the first kilometers turned out to be a very motivating fact the lower the kilometer number went. With 25 kilometer to go, I still felt good. My mind was fresh enough and my body replied. I decided to give it a go and set myself the target to not get overtaken until the Mora finish line. This worked out pretty well as I found a good momentum that I enjoyed a lot. Only two skiers made it past me. The famed view towards the Mora church tower was a very satisfying one. A long and positive day came to an end. After all that had happened in the last 48 hours this was exactly what I hoped it would be. I could soak in the atmosphere and the moment. To get through this in the way I did made me proud. To enjoy something special like this the way I did made it really worth it.
Lucky enough two of my friends drove my car back to Stockholm. I had to cut the phone call with my wife short as I took seat in the back. I still cannot reminisce when we left Mora. I fell asleep immediately and the next think that I recall is me waking up as my friend left the car back in Stockholm.
Tune of the day: Evidence – Weather or Not LP – What a good record that is. 11 years after Evidence’s solo debut, The Weatherman LP, he just issued a proper and all-round classy hip-hop record. In times when artists strive for single hits, he comes up with an album that features only quality productions and lyrical masterworks. By this time already the album of the year in my ears.
To cut it short – I just love this competition. Such a fine format for early season multisport bashing. Run 5k, mountain-bike 17k and close the Reece with a 4k scamper. Quite some suffering integrated.
Like last time the Dirty Race was a sellout. This time it was not as freezing as last year so everyone who signed up also raced. This year it was just muddy. And there was some proper sludge. Definitely the muddiest contest I ever took part in.
Basti and I arrived early enough to cycle one loop of the bike route. We just couldn’t hack it. Deep and damp Natural-Porridge all over the place. When we finished the Reece we already looked soaked and set for a clothes change.
Life is made up of marble and mud. Nathaniel Hawthorne
The first run was just to warm up for the foremost fun of the day. So I took off in a pleasant pace on the tarmac road. No mud there but some overly motivated participants. Looks like the off season was too long for some. Sooner or later all the sprinters got caught and it was mountain bike time. I tried to move as smoothly as possible. I knew that once the main pack got through the first of two loops it will get even more tricky and additional power is required to surf these waves.
I tried to stay away from groups of riders as triathletes are not know for their bike handling skills. In the middle of the first loop I eventually crashed as a guy in front of me stopped abruptly in front of a pond. Well… After that I found the rhythm and the line. At the end of the loop I paired up with the eventual women’s champ Kathrin Müller. She struggled a bit with the circumstances but we kept on sailing nicely together through the mud ocean.
T2 came a bit later than last year. My bike form was not as good as last time (4 minutes slower…) but the track was hard to compare. I entered the transition area with the keenness to finish up strong and possibly run the last part with Kathrin. A couple of minutes later I met her at the finish. My shoe adjustment took a bit longer and she was flying through the transition zone in best triathlete approach. I’m not used to that anymore. So I ducked in and gave the PureDrift’s a solid spin on the finishing 4k (Strava).
The chase after the race was getting all that lawn and dirt of the racing bike and devices. Great service by the organizers as they set up a area to clean the bike. A fun end to a enjoyable day of racing. Until next year.
It was just too mesmerizing, too baffling and way to appealing.
What started a few years ago with viscous interchange of video clips and articles terminated in a simple and to the point merit application to Anders Malm and the Utö brothers. Since yesterday we know that we are a part of it in this years edition. Team number 35 “German Sparkle Party”!
“Take it easy, but take it.” Woody Guthrie
We extensively discussed this appreciation through training sessions and over certain beers. We both agreed that this is simply outlandish and absurd. But we eternally knew – This one is particular and highly motivating.
On the 1st of September 2014 we eventually will reach Utö MÅL. After 10 kilometers of swimming and 65 kilometers of running Fabian and I will know what it means to be part of “one of the toughest endurance races in the world” – the ÖTILLÖ
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