When I started this cyberspace chronicle back in 2008, my core inspiration was to update my (sport interested) friends about training and racing. I found it tremendously boring to talk about sports while exercising. The geeky conversational side of the endurance sports scene was never something I appreciated in a dialog with training buddies or friends. Nevertheless, I wanted to read about training, racing and endeavors when I desired info & inspo. The internet blog scene back then was exactly this source – Inspirational, independent, informal and fast. I wanted to contribute my slight share to it. A year later I decided to not only write about racing and training and posted running shoe and equipment reviews as there was not that much material available beside mass participation magazines & expert running shops (which were also sporadic at the time or only sold Asics to each and everyone)
14 years later, not much has changed in my essential motivation to release and write. Only the regularity and amount of my posts. I wrote about this earlier and I won’t do it again. Just scroll and you’ll find the info if you need it.
It happened that I had a lot of time on my hands last Saturday. As I was racing the Nordenskiöldsloppet I also thought about this blog and that I should write more again. Nordenskiöldsloppet was a beast of a competition and shattered me in a way nothing else has ever done before. Since I finished the competition, I received a wide range of messages and phone calls from friends & readers. Last weekend’s contest was a remarkable experience for me. Something that will haunt me for quite a while – emotionally and physically. Sitting down and processing this challenge lyrically will unquestionably help to comprehend what just happened up north and it hopefully will provide some source of information, help and entertainment to whoever is interested in it.
The first time I heard about Nordenskiöldsloppet was a few years ago. Back then skiing was an infrequent weekend interest. I never had snow and consequently slopes close to where I was living. When I skied it was only skating technique and not that much. My motivation to pick up skiing was merely based on being able to compete in the German winter triathlon champs. That was a long while back. Nowadays the younger generation doesn’t even know that such a sport exists. When I moved to Sweden skiing was a valid training option during winter. Vasaloppet has been a competition that I had been eyeing for quite a while and in the first year living in Sweden I did the race on little training and skiing experience. Still, the Nordenskiöldsloppet had been stuck in the back of my mind. Something about this race fascinated me. It was one of those things, that I was planning to do one day. That day came quicker then I thought.
On the ferry back to Stockholm from last year’s Ötillö, Jonathan and I had a loose chat about races that we would like to do one day. Nordenskiöldsloppet came up quick for the two of us. I did not really recall our conversation for too long. But then, some day in October last year, Jonathan texted me out of the blue – a already sold out Nordenskiöldsloppet had opened some slots. He was up for it; I was up for it and what happened then was amazing. Within half of a day, we had another three friends hyped and signed up – Dreamlike.
So, it happened that I jumped into specific Nordic skiing training back in November last year and quickly found a good routine and a lot of inspiration to ramp up the miles. Particularly David and Marcus became reliable and cherished training allies. It was so good to share the anticipation, train and race together. Even the simple fact to have buddies that are willing to wake up at 5 a.m. to go skiing for a few hours is a true gift and something that I highly appreciate. It undoubtedly made the build-up even more enjoyable. Not to mention the whole trip up north. Thanks guys, what a few days we had.
It was time to cash in on all these countless training hours that we had ramped up in the last few months. Some days before the race, the course got alerted to 200 kilometer due to the weather situation up in Lapland (More Info). When we got ready in Jokkmokk the day before the race it started snowing. Something that is not really cherished in Nordic skiing as new snow does make the tracks slow. The snowfall did last during the night and when we made our way to the start line at 03:30 a.m. it was still snowing. As soon as the sun came out the whiteout stopped. Prestart tensions were high as we all grouped in a characteristic Sami marquee by the start line. One of the shuttle busses had been gone off road and the start moved to 05:30 a.m. Together we had lined up in the middle of the field and despite little rush and tension everything went quite smooth. At least ’til Marcus had fixed his ski boot in the binding.
It turned out to be a picture-perfect day. The clouds swiftly moved away and made space for the sun to shine. Before the competition I had gotten some treasured tips from friend Staffan Björklund who had done Nordenskiöldsloppet a few years ago. Unlike other ski races, the tracks were not really arranged or not there at all. As I roughly knew what was coming, it was not a major surprise. But having trained on well set artificial snow tracks for the last few months, it took little time to get used to normal snow and slothful spurs. I also decided to double-pole the whole race using skate skies. I never got contented with classic skies and raced this years Vasaloppet double-poling. That went OK for me. I knew that there was some climbing involved in Nordenskiöldsloppet but I was excited to compete with the equipment I knew.
As a group we had the naïve strategy to stay together as long as possible. This approach got altered pretty much 2 minutes in. The 500+ field spread out quickly and it was David and me who stayed together for the first part. After the first long uphill stretch, I had to let David go and I was by myself. It seems to be a prominent justification amongst skiers to have bad skies. I don’t want to go down that argumentation line, but I even had to push on the downhills. There was not much glide in my skies and that was mentally challenging until I simply accepted it for what it was. But it certainly is something that I need to investigate for next season. The title of this blog quickly came into my head as I got passed by plenty of fellow competitors on a long downhill section after about 2-3 hours. Slow snow, surging topography, fresh snow, slow skies – no gifts were given.
There was not such thing as easing into this one. I focused on constant movement and a good regular food intake. A mix of Maurten gel, Vegetable broth and a popular energy drink brand from Austria was the only thing I took in. To entertain me through the final hours I tried to estimate how much Red Bull I had been drinking. Close to 5 liters was the digit I came up with – Certainly not healthy. I started to eat proper food after about 11 hours when it got cooler and darker. I’m not known to have the best stomach, but I had zero issues with my intake. The aid stations were positioned between 6 and 14 kilometers from each other and I made good use of them. I always stopped and filled up properly. Looking back, that undoubtedly made a massive difference as I passed plenty of people in the last two hours.
To describe the course as challenging is an understatement. Mostly the way out to the turnaround point at 90 kilometer was something else. A long uphill that seemed to never end mixed with technical terrain. Luckily, the weather was picture perfect and it made this part at least a bit enjoyable. When I double poled up the mountain, the leaders were already on their way back. It was kind of comforting to see them struggling with the track as much as I did.
The day went on and ultimately it got darker and colder. At the 140-kilometer checkpoint I changed all my upper body wear to prepare for what I thought was the real horrible part of this race. I catched up with a small group shortly after this checkpoint and together we voyaged into the darkness. About an hour later I lost them on a long uphill and could not catch them again. I was on my own in the middle of the rugged Swedish north. My headlamp worked fine but I developed a certain fear that the batteries might lose their energy. I switched of the lamp off and got a glimpse of the dark. My head now circled around this possible scenario for the next hour. Paired with the lonesomeness of skiing on a frozen lake that was repetitively cracking, it was something else. I surely enjoy it more now, writing about it, then i did back then.
Eventually the 2nd last checkpoint came. I was happy go get some warm food in as I felt super down and empty. With additional energy and a little more rest, I felt ready to tackle the closing 20 kilometers up to Jokkmokk and the finish line. Not only did I receive new battery energy (thanks so the lovely people at the aid station) I also re-claimed enthusiasm and a certain will to life. I never looked back, enjoyed the long uphill that was coming and took the challenging downhill part with a certain portion of comedy. What a crazy race, what a crazy day.
Jokkmokk came and the finish line was clearly perceptible. But still about 5 kilometers away. The last stretch felt unreal, and the finish was as uneventful as it could get. Somebody helped me to take off the skies. I sat down by the fire, grabbed a blanket and my last can of Red Bull and appreciated the quiet and peaceful atmosphere. 17:53:59 later I was done. Done by any means.