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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ecotrail Oslo 80km Race Report

Stormy weather in Oslo the day before Ecotrail.
I'm back! Back in Oslo that is. Tons of water have flown in River Akerselva since I cycled 545km from Trondheim to Oslo in 1988. That lovely midsummer event with 3500 meters of elevation gain is called Styrkeproven. It's still going on strong and highly recommended. But I digress.

I was able to meet Leif and Amund in Oslo halfway of their 320km ultratrail, which Leif finished.
This event on May 23rd is the first Ecotrail in Oslo. These popular city-trailrunning events started in Paris. Now there are  Ecotrail events scheduled all around Europe. The longest distance available is 80km and that's what I selected. With about 2000m meters of cumulative elevation gain it seemed like perfect preparation for my summer races.

Pre-race goodies bag with bib, bottle, waste bin and injinji trail toe socks.
Actually two Norwegian ultrarunners attempted to run the 80km course four times in 60 hours. They started on Thursday 1pm with live GPS tracking. I was able to meet them on Friday afternoon, when they were starting their third round. I didn't see them after that, but I heard that Leif Amundsen finished 320km in 58:35:55 (23:35 on Saturday) - congratulations!

Start at 10am on sunny Saturday in Vaterlandstorv.
The weather was cold, rainy and windy on Friday and Sunday. Luckily the only sunny day was the race day Saturday. Temperatures were ideal 11-16°C. 283 runners gathered around Vaterlandstorv for 10am start. The original starting place had been at the Opera, where we were required to finish before 1am. However this change shortened the course to 78.8km, according to RD Tomas Pinås.

Lake Maridalsvannet, Oslo's drinking water source.
The latest rules, published in the Race Manual that came out just before the race, required us to carry only a backpack including: 1L of drinks, an energy bar, a rescue blanket and a cup. This was a great relief, as the rules on Ecotrail Oslo website (copied from Paris) required some unnecessary gear. Still I voluntarily chose to carry a long-sleeve shirt, a cap, gloves, a first-aid kit and a mobile phone.

A glimpse of Lake Skjärsjöen from a bridge.
The first 17km of the course would be climbing up to Lake Fagervann. Most runners started conservatively, which was a wise decision. We followed the whole 8km length of River Akerselva to its source, Lake Maridalsvannet. It's a beautiful big lake. This is where Oslo's tap water comes from.

Lake Store Åklungen was one of my favorite lakes. Just like Nuuksio back home.
The route was marked with yellow ribbons, which werer hard to see in spring forests. Also the way they were placed seemed confusing. For example, in a Y-intersection there was a single marking right in the middle. It was a guessing game which way to choose. Many fellow competitors spontaneously told me they had trouble with the markings. I got lost four times, which added to my overall time, distance, elevation and frustration.

Another pic from Store Åklungen.
The first aid station came around 14km in Maridalen. The only thing that I would normally eat was bananas, but they were too green for my liking. I decided to drink a can of Red Bull and go on. This would be a recurring theme. The AS food was definitely a disappointment from a vegetarian point of view.

Steep cliffs and typical gravel path.
The next 9km were generally easy downhill past beautiful lakes Store Åklungen (21km) and Sognsvann (25km). Although there were lots of people on such a nice Saturday, only small kids cheered for us. They had not yet learned that it's foolish to run. All the adults seemed to ignore us runners so completely it was funny. I had to laugh at some folks who blocked the trail for us competitors while avoiding any greetings or eye contact. This is the same in Finland as well. In Scandinavia hikers are certainly very different from those in the Alps.

Holmenkollen scenery.
Coming up next was the legendary Holmenkollen ski jump arena. This is a very scenic area with great views over Oslo. I recall visiting here 27 years ago, but of course everything has changed a lot. At Holmenkollen AS I downed a bunch of orange slices with another Red Bull. They had some sort of Norwegian hot dogs but didn't even dare to ask what it contained. Moving on!

Holmenkollen ski jump arena, the site of the 2nd AS at 34km.
There was a steep uphill to the highest point, about 500 meters above sea level. There was a huge TV-tower called Tryvannstårnet, which is visible all over Oslo. There was an equally steep downhill past Kids Adventure Park and then Lake Store Tryvann. I tested the water with my hand and was tempted to go swimming. It felt quite warm in the afternoon sun. Maybe next time.

Tryvannstårnet TV-tower and kids adventure park.
The heat required more drinking than usual. Fortunately the organisers had added an extra AS in Sörkedalen, about 50 km from start. I filled my water bottles and drank another Red Bull. I knew I was running on empty. I walked the last big uphill and enjoyed my emergency food reserve: three mango baby food packages.

Snow and ice on a swamp trail. And this was the easy section.
There were some technical trail sections, which weren't too easy by any means. I was positively surprised how challenging some sections are. There were mud, swamp, roots, rocks - you name it. Ecotrail Oslo was tougher than expected for many of us. The trails in Oslo seem to be actually very similar to the ones I train on back home.

The bear by the Lake Östervann.
From 53km mark onwards it was generally downhill all the way. I had imagined it would be easy sailing, but it proved to be the hardest section for me. The trail was technical and undulating with constant up-and-down. The lack of energy cost me a couple of extra loops in the woods. Just before reaching Lake Åbortjernet at 55km the route markings disappeared. I backtracked until I saw the markings again. Another runner arrived along the right trail and we figured out soon where I had taken the wrong turn. It was well marked, so it was my own fault in this case.

My GPS track at 55km shows one of my wrong turns and extra loops in the woods.
I swore to not repeat this mistake again, and then repeated it only a couple km later. I realised that I was more tired than I liked to admit. I had planned to finish in under 9 hours, but now started to think it might be better to aim for a sub-10h time. I estimated to have wasted already about 20 minutes and done over 1km extra running. Ecotrail Oslo doesn't publish age group results like Ecotrail Paris does, so my finish time wouldn't matter anyway. I won't compete with younger runners, but I would be interested to see my placing in M50-category.

I really enjoyed the fantastic weather and beautiful landscapes. 
From beautiful Lake Östervann with a cool bear statue it was only a couple of km to the last AS in Fossum. I chatted with volunteers while feeding myself with some oranges, bananas, potato chips and a Red Bull of course. My Ambit showed 60km at this point. By the way, you can check out this move in Movescount.

Ecotrail Oslo is tougher than you would imagine. Some parts are really technical!
After Lake Bogstadvannet the trail followed River Lysakerelven down to the sea. There was a steel rail between the river and the rail all the way. I used the rail to pull myself up the little hills in the river valley. The trail was covered with tree roots and it wasn't easy going at all with tired legs. It seemed to take me forever to reach the seaside at 71km.

Finally Oslo Opera rises from the sea in front of me: 1km to go!
The final seaside route was easy flat jogging to the Opera. The only problem was I had no juice left whatsoever. "Empty tanks!", a fellow 80km-participant who visited a gas station shouted to me and grinned. On a sunny Saturday evening like this there were masses of people everywhere. Not a single one of them cheered or gave way to us runners. I wasn't exactly flying, but had to slow down even more to gently push myself through the crowds. It wasn't a very uplifting experience compared to a finish in a town like Chamonix for example. But we made it on sheer will power.

Finish on Sugarbiten.
Finally the Oslo Opera was right in front of me and it was only 1km to 'Sugarbiten' pier where the finish area was located. I high-fived some fellow competitors who had already finished and crossed the line in 9:44:55. My Ambit showed 80.0km - mission accomplished! I was interviewed right away. "Are you tired?", was the question booming on the loudspeakers. "No", I lied. "Why?", was the second question. "Because it was such a fantastic weather and beautiful course. Thank you all organisers, volunteers and competitors.", I said to the mic - and that was the truth.

Ecotrail Oslo Finisher medal.
I was 129/267 finishers. I don't care about my position, but I was happy to have finished without injuries, blisters or other issues. I didn't fall down and no bandaids were required! This was my first race with Hoka One One Challenger ATR shoes, and they were absolutely great. I didn't use poles or see anyone else using them - they are not necessary on a course like this. For hardcore Strava-heads, here's my activity.

Happy finisher! We received a medal and 2 shirts: a blue long-sleeve and white t-shirt by Helly Hansen.
Frenchman Emmanuel Gault (who also won Ecotrail Paris in March) won in 6:30. Mari Mauland was the first woman in 8:06. Both won an electric car for 6 months. Too bad she doesn't have a driver's licence! Anyway, giving up meat would reduce carbon footprint more than cars. For an Ecotrail event it might be a great idea to replace all those grilled sausages at aid stations with green alternatives.

Ecotrail Oslo 80km GPS-track from my Suunto Ambit. 

All in all the 1st Edition of Ecotrail Oslo was a great success. I'm sure it has a lot of potential to improve and develop in the future. It's already the biggest ultrarunning event in Norway. Like Pompier Raid Aventure team (whose goal is to help disabled kids to experience adventures) likes to say: "Courir pour un sourire" - running for a smile!