Monday, May 10, 2010

Lidingö Ultra 50K race report

When May arrived I felt like running a 50K. Luckily I spotted Ultra50K, an interesting trail running race in Stockholm archipelago, around Lidingö island, on Saturday May 8th.

Taking a quick glance at the course map, I decided my goal would be to run strong through those little hills and break four hours. The highest peak measured 48 meters above sea level - we would have to run that hill twice, once in the beginning and once just before the finish.

Actually just to finish would be a landmark personal victory for me. Any result would be a PR, as I've never competed this classic sprint distance of ultramarathons before.

Without further ado, on Friday evening I took 55-minute flight from Helsinki to Stockholm Arlanda airport. Another 20 minutes later Arlanda Express train arrived at Central Station in Stockholm. Moments later a taxi dropped me in front of a nice hotel in Östermalm district of the City. A quiet room on the 7th floor with a balcony facing away from the busy streets provided welcomed undisturbed sleep.

When I woke up on race morning I went out to check out the weather: it was cold (+6C) and windy. It wasn't raining yet, but the weather report predicted showers. There was a sailing race at the same time we ran around the island - the video below shows the force of the seawind.

Spring or not, a an ultra-skinny dude like me could easily freeze on a day like this. It was time to wear my hard core running gear:
  • La Sportiva Crosslite trail running shoes,
  • X-Action long running socks,
  • RaidLight R-Dry 3/4 tights,
  • a technical long sleeve shirt,
  • Inov8 Mistlite 210 shell,
  • RaidLight WinterTrail hat,
  • technical gloves, and
  • RaidLite elastic bib holder.
I had a glass of Stockholm tap water and a few Medjool dates for breakfast. Nothing else. I don't take any stimulants like coffee anymore.

There would be aid stations with water, orange segments, apple slices, halved bananas, gherkins, and tables filled with all the usual race fuel, every 5K or so. For extra energy, I stuck a 250g plastic bottle of squeezable honey in the side pocket of my tights.

8AM a taxi left me at the Lidingövallen sports center. I collected and installed my race number and timing chip. Then I took a little warm up run and bathroom break by the seaside. The wind made me shiver and I escaped inside into the warm dressing rooms.

9AM about 400 runners started the third Lidingö Ultra50K. According to the race website, there were 433 entries. Actually some chose to run a 26K distance instead, which was an option for the first time.

I ran the first 5K conservatively in 23 mins. The first hills surprised me already - they were much harder than I had imagined. I didn't want to slow down too much, as there were a railroad crossing around 9 km  point, and they said a train could block the race course for a few minutes for the slower runners. I passed the point before the train, and my 10K split was 47 mins.

There were some short segments on flat asphalt roads, but generally speaking I found the course very interesting and varied. All the fabulous scenery was completely new to me and there was never a dull moment. Some parts were quite technical.

I stopped at every aid station for a minute or so to enjoy fresh fruits and water. I felt very good and passed the official half way 25K time check in 16th place with 2:06:53. That meant I was behind my goal schedule and probably wouldn't be able to finish under 4h, but c'est la vie.

After that I had to run pretty much alone the rest of the way. There was little chance of getting lost as the trail was well marked with red-white plastic ribbons. There were also volunteers directing at every road crossing.

Lidingö seems to be a great place for sport enthusiasts to live in, and many of those folks seem to own a dog or two. Dogs are often allowed to run free on the island, and I encountered signs saying 'BEWARE LOOSE DOGS' in Swedish. And sure enough, there were plenty of dogs running right along the race course! One particularly friendly one lead me for a while on the trail, and then went to his home yard to lie beside a 'BEWARE ANGRY DOG' sign.

Everything was going great and steady, until there was a mysterious fork in the trail at about 39 km. The red-white marked trail seemed to continue into both directions. That was clearly illogical and impossible. I was totally dumbfounded and confused by this enigma and stopped to think hard for a while.

Finally I decided the path leading to the right was the one to take. After a 100m dash I heard two Swedish runners shouting and waving their arms to the other direction. I thought they knew the correct way and tried to warn me, but when I returned to discuss the matter with them I soon found out they were as clueless as I was. After some more shouting and waving they suddenly decided the path I had chosen was the right one after all and we ran together for a while.

I must confess it was only after re-examining the map after the race that I realised the other trail coming from the left side was the same one we took earlier in the morning! Although I knew that some parts at the end of the course were the same as in the beginning, I failed to recognise the path I had run only a couple of hours ago. Doh!

Maybe I was unconsciously feeling tired already, because soon after that I noticed my pace slowing down a bit. I never consciously gave up, but I think my legs had simply had enough of those deceivingly 'easy' roller coaster trails.

My 42.2K split was 3:33 exactly. Last year my best marathon time was 3:25:20 - and that was on flat fast roads, with flat fast shoes, and in ideal weather conditions!

After that several runners passed me one by one, but I let them go. I felt ok, but I didn't feel like pushing hard anymore. I'm usually quite competitive, but I'd already figured out I had no chance of finishing in the top 6, who were awarded prizes.

For some reason I don't understand, they ask and check your exact birthday, but don't have any age groups in this race. I think it would be fabulous if they could add masters categories next year - that would certainly help me push the last miles harder.

It started to rain, but it didn't bother me at all, since I was wearing a waterproof jacket. I sipped the last drops of my honey nectar while climbing the seemingly enormous Vattentornet (Watertower) hill. Then I cruised down to finish at the same stadium we started from. I was 25th overall with my time 4:17:31 - my 50K PR! A girl hanged a medal made of recycled glass around my neck.                  

Daniel Nilsson, who won the first Ultra50K and was 2nd last year, was in a class of his own today: 3:25:04. That's pretty fast on this course, especially on a hard day like this. Kajsa Friström was the first woman in 4:25:52. So I wasn't chicked. Altogether 281 runners were able to finish the 50K. Kjell Damstedt was the last to arrive in 7:59:59, beating the 8h time limit by one second.

Luckily I was able to wave a taxi right after I finished, because there was another race for me: I had to get to the brunch tables of my hotel before 2PM. I barely made it, and stuffed myself with fresh orange juice (a healthy tip for Stockholm visitors: Scandic Anglais provides a free self-served electric juicer and a huge pile of fresh oranges for breakfast/weekend brunch, included in room rates), followed by honeydew, pineapple and pears as well as cucumber, bell pepper and tomato slices. After such a rejuvenating brunch I couldn't help feeling my recovery process going pretty strong.

I hope the sun will shine the same time next year in Lidingö.


AgileToes said...


I just stumbled across your site, and I'm planning on running this race in April. I cannot wait! I'll be traveling from the USA, and unfortunately only speak English. Will it be hard getting around with my limited communication skills?

Are you running this year as well? Happy training!

Trail Plodder said...

Yes I will run this sweet little 50K again in April. Don't worry, it's relatively easy to get around in Stockholm. Although I do speak some Swedish, I usually prefer to use English which is widely spoken there. I recommend staying in a city hotel and simply taking a taxi to Lidingövallen sports center on race morning. It's better to print the instructions how to get there from the race website as some taxi drivers seem to be clueless about Lidingö island. You can get your bib number at the 400m running track and then change clothes in the dressing rooms nearby. You can leave your bag with organizers who will guard it while you run. After you finish you can take a shower and change clothes. It can be difficult to find a taxi on the island, but you can easily take a bus back to the city after the race. Just remember to buy a bus ticket the day before as Stockholm buses don't sell tickets anymore. Good luck for the race!