Sunday, September 5, 2021

Nuuksio Classic Trail Marathon


The weather and scenery was as good as it gets here.

Nuuksio Classsic is a popular local trail marathon. The scenic 42.2 km course in Nuuksio Natural Park is the best you can find near Helsinki. The superb race organization also offers an ultra 72 km option. Our trailrunning community is amazing. We spent so much time chatting with friends, competitors and volunteers. The race HQ is at Hotel Nuuksio.

Climbing the Swinghill. Photo: Miska Koivumäki

I ran all the way with my son. I've ran the race once before in 2016. This was Jon's first trail marathon. We were lucky with the weather. This Saturday it was as nice as it gets around here in September. We took it easy and ran just for fun. This is not an easy race, but we didn't have any major issues. Just the normal feeling of hitting the 30K wall. We had prepared for that by carrying lots of snacks in our vests.

Trail marathon finishers! Photo: Miska Koivumäki

We finished together in six hours and change. We were very happy with everything. We hang around the hotel enjoying food and beverages with friends before heading back home. Such a great event, so glad we decided to do this. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

NUTS Distance 300 DNF Race Report

Photo: Rami Valonen

NUTS Distance 300 by Black Diamond is a new ultra trail event in Northern Finland. The distance is 323 km or 200 miles. The maximum time is 126 hours. There are only three lifebases along the way. The course is unmarked. The phones won't work in the wilderness. There is not even a trail on some parts of the GPS track the participants are required to follow with their GPS watches or handheld devices. This seemed more like an adventure challenege than trailrunning race, but I signed in.

We traveled to Äkäslompolo in Lapland with my son four days before my event. Jon would participate in NUTS Ylläs Pallas 37 km for the first time. It's the shortest race distance available and belongs to Buff Trail Tour Finland series. We rented e-fatbikes to explore Kukastunturi and the race courses.

Jon's race went well on Saturday. He returned home on Sunday, On Monday morning I took a bus with other 69 participants to Lemmenjoki National Park. I had teamed up with Mikki and wen had a crew of four hard-core enthusiasts to assist us; Jari, Arto, Tiina and Markku. The race started at 12 noon in Njurkulahti. The weather was pretty good with occasional light rain.

The first 88K leg to Kalmankaltio started easy enough along Lemmenjoki National Park hiking trails. We crossed the river by boat and ran through the old gold mining spots. We ran up to an old airfield featuring Finland's most remote library. I ran with my buddy Mikki all the way, as planned. We both had Garmin fenix 6X Pro Solar titanium watches for main navigation. In addition, I had Garmin GPSMAP 65s handheld device and Mikki had Garmin Inreach satellite phone.

Next up was the dreaded 25K wilderness section with Mikki and Heli, who wanted to stay with us. It was very technical and slow going for us, who visited this wild place without any trail for the first time. Our shoes and socks were soaking wet all day long, There were lots of mosquitos, so we wore nets over our upper body. The river crossings were very difficult and slippery. We struggled ahead as Churchill suggested, "If you are going through hell, keep going."

The last section to Kalmankaltio was on dirt road or ATV tracks. It was easy to follow, but our soaked feet were already showing serious signs of damage. The misty morning atmosphere and flat terrain felt like a scifi movie on some spooky planet. We reached the modest lifebase around 8am on Tuesday, in about 20 hours after the start. Our super crew put me through a warm shower and served a warm pasta meal, I drank non-alcoholic beer while resting on the grass beside our crew car. I felt good enough to go on, but Mikki had to DNF as his feet were in pretty horrible condition.

The second 103 km leg to Hetta was the longest, It started with huge sand dunes. This fine white sand proved to be kryptonite for my feet. I stopped occasionally to clean my shoes and socks, but it wasn't enough. I should have changed my socks. I should have washed them and my feet and my shoes thoroughly in the streams. But I failed to do so. The sand went everywhere and slowly destroyed my soles. From that point on, I was doomed.

I power-napped by the trail while several mountain bikers apparently in a race of their own passed me. Then a couple of thunderstorms hit us and made me shiver in cold wind despite wearing rain jacket and pants. The trees were too small to provide shelter, so I just pushed onwards. Mostly I hiked alone, but sometimes I chatted with my fellow competitors like Kati, Jaana, Karitsa and Heli.

Ascending Valkamapää at midnight between Tuesday and Wednesday was definitely one of the highlights of this crazy adventure. I was climbing up with Heli, who complained about lack of energy and the busted knee she had twisted between slippery rocks while we were river crossing the previous night. I gave her a packet of Clif Shot Bloks, Karitsa caught us on the way up and also gave her some of his energy reserves. It was raining with a very strong cold wind blowing. At the same time the midnight sun was somehow shining brightly below the clouds, creating an enormously beautuful rainbow. Karitsa kicked a rock, declaring it a jewel. He showed it to me, and indeed it seemed to emit a colorful glare in the light. Karitsa carefully stored the magical stone in his vest pocket, intending to carry it to the finish. "It's way too heavy", I observed while he just grinned and laughed, 

At the top Heli declared she won't be able to descend the mountain. She was freezing in the storm, so I left Karitsa with her and ran down to get some help while they attempted to call the race HQ emergency center. I spotted an orange jacket far below and headed towards it. The person inside the orange jacket happened to be none other than Milja, the race security official. I quickly explained to her that we were getting cold helping Heli and required assistance immediately. Milja ran up to Heli right away and put her in a tent for the rest of the night. We continued forward with Karitsa feeling happy about the rescue operation. 

The trail to Hetta continued with three fells to climb. We kept going taking 5-10 minute naps in our Rab Ark Emergency Bivy bags. Wednesday was a sunny warm day. We were informed just before the start about this Plan B Course we were required to follow. Unfortunately this meant we had to take a hot asphalt road to Hetta. I ran the whole way without a shirt, but my feet were burning and killing me. I arrived to CP2 in the afternoon. After a shower, foot  treatment by an expert and tasty dinner I slept for a while and felt good enough to continue at 8pm. The cut-off was on Thursday 1pm, so I had plenty of time and was ahead of my schedule.

The rest of the course would be mostly familiar to me from my earlier NUTS races. It would be 66K to the last CP in Pallas and then another 66K to the 323 km finish in Äkäslompolo. I did finish  Ylläs-Pallas-Hetta 134 km in 2018 and Hetta-Pallas-Ylläs-Äkäslompolo 165 km in 2020. However now I started to doubt my chances of finishing this 200-miler, as the pain in my swelling and blistering feet increased exponentially hour by hour. I shouted out loud in pain after each step. Stopping or turning back wasn't an option. When I pulled a hip muscle ascending steep Suaskuru, I started to lose hope. After descending Lumikero I sat down on the ground and fell asleep unintentionally. Soon I woke up, but confused directions and ascended Lumikero again. At the top there were a couple of trekkers cooking dinner. They asked me to sit down and tell them about my journey. Accepting outside help was against the rules, but I just laughed in resignation and sat down for a while with them. I had decided to abandon the race and accept my destiny of the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish). 

My crew had been following my GPS dot online and asked if I was ok. We agreed to ask for a rescue operation at Montelli Hut, 14K from Pallas. Soon the rescue team lead by Anna brought two electric fat mountain bikes for me and Satu, who was also quitting. We descended 8K downhill to the medical van, which drove us to Äkäslompolo. My friends Juha, Juupe and Ville from the DNF Club gave me kindly a bed to sleep in. Friday morning my feet were examined by the head doctor Päivi, who told me not to worry, as "Nature heals."

My GPS watch logged 261 km with 4,664 meters of elevation gain in 77 hours. Was all this effort in vain? I don't think so. I still managed to see all those new places I wanted to visit. I had plenty of fun with my friends. I enjoyed amazing natural beauty and watched incredible sceneries unfold before my eyes. I failed to finish in 99:00 hours as planned, but luckily I had shared my plan with Karitsa, who sprinted on Friday afternoon with a huge grin and superpowers in his steps across the finish line in Äkäslompolo - still carrying the magic stone he found with me on the top of Valkamapää. Karitsa's official finish time was exactly 99:00 hours.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Bodom Trail 21km - PB for everyone

Photo: Rami Valonen

Bodom Trail 21km is my only race in June, as NUTS 326km is coming up in a month. In other words, I was just having fun there!

Photo: Rami Valonen

Bodom Trail has an innovative organization. You can choose from three start times: Friday evening, Saturday morning or afternoon. I selected the morning 9:30am start. It all felt very safe and smooth. 

Photo: Miska Koivumäki

The starters were divided into groups of 50 on a big field. Face masks were mandatory during the start. Each group waited for their turn to get started in smaller packs of 10 runners or so. This worked very well and made the race experience pleasant. Nicely done, please continue doing this in the future!

The route consists of two loops: 12km and 9km. You can choose to finish after 12km loop if you wish. If you feel good, you can take refreshments and start the second loop for a full 21km. There is no need to specify your race distance before, so the decision can be truly based on how you feel. This is such a cool idea! 

I chose 21km as I felt good enough a fortnight after NUTS Karhunkierros 100-miler. My goal was to jog easy pace and finish in under three hours.

We enjoyed the best possible summer weather, sunny with thin clouds and slightly over 20 degrees C.

It was nice to chat with Anthony Gullsten, a top climber sponsored by La Sportiva. In my 10-person start pack everyone's attention was grabbed by this guy handstanding. I thought for a moment that he is going to run with his hands. Back on his feet, I remembered seeing Andy at Kiipeilyareena climbing gyms in Helsinki. He ran 12km much faster than me, but he cheered for me later on at the finish area.

They had three drink stations along the way, which was enough for me to run without a vest. I just had two gels in my short pockets.

The course in Nuuksio Natural Park is fantastic, easily the best near Helsinki. This was my first 21km here, so it would be PB for me. In a way it was a PB for all 255 21km starters/finishers, as the Northern part of the course had to be changed to avoid the new nature reserve. They said the new route is about the similar length, but probably slightly faster.

With top climber Andy Gullsten.

I finished in 2 hours 55 minutes. My friend Mikki ran 12km to test his injured leg, and it passed with flying colors for NUTS300! Esa Lehti from Team La Sportiva Finland had already posted an amazing time 1:57 on Friday. Mårten Boström won in 1:25.

With my ultratrail friend Mikki Kunttu.

Thank you Bodom Trail. See you at Nuts Distance 300 in Lapland in July, when I'm running 200 miles!