24th February, 2018
Well, we have some catching up to do. Internet access is difficult on our side of the arctic circle and it is the nature of these races that things can get very busy very fast. Sorry for neglecting you, there is much to tell.
Currently, the runners back on the ice for stage five. The final 15km ‘sprint’ which stands between the camp on the Arctic Circle and the finish line here in Jokkmokk. It’s -20 outside and each of them has already put 215km through their legs, nobody should be in any doubt that this short stretch will still be tough.
Still, it’s the home stretch, and a hot meal and a party stands ahead of them and we imagine that will be enough to spur them on.
Going back a bit, the runners have been through a couple of very hard days. Stage Three from Arrenjarka to Laxholmen looks straight-forward on paper – a 42km stretch with no climbing and on terrain good enough that snow shoes weren’t required for long stretches. However, the weather is in charge around here and if it decides you’re going to have a hard day then there is no arguing. The temperature at the start line was -36. The runners were carefully briefed to stay covered up throughout the day and to keep moving.
Stage Three starts off winding through scattered pine trees and over and around small lakes before, at the halfway point, hitting a frozen lake which stretches 20km. The monotony of this mind bending stretch can play tricks with people’s minds and the area is totally exposed to the elements.
The faster runners enjoyed the flat and easy terrain and made their way quickly across the ice but the slower runners had to grit their teeth and dig deep to plod their way to the island of Laxholmen.
There was a warm welcome there for them though. There is a large cabin where the kitchen is and where the medics carry out their nightly clinic, all lit by gas lamps and heated by a wood burning stove. There is no electricity or running water on the tiny island, water is provided by drilling through the ice on the lake and boiling it, all heat and light is provided by oil lamps and fires. It’s cozy, warm, rustic ad welcoming.
The runners passed a night in small cabins, half submerged in the snow. These warm, yurt-like structures are a comfortable and very welcome respite from the freezing conditions outside.
Stage Four began in two waves. In order to keep the pack of runners as close to each other as possible, and not to overburden the race team, the slower three runners were sent out onto the ice an hour earlier than the main pack. This was an absolute necessity on this long stage comprising 65km of trail.
Incongruous experiences start to occur as the stage progresses ad the runners get closer to Jokkmokk. Power cables start to appear overhead from time to time. At one point they’re required to cross a road – seeing logging trucks tearing towards you all of a sudden after four days with nothing to see but wilderness and the occasional runner can be very jarring.
The temperature was significantly higher during the day, but this was the only relief for the exhausted competitors. A number of them are nursing injuries now and had to grimace their way across the terrain, more still are simply exhausted and running on pure determination.
The front runners, Damian Hall and Fabian Breitsamer, who is himself struggling with an injury he suffered on day one which required medical intervention and has put him out of the competitive race, both covered the course at inhuman speed, arriving with 2 hours of daylight to spare and both in good condition and high spirits. Tom Wittek is still looking strong and crossed the line with an increasingly tough look Stefan Lehners. After this the runners came few and far between and required some warming up in our little log cabin right next to the finish line.
The accommodation on the final night is usually a large teepee which lies on the arctic circle. However, after a few nights in a row where the overnight temperatures were more than 30 degrees below freezing, the decision was made to keep them inside. The reaction of every runner was a great relief to all who crossed the line as they were led from our toasty warm cabin to a building which is usually a gift shop and café catering to tourists who have come to take selfies on the arctic line. Central heating and electricity. These runners are spoilt.
For reference, if you who are reading this are, quite rightly, considering taking on this race yourself it’s worth knowing that the consensus among the runners is that the last 6km of Stage Four are the worst of the course. They maybe aren’t the toughest overall and they in the woods and thus sheltered from the worst of any wind or snow which might come your way, however, after 60km of marching over flat terrain, you are met with a stretch of undulating trail covered with a thick layer of soft snow. Even in snow shoes this saps your strength, slows your pace and eats away at morale. On behalf of the Race Team we’d like to say sorry (not sorry).
In any case, this bloggist is now heading for the finish line to see the runners in. It’s the celebratory feast tonight. Local cuisine and local beverages will be readily available so please forgive us if the race blog is a little late again. We’ve all earned a party!
Tags: blog, Ice Ultra, ice ultra 2018, Race Report