Saturday, December 6, 2014

How About Iceland for an Ultra Marathon?

Laugavegur Ultra Marathon is a 55 km mountain race that in one word is epic! So, seeing that we were going to Iceland to hangout with Eliot's college buddy Compton and scamper around the country for 10 days, I did some Googling to find out what the wee island of Iceland had in the way of running races. I sent Eliot the race link one day at work, and he emailed me back with "great find, I've signed the two of us up!"

I learned 2 things right at that moment. 1. Iceland is not a wee island and 2. Give Eliot an idea and you've more or less committed to that idea. His services are free, so just hit him up with any ideas and provide your credit card.

Iceland has been on my 'I would like to go there' list since I lived in Ireland. I could never get anyone to come with me as it was not a sun holiday destination. Sun holidays are overrated: too much sun gives you wrinkles and Irish skin is not designed for vast amounts of sun in one sitting.

My race research is not as in depth as Eliot's, I never want to scare myself too much, as then I over think the whole event. I took a look at a few of the website's photos, elevation map and route map and it all looked warm and fuzzy to me!

My kinda zig zag up and down!
How awful could it's Iceland!
The Laugavegur (say that fast, 3 times) marathon is an extremely well organized race. The website has a bountiful amount of information to set your mind at ease. There is a fair bit of logistics getting to the race start and getting home after. The route is a popular point to point hiking trail, normally done in 4 days. For 18 years the race has taken place for people who are not shy of the elements. Iceland in the summer months can be like a rodeo rider...tough! One has to be prepared for anything, wind, rain, hail, snow and or sunshine. The race organizers were super informative in the weeks and days leading up to the race day, July 12th.  The weather report for race day per the website : "Fresh winds from east and later northeast and relatively humid air. Wind speed as large as 10-13 m/s at Hraftinnusker. Some rain and even fog at higher bases. Becoming gradually lighter and more headwind at lower altitudes. Also fewer rain showers there, and likely totally dry in the end near Þórsmörk". So, temps ranging from 6-8°C/ 45-47°F...perfect for me and not a sweltering Reno desert heat of 'hotballz'.

Eliot and I arrived in Iceland on a Thursday morning, rallied to stay away awake for all of Thursday, hug out with Joe (Compton) and got a general feel for Iceland or at least Reykjavik. Joe kindly gave us a place to crash at his awesome pad right on the main street in the capital city of Reykjavik. The city and surrounding region has about 200,000 inhabits of the country's total count of 325,671. It's a total trip. It's such a treat to come to a country and a city that has a stress free feel and not the inundated vibe of many cities in the U.S.  

With a whopping 12hrs of sleep that night (it was day light throughout, remember it's summer in the northern hemisphere), we were ready to rally on Friday and get our bits and bobs sorted for the race on Saturday. We got up at 3am on Saturday morning, this was easier than usual as it was dusky out and then we made our way to the local sports center. Here we shuffled onto buses along with other runners and embarked on a 3hr ride to the race start...yes, 3hrs! We had a 30 min stop along the way, here we chowed some breakfast and chatted to some of the other runners. We ended up sitting at the same table as two other Irish guys who were doing the race for the first time too. Being Irish, you are guaranteed to bump into other Irish folk no matter where you go in the world, then the chat flows! By now I was getting excited, no going back at this stage. I also brought a gopro to document the whole event!

Is this gopro thingy on? 
The off road bus trip to the race start. 4x4 is the only way to get there.
By the time we got to the race start, the wind and rain were coming down hard. People waited in line to sign in, while trying to stay warm at the same time. 

It's a tad bit chilly.

Look at that erect flag!

   They're off! Fast group leaves first at 9am. I leave at 9:05.
Up and up for the next 12ish km. Yes, that is geothermal energy behind me.
They did mention that it would be snowy and foggy up top!
As far as I know, I'm going in the right direction. 

By 16km the course starts to descend rapidly, I gained some time and my legs felt good. I snacked as much as I could/remember. I really wanted to stop and take in the views, but then again I knew I wanted to get to the finish within a respectable time. I figured 7hrs was a realistic goal time and luckily I did not have to worry about losing daylight. The landscape is a total trip, not a tree in sight throughout most of Iceland. This is due to deforestation back in settlement days. There is a joke in Iceland that "if you are lost, just stand up." The only way to find shelter would be to hunker down behind a large rock or be on the windless side of a bluff. The landscape is a desert of old lava rock with a splattering of plant life that has adapted to the harshness of the climate. Pure and unfiltered are two words that come to mind when I now think of Iceland. 

Just a stream crossing. The first of many.

About half way through the race, a German gal named Ute and I became fast friends. We pretty much had the same pace and we always seemed to be a few feet apart, so therefore it was inevitable that we'd be besties by the end of the race! Ute had a little more English than I German, but with a few words that she taught me for the remainder of the race, we managed to have a blast and keep each other going! She, like Eliot and me, just saw the race posted online and decided it was sure to be an adventure. 

My new friend Ute
Holding onto river rope is optional. 

Ultra running is awesome! No really it is. Thanks Reno Running Company, for my fab pink tee.

Ute tearing it up on the downhill.
I stopped wearing a watch a few years ago just to see how it felt to run without the constant worry if I was going to make my goal, keep on top of my pace and in general, stress about something really not worth stressing about. Sure, personal goals are great but if you are not preparing for the olympics, then forget the watch. What did we do before running watches and beepy things?..oh yes...we put our runners on and simply ran. I learned to actually enjoy running and found that I ran harder, unknowingly really without a time piece. The same goes for running with headphones, listen to your surroundings and feel the beat of your heart as it pumps blood and oxygen around your body. Stop, look and listen once in awhile, you'll discover a whole new running self. So as far as time goes for this race, time meant nothing. I knew all I had to do was to keep going, fuel my body and enjoy every moment.

 Looks like another planet!

With laughs a plenty, Ute and I came across the final aid station we started to get giddy knowning that we had only about 6 miles to go. I grabbed a handful of chocolate to get me through the last few miles. Thank goodness for chocolate and its purveyors. The folks at the aid stations were so friendly and encouraging for the gloomy day that it was.  With the last river crossing complete, we had just under 3 miles to the finish line. My feet were wet since the start but they felt intact, meaning I didn't think I had any blisters or toes nails about to come off! I definitely felt tired both mentally and physically but I've had longer days than this in the outdoors. As we rounded the corner with about 300 yrds to go, we came upon an Icelandic gentleman and before we realized what had happened, we all made a dash for the finish line. It was more fun than anything, everyone cheered and we all crossed the line together. We had a threesome hug and laughed pretty hard. With medals given, it was time to find somewhere to sit, get a shower and have a hot meal, all in no particular order. Eliot was sure to be about and probably 3 beers in. Compton and Svein had come to the finish to support and give us piggy back rides if our legs gave out! Thanks guys. I think it took me 4 days to walk up and down stairs with no issues!

Giddy up, onward to the finish line! Wobbly legs for sure at this point.

Will sleep anywhere at this point.

Sure enough curiosity set in and I wondered what my actual time was. I surprised myself with a 6hr 27 finish and managed to made it into the top 10 for individual females. Not bad for my first ultra distance! Eliot was 3rd and stoked with his result, but that's just another day in the office for that guy. IRE-USA represent.

Would I do it again...heck yes. I would put a little more effort in on training days though :-P

So I get to beat Eliot to press on this report, I actually beat him at something...that's a first! If you want to see fancier photos, you'll have to wait until he posts his Iceland report. Click on Eliot's blog to see and read.

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