Two days prior I arrived in Tromso, Norway. It took nearly 24 hours of travel to arrive at this city that lies a couple hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle
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The fog continued to get denser, which made route finding very difficult. I lost track of the runners ahead of me and could not see any behind. Interestingly we had been told before the race that if you ran for more than one minute without seeing a course marker you were off route. It had been probably four minutes since I saw the last, and thankfully I had loaded the race route on my watch which reassured me that I was only a few meters off course and with a slight change of heading I passed a flag.
Two days prior I arrived in Tromso, Norway. It took nearly 24 hours of travel to arrive at this city that lies a couple hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. I had made this journey to compete in the first stop of the SkyRunning Extreme World Series. The Extreme series are the soul of Skyrunning. They are technical, aesthetic and very, very difficult. The race in Tromso is the brainchild of Kilian Jornet and Emilee Forsberg and I had no doubts that it would live up to expectations.
Back in the fog, I was not quite an hour into the first major climb of the race, working my way up Tromstaldinden. At the top of the climb, we were presented with the first section of technical running as we dropped off the summit towards the valley far below. It was far steeper than any decent I had raced on before and intermixed with the scree were vertical rock outcroppings that made route finding critical. The elevation that we had worked so hard to gain on the way to the summit very quickly evaporated. I was quickly reminded of the incredible ability that the European runners have to descend as I lost two or three positions. Much faster than I had predicted I found myself splashing through the mud of the new “trail” that had been created for the race a two years prior and working as hard as I could to gain back the lost time on the descent.
The valley floor and the aid station passed quickly and the ascent up the most technical section of the course began. The trees of the valley gave way to the rocky slopes of the alpine tundra of Hamperokken. Not long after I started the incredible 5 km ridge towards the summit. For those who have raced only in the US, would have a hard time imagining the course the Kilian and Emilee had prepared. As a matter of fact, I think that most runners in the US would describe this section course simply as mountaineering. The exposure was breathtaking, the route followed the most aesthetic line along the ridge and did not try to simplify the route, but rather stayed as true to the ridge as possible. I had some concern about how the ridge would feel for me, and thankfully the technical nature of the running took all of my attention leaving no room for fear.
The technical ridge was unrelating all the way until the route turned and soared into the sky for the final 100 meters to the summit. It was quite incredible to stand on a true summit in the middle of a race, and there was still a lot of race left! I had moved back up a couple of spots during along the technical ridge and was fired up to see fellow American, Tom Goth on the summit. Tom made quick work of the steep, loose descent down to the lake and was able to put about a 3 minute gap on me. We had several kilometers of rock hopping boulders before the route rejoined the trail and back through the valley back to the aid station.
We reversed the route back up Tromstaldinden, which seemed even steeper going up than it had on the descent. There were several times that I was able to see that I had a several minute gap on the runner behind me and that I was slowly closing the gap on Tom. At the top we joined the route being followed by the shorted Skyrace and there was a lot of traffic for the technical, loose descent back towards Tromso. Now, several hours had passed and the fatigue of the effort was really setting in. I felt a strong pull towards the finish and was able to move up three spots during the descent. The race finished the way that it began, with four kilometers of road from where the trail entered town, over the bridge that led to Tromso proper and along the fjord to the finish line. It seemed surreal to be running on the paved ocean front after running such demanding technical terrain, but also also seemed quite fitting to be finishing in the sea after starting there several hours before.
Over my career as a mountain runner I have had the opportunity to race all over the world, in many different mountain ranges and I have never ran in such a technical race. It was so incredible to race a course that would be the type of terrain I would choose to run in during my favorite outings in the mountain. The setting of the Sea and the Sky, with a backdrop of incredible mountains made for one of the most memorable racing experiences to date.
It might be interesting to note that I chose to race in the Akasha. It is the perfect shoe for running long in rocky, technical terrain that demands good traction on rock, mud, and grass. It drained quickly after the river crossings, and protected my feet just enough to keep the pace high and aggressive. I also brought along the Helios SR.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Luke Nelson is a member of the La Sportiva Mountain Running Team.
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