Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Fyr til Fyr

Tuesday, April 08, 2014
It was finally time for the main goal for my 2014 season: "fyr til fyr" (lighthouse to lighthouse) race on Bornholm. A 60k trail race following the coast line halfway around the island. The race is divided into sections on sand (beach), single trail, rocky paths and also a few asphalt sections where the rocks make it impossible to follow the coastline.

I first heard of the race one year back (which was the first time it was organized) and I immediately signed up for this years edition without hesitation. Whenever I spoke to people about it they would look at me as if I was crazy, because who would want to run 60k on rocky trails... However it just seemed perfect to me so I just kept running and training.

Finally the race weekend arrived and I felt the usual race nerves gather in my body, but I could also feel my experience in racing was starting to pay off. I was excited but I was more at ease than usual, even though I would be entering unknown territory as I had never run longer than 4 hours and I was expecting this race to take between 7 and 8 hours.

The day before the race I tried to get plenty of water and get a solid lunch and a nice dinner consisting of tortilla wraps with chicken and salad. I finished the day with eating a cup of oatmeal just before going to bed.

On the actual race day the start was at 7 AM so I got up at 5 AM to quickly gulp down a bowl of oatmeal and some water before trying to get a bit more sleep. Of course I was too tense to sleep at that time but it was still nice to just lie and relax and visualize the race ahead of me. It felt strange that I was finally going to capitalize on my many hours of preparation over the last many months. However I still felt really good and confident that I was going to have a great race. My main goal was still just to finish and enjoy the experience.

As I could not sleep anymore I had my cup of coffee at around 5:30, and by this time my wife called me to wish me luck. She was at home with our 10 week old son so she was not able to be there with me unfortunately.

When I arrived at the start area at 6:30 I immediately noticed the great atmosphere which is so special to trail runs in comparison to "normal" asphalt races. The trail community is still a fairly small community and a lot of people know each other from other races and so on. I quickly found a few people to chat to and it was not long before I spotted the group I knew from the trail camp from last year and we slowly made it to the "start line". An interesting note about the race is it is from the southern lighthouse to the northern lighthouse, so the race actually starts with you touching the lighthouse and finishes when you touch the lighthouse at the other end of the island, a great symbolic way of highlighting that this is a race more focused on the experience than on the performance.

The Race
As the race got underway I tried to keep my pace steady and avoid going out too fast, however it is always difficult to keep your head cool in the start box.
The route started on the white sandy beaches of Dueodde and it was an amazing sight to see the sun hanging low over the water and the long row of runners on the beach. The sand was hard and compact making it easy to keep a good pace and get a great warm up before the more hilly and technically difficult sections of the course.

The route went straight past my fathers summerhouse, but it was still too early for any of them to be up and cheer. However I was enjoying the race so far running with a few of the people from the trail camp and having time for a nice chat. We left then each after around 8-10k and the rest would now be on a mix of trail and rocks with sections of asphalt thrown in the mix.

The route kept hugging the coastline and we saw some beautiful trails all the way up to the first aid station, which was in Svaneke after 20k. I had lost my trail buddies as they all had to stop for toilet breaks, perhaps due to the pizzas they had the evening before? Once  again a great reminder why you should try and limit the uncertainties before a race.

After a quick refuel of water I was on my way again, and I continued to keep a good steady pace and heart rate. My heart rate was around 3-5 beats higher than I had planned for though so there was a small portion of doubt as to whether I was being foolish and pushing it too hard in the beginning of the race, however everything felt perfect so I just kept at it.

I had tried the first 40k of the route before so I knew what was ahead of me when leaving the first aid station, however the section between 40-60k was unknown territory for me and it was supposed to be the most hilly section. So when leaving the second aid station in Gudhjem I was still feeling great. And even though I had run 40k I still felt more than ready for the challenge.

The Challenge
However, this would proof to be the most challenging section for me, partly because I started having pain in my right knee (due to not balancing the load evenly on the left and right leg when going up/down on the rocks) but mainly due to a drop in energy. I was running on my own with knee hurting and 15k to go. My heart rate dropped even though I was short of breath, which I was a bit alarmed by so I decided to use my emergency kit: A snickers.
I munched down the snickers while I kept walking and focused my thoughts on all the positive sides of the race: it was beautiful weather, the course was magnificent and I was having a great day so far. Further I "only" had 15k more to go.
It took about 5-10 minutes for the sugar from the snickers to hit the blood, and it had a great effect! I felt as if I had a second wind and I was able to keep a relatively good pace by combining walking/running sections in a ratio of about 100m walking. 300m running.

The kilometers was slowly but steadily ticking by and I felt as if I was back in control of my race. At around 50k I tried to calculate my finish time and I could see that almost regardless of how slow I went I should be able to go below 7 hours, which would be better than my expected finish time. So I kept alternating between running  and walking while keeping my mood up.

The Finish
When I (finally) reached Hammerknuden and I knew there would be less than 5k to go I felt a third wind get over me and I was able to push myself to doing longer running sections. And when I could see the great lighthouse I pushed for a nice finish. The last 250 meters or so was on a really steep hill side which forced me (and everyone else I suppose) to a slow crawl up the cliffs. I was almost at the top when I heard my family shouting my name cheering me the last bit. I was not sure if they would be there already as I was way ahead of my estimated time schedule so it felt really great hearing and seeing them. My father tried to run ahead of me on the last 100 meters towards the lighthouse, but he was unable to keep up with me. A pretty fun feeling considering I had just completed 60k and he actually goes out on a few weekly runs.

The Conclusion
After running 60k the rough cool surface of the lighthouse felt exhilarating as my hand touched the surface. I stumbled away from the lighthouse in an attempt to regain my breath after the tough climb and sprint to the finish and for a while my head just felt empty. I did not think of the accomplishment I had just done, I did not think of the pain in my chest or my stiff legs that was fighting to keep me upright. My mind just felt completely blank and at ease. For me, it is the purest and greatest feeling I have experienced in sports. After a few minutes as I regained my senses I knew this would not be my last ultra and that I had truly been bitten by the sport.

I ended up completing the race in 6h 28m which was way better than I had expected, and I believe I would have been able to shave off around 15 minutes if I had kept a better energy strategy. This was my key learning point from this race and something I will try and do better next time.

About the author

I am a 29 year old guy, who just loves running. I also love planning, order and goals. Which is why I am combining all of that into, The First Project..