This was supposed to be my easy, long run; the Seventh Seal at Kullamannen, here in Sweden. I’m afraid it’s not going to be. I’m afraid it’s going to be long and painful. See, I’ve been sick the last 2 weeks. The weeks I should have done my long runs. So today is going to be a challenge.
Bad race preparation or not, I am here at the start of my fifth ultra of this year, watching Kullamannen on his horse, riding restlessly up and down, before us. Listening to the speaker, who ensures us that a lot of us will not see the finish line today. The UTMB Kullamannen doesn’t have the nickname the University of Suffering for nothing.
At least, that’s what the organisation wants us to believe. To be fair, the Seventh Seal doesn’t look that crazy at all. Today I have to climb 834 metres and run 57 kilometers. 834 metres of altitude isn’t that much. I conquered 3.723 metres when I ran the Dolomiti Extreme Trail. But let’s wait and see. Maybe there’s a surprise awaiting, somewhere around the corner, or in the dark.
Kullamannen still wanders around
Maybe Kullamannen himself. Who he is, nobody knows. Some think he’s the Norwegian king Olaf Tryggvason who jumped overboard and disappeared in the waves at the battle of Svolder in the month of September in the year 999, when his army was outnumbered and defeated by Olof Skötkonung, also known as Olaf the Swede, the king of Sweden. Others believe Kullamannen was a knight, who had his heart broken and who fled to one of the most isolated spots in the world; the Kullaberg.
Whoever he was, the locals believe Kullamannen still roams around, helping those in need, fighting those who do Mother Nature and her mountains wrong. Today I hope to be part of either group, but it’s good to know that if needed Kullamannen will give me a hand.
My plan before the start is conservative. I give myself 8 hours to finish this race, which means 8 minutes and 22 seconds per kilometre. But as soon as we’re off, I feel good, strong, and I allow myself to run kilometres of 6.30 to 6.45. I keep that pace, running through the forest and fields, past sheep and through and over little countryside gates and fences until I hit the beach at Ängelsbäcksstrand.
With the wind in my side, my legs cold, the path uncomfortable with little rocks and lots of mud, and the smell of sulphur of the dried seaweed in my nose, my pace becomes uneven and falls every now and then back to 7.30 and even 8 minutes per kilometre.
However, I’m not the only one whose legs are becoming heavy, because I’m overtaking more than 60 runners between the first refreshment post at 19 kilometres and the second at 37. Partly, because I’m only filling up my soft flask with water. The long runs I’ve done, I did on Voom energy bars, Maurten gels, dates, home-made polenta and apfelstrudel. Today I’ve got the first two with me and I’m sticking with it.
At least, I’m trying to, because after five and a half hours of running I’m letting my nutrition plan loose. I understand my need for sugar, but I still struggle with all the sweetness, so I eat less than I have to.
I don’t know if it’s that, or the lack of long runs in the last couple of weeks, but after 35 kilometres when we have to do a bit of climbing again, I take a walking break. Twelve kilometres later, when we leave the coast behind us, I make most of the last light and try to run again.
Around me most people are walking and I move another 32 places up, only to lose 9 places again in the last 6 kilometres. By then I’m in my pain cave. My thighs hurt, my knees hurt, my shoulders hurt and my right achilles tendon hurts, because of the long asphalt stretches in this trail. But to be fair, I’m also done with the race. It’s dark, it’s cold and the 35 kilometres along the beach were a little too much the same for my taste.
On top of it all, I’ve done 51 kilometres by now. The finish is one street away from me on my right. I can be there in 5 minutes. Be in the arms of Sara, my wife. Be done. Why then do I have to do another loop of 6 kilometres? Is this the suffering the organisers promised? Because for me, at this moment, it just feels stupid. I don’t see more than the few square centimetres my head torch is lighting up. Running here is useless.
Maybe my legs can still do it, but my mind can’t. Every time I push myself to run, I stop a couple of hundred metres later and walk. I keep telling myself: ‘Okay, just run the last five non stop to the finish’, but 5 becomes 4. Four becomes three and at the end I only run the last 2. Just to get it over with, just to be back at Sara.
The difference between light and dark
The next morning, after sleeping in, I drag my tired legs out of bed to give them a little shake. Together with Sara we walk back to the beach in Bastad and follow the path I sulked so much on the night before. By daylight it looks nice. Or to be fair, to part in the forest, by the Stensan river looks actually pretty beautiful.
The fast runners, like Stian Dahl Sommerseth who won in 3 and 51 minutes and Yngvild Kaspersen, who won the women’s race in 3.59, will probably have enjoyed it. But that’s just not me. I’m a back of the pack racer. Although with my 270th place (26 in my age category) I do leave 191 runners behind me, plus the 24 who didn’t make it to the finish line. So all in all, not a bad race, just a cranky finish.