Monday, 25 August 2014

Vasastafetten 2014

If I could summarize an entire weekend in a sentence to spare you the trouble of reading a long race report I would. But I can't.

You see, there is so much to write about that I don't know where to start. The 11-hour long car trip from Skellefteå to Mora that could have been boring but wasn't. The atmosphere at the legendary Vasaloppet finish line. The struggle to keep going when I ran my part of the race. The Saturday night laugh-till-you-drop hi-jinx. The bittersweet aftertaste of coming home at the end of an amazing weekend.

So be warned. This is a long read.

Vasastafetten is a relay race from Sälen to Mora, on a 90 km long track that is better known for the Vasaloppet cross-country ski race. Skellefteå AIK running club entered the race this year with 3 teams – two all-female teams and one all-male one. Each team consists of 10 runners that have to run different parts of the course, on varying terrain. Some run on forest roads, others on single track, and some have to even cross bogs.

Our three teams drove down in four mini-buses. Spirits were high despite the fact that we set off just after 6 in the morning. There was never a dull moment in our bus. We somehow ended up competing with the all-male team bus about who would reach Mora first. Unfortunately the passengers in that bus made use of very questionable and decidedly unsportsmanlike methods to make sure they won. For example, they removed the hub-cap from one of our wheels. If they hadn't done that, I am sure we would have gotten to Mora first.

Once there and settled in our three-bed rooms, we headed out to get some dinner at the Vasaloppet party tent by the finish line. I had arranged to meet up with an old running buddy from Gothenburg there, who was to run the ultra version of the race. That is, while we others ran like we were being chased by a rabid Tyrannosaurus with a chainsaw in its hands (paws?) for a relatively short time, the ultra runners would be making their way along the same track but most of them at a more leisurely pace and for a most likely much longer time. Say, 15 hours or so (like some of the rear-of-the-packers I saw walking resolutely towards the finish line at 8 in the evening, hours after our team had crossed it).

It was strange to meet up with a friend from my Gothenburg days, especially in the company of my new, Skellefteå friends. Gothenburg is a city that I still love, and I have many great memories from the 8 years we lived there. Seeing my friend (and a couple of other dear Gothenburg friends who came to visit earlier this summer) brought back a lot of these memories and triggered an almost overwhelming longing to visit my old stomping grounds. At the same time, I was among amazing, funny, kind people, all of whom I've met the last couple of years in my new home. I felt lucky to have these people around me. Still, a trip to Gothenburg has been long overdue.

Later that evening, the three teams gathered in a meeting room by the hotel reception to talk logistics. My brain was mush by that point, overloaded by faces, places and information. Very little new information found its way in. I turned in not long after, completely certain that, exhausted as I was, I would fall asleep immediately. Instead, I lay awake for what felt like hours. I slept in intervals and woke up early, more tired than the night before.

After a prolonged breakfast, we got ready and made our way to our buses. Each person was dropped off at their station. I waited with the two other SAIK runners who would be running our 4,7 km part of the race from Läde to Eldris at a place that seemed to have jumped out of the pages of a story book. Log houses, flowers, green fields and spruce forests covered partly by brush strokes of mist were steadily getting hit first by a light drizzle and then by pouring rain. We stood there in our rain coats and trousers as ultra runners, among others my old friend, jogged past us. It would be our turn to run soon.


In my mind I was like a tight spring, full of pent-up energy. I had doubts as to my ability to reach my goal of 21 minutes. I had missed way too much training because of my runner's knee. My body, on the other hand, was quite relaxed. I was too tired to be wound-up.

Still, when my teammate showed up and handed me the chip, my tiredness melted away. I felt confident and took off in long, powerful strides up the first upward slope. A long downward slope followed, and I let gravity carry me at a speed far greater than I was used to. By the time I had run 2 km, I was struggling.

I was a diver running out of breath, swimming up to the surface only to find it blocked by ice. An astronaut on the surface of the moon with an empty tank. I tried to breathe and send oxygen to my muscles, but none existed. I slowed down but it didn't seem to help. I felt bad. So bad that I considered slowing down even further to a walk, but I was too stubborn for my own good and went on. I tried not to slip on the mud that covered the forest road I ran on, and to avoid as many of the meter-wide water puddles that stretched across my path. Rain drops forced themselves under my contact lenses and blurred my vision, but I could still see I was running past others. I was running past ultra-runners at least. And boy did I envy their leisurely pace.

At last. The finish line was in sight, my teammate was waiting for me to send the chip over the table separating her section of the course from mine and the rain had let up a little. I wished my teammate luck almost breathlessly and leaned over the fence to catch my breath. Then it was time to get to the minibus that was waiting for me at the parking lot as soon as possible. The ones of us who had already run would try to make it to the finish line in time to run past it together with the last teammate.

In our fathers' footsteps for future victories

To run under the legendary sign at the finish line in Mora was humbling, awe-inspiring. We entered the track as our teammate ran past and ran with her the last hundred meters or so, cheering her on as she finished strong. Our team efforts had granted us a seventh place out of 53 all-female teams. I later found out that I had run the second best time on my part of the course. My near-death experience had not been for nothing.

Of course we were not the only ones with a great result. The all-male team ended up in 11th place among over a hundred teams, and the other all-female team got themselves the 21st spot. No other running club had managed to put together more than two teams, but we had: three amazing teams. I am so proud to call each and every one of these people my club mates.

Needless to say, celebrations were in order. We started off by eating at the hotel restaurant, which served a luxurious buffet, and then we went for drinks at a pub in town.

If you think that the sorest muscles in my body on Sunday morning were my leg muscles, you are wrong. My stomach muscles were the ones that hurt the most. It must have been from all the laughing on Saturday night. Unfortunately they did not get to rest. The long trip back home awaited us, a tired bunch of runners and friends, already looking forward to next year's race.

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