Well, better late than never. As with all extreme races technical issues with the internet presented themselves almost immediately! Everyone made it to camp, even our Stephanie Case, first having to change her flight due to a storm cancelation, then having her baggage lost between Stockholm and Lulea! All the same she is here as are all the others!
Warm? Tell that to these guys! Happily all over the finish line, but not without some struggles today. The air temp was only -4°C but driving snow and wind made it feel more like -15°C out there, especially on the open lakes. Couple that with waist deep snow, the odd surface melt sending freezing slush over your shoes and you start to get the picture. Many of the athletes wondered if the snow shoes were for show or for real – around 500m metres in they found out, soft snow, undulating terrain and fresh snowfall to boot, brilliant. Everyone’s hell today was the 10km dry lake bed. Mainly because it was anything but dry! Most of the athletes and even some of us organisers managed to break through an extremely soft area of snow where the water was creeping back through. We’re high up in the Arctic now, staying in awesome cabins without electricity, log burners to keep us all warm and not a few stories to be told – we can actually say that everyone here has found this stage 1 so tough, but all found the nature and sheer size of the challenge something truly special and this is only stage 1 remember! Tomorrow’s stage – The Snow, is going to be diverted around Snow Mountain rather than over it due to the severe white-out conditions we’re facing even and sea level, let alone 3800ft!
Image of the Day: Sally Ford, Matt Dunn & Kenny Paterson making their way across the dry lake.
Well this stage lived up to its name in ways none of us wanted. The day started with a total whiteout over our base camp, which was a shame as it overlooked Sarek which is a sight pulled straight out of Lord of the Rings! It seems the adverse weather and floods in the UK, have manifested themselves as incredibly mild temperatures and huge amounts of snow here in above the Arctic Circle. Over a metre fell on parts of the course with our base camp seeing a good few feet. Even with the already diverted route going around the mountain we had many challenges making sure the route was safe, indeed we needed to build an entirely new route again for this stage due to the massive snowfall. The original diversion finding a huge snow cavern that the athletes could have stumbled over. With the new route set we were finally ready for the off at 12:50, no small achievement and all the runners enjoying the adventure and all amazed by the new route we’ve managed to set within a 3 hour period. The new route set off across a large lake, the runners having to stick to our trails or they would find themselves neck deep in snow! The route then took a path in to the forest where the nature and beauty of the backdrop were not lost on each of the athletes, frozen waterfalls, running springs and snow covered trees led the way for the next 20km, still tough under foot with the fresh snowfall. After CP2 the look changed dramatically – most noting that it looked especially Russian or James Bond like as they passed the huge Hydro-Electric plant and the dam – holding nothing back except Ice at this point of course! Ed came in first again today, with Xavi still in touching distance 2nd. There’s a large group coming in from 3rd all the way back to 12th in a relatively short amount of time, Camilla Gry-Elmann bringing up the rear in her Grand Slam attempt. Mark Purdy has been pulled from the race on medical grounds, his muscle injuries deemed far too serious to carry on. How Mark finished stage 2 with the injuries he had it pretty amazing stuff – we’re sure we’ll see Mark again on another race soon.
Image of the Day: This one just about sums up the weather we’ve had these past few days!
First thing we need to mention is competitor Maik Stugk, staggered in to CP1 and collapsed. Our medic worked wonders with Maik, keeping him warm and checking vitals whilst waiting for the chopper to arrive. Maik was then airlifted to the nearby hospital for treatment for suspect Hypothermia. Well – they must make them tough in Austria as he was then back out and in Jokkmokk that very same evening! I think this is partly due to Maik’s fitness, but also due to our medics amazing work at CP1. Maik even contacted us to ask if he could come back out to the race, unfortunately we could not allow this on medical grounds, but the thought was obviously there.
The Lakes is an awesome stage! Designed by Wes to test the mind and spirit of the athletes as they cross the featureless Lakes, all 20k of them. As you start the lakes, all that lay ahead of you is km upon km of flat white ice covered in snow. It would be a truly daunting prospect at any time in the race but when you have the long one tomorrow – the Sami, and we’ve thrown in the Red Jersey competition to boot it’s more than that, it’s an adventure in to the unknown! It was so interesting to chat with the runners afterwards and find that there was a polarised opinion on the section, some saying they were great fun and that they loved the fact they felt they could handle the challenge, whilst others said they were just horrific! The red Jersey Stage spanned from CP2 through 3 and 4 and the end, all in all a huge 20km lake of pain! The first section of the stage was really cool with awesome single track routes undulating through a forest, there were so many twists and turns in this section, it was just awesome! Ed Catmur (Super ed to us) came in first again, maintaining an 8kmph average throughout, even with snow shoes and CP stops. But a special mention today for the middle of the pack and back of the pack athletes, after a very tough 1st day Dave Garner and Mark Golton are really going from strength to strength, you can almost see them realising they have what it takes, a joy for all of us to see. Matt Dunn completed most of this stage with extreme pain in his Achilles, imagine – he has just complete 2 stages of this race, he gets injured and still works through the pain barrier to complete the already mentally challenging lakes section – amazing! Then we have the ladies – Stephanie – looking really good at the front, managing herself extremely well, then there’s Sally – Sally looks completely unflustered by any challenge. Seriously, if we said there was a 100km stage instead of a 40km stage tomorrow, everyone would have something to say, except Sally, we’re sure she would just “okay” and nail it! Belinda completes every day with a smile, seriously – this is how you race, a smile and a spring in your step. Then last but not least we have Camilla – going for her Grand Slam is wasn’t lost on us that she was not in her usual mind-set. Camilla has attacked each of our previous 3 races as if winning was as certain as night follows day, but for some reason (it may have been her knee injury) her confidence was not as high. Yet she still pushed on, sometimes with a smile, sometimes in tears – but always with that famous Danish Viking mentality. Camilla came in last today at 20:30 completing the day on a high. Cabins again today on a remote island at the centre of a huge frozen lake. Tomorrow it’s the big one – the tension in camp is building.
The Red Jersey Stage will be announced with the overall race times at the award ceremony and announced on our Facebook page afterwards.
It was much colder today, a positively barmy -4 or -5°C on each of the other days, this morning it was more like -10°C. A different prospect now lay ahead, how would the course and the competitors react to this sudden change? Well for a start we had to remove a lake from the end of the rave and route back up towards the Arctic Circle to find our end point of Jokkmokk. The lake we had designed out of the course strangely (considering the colder weather) because it developed a large hole in the middle with 2.6ft of water. The hole was large enough and unstable enough for us to cut it from the stage, thus shortening the finish to 80km. The loss of 10km far outweighing the chance of hypothermia should runners miss the course and plunge straight in.
We had a staggered start today, to try and close the field between the first and last runner. At the moment we have a space of exactly double (Ed does the stage in 5 hours, the last runner will do it in 10). This would be dangerous to continue allowing on the long stage, Ed is expected to complete in around 11 hours, where the last runner will push through 22 hours, maybe even more. The front runners would be set off at 9:00am, a middle group set off at 7:30 and the less speedy pack heading out at 6:00am, this gave us a 3 hour advantage over a full start.
The first athletes left in full darkness, their head torches the only thing betraying their location on yet another expanse of frozen lake. The second pack set off at 7:30am, fast running in to trouble when they deviated from the route within 2k of the start. After realising they had missed a turning somewhere they hit the SOS button on their trackers to dispatch our team. We headed straight for their location and got the group back on track, everyone was fine – even though Matt Dunn’s tacker continued to send us emails all day with a depressed button. We believe there was a fault with this button which we will of course fix before the jungle gets underway. We had a second incident where a group of 3 runners deviated later in the day, one of them sending out an SOS, but we had in-fact already spotted the error through the tracking interface and dispatched Brett Rocos our chief medical advisor who was nearby. Brett quickly found them and got them back on track – Dave, Mark and Nick all adding around 5k to their total, making them the recipient of our “230 just isn’t enough award”. Well done guys!
Ed continued with his awesome pace of 8kmph, in snow shoes for this long stage – for someone that has never used them before this is truly remarkable, he is a special athlete. Not far behind Ed is Ignacio Prat & Xavi Marina, both fighting over 2nd place, not far behind is Tony Andrades & Christian Norfelt. Watching the tracking you can see them change places over the course of the day as each one felt the energy to kick on. Considering the pace of this type of event, it was riveting to watch as the race unfolded live before our eyes, we’re sure friends, family and other runners back home found the same.
The course was designed to give the athletes a taste of each of the varying types of terrain they have seen during the first 3 stages – lakes, forests and more undulating trails. The latter sneakily coming in to play towards the end, with a very steep climb up a snowy hill, mean but hey, this is a BTU event, #NothingTougher.
The finish was great, the runners winding their way one of Jokkmokk’s cross country skiing track before emerging on the main street running through the town. The track was lit with candle along the path all the way home to the finish line. This race more than all the others has been a huge achievement for all concerned. The medics have had to operate on little sleep in freezing conditions whilst trying to maintain morale among the athletes. The course staff, working almost 20 hours every day on snowmobiles and behind schedule due to the snow storms on stage 2. A big thank you to all those that have helped make this event yet another must do race in our series.
Results will be posted soon.