Stage Four. The long one. We call the stage Sami as the route winds through a number of the small Sami villages dotted around this area, but people refer to it simply as the long one. After 3 days of windswept mountains, crippling windchill, endless ice lakes, and sleepless nights, we put the runners through the biggest test of the race, another 64km of lake crossings and snow-filled pine forests.
The runners had passed the night on Laxholmen in small 3 and 4 bed cabins, heated by wood-burning stoves. Some group made sure to wake up periodically to add more fuel to their fires. Others woke up under a layer of frost and a shivery night.
For Chris Jenkins, the day started earlier than for most. Chris has been back-marker throughout the event. Stoic and determined, what he lacks in pace he makes up for in determination and we wanted to give him the best chance possible of reaching the cut-off today and so we gave him a 1 hour head start, setting him off on the lakes alone at 0530. The other runners left the tiny island of Laxholmen at 0630.
The winds that had tormented the runners in the first couple of days had dropped away altogether, but in its place came heavy snow. Setting off in darkness with their headtorches as the only light, the snow is a glittering mass of white noise in front of them bringing visibility down to next to nothing.
The soft snow meant most runners passed almost the entire day on snowshoes. They’re like marmite. At this stage some runners really like theirs, seeing the obvious benefits of spreading their weight across the surface of the snow. However, others have brought heavy snow shoes that weight them down, and others still have discovered too late that they cause hot spots on their feet in unexpected places and curse every step they take in them. And there were a lot of steps to take today.
Yesterday’s stage winner Gareth Jandrell led the way again for around an hour and a half early on in the stage but unfortunately developed a niggling injury which slowed his pace down allowing Julen Urdaibai and then a steady procession of other runners to overtake him.
Julen took the lead alongside Manuele Galanti, both of whom immediately began opening up a lead on the chasing pack, including current race leader Lukasz Urbaniak. The stage began with Lukasz and hour and 19 minutes ahead of Julen and with every step Julen ate into that time.
Further down the course, there was a different race unfolding as the runners pushed to beat the Short Course Cut Off at CP5. Race Director Kris King imposed a cut-off at 7pm where the slower runners would be recovered by our team. These runners may be off the leaderboard but they will still receive a medal. They spend a similar amount of time on the course and have worked no less hard than the others. Today those runners were Jacqui Burke, Robert Rodriguez and Chris Jenkins, who was cut-off somewhat earlier on the course but has earned his race-bling 10 times over during the last few days.
We had a visitor today on the route, as Nicklas Svensson came out to see the runners. Nicklas lives in Jokkmokk and is one of only 2 local people to have taken on this challenge. He is now an avid follower of the event and skied out onto the course with his dogs to give out encouragement.
The northern lights visited again too. We’ve never seen them so regularly and so vividly during an Ice Ultra race. They’ve been spotted every single night, filling the sky with dancing green glow. A welcome break for our runners as they trudge along the endless lakes in darkness.
Sheila Sanei was the first woman across the line again. The race win is surely in the bag now for this experienced and resilient ultra-runner. 2nd and 3rd were, once again, Wendy Dale and Alison Little who covered every step of the way together again. Today they swept Charlie Marlow-Thomas and Andy Sampson along with them and the 4 formed a train, proving the power of the pack as they spurred each other on over a very long day.
The last runners to reach the finish line having covered the full course were Matthew Kroehler and David Guetz. They spent 18 hours out on the ice in almost constant motion. The frontrunners may get the podium places but the achievements of those who take the longest time to reach the line are no less significant. it takes superhuman determination to push yourself so hard for so long.
Now to the front runners. Julen Urdaibai came in first, eventually managing to shake off Manuele and reach the finish 15 minutes before him. Then came a tense wait. How long would it take Lukasz to get to the end? How much of his 1:19 cushion would be left by the end of the day.
We got our answer 1 hour and 13 minutes later. Lukasz took 3rd place and maintains his grip on the overall lead. That lead, going into the final 15km stage with a lead of just 6 minutes.
It’s on. Stage Five is called The Sprint, and it’s about to live up to it’s name.
Stage Four Times
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