Our tag line for Ultra Interval Challenge is "leave your comfort zone". And this time we certainly left our comfort zone... To run 8 x 10k during 24 hours is a tough enough challenge in itself, but we’ve done it before (12 times actually!) and we know it’s doable. So this time we decided to add a mountain. We went to Åre for a lot of ascent, descent and the most beautiful, majestic environment. But this addition also added new layers of logistic problems. As if climbing a mountain every third hour wasn’t enough? We obviously went out of our comfort zone. And that's where the magic happens. Go outside of what you know and you may grow and learn things.
These are our lessons learned
1. Know where you're going
When you’re supposed to drive from Stockholm to Åre, It’s not such a good idea to take the route through Sollefteå. This little detour made for an extra 5 hours or so of driving time. So even though we managed to leave Stockolm at 7 AM, we didn’t arrive in Åre until 14 hours later. Isn’t these modern times full of GPS devices, cruise control, electronic maps and automated car navigation systems, one might ask? That's true, but in order for them to work you have to use them. Lesson learned.
2. Ask for advice
Finding a good camping spot, when you’re just a tiny bit behind schedule, is a lot easier when you ask someone who’s familiar with your destination area.
3. Don't overdo things
Make sure not to pack more things than you can fit in one Ultimate Direction Fastpack. Hiking may be tricky when you can't see where to put your feet. Bonus lesson: going hiking in tight jeans is not that comfortable.
4. Stay connected
It’s a very good idea to make sure you have internet connection, fully charged batteries on all electronic devices, and actually remember to bring your extra power banks from the car, when you’re planning on running a large 24-hour social-media event.
5. Know your limits
And on that note — staying true to the event’s core idea of running 10k every third hour, is very difficult when you’re running through swamps and trying to climb as many hills as possible — all at the same time. Getting summit fever is also not such a good idea when you’re supposed to start your next interval shortly, and you're in desperate need of some rest.
6. Stick to routine
It’s very difficult to keep your tent area tidy, when running ultra intervals. And try not to sleep in. It’s much easier to go running when you’re supposed to, than an hour and a half later.
7. In moments of doubt, double check which season you're in
We did also get confirmation on something we’ve suspected for a long time — the routes marked with a red cross means it’s a winter route, not necessarily suitable for running in summer, as it may lead you straight through a small lake and very muddy areas. Wet shoes work well to run in, but dry socks is always a very nice thing.
8. Stay inside the tent
In the north of Sweden, you’ll suddenly find yourself in close combat with millions of mosquitos, gnats and carnivorous flies (or was it monsters?).
9. Take the easy way out
Food-wise, the best advice is to bring proper camping food. Forestia is a new brand which is like food from a restaurant — only in a tin (or well, a plastic sort of tin). It worked like a charm for us. You can eat it cold, you don't have to add any water, but when you have access to both water and cooking possibilities you can make it taste like heaven, if you let the bag soak in hot water for a couple of minutes. Since we made the mistake of trying to bring water up to the tent in a reservoir without closing it up first, we were quite happy we didn’t need that much water to cook our food.
10. Know your gear
And by the way — MSR’s Reactor Stove System works like magic and boils water in seconds, but is not at all suitable for cooking anything but water (I know, we were warned, but you can’t blame a girl for trying, eh?). You’ll burn everything you try to fry in that pot. And if you’re lucky you just burn your food and manage to stay clear of setting the whole mountain on fire. It makes bloody fine coffee, though!
11. Mountain water is not that cold
Taking a bath in a mountain stream is actually very nice!
12. Run steep
We learned that it’s possible to finish the Peak Performance Vertikal K (1000 meters of ascent) in 1 hour and 15 minutes, after having already completed 4 intervals (and around 1700 m +).
13. Bring energy
ClifBar’s Bloks saves the day. Always.
14. Check the weather forecast
Major lesson learned: the mountain weather changes faster than you can imagine. You’re not very clever if you try going up to Åreskutan’s peak in a heavy thunderstorm. Even the cableway stops then, so you’ll have to wait for the worst weather to pass in order to go down the mountain again. And the idea of a loooong downhill run (1000 meters of decline), did suddenly seem like a very bad idea with heavy rain, thunder and lightning going on.
15. Coffee makes you happy
Åre’s Kafferosteri makes the best coffee in Sweden! Worth going to Åre only for this.
16. Get yourself a good breakfast
Oatmeal with homemade cloudberry jam tastes wonderful the morning after an Ultra Interval Challenge event. Especially when you’re invited into a real home for breakfast and a well needed shower! Thank you Björn and Anna-Lena!
17. Do one thing at the time and do it well
Biggest lesson learned: the combination of running a huge 24-hour social-media event, while camping in the wilderness (well, it is the wilderness to us!), trying to run 10k intervals every third hour, while at the same time trying to socialize with new people — is clearly too much to handle. Next time, we’ll try not to do everything at once 😃
Leave your comfort zone — you might learn something!
/Ellen & Johnny