Golden Trail Championships on the Azores
In the back of my head I’ve had a plan to take a firm step towards trailrunning. Every year since 2011 there has been a couple of international races in sky- or trailrunning on my schedule, but I never trained for it wholeheartedly. This spring when the shit from a remote village in China hit the fan I was still training towards the World Orienteering Championships with sprint medals on the table… but as races got cancelled my runs kept on getting longer.
With everything bad, there’s always something good to be found. As I kept on running in the woods in Raseborg during our 10 week cabin lockdown I started gearing up for longer and more laborious quests. After spending the summer working in Åre I had the chance to run more and more vertical and more soft trails than ever before. After years of focus on orienteering where you’re constantly interpreting the map and evaluating route choices while running, now just letting the legs take you anywhere while the brain is at ease was liberating
My training in the mountains paid off at the Spartan Trail World Championships race in August where I claimed silver and have kept on running well throughout the summer. There’s been only a few chances to race this unordinary year but my body has cooperated really well and I’ve performed well even in the orienteering races I’ve done despite minimal technical training. I earned my spot to the Golden Trail Championships through recording the fastest time during a solo run on the Nuuksio Classic Trail Marathon course in early September. I had looked forward to the Mountain Running World Championships in Lanzarote in November, but since it got cancelled the stage race on the Azores became the highlight of my season.
Got in a weeklong mountain training camp in Vålådalen, but otherwise my preparations where not optimal due to some small nagging injuries. I figured it might turn out good to rest more than planned and arrive rested to the Azores.
Golden Trail Championships
3,4km | 210m+/- | 21st
A loop on the outskirts of Horta which only goal was to be in the top 50 who got to start in the first wave on Day 1. Ran fast but at a comfortable pace easing in wherever the trail was technical. As competitive as I am I couldn’t resist speeding up on the Sprint segment on the beach.
23km | 1300m+/- 2h08min | 21st
From sealevel to 900m in the first 7km. Route started on gravel roads but turned softer and softer until the markings turned into the woods. I was montitoring my heart rate closely in order not to spend to much gas in the first day of four. The last climb kilometer (pace 11:34) was scrambling up a trace in a muddy native forest. That favoured me, but it is unbelieveable that a race could be run on such a surface! After a kilometer on a the caldeira rim the course dropped down to sea level through muddy meadows within the next 5km. The Atlantic surge gave a nice backdrop to the sparsely marked trail on the lava rocks.
A meandering 5km stretch of trail in the beach bush was quite technical with all it’s small ups and downs and I was all the way contemplating between pushing harder and saving energy for the coming days of racing. Ran the last 7km with Antonio Martinez Perez and Pascal Egli which I both knew from before and felt comfortable in the pack. Satisfied with a 21st place finish – looking forward towards the rest of the week.
Kudos to orienteers Fredric Tranchand & Tove Alexandersson who took stage wins among the best trailrunners in the world!
24km | 1400m+/- 2h08min | 26th
A fun day on the cloud covered trails which had a similar profile as Day 1. The surface varied a lot again and we got to see the different faces of the Faial island. My quads started to feel the fast paved downhills, where I opted to let some runners pass in favor of saving my legs.
Every day at the Golden Trail Championships included a Sprint, an Uphill and a Downhill segment within the stage. Gave the Sprint segment at the end of Day 2 a go, but was 40 seconds short of the 500€ winning prize. Some of the contenders actually decided to aim at just one or two of the segments per day and just complete the rest of the stage in order to be eligible for the prize. Interesting race tactics, but I was eying the cash prizes which were offered to the top 10 in the total standings.
30km | 1750m+ | 2h57min | 27th
The original route from sealevel to the highest peak of Portugal, Mount Pico (2351m), had to be altered due to high wind speeds. This change meant we were going to cover some more downhill meters along the new loop route.
Used my strengths and ran in the top 10 through the technical coastal woods at the start of the stage. When the 1000m+ climb started things changed… Once back at the top of the island I was back in 26th place and feeling the kilometers in my legs. On the way back to the starting point at Vulcão dos Capelinhos we climbed a series of small caldeiras hoping each one to be the last one.
“Got around the exchanging course in a good manner, but must admit I’m not anymore looking forward to the downhills, nor the uphills”
34km | 1900m+/- | 3h35min | 44th
When the quads & hamstrings are empty from the start it’s impossible to turn it into anything good on the trails. Started conservatively into the uphill and could feel it was going to be a tough day. Was still smiling the first time I met my cheering family along a forest trail, but runner’s were passing me in both up- and downhills. Suffered big time from 5 to 20km while going up & down some 1500m of altitude. The option of stepping to the side crossed my mind several times as my quads and hamstrings were aching. This would have meant waiting around in the rain and wind since there weren’t any aid stations on the most exposed section. What a fantastic chance to learn how to deal with negative thoughts during a race!
Almost every runner passing me cheered on me or asked me if I was OK – something I have never experienced during a street marathon. Trailrunners care of each others in a different way, possibly as the races often traverse wast areas without other humans.
We faced a jungle section at 28km into the stage where progressing became more like an obstacle race than running. When catching a swearing portugese runner in the jungle I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry. Anyhow, my legs felt reasonable again and got to cheer on the women’s third place finisher in the last kilometers and finished with a smile on my face.
Covering 4 days of 115km trailrunning with 6400m+/- (9700m+/- according to the organizers) is probably the toughest athletic achievent I’ve accomplished, so far. In the overall rankings I plummeted to 32nd after the last day’s disaster
I think we the Golden Trail Championships would fit perfectly in some deep forests and along beautiful lake shores in Finland. There there’s no need to climb up on a mountain every day!
Feeling grateful that we get the opportunity to race during these odd times. Care was taken to protect us runner’s and those around us on the Azores. I got tested negative for Covid-19 before the flight and on my 6th day on the island. Thanks Azores Trailrun & Golden Trail Series for putting on an awesome event!
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