Tromsø. A 70k citizen city that feels like a village. I head for the campsite and it’s obvious that Norway’s camp sites still don’t love tents. The tent area is, in fact, a forest which offers, with some imagination, some spots for small tents. Luckily, after the whole CCC adventure, little sleep in between and a night at the Stockholm airport, I’m dead tired and gone within minutes. When Paulo arrives the day after, the choice to move to one of the huts is a no-brainer though, especially given the dreading rain. We go collect our bibs and listen to the briefing.
The briefing is kind of funny. I’ve never heard the word “dangerous” this many times during a race briefing. This is compensated by promises of dry weather, so it’s all good. The part that got everyone cracked up is when Kilian calls the walk to the start, which is at an altitude of 421m (FYI: we’re at sea level. And the cable car doesn’t open until 10. And the race starts at 8…), can be “a nice warm up” and should take us no more than “10 to 20 minutes”. “Or 30 if you are slow”, he says in his charming English. Everyone laughs, realising we all just got called slow. We stick around for another while to chat and then head for pizza
The next morning we’ve already walked for 1.5k when we arrive at the bottom of the cable car. The path up goes directly underneath it, except for the last bit where it winds around, just so we don’t have to take a rope and helmet along. 25 minutes… we’re slow. We arrive with 10 minutes to spare for the start and the atmosphere is really nice and we talk with some other racers. With 25 nationalities around, “where are you from” becomes the standard ice breaker. We head out, count down from 10 and off we go.
Paulo started off in the front, but the first part is relatively flat and quite runnable and I’m having fun. I catch up and we joke around a bit, take some pictures, enjoy the incredible scenery and ask some people where they are from. Meanwhile, the climb to Tromsdalstinden is going just fine and we reach the top after about 1h40, well within the 3h limit. At the top, some girls encourage us in that typical Scandinavian way, not unlike Pocahontas in fact. I make the comparison with the sirens in the Odysseus, trying to lure us into crashing into the rocks. And then it’s time for the descent. And what a descent it is! It’s steep, foggy and after 2 minutes we’re lost. Nobody sees another ribbon until the Czech Hanna comes along. Thank God, if it weren’t for here we’d probably still be standing there, too stubborn to ask for directions. Men…
The descent is dangerous indeed, an alternation of people falling and people yelling “ROOOOOOCK” when they send another rock the size of a football tumbling down. When we arrive at a strip of icy snow, I let someone else go first. He takes a few careful steps, then smoothly switches to a horizontal position and slides down on all four. Paulo decides to go straight to that approach and everybody follows his example. This is so much fun! After that, the descent just continues, now through bushes and mud, slippery as hell and the best approach turns out to be not so different than the one on the ice.
Eventually, we reach the bottom and follow the trail to a more or less flat bit where I pick up some speed, Paulo tagging along. We reach the next supply post after about 3 hours. Next up: Hamperokken, which announces itself as a motherfucker, excuse my French. Well, more French words are uttered during the way up. Soon enough, things are getting too steep for me and I have to let Paulo go. I’m wishing I brought my poles. This climb is long, steep and technical. We run into Eirik Haugsnes, already on his way back, followed closely by Kilian, casually dancing his way down, meanwhile filming the whole thing with his Gopro in his hand. “Good running guys”, he shouts. I feel like a 70-year-old lost on a mountain, walker included.
I reach the ridge, where 3 women greet me and find it funny to point out the actual summit in a far-away distance and, well… high! Thanks, ladies! I push on. The ridge is cold and super windy and, for the first time in my life (and that includes a night in the French alps and some runs at -10°C), I put on gloves during a run. This part of the race is more like alpinism and the rocks are an assault on my hands. It feels like I’m not getting anywhere, but when I run into Paulo, he tells me it’s only 20 min to the top. Turns out he even exaggerated (much appreciated actually) and I reach the top about 15 min later. 1400m of altitude. A bit less because the last part is covered in ice and therefore off limits. I get a wristband as a proof I made it to the top and take some time to talk with the volunteers, who turn out to have headed out at 05 in the morning to be there in time for us. I thank them and head back down… and get lost.
Suddenly I’m about 50m down of the ridge while I should have been on top. I take the shortest way up and am rewarded by a sharp bolt of pain in my knee. Well that hurt! Descending becomes really painful now and I take my time. I reach the ladies at the beginning of the ridge, which is where the real descent starts and things become a lot more painful. I can hardly walk, let alone run. I reach the supply post with 20 minutes to spare to the 8h cutoff time. Paulo’s there too. His ankle is troubling him. I’m in doubt, but common sense tells me I’m better off calling it a day, so I quit and we wait for a ride back to the start.
Back at the start, the atmosphere is good and we quickly forget about our DNF. We eat some of Emilie’s cinnamon buns and Kilian’s chocolate chip cookies and have some tea (from a guy who looks a lot like the Yogi Tea man, which leads us to think this is a requirement to work for Yogi tea), occasionally running out every time Emilie storms inside shouting that a runner is about to come in. We stick around until the last runner comes in and basically have a lot of fun and there’s no way one could tell we were all strangers that morning. I have the best time.
Not finishing was strange and felt like a failure, but on hindsight I think it was the best decision. I’d seen the entire course (the last 10k was basically identical to the first 10, but in the other direction) and it would have been really heavy on the knee for sure. All in, I had an amazing time, met a lot of really nice people and the overall love for running that was present up there was nothing short of heartwarming. Oh, and for the record: contrary to during the chess olympiad, which took place just a couple weeks before the race in Tromsø, nobody died during the race! That’s a positive note to end with, right?