I should start by saying that this isn’t going to be a post about a dramatic, hard-fought finish. There will be no tears, no almost-giving-ups, no mid-race problem solving. I had the most amazing time running Hallands Ultra 50K, and the race went far beyond the very low expectations I had for myself. So if you’re looking for suspense, this might be the wrong race report for you. But if you want to read about what is possibly one of the best trail ultras in Sweden, look no further.
Earlier this year I drunkenly (no, really) signed up for an 89K race scheduled just two weeks after my first 50K ultra. I figured I wasn’t even going to try to finish, but just run until I felt I was done. Luckily, saner thoughts prevailed and I eventually had my entry into that race pushed to next year. Instead I signed up for Hallands Ultra 50K, a race in southern Sweden which from the pictures on the race website looked incredibly beautiful. Scheduled four weeks after my previous 50K, it seemed completely doable.
I took the train to Halmstad and found my way to the clubhouse of the local orienteering club that was organizing the race. The clubhouse was where the finish line would be, and where some of the runners from out of town would sleep the night before the race. We had full access to the kitchen, a TV room, showers and a sauna. There was even breakfast served the morning of the race. All for just 140 SEK! For an extra 50 SEK there were buses that took us from the clubhouse to the start line.
The goal was to take it easy and have fun. My shins had not stopped bothering me all spring, and with my first 50K just a month earlier I really wasn’t going for any spectacular results. I would have been happy with a solid sub 6. And that’s pretty much how I started the race, I stayed behind a group of people, made sure to run with light, easy steps so as not to disturb my shins too much.
The first 3 km were on a loop through a forest, after another couple km I reached the ocean. The course followed the coast for almost 15 km along beautiful trails and sometimes even went onto the beach. The first half of the race is almost completely flat and since my shins seemed to be in a good mood I sped up a little. I kept an average pace of about for the next 15 km until I reached the river that ran through the city. The race would follow the river for about 8 km before reaching the hilly and more technical part of the course.
I was running behind a group of guys for a while after the half marathon point. I had finished my small bottle of water thinking that I the next aid station would be coming up any minute. After a while when I started getting thirsty I got a bit worried, “I think it’s time for an aid station now!” I told the guy next to me. He didn’t seem to share my thirstiness, “there’s another 5K to the next one, did you miss the one in the city?” Uh oh… Apparently there had been an aid station right after a small bridge in the city, but there was a group of spectators standing right before the aid station so that I couldn’t see it. Crap.
Even though I was getting thirsty, I really couldn’t complain about anything. My legs were feeling fine, I was having the time of my life and I was thinking that I’ve never really felt this good in any race. At the half way point I even posted a selfie to Facebook saying “Halfway in 2:18! I’m having a BLAST and I feel like A MILLION DOLLARS!”
“Finally! Water! More water!” I had reached the third aid station and made sure to drink A LOT. I ate some banana and put a few pieces in my vest. The group of guys I had been following had reached the aid station before me, but we left at just about the same time. Replenished, I took off at a pretty good pace. I can’t be sure, but I don’t think anyone passed me from this point to the finish. But I passed a ton of people.
There were two climbs in the last 20 km where the runners could compete for a hill sprint prize. I figured since I was feeling so good, I might as well give the first one a shot. It was a pretty brutal 1.5 km 5-8% grade climb. I got words of encouragement from some of the runners I passed, but at one point I had to hike for a while to catch my breath. I reached the top, paused for a bit and kept chugging along. I would later find out I got 7th place overall on the first hill sprint!
With just about 14 km left the course passes the finish area and descends down to where the second hill sprint starts. I wasn’t even going to try this one. It was a beast, ending with a steep staircase that looked like it would keep going forever.
At this point I was getting a bit tired. I was still feeling better than I’ve ever done this late in a race, and I was even on pace for a sub 5! I just had to keep pushing the last 7 km, which were still pretty hilly and technical, slowing me down slightly. I switched to a screen on my watch that only showed the elevation, so that I wouldn’t get too stressed. I used the people in front of me as motivation, I made sure to pass everyone I caught up to.
With just over 1 km left I switched back to the distance/time/pace-screen on my watch. My average pace was at , right on 5 hour pace. With that dream sub 5 so close I gave it all I had.
My watch said 50 km, and the time was 4:59:11, but I wasn’t there yet. There were another 460 meters to the finish. I honestly could not have cared less. I finished strong. With a new 50K PR of 5:01:39! Starting with almost no expectations on myself, having such an amazing day on a beautiful course, there was not one more thing I could have wished for.