Written by Karen Hathaway - http://hathawaykaren.blogspot.co.uk
Starting on the edge of the Vatnajorkull glacier we would be running through the spectacular landscape of Iceland, carrying everything we would need excluding tent, finishing with a run up and down a (not active since Christmas) volcano in Myvatn 6 days and 250kms later.
Thanks to the T184 last year I was able to be a part of this race, I had no idea how stunning it would be and certainly could not have imagined how much I would now miss the adventure.
In the days leading up to the race my main aim was to get my pack down to as light as possible, I checked off all the mandatory kit, then had just the ‘luxuries’ to play with. The luxuries in this case were warmth and fuel, I decided to go with the minimum of both. No doubt I will be returning to that decision later..
2 flights, and a coach journey and we were at the start, we were to camp the first night at the Glacier and set off the following morning. We had been allowed to pack an emergency bag (only to be used if there was an extreme temperature drop) which we could utilise on this ‘the night before’ night.
My tent buddies Laura and Hayley were absolutely brilliant and helped make this experience as special as it was, anyone would have been great to share with as they were all genuinely lovely people. One thing multi day races have in abundance is camaraderie and I cannot go without sending a massive thanks to everyone involved in making this such a fantastic experience
Day One – 65.9km (Longest Stage)
We found out Day One would now be the longest stage, this created some discussion, true the longest stage would be when our bags were at their heaviest, but it also got the longest stage done whilst we were at our freshest. For me personally I’d have quite liked it Day Four or Five, but that’s just because I rate my stubbornness over my leg speed!
From left to right - Mohammed, Franck, Me, Einar, Gisli, Marie, Danielle, Jorunn, Roberto, Adam, Bobby, Roger, James, Alex, Jane, Nadia, Nick, Noel
Hayley, Garrard, Liz, Yuhki, Takao, Jan, Laura
We set off down the track for a short distance before following the red flags right and running on what felt like foam. It was very odd, rocks set on top of soft black ash, kind of spongey, kind of sandy, kind of rocky. The red flags stood out a mile on this black terrain and so following them was easy.
We changed from ash to track, to lava rocks (which required careful foot placement and balance) until we hit a track which took us through Alien-esque territory, it was beautiful yet eerie. I’m not surprised this area was the training ground for Astronauts to practise moon landings.
There were checkpoints along the way to pick up more water, they were very careful to make sure you were drinking enough, of course there was no food at these as you had to carry everything you needed, which meant no temptation to hang around the checkpoints too long.
I was carrying enough for 2000 calories a day, I had a breakfast expresso flapjack I’d made before I left, 3 gels and 2 bars for the running section, an expedition meal for a dinner, and a coconut macaroon treat for pudding. I ate a bit more on this first day leaving less for the much shorter last one.
I was actually finding this stage quite a challenge, I don’t think it was the rucksack; as in relation to most it was pretty small, maybe I went off a bit quick, maybe the magnitude of where we were overwhelmed me slightly, or maybe the terrain and long inclines had taken more out of my legs than I gave it credit for. Whatever the reason, I was very glad in getting to the last checkpoint and hearing there was only 12k to go.
I finished the stage in 5th, 1st female, as soon as I finished I did what would happen after every stage from here on in, pick a tent, unpack sleeping bag, get on warm clothes, and get in the hot water queue so I could have my dinner.
Today had not been easy, but that’s what we were all there for, and no matter how hard it had got the scenery had been so incredible and so unique, it had inspired you to keep pushing on, and I was definitely looking forward to putting my pack back on in the morning a one whole days worth of food lighter.
Day Two – 35.6km (Mountain Loop)
We were doing a loop on this stage so returning to the same campsite, we went downhill for the first 3km, awesome until you realised we had this to do in reverse to get back to our tents. This was a challenging stage, soft underfoot, leg sapping, and quite open, the wind picked up and made one section particularly difficult, but we were running alongside lava fields and seeing the steam rising up was pretty magical.
I finished in 5th again, there was a slight change in order from day one, but knew I had to do something now if I wanted to go up in the rankings. The stages were all 35-40km until the final day, which meant I really needed to up my pace, my pack was light which I had to make the most out of, my legs felt good, and I was getting my usual pranic boost each night to help me recover for the following day.
I was however starting to feel a little hungry, I ate dinner straight after finishing to replace the energy, but with these shorter stages that meant quite a gap between dinner and breakfast the following morning, the nights were also pretty cold, and having not slept at all the first night, I was not confident I would sleep much again tonight. We had to carry an emergency foil bag (not the standard blanket) so I was in every piece of clothing I had, plus my sleeping bag, plus my foil bag, plus not much food inside me, ah well at least my pack was light! I didn't regret my choice, and I have never been called stubborn so many times at not accepting another runners jacket or item of food they did not need. Within the rules you could accept help from a fellow racer, however I decided I had made the decision to travel light,so should therefore live with it.
Day Three – 42.9km (described as the hardest day)
We started in thick fog.
Which absurdly soon became really hot
I was trying to run hard, the first 2 days now completed I had to push on as much as I could, and believe I could recover ready for the next day, and then the next and the next.
It was pretty good tracks for the first 10kms, and everyone seemed to be flying, a few of us hit the first checkpoint together, which then immediately sent us across rocks, which seemed to go in my favour and I started to move away from the others. I was in 2nd at this point, not really sure by how much. I got in the rhythm of looking for the flag, head down and hop from rock to rock, look for the next flag, and do the same again, I was moving as quick as I could, and as soon as the flags directed us back onto a track, I made the most out of it, before the ground changed again.
The day heated up, there was one really long incline that never seemed to end, it was one of those where there were a dozen points you could think may be the top, but quickly become just a point on the way up.. It was on this climb I spotted the leader and with huge amounts of motivation overtook him and kept going. If I had taken a moment to question myself and ask did I go too early for home, Id have been answered in the following 5k by being overtaken myself by Adam– he was currently the overall leader, and had a brilliant knack of hitting the front just at the right time. This was one of those times, however I wasn’t going to give up easily, and kept as close as I could as we charged down the hill, and found ourselves back in amongst the rocks.
I thought we must be close to the finish now, found my opportunity to run for home and went, not being as careful as I should have, but finally seeing the banners signifying our campsite, and sprinted into the finish. I won the stage; what a relief!
Day Four – 40.8km (x 2 River Crossings)
We woke to this; who wouldn’t feel lucky to be out here.
River crossing day, there again was discussion in the camp this time as to how best approach this, to take or not to take the shoes off..
I was going to decided when I got there, my main aim was to get to the crossing first and keep pushing on. I had to close the time gap on those in front, and couldn’t afford to sit back.
I hit the crossing first; I kept my shoes on.
It was pretty much a marathon section on tracks this one, it was fast and tough, the shoulder straps were bruising my shoulders but spare socks helped (it was only when I was adamant to use everything I had carried that I wrapped compression bandage round them and found this worked much better!)
All I could think of was getting to the finish, there was constant pressure from Adam, Franc, Bobby, and Takao, it was hard work, in the end it was Takao who took the lead 5km from the finish, and I had to settle for 2nd.
The campsite was freezing, the wind was outrageous, the tents were weighted down with rocks, I finished and had to accept this would be my 4th night of very little sleep.
Day Five – 34.8km (Sand Dunes)
We woke to a cold, damp, and windy morning, the mountain we had to first get over was covered in mist, grateful for the flags we had no problem navigating our way up and over it. We finally saw greenery on this stage, the sand dunes were gorgeous to run up and down, grass at last! I loved this stage, it had everything, rocks, sand, tracks, even running through heathers, and best of all we knew at the end we would be taken to the natural hot spas where we could shower!!!
But first I had a section to run the hell out of, and boy did I try. There were five of us now clear of the field, it was an amazing feeling to be up there with them.
I tried my hardest but finished 4th though I did manage to make up 20 mins from the last checkpoint to home; maybe I will suggest two long stages next time..
We were driven to the campsite for our final night, privileged to be right on the side of the spas, we were given our emergency drop bag which had our swim suits in and ran to the showers!
Day Six – 26.2km (Volcano)
Everyone was in high spirits, this was the last day, and they wanted us all to finish around the same time so we were having a staggered starts. The 5 of us went last, I took to the front having been told I was in 4th, just 10 minutes behind 3rd.
The strategy for me was get to the volcano first, get up in, round the top, get myself down one way of another and then sprint for home. Easy. I couldn’t think about anyone else, I ran out at the front where the wind was insane. I had no idea how far the others were behind me, not far enough! I missed the turn up to the volcano and was passed by Franck and Takao.
Running round the crater at the top the wind got worse, literally taking your feet away from you, I got close to the edge a few times, and for the first time wondered if a heavier pack would have helped!
By the time I was all the way round the top the two in front were already on the descent, and with 5km to the finish I just couldn’t catch them up, I tried, Mohammed gave me my flag as I ran into the finish even then I was still trying.
Danielle who had unfortunately had to pull out on the second day, surprised us all by being at the finish, it shows they type of person she is wanting to be there for everyone.
Out of us 5 we finished how we started the final stage, massive congratulations to Adam, and to everyone who ran, some huge personal achievements, and some amazing results, especially to Laura who earned herself the 'peoples' vote, so very well deserved.
What a race. What a country. What a group of amazing people.
I finished 4th, 1st lady, and have come away some very special memories, friendships, and an increased passion to take me onto whatever comes next.