Written by Michael Miracolo - https://liveslowrunfar.com

Ultravasan 90
August 18th, 2018
90 km, 868m gain
Sälen to Mora, Sweden

For those unfamiliar with the stats of UV90, here’s a little summary (those of you who know this already, you can hop to the next paragraph). The course measures 90k (approx. 57 miles), and has a humble 868 m of vertical gain. The course takes you through deep woods, along lakes, across swamps (but these sections are made runnable by boards) and past quaint villages. You’ll run on fun, technical trails where you get to watch your step, on fast and smooth dirt roads, on wide gravel roads, and on pavement (but just a little). The breakdown looks something like this: 60k dirt road, 18k trail, 6k gravel, and 6k pavement. The race organization provides water stations (with both water and sports beverage) roughly every 5k, and bigger aid stations with a plethora of food every 10-15k. The race is growing in popularity every year, and 2018 saw around 1100 participants, with approx. 75 % males and 25 % females. A note on the race organization: it’s truly terrific. We’ve never run a race as professionally organized and carried out as this one. Email correspondence and bib pick up before the race, aid stations during, reception at the finish line – smooth, friendly and structured. A massive A+ goes out to everyone working for the Vasaloppet Team.

Training

UV90 was the goal of the year for us, as well as our fourth race ever, our first race over 45k – and our first ever run beyond 50k. Needless to say, we’re still beginners when it comes to racing! However, running (and running a lot) has been a part of our lives for a long time. It seems fitting to include a short recap of our most recent training, leading up to the big day. Our average weekly distance hovers around 100-120k, and a regular week always sees a long run, a fast tempo-run and a speed-work session. The rest of the runs turn into what feels right at the time. Our training log shows 14 30+k runs since April 1, and we squeezed in two sets of back-to-back 30+k. The longest run measured 50.2k (which was done in July, about 6 weeks out). We also ran the 45k EcoTrail Stockholm race in June. We started tapering when the race was three weeks out. We dropped to 80 % load the first taper week, 60 % the second and 20 % the last one. This meant we ran about 20k total over the Monday-Friday before the race day of Saturday. With no kids and a good amount of free time at our hands, we really try to also incorporate yoga, core work, daily stretching, foam rolling etc. You know – the whole shebang. Sophia is a vegetarian of 18 years, Michael is a majority-of-the-time-vegetarian-since-he-met-Sophia but does crave his animal protein every now and then. Oh, and before you wonder ‘but what about cross training?’ – we live in a house out in the middle of nowhere, where your average day includes wood chopping, working in the vegetable garden, schlepping things here and there. So no, no organized cross training.

Pre-race

Now, to the preparations. The week leading up to the race, we diligently got up at 6am every day, and the two days before the race, we got up at 5:30am. Obviously, everything in an effort to adjust to an early wake-up time on race day, and also to facilitate being able to fall asleep early the night before. Well – we didn’t have an issue waking up early, but we sure as heck had a hard time falling asleep. Way too much excitement going on in our bodies and minds!

We went up to Sälen on Thursday. We had rented a house in Lindvallen, only 10 min by car from the starting area. Many choose to stay in Mora, and take the early bus up to Sälen on race day. We didn’t want to do that, and didn’t mind driving back the 1 hour up to Sälen after the race. Of course, we were fortunate enough to have a ‘crew’ with us, who would transport our car along the course down to the finish and take us back. There are, however, buses that will take race participants back the same way as well. Our cabin was very comfortable, and even came with a really nice sauna. We highly recommend both the area we stayed in (Dammkölen) and the actual house (address Dammkölsringen 10A, booked through skistar.com). It came down to approx. SEK 2500/$300 for 3 nights, for a house that could sleep up to nine people (three bedrooms). We were just four, thus we had plenty of space 

We had prepared all the food for the weekend in advance, in an attempt to reduce the risk of any upset stomachs on race day. We had a really bad experience during EcoTrail Stockholm, when Sophia’s stomach blew up completely – this will be described in full in the RR from that race, which is quite delayed but in the works! Thursday night dinner consisted of a Greek inspired rice-and-vegetable dish, which was topped off with halloumi (recipe will be posted soon to this website). We went to bed at 9:30pm. Friday morning, we woke up at 5:30am and had a slow first hour. A little yoga, a little stretching, a cup of coffee, before a 30 min comfortable run around the area, just to shake out the legs and move around a little. As per our breakfast tradition approx. 350 days out of the year, we hit up a giant bowl of oatmeal after that little outing, with sliced banana, raisins and nuts on top. After getting our stuff together, we killed some time by browsing some of the stores down in Sälen. As the time went on and the bib pick-up time of 12pm drew closer, the more people around us seemed to look like they fit right into the category of runners. For us, it’s so hard to not get intimidated! You know, when someone walks in all geared up, looking like they’ve done nothing but train their whole lives? We usually whisper to each other “intimidation factor high” if we spot one of those. When nervous and anxious, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everyone else has everything under control. Is there any level of recognition out there? Anyway – back to the story. We picked up our bibs, stopped by the ICA store in Sälen By and then went home. There might have been some chocolate eating happening in the car (sport lunch for the win). Lunch consisted of fruit, yogurt, muesli, some rice leftovers and some slices of bread. All in all, a quite random spread.

The afternoon was spent preparing this and that, with zero stress involved. Our crew (Sophia’s mom and stepdad) went for a walk when we picked our outfits, mixed our sports beverage for the next day etc., and when they came back, we did a sit-down run-through with them. We had the course map laid out and went through it all, step by step. On our drive up from Stockholm, we had popped into all three aid stations they were going to be at, handing us stuff (Mångsbodarna, Evertsberg and Hökberg, all approx. 24k apart) so we were all familiar with the layouts of the places and had decided roughly where they’d be standing so we’d know where to look. This was helpful, for them as well as for us, so if you happen to stay in Sälen and you’re doing the drive anyway – pop in. When 5pm rolled around, we started prepping dinner, and sat down to eat an hour later. We had penne pasta with a white bean and vegetable sauce. This had been tried and tested the night before a long run with an early start before, so we knew this was a safe bet. For those of you thinking ‘these are some extreme people’, please don’t. It’s just that Michael is an engineer, so things do tend to end up quite streamlined in this family  We went to bed – not tired at all – at 10pm and tossed and turned until midnight. We might have gotten a few hours of sleep at most, but when the alarm went off at 3am, we were wide awake and SO ready to get rolling.

Race

And so, race day. Finally. Michael had coffee and two slices of whole wheat bread with messmör, Sophia the same but no coffee. We both did some gentle warm-up stretches (mostly dynamic ones, only a few static), rolled around on the yoga mat a little bit… and then, we were all ready to go. Our crew was equipped with all the important notes and bags worth of replacement bottles, food and extra underwear (guys, there’s no point in tabooing the fact that… there might be a case where you’ll need new underwear). We also had them carry a first aid kit, in case we needed to pop a blister or something like that, and hitting up the medical tent would just feel like a waste of time. We left the house at 4:15am, which might seem late to some but since it was chilly and we knew all we would have to do was walk into the starting line area – well, it made sense to wait inside for as long as possible. We arrived at the starting area at 4:30am, right around when it was about to get light (there is no need for a head lamp) and there was PLENTY of parking space. They have one massive field, really nicely organized, and there was absolutely no stress about finding a spot. Walking a few hundred meters to the starting line just felt good anyway. There were, however, somewhat long lines to the porta potties (Swedish: bajamaja), so we ended up skipping it – but then we spotted ladies squatting in ditches left and right, so no need to wait in line if you just have to pee. Sophia gave it a try, as a matter of fact, but no luck – the desire to pee was deemed induced by race nerves. While it was fairly chilly (8 C), it was by no means hard to handle despite wearing just shorts and tank/t-shirt. There was music playing, and the atmosphere felt pretty relaxed. The speaker got everyone emotional when talking about the history of the route between Sälen and Mora, how many people have set out on skis to complete it and how many are now going to attempt to run it. Definitely got the heart beating and the goose bumps going. And then there was a countdown, and off we went! We spotted our crew in the crowds, and it truly meant a lot to have them there to see us off.

Sälen-Smågan

Distance: 9.2k, Elevation Gain: 160m, Time elapsed: 52 min

We purposely started a little bit back, simply because we didn’t want to start out too fast or get stressed by those rushing up the first hill. The hill does go on for a few kilometers, but we had expected a tougher incline. It wasn’t hard to keep a good pace running and still feel comfortable. After the first long hill flattens out, it goes a little up and down the rest of this section. You start out on pavement which then turns into gravel, and in no time we found ourselves at the first aid station. Our plan was to do a 5:45 min/k pace for as much of the race as possible, and we ended up doing around 5:40 up to Smågan. We had just gotten “stuck” behind a smaller group of people, but since we had decided to not stop at all but they all did, we could pass them smoothly – and we didn’t see them again. Michael went through as 207th male and Sophia 33rd female.

Smågan-Mångsbodarna

Distance: 14.3k, Elevation Gain: 89m, Time elapsed: 2 hrs 12 min

We were feeling so good this section, passing people left and right and really dancing through the woods. We had to hold ourselves back from running too fast, and continued at a steady 5:40 min/k. We run mostly trails in our training, and many sections reminded us of those at home. The trails here weren’t too technical but you definitely have to watch your step. Since we’re used to roots and rocks, we felt strong and as if in our right element. The trail sections were interspersed with gravel sections, and we could tell other runners generally sped up on the gravel stretches but slowed down on the trail ones. We did pretty much the same pace everywhere. The morning sun was coming through the trees and it was really a magical atmosphere. Already at this point, we found ourselves alone from time to time, able to enjoy having a conversation and letting the kilometers and minutes just tick away. We had given our crew a 2-3 hr time window from the start to Mångsbodarna, and we came in at 7:12, 2 h 12 min into the race. We were really the only people going through the aid station at this point, so it was nice and quiet, and our bottle exchange went smoothly. We had carried 2 x 500 ml Tailwind sports beverage each, but due to the early hour and slightly chilly temps, neither of us had finished them entirely. Sophia grabbed a pouch of fruit-and-rice puree, Michael a Clif gel, and we both got 2 x 350 ml bottles with 100 kcal Tailwind in each. And off we went, cheered on by all the early risers and so energized from seeing our crew. We spent approx. 20 sec exchanging bottles, so this was really an ‘in and out’-kind of thing. And for those who might wonder – did you forget to mention what you grabbed from the aid station? No, because we didn’t take anything. Sophia’s plan was to solely rely on the pouches and Tailwind since this had been practiced and she has a sensitive gut, and Michael was going to do the same plus Clif gels and maybe a snack from a station if it seemed appetizing. But Smågan – nothing, Mångsbodarna, nothing. Trust us though, when we say this – we were quite tempted to stop by later, as finishers, just to get some more bang for our buck. Michael went through as 177th male and Sophia 24th female (this, by the way, is not information we were aware of at the time. Until we crossed the finish line, we had a very vague idea of where we were in the standings).

Mångsbodarna-Risberg

Distance: 10.8k, Elevation Gain: 136m, Time elapsed: 3 hrs 17 min

We continued to feel really strong and light. Conversation flowed easily and we were surprised  by how fast everything seemed to be going by. We were already more than a quarter into the race? Also, we concluded that so far, the course had been prettier than expected. You really, truly feel like you’re in the heart of Dalarna. Our pace slowed down a little, to 5:57 min/k, but the technical trails explain that more so than any desire to slow down (there was also one quick stop to pee, which turned out to be our only ‘bathroom’ break the whole day). Soon after you leave Mångsbodarna, you go through a beautiful patch of woods where the ground is almost covered by rocks – big, small, sharp, smooth. Michael managed to lose his shoe, even, when it suddenly got stuck between two rocks and his momentum was stronger than the shoe laces. No harm done though, and speaking of harm – no aches and pains for either of us at this point. Just pure enjoyment, as pretentious as it may sound. The last few kilometers before reaching the next aid station, you go uphill. The ground is soft and very absorbing, so this part can get a little tiring. This year saw a very dry summer, so it’s possible that you usually get quite wet and muddy here. We passed a few people in the aid station (didn’t stop again, as per plan) and continued on. Michael is 165th male, Sophia 21st female.

Risberg-Evertsberg

Distance 12.4k, Elevation Gain: 127m, Time elapsed: 4 hrs 28 min

This section is fairly gentle on you. Some humble hills, some dirt road, some gravel road. One section runs along a beautiful lake, and you also have the pleasure of passing the marathon distance sign posting. We were doing a 5:42 min/k pace and feeling comfortable, except for the fact that Sophia had started to feel a slight ITB-pain on the outside of her left knee (that sharp, almost stabbing sensation where the ITB rolls over the outer aspect of your knee joint). Once we came into the Evertsberg aid station, she did a quick stretch, which solved the problem for her (temporarily, we should add). We had given our crew the same time window, 2-3 hrs, from when we left Mångsbodarna to when we could be expected in Evertsberg, and we came in after 2 hrs 16 min. Seeing how well we were doing with regards to our expected times was obviously great motivation. We did the same quick procedure here, where we both got a new set of 2 x 350 ml bottles with 100 kcal Tailwind in each and a new fruit-and-rice puree pouch for both of us. We still didn’t stay for more than 1 min at most, and again – didn’t claim anything from the aid station food-wise. We got the same energy boost from seeing our people this time, and from just feeling the atmosphere. There were lots of people out spectating, cow bells cheering us on as we took off. Oxberg, next up! Michael went through as 130th male, Sophia 17th female.

Evertsberg-Oxberg

Distance 15k, Elevation Gain: 156m, Time elapsed: 6 hrs 1 min

Leaving Evertsberg, you run on pavement for a little bit before hitting up gravel and more woodsy areas. This starts out as an easy stretch, because it is mostly downhill or flat – and boy, it feels great passing the 50k mark (the 40k sign – the signs count down). Last 5k to Oxberg is tough though, with a lot of up and down. Things were starting to hurt a little here, approaching 60k and our longest run ever. Small aches and pains kept popping up, some would disappear, others would move around, a few would linger in the same place. It was bound to get painful, it was bound to get tough – it might have come on a little earlier than we had hoped for, but that’s okey. We had, after all, only raced three times prior to this and we concluded that you can train all you want, but race experience is something you simply can’t make up for. Do you all agree? It’s also possible we told ourselves this when out there, to make us feel better. Eventually, we did reach Oxberg though, and Sophia had somehow moved up to 14th place. Michael had polished his position into a 121st. Our pace of 6:14 min/k this stretch serves an indicator of how the rest of the race went down (a.k.a. slow). As per our plan though, we didn’t stop at the Oxberg aid station but instead just chugged onwards. So far, no stomach issues whatsoever. Such a relief for the mind!

Oxberg-Hökberg

Distance: 9.2k, Elevation Gain: 106m, Time elapsed: 7 hrs 5 min

Most of the technical trails are done by this point. This is where it started to get seriously tough for us though. The beginning was fine, but the section from 54 to 71k is ‘challenging’ with lots of uphills and downhills (and by that, we mean challenging because you’ve been out for 6-7 hours – it’s by no means anything out of the ordinary). The downhills started hurting a lot, mostly for Sophia because her ITB issues were growing by the minute and didn’t like being ignored, but the uphills were starting to feel heavy too. Around here, we did as a matter of fact walk our first uphill. We were also passing lots and lots of people running the 45k, since they had started at 9am in Oxberg. A ‘busy’ stretch, which both served as a distraction from the discomfort but also was slightly annoying since those we caught up with were fairly slow and some parts were narrow trails sections. Our pace started dropping, our conversation faded. It turned into ‘are you hanging in there’, ‘are you hurting as much as I am’ and phrases of the like. The 6:14 min/k pace made the 9k drag on and on. Coming into Hökberg was such a relief. We noted 2 hrs 37 min from the last time we had seen our crew, so still within the 2-3 hr window we had given them, but definitely less cocky than previously. Sophia had started feeling some cramp twitches in her groin and dove headfirst into the little cups of potato chips and started – against better judgement – licking the chips in hopes of getting salt into her system. Note to self: equip your crew with some seriously salty stuff. While there’s sodium in Tailwind, there was room for a salt injection for sure. We repeated the bottle replacement for the last time, Michael munched on some watermelon provided by our crew and grabbed a fruit puree pouch as well, but Sophia said no to all things sweet. Toothbrushing addict as she is, she kind of just wanted to brush her teeth to get rid of that yucky sweetness. Her stomach was a growling empty hole (it even made funny noises that people around us could hear – like a roaring lion in there) but the mind was still clear and the body still energized (how you might wonder? Us too!). Just really, really painful knees. Michael was mostly struggling with pain in his TFL, and a little bit of ITB pain was starting to creep in. We both stretched a little and took off, spent maybe 3-5 min at aid. Sophia’s mom caved in and gave us sad puppy eyes, questioning if we should really continue – you’ll have to forgive her, it was her first race and she couldn’t stand seeing us struggle, but Lasse just smacked us on the backs and said ‘see you in 19k’ and that was it. Off we went. Michael noted 128th place and Sophia 17th.

Hökberg-Eldris

Distance: 10.2k, Elevation Gain: 66m, Time elapsed: 8 hrs 16 min

Oh, this was painful, everyone! Easy easy running though – just flat on soft ground. We did get a boost from seeing our crew in Hökberg, and while we knew our pace had dropped significantly, we still had the men’s medal time of 9 hrs and 30 min well within reach. Heck, on any given day 19k in almost 2.5 hrs would have felt like we had all the time in the world! It’s funny thinking back on that now, how long 19k felt. We managed to keep a good pace the first few kilometers towards Eldris, riding on a wave of potato chips, watermelon and sheer buzz. But that unfortunately didn’t carry us all the way in, because it got tough and painful again, and every sign marking a new kilometer elapsed felt like such a victory (but boy, those were spread far apart at this point!). We started conversations upon conversations in hopes it would make time and distance go by but nothing really managed to catch on. We couldn’t really focus on anything but the ‘one foot in front of the other’ mantra. Or, as Michael put it: “All I want to do is just go in to the woods, crawl up into a ball and cry”. That sums it up quite nicely, don’t you think? Reaching Eldris felt amazing for obvious reasons, just knowing that it was the last aid station before the finish. Sophia had cramp twitches in her right groin/adductor region again so she tried a gherkin (Swedish: saltgurka) for the first time in her life – well, never again! That was some intense stuff. Michael went through as 137th male and Sophia as 20th female.

Eldris-Mora

Distance: 8.9k, Elevation Gain: 39m, Time elapsed: 9 hrs 14 min

Sophia got a boost of energy knowing how close we were to the finish, and almost felt like she could’ve booked it. Michael was still in pain and fighting off hamstring cramps, but knowing we were almost done kept the spirits up. We had 9k to go and we started dividing it into sections. We said: ‘Ok, let’s keep it up till 7k left and then let’s allow ourselves to walk a little’. So we did. And then we did the same thing for 5k, and then for 3k. But when we got to 3k, we said ‘let’s continue to 2k’ and when at 2k, Michael said ‘I just need 10 sec’ which he of course got, and then we just ran. We ran and ran and it felt like forever but really, it wasn’t. We ran and ran and it felt like we went so fast, but really, we didn’t. But the clock tower did come closer and the crowds were growing and the speaker’s voice got louder and louder. And then we pulled ourselves up the last bridge crossing and made a left onto the finishing stretch, and now tears rose in our eyes and the pain? All the pain was gone. We looked at each other as we ran, smiled at more strangers than ever before, and we ran and we ran and then we finally got to run across the finish line, after 9 hrs and 14 min out there. We came in with a solid 16 min margin down to the men’s medal time and 1 hr 46 min to spare as far as the women’s medal time. Sophia made 20th place among the females, Michael 137th among the men.

Post-race

Suddenly, this one long day of running with lots of pain turned into one of the best days of our lives. We got our medals, we got the finishers t-shirts. Then, we fell into the welcoming arms of our crew, who had bounced up and down at the sight of us at every meeting point, cheered us on and clapped their hands and made us move on. There were some problems bending over. There were some moments when we needed help to get more clothes on. There might have been a scene where Sophia’s Mom actually tied Sophia’s shoes. On stiff legs, we hobbled our way to the food tent, where there were hot and salty tomato soup, bread with butter and cheese, pancakes with jam, potato chips and candy. Beer might have been spotted but we opted out. We saw our big, big idol Ida Nilsson (who placed 2nd) but we were too shy to say hello. We sat close to each other, getting colder by the minute. Repeated phrases such as ‘can you believe it?’ and ‘we did it’ to each other. After maybe half an hour, we got up (read: with great difficulty) and went to claim our race certificates. After that, our crew shoved us in the car and turned on the heat. Back at the house, we did a few cycles of sauna and cold showering to aid in recovery, and then had leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Ended the day by finishing 2 liters (4 pints) of ice cream (although to our defense, we weren’t the only ones eating) while looking at pictures from the day. We didn’t sleep all that well, but that was as expected for us – it seems our bodies are pretty restless after a race. Woke up to some lingering aches and pains around knees and hips, and an overall soreness but nothing too crazy. We did get a few blisters but nothing too bad at all, and no chafing anywhere thanks to the best product ever, Squirrel Nut Butter (not sponsored). Packed up the house, had a massive breakfast and then left Sälen and this great milestone of ours behind. Will be back, and will go after a sub-8. Until then… some other fun races this fall and hopefully a winter full of skiing plus race planning for next season.

Next Up

Ängsö Trail Run 25k, September 15th

Åre Trail Tour (7k + 24k + sprint), September 28-30th

Sörmland Ultra 50k, October 13th

Last but not least, link to Strava activity: Ultravasan 90 2018

Thanks for reading all the way until the end

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