A few days before the race the weather forecast looked interesting to say the least. Heavy snowfall with up to 10cm of snow and high winds for the race day. When I woke up onthe race day the ground was already white but luckily the weather wasn’t that severe after all. Gotta admire the punctuality though – first snow on the race day just like last year!

Usually we travel to the races with a group of friends but this time it was just me and Kati. Rest of the crew were either injured, sick or busy with other stuff. Kati had also completed the previous UTTF races and was on the hunt for the finisher vest, just like I was. My dad was supporting us as much as was allowed so he gave us a lift to the race and back. The plan was to go slow enough to avoid stupid injuries yet fast enough to avoid stressing about cut-off times. I knew some of the route while some of it would be new to me.

Map Vaarojen Maraton map - from vaarojenmaraton.fi

The race started at eight in the evening. It was already dark and it felt cold outside. I hoped I had enough clothing with me as it hadn’t been this cold since last winter. After getting bibs, GPS trackers and leaving the drop bags we were ready to go.

We started with about 90 other runners. Any stress I had had disappeared immediately after taking a few short steps. At around 3km mark the fastest runners had been guided to wrong trail and they were returning back. The volunteer was guiding us to the same trail but the group decided to follow the route from previous years and for that we had to go below a barrier tape. I’m still not sure what had happened there.

The first kilometres were easy and mostly downhill. The first ascend didn’t feel too bad either and soon after that I got to the section of the trail I had not seen before. We ran mostly in silence but from time to time I was chatting with other runners. It was dark from the start and would be for the next 10 hours. I wondered about the river crossing – how long would it take until my feet wouldn’t be freezing anymore? After 19km we arrived at the river crossing. With the help of a cable going across the river I took my first steps in to the water. The water level was just above the ankles, not too deep, and to my great surprise it didn’t even feel that cold. As soon as I got out of the water on the other side my feet felt perfectly fine!

River crossing photo: @onevisionfi

The first aid station was there at the river. The route is a 65km loop and you run it twice. The aid station at the half way point (at the start/finish) was the only one that carried anything else besides water. The race is mostly self sufficient so you carry all the things you need.

The south end of the loop was technical and undulating, adding to the elevation even without bigger hills. I kept with a small group of runners until Kiviniemi aid station where I was slower with re-filling my hydration vest and I had to change my head torch. The next section was somewhat uneventful yet I started to wait for the sunrise.

Despite the elevation the last 10km of the loop seems to be the easiest. Getting on top of Koli takes time but isn’t that bad at least if you know what’s waiting for you. The midway aid station is right on the top of Koli. Getting indoors for a bit feels so good at this point! There I changed my shirts and a rain jacket that was all sticky due broken gel package. Ate some vegetable soup and snacks and downed a coke and a coffee. Stuffed a new set of gels in my running vest and I was ready to continue.

The sun had risen during the half an hour it took me at the aid station. 65km runners were about to start and I crossed the start just five minutes before they did. I flipped my race bib on the back side so they’d know I’m slower. After running some parts alone it was a great morale boost when the 65km runners went by and we cheered each other, some by name and patting on the shoulder as they passed me. I can’t stress enough how huge stuff like that can be at that point.

It was really beautiful now that the sun had risen and I could actually see what is around me. Snow was covering most the ground yet some places were completely snow free. The foliage was glowing in yellow and red.

Example image photo: Touho Häkkinen

This year the trails were easier to follow than the previous year for two reasons. First, faster runners made a clear path on the fresh snow and second, the markings had been improved over the previous years. I accepted the challenge of getting lost and managed to do just that on the second loop. After the first aid station, the river, I began to feel tired and my mood to shift to worse. I was running alone and there was a lot of technical trail that forced me to walk. The second aid station didn’t seem to get any closer. Finally after hours I recognised the road leading to the aid station! Yet, the aid station seemed to be further than I though. Was I on the right road? I must be, those two red buildings look familiar. Besides no one had called me to tell I’m lost. Then it hit me, even though I didn’t have the route on my watch I still had the path I ran on the first loop. A single line lead to the triangle marking my location. Cursing out loud I made a 180 and head back to the point I came from the forest.

I should have crossed the road back to forest instead of taking right. To be clear it was well marked and it was my own damn fault. In the end it only took only 13min but it was very demoralising at already low point of the race. Finally I found the aid station and took a bit more time there.

As I continued from the aid station I ran with Jaakko who was doing the 65km race. He was good company and slowly my mood improved. He mentioned that we have only 25km to go and at that point I realised that indeed, 15km + 10km = 25km instead of 35km. I’ve noticed before that math gets more challenging during a race but that operation I thought I could handle. I didn’t worry about my math skills as I just got 10km further during one sentence!

I was tired and my legs were hurting but being able to chat with someone made it easier. Slowly but surely we ran km by km. When there was only the last 10km left I was sure I’d be able to get to the finish on time.

Finally the finish line was at sight. My dad was waiting there and we finally crossed the finish line. At the finish I was happy mostly because it was over and less for a sense of achievement or anything like that. After taking a shower and quick visit to sauna I heard Kati was approaching the finish. Back outside to celebrate with her and back indoors to get something to eat. I’ve never been as tired and I almost felt asleep at the dinner table.

Example image photo: @onevisionfi

After getting some food and sleep I felt a lot better the next day. I placed 16th in the mens category and the race took 24 hours and 24 minutes. I’m pretty happy about the results and even on a good day I wouldn’t have placed much higher. Against my predictions I didn’t even drop in the UTTF rankings but got a bit higher, finishing 8th.

It’s a very special race for sure!