Two months ago, after 31+ hour continuous push I was slowly dragging myself towards Rovaniemi 150 finish line. I was dead tired, hungry, my feet and lower back were hurting on every step and the blowing wind had already found its way through my sweaty clothes several hours ago. Signing up for a similar race ever again was pretty much the last thing I had on my mind.
It´s funny how quickly your mind works around this kind of experiences. It was less than a week after the race when I found myself already contemplating on how would I feel about taking another go next year. Now after two months, I already find myself mentally signed up for the 2017 race!
This was my first ever arctic winter race, and also the first time I was racing for a really long continuous period of time. To prepare myself for the ever increasing possibility of actually getting to Rovaniemi 150 again next year or even taking a go at the real thing, Iditaroid Trail Invitational in Alaska, I decided to sum up my experiences to avoid some rookie mistakes the next time.
You can find my Rovaniemi 150 race report describing the experience here.
Stock up with energy and water: Prepare with enough energy for the worst case scenario and then some. Fill up the water reserves at every aid station.
In the race briefing day before the race we were told the first bikers will most likely finish the race somewhere around 10-12 hours as the conditions were expected to be extremely fast. I was preparing for the worst case scenario of spending 20 to 25h on the trail but eventually decided to throw in another handful of energy bars just to be on the safe side.
Lucky I did – I was pretty much all out of energy when crossed the finish line after 31,5h. And yes – I did skip re-filling my water bladder at 1st checkpoint as the next one with water was “just 35k ahead”. Took me another 10 hours to get there…
Get skiing goggles and an extra layer for warmth: When the race started it was relatively calm and warm. However, the temperature dropped a bit overnight and on the second day the wind picked up and it started to snow.
I was doing quite alright in the forest when the trees were taking out the worst of the wind. However, when I stepped out on the Lake Norvajärvi for crossing the lake I felt like I was walking through a blizzard. I couldn´t see a thing without the goggles and even with them on the visibility was reduced to 100m or so. At that point of the race my base layer was mostly wet from sweating and the windstopper layer on top couldn´t really keep the wind out.
I had carried an ultralight down jacket packed with my sleeping bag and it worked wonders getting me through the coldest parts of the race.
Train to push your bike in snow: I had trained biking quite a bit before the race and my biking form was top notch in my standards. However, I hadn´t had the patience to get off the bike and push it during my training rides.
During the first lengthy sections of bike pushing I started having weird pains in my neck, shoulders and upper body. Each pain seemed to last for an hour or two getting worse along the way and then subside just to turn up a tad stronger somewhere else. The pains seemed to work their way in a top down fashion starting from neck slowly getting all the way down to my lower back and legs.
It would definitely have helped to have at least some trained muscles to take up the stress of pushing a heavily loaded bike through slushing snow. This time I had to do it the hard way soaking in the pain as I marched. I´ll definitely be better trained for the job on my next go!
On the positive note – as most of the race consisted of pushing the bike, my bike riding muscles remained pretty much untouched until the end. I managed to pull off a pretty impressive sprint finish during the last 10k rideable section on Ounasjoki river!
Carry a GPS: The route is well marked so you don´t need a GPS to get through. However, it´s mentally really relieving to be able to check the actual distance to finish or to the next checkpoint along the way.
After a long period of racing the brain´s ability to provide reliable information is also hindered. I actually needed to check my GPS a number of times to eventually locate the very visible last checkpoint (Porohovi) by the Ounasjoki river 11k before the finish.
Prepare for finishing at night: What ever your finishing time is you´ll want to eat something once you cross the finish line. The race organizers provide a nice protein bar and a sandwich but that´s not nearly enough to get back all the calories lost along the way (my HR monitor was showing 12 500 kcal consumption).
In case you happen to finish at night or during the early morning hours, the restaurants in Rovaniemi will be closed. Be sure to stock your hotel room up with carbs and coke to get yourself sorted before hitting the bed.
I finished late Sunday afternoon so my treat in the hotel restaurant included 2,5l of coke, 5 sandwiches, steak dinner, lots of candy and dried fruits, pint of beer and 1000mg of ibuprofen. All during the first two hours after the race.
Race the last 10k!: The last 10k before the finish line is the same 10k where the race starts on the Ounasjoki river. There are typically people around with snowmobiles and you have Rovaniemi town in sight for the last 3k or so.
However the race has been this far, be sure to make the last 10k a proper race! You won´t probably shave a lot of time off our overall race clock but at least for me the feeling of accomplishment isn´t a proper one if you´re not leaving everything you have on the track.
Don´t race the first 50k: The buzz of the race morning, final check on your gear, waiting for the gun to go off at the start line – it all works to build up the excitement. When the race is finally on it´s hard to stay calm, let the 66k racers sprint ahead and calmly maintain the pace you´re comfortable keeping up for the next 20 to 30 hours.
During the first 20k I vividly remember trying to keep up with 66k racers driving my heart rate way above the planned levels as well as passing others while pushing the bikes by running ahead of them.
It´s a long race. You´ll be catching up the people who sprinted ahead in the beginning sooner than you think – and with the energy saved in the early stages you´ll slowly but surely march past them and will most likely never see them again.
Don´t complain on race conditions: This is an arctic winter race. No one can know how the conditions will turn up to be and this includes the locals, race organizers, volunteers and other race participants.
Don´t use your energy on complaining how bad the route markings are, how cold it is, how poor the visibility is, how soft the trail is, however tired you may feel or basically any other inconvenience. You´ll most likely feel miserable at some point of the race but that´s what you´ve signed up for.
This year, most of the trail was not rideable, but looking back at it now it wouldn´t have felt like such an achievement any other way!
As a final note – I was lucky to have no equipment related mishaps during the race. Therefore, I decided to write down my gear setup just to be sure I´ll include everything necessary if I decide to have another go on a similar race in the future.
My equipment list for the 2016 race was the following:
- 25 bare bar energy bars with different flavors (ate 1 bar / hour)
- 5 energy gels
- 4 chocolate bars
- 2 protein bars
- 400g bag of sugared ginger blocks
- 1 dried pasta meal
- Camelbak Octane bag + 3l water bladder under my jacket to prevent freezing
- Riding gear
- 45NRTH Wölvhammer riding shoes
- Löffler softshell jacket
- Haglöfs softshell pants
- 3 x smartwool socks (two on, 1 extra)
- Arcteryx polartec mid-layer
- Base layer
- Löffler fleece neck warmer
- Alpkit merino wool buff
- North face fleece hat
- Rukka mittens with merino wool liners
- Ultralight down jacket
- Bike maintenance
- Parktool multitool
- 1 spare tube
- Extra link for the chain
- Small pump
- Alpkit Arctic Dream 1400 sleeping bag with bivvy bag packed in waterproof bag
- 2 sets of chemical toe and hand warmers
- Oakley downhill goggles
- Light biking helmet
- Space blanket
- Pan for heating water