Is a 55km footrace along the most popular hiking trail in Iceland, a route that normally takes 4 days to complete. Now 55km doesn’t actually sound that far, as really it is just a bit more than a marathon. Looking on the course records the warning bells started to sound as the fastest 10 finishers in 2006 took between 5:26 and 6:06 hours to complete the course. I didn’t know quite what to expect, although I imagined it had to be tough for such slow times. Little did I know but I was in for quite a challenge.
The first section is pretty much all uphill along rocky paths, past steaming volcanic vents, multi coloured mountains, sections of ice and deep snow, scree and volcanic sand. For the first 20km you don’t actually realise how tough it is as you are blown away by the scenery and surrounding mountains and glaciers. The climbs and descents are brutal. It can be too easy to get carried away and push too hard on this section only to suffer much later in the race. I had a look on the course profile and it seemed that after the steep ascent on the first leg, it was pretty much downhill until the finish. It came as a bit of a shock that the long downhill sections I was hoping to open up on never really materialised and I found myself running steep ascents and descents for pretty much the rest of the race.
The second section of the race drops down from the mountains towards a vast lake and you really are treated to some spectacular vistas. The terrain here is a little tricky underfoot with narrow rocky paths, scree and steep descents that hammer your knees. But the time I reached the half way point I was beginning to wonder how my legs would hold out. Luckily there are a few long sections here on gravel roads that allow a brief recovery before the going gets tough again.
The rest of the race for me was a bit of a blur as I zoned out using all my mental effort to force myself to keep running. Lots of up and downs, waterfalls, and ice cold glacial river crossings that actually came as welcome relief as it numbed my painful legs. The final river crossing involves a rope guide rail and from there a short run through the woods leads to the finish line, a hug from the race organisers, a warm blanket and a BBQ. I can just remember feeling a huge sense of relief that it was all over and I had made it.
As long as I forget the pain, this has to be the most beautiful run I have ever had. It is tough without a doubt, a proper trail run with a real variety of terrain that makes it quite difficult under foot for the majority of the course. The race still has a very local feel to it, with only a handful of international runners. It has a real mixture of racing snakes and people who just to finish the damn thing. I have never seen so many smiling and happy runners during a race. I loved it and thoroughly recommend it for 2008.
Steve Clark, Iceland 2007
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