Calling the Fjallmaraton Sweden’s most popular trail running race doesn’t do it justice, nor does trying to explain how a week of racing makes for a great holiday; this is an event so distinctively Swedish it’s hard to capture in words.
Think of all the best Scandinavian exports (like First Aid Kit, The Bridge, Ikea, Fjällraven and ACNE) and move that image to the wilderness, to a cluster of red wooden buildings. Translating the word ‘fjäll’ with the English ‘fell’ also falls short of the mark; it’s bigger here, vaster, wilder, so much less touched by man’s influence. Swooping singletracks, tricky wooden planks and wide, boundless summits littered with moss, heather and glistening ponds; Jämtland charmed us back in 2012 and that’s why we return year after year. The bogs are surprisingly springy, and you cover ground easily. At less than 1,000 metres you break the tree-line and the views stretch for miles. There’s the sharp white of a snow-covered peak in the distance, the glint of a lake with the sun’s reflection and the seemingly infinite deep orange glow of the long evenings.
Based out of Trillevallen, a small ski station near the more well-known ski resort of Åre, the events run over seven days, beginning with a 27km event right through to the blue-ribbon 43km AXA Fjällmaraton a week later. There are all manner of races and events in the interim – from the brutally-rewarding Vertical Kilometre up to the top of Åreskutan, tomorrow’s 400-metre uphill inov-8 sprinten, the more palatable 13km quarter marathon, as well as the all-new off-trail race and a host of runs for younger generations. All these turn this collection of wooden huts hidden out in the wilds of central Sweden into a centre for off-road running, drawing the world’s elite and thousands of amateurs.
It’s not all about the racing
You might be entered for the marathon at the end of the week but out here it’s too easy to break convention and forget to taper; the trails make you want to run for hours, days even. Pack your running backpack, stock up with tunnbrod (a Swedish version of flatbread) from the breakfast buffet and eat into your reserves. Everything appears so breathtakingly different to anyone’s usual runs (especially those where there’s always some hint of civilisation, used car dealerships or shopping centres).
The 2016 adventures began with the 27km last Saturday and saw us flying down from the top of Grofjället, free running across the fjälls with no specific trail. There’s a section through an ancient beech forest that takes your breath away, a part that organiser Patrik Nordin had gleefully included in the race.
Last night we raced the second edition of the Vertical K. Despite the limited visibility and close to zero temperatures at the top, the racers were out in force. The incessant rain had made the lower part of the course into a filthy mud fest, seeing running shoes with the best grip having to dig deep to provide traction on the steep terrain. The upper section is mainly rocks and huge boulders that you can easily run up and over. It’s not a huge mountain, the top is just 1,400 metres, but it mirrors the 2,500 metre summits that you find near our Italian base (related blog: 800m Of Hell, The Valtellina Vertical Tube Race).
Short and sharp – full contact in the sprint race
The success story of the previous two summers, the inov-8 sprinten, is set to be repeated on Thursday evening, and has already seen a four-fold increase in pre-registrations. Run over an intense 400-metre uphill course on the ski slopes behind the race HQ, this sprint race follows the same concept as cross-country ski racing, seeing competitors take on a qualifier and heats before reaching the hotly contested final (related blog: Top Tips For Faster Uphill Running).
The 2015 edition was marked by the indomitable strength shown by cross-country skiers, and we’re stoked to see how the runners will fare in tomorrow’s exploits. Requiring tactics, technique across the muddy course and explosive power with a dose of endurance, it’s a full-contact, spectator favourite. Think less about refining your stride and running fast and more about hands-on, adrenaline-fuelled body-contact racing. Irrefutably another great event during the week, it’s uncertain as to how your coach may react, perhaps arguing it isn’t the best preparation for the marathon two days later. But that is the fun about this week: Pitting yourself in all the races, even if it means you arrive on the starting line of the main event a little stiff and tired.
AXA is the main race to target – not 100% competitively – but purely because of its incomparable diversity of trails and the unsurpassed excitement that surrounds it, from the thousands of handmade chokladbollar to the bonfires and the waffles at the finish. The idea of pencilling off an entire week in August for a summer holiday is nothing new, but deciding to head north, saying goodbye to the balmy days on the beach, might be met with bewilderment. But if you decide to turn your back on convention, swapping sun loungers for fjälls, 10 degrees and changeable weather, you’ll be treated to a week of racing and running at the AXA Fjällmaraton that we are more than sure will keep drawing you back.
* This spring/summer Emmie has been training in our Terraclaw 250 trail running shoes and racing in Roclites.