Marathon of Dangers (Vaarojen maraton): My First Marathon

First full marathon, done! 

Though according to my GPS, it was a few kilometres longer than a traditional marathon, but who counts the last metres...

Long story short: First 30 kilometres were smooth, nice and I could roll them rather effortlessly, last 14 were horrorish. 

Long story long: Vaarojen Maraton (Marathon of Dangers) is maybe the most demanding and best-known trail running competition in Finland. It's held in stunning Koli National Park in eastern Finland, and this year was competitions 11th anniversary. All together 950 runners participated to 43, 87 or 131 kilometres races. There is also a 14 kilometres sprint.

I had heard and read so many horror stories of the steep uphills and demanding trails of the route, especially the last uphill to the finish line seemed to have traumatised people, and I never thought I'd participate it one day. However, my friend found it funny that I'm afraid of Marathon of Dangers but that I've completed Tromso Skyrace (28 km), which should be far more demanding. So, when she wasn't able to participate, I bought her ticket. 

Problem: All accommodation was already full-booked, or at least we weren't able to find anything from Koli. We booked a hotel room from Nurmes, an hour drive from Koli, and drove there on Friday evening. We just needed to make an early start on Saturday morning. If we go there next year as planned, we'll probably camp by the lake Pielinen. It would've been nicer to wake up from there than from a hotel room, but because we left there in such a short notice, we didn't have time nor energy to check the potential shorelines ahead.

Traditional-marathon-like 43 km's is the most famous distance in these parties, and the official race time was at 9 am, though I started at 9.10 in second time group, whose estimated final time was from five to six hours. My first plan was to start in the last time group, but five minutes before the start I changed my mind. 

The first 30 kilometres went smoothly. There were just enough traffic on the trail, not too long queues but still enough people to have company and chat. Trails were surprisingly technical and full of roots and stones, but that shouldn't come as a surprise: it's a national park, it has forest, forests have trees and trees have roots. Still, when my legs became stiff, I really needed to pay attention to the challenging ground. 

After 27 km's it was pleasing to see a familiar face standing by the trail. As you can see from above, I decided to give my caretaker and photographer a kiss. Hope that's not considered an act of giving extra energy as that wasn't allowed during the race (aid stations offered only water, so all extra energy had to be carried)! 

The challenging part started after last aid station somewhere around 34 kilometres. The last ten kilometres were mainly uphills and downhills, so it was very little runnable. The route has changed from last year so 7,5 km's of gravel road is now replaced with steep uphills and delicate trails of Mäkrävaara and Pieni-Koli. 

Downhills were wet and slippery and I didn't want to take any risks with my fragile knees, so I carefully walked them down. I looked forward the last long downhill so badly, that I wasn't able to talk to my fellow runners any more. Luckily they had an encouraging discussion going on that I could listen. Thank you whoever you are for that!

My final time was 6 hours and 50 minutes. My pace slowed down radically during the last ten, but I don't think I was the only one. Most of the vertical metres were earned at the end. 

Compared to Tromso Skyrace the race felt much harder. Surely it was 10 kilometres longer and tested my endurance much more, but it was also a totally different experience psychologically to run in rather dense forest than in an open valleys and mountains. The latter makes you feel small, and at least to me it's more easy that way. 

It wasn't just my endurance that was tested last weekend. Anssi drove 550 kilometres, waited me running my 43, and drove us safely back home right after the race. He hasn't had much free time lately, so I highly appreciate his effort. 

Were you there and how did it go? 

Suom: Vaarojen mara oli just niin siisti kuin odottelinkin. Vähän harmittaa, etten jaksanut edetä loppua kovempaa, mutta ehkäpä tällä kertaa voi olla normaalia enemmän iloinen siitä, että pääsin maaliin kompastelematta ja ehjin jaloin.