Saturday, July 12, 2014

laugavegur ultra maraÞon

Distance: 55km 
Elevation: 1900M+/2200M-
Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk, Iceland
Conditions: Ranging from 3-10 degrees Celsius. Rain & wind at start, drying later. Several kilometers of snow. 330 finish / 345 start.

Here we go! At 09h we begin the journey of 55 kilometers from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk, but before the race begins, we had to drag ourselves into the rain, strike the tent, load our packs onto the bus, and hustle to the start. It was cold and wet and windy in the morning, but we are running in Iceland! We knew the beautiful, rocky terrain we would encounter at the beginning, but the majority of the Laugavegur Ultra Marathon would be a surprise. Count down from ten in Icelandic, and we are off! A slow, narrow climb to begin, but then a frolic over black rocks and steam. We climb steadily, against the wind and rain, but at a runnable incline toward Hrafntinnuskeri (raven's rock), the highest point (already!). Derek and I started together, but I keep looking over my shoulder, hoping he will be close behind. 

On the way to Álftavatn (swan lake), the fog is thick and I am chasing two neon jackets in front of me, pushing to keep them within view so that I will not be alone in the disorienting sea of snow and sky, all white and wet. The snow is slick and some is not solid, a cold surprise of ankle deep slush. After several snow fields, there is green - we start a rapid descent and carry on through a series of ups and downs, splashing through streams, sticking in pale blue mud. I am free and bounding, keeping close to a fast pack. I had no choice, but to make a pit stop after passing through the check point at Álftavatn and lose a little time. 

Soon after, we cross Bláfjallakvísl with a current strong enough to pull my legs from under me and leave me dangling from the rope, submerged in the cold water until a race volunteer pulled me up. I was hoping to gain some ground over the stretch of flat black sand, but the next kilometers were surprisingly tough. I was feeling cold, and heavy from absorbing river water, and my ankle gaiters felt like wearing weights, but I kept running, even at a labored pace. Near the river crossing there was a sign "Þórsmörk 30 km." This gage was somehow encouraging since I knew few other markers and didn't even a wear watch to know how much time had passed. I ran beside someone for a while until I felt stronger and pulled forward. There was nothing but black expanse until a sharp green cone rose high out of the ground. I noticed the rain had stopped somewhere along the way, and that I had become a Viking warrior on a legendary quest through mystical lands (disguised in spandex to confuse the trolls, of course). 

At Emstrur, I ate a piece of banana while a volunteer clutched both of my shoulders asking if I was ok. I said I was fine, but couldn't focus on her as I was grabbing a chunk of Icelandic candy bar with nuts and looking for the continuation of the course. After running much of the course with space in front of and behind me, I started seeing more runners, pressure to keep steady and to push to the finish. There were more hikers cheering us on, too. The final kilometers drug us up and down hills (I underestimated those steep hills) and into one more river before hauling through birch woods to a sudden clearing at Þórsmörk and the finish line.

I crossed the line in 06:20:43, 11th overall for women, my longest race so far and only a little behind where I hoped. I went straight for the beer and watched for Derek. Feeling chilled and getting nervous, I was relieved to see Derek finish in 07:06:50. Now we could celebrate together before pitching the tent and for a well-earned sleep and dreams of this epic run. 

Landmannalaguar - Þórsmörk

Friday, July 11, 2014


This morning we hurried to the station to catch the 08h bus from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar, the only trip today. The ride takes about four hours, and shortly after leaving the city, it turns onto unpaved road only accessible a few weeks during the summer. We made one brief stop at a small station/diner/bathroom along the way. We were suddenly struck with the vastness of the highlands and the wild, remote location we were working towards. We passed a few farms with roofs like lined-up letter Ms, sheep and horses. We gawked out the window at incandescent moss, snow, steaming pools, massive Hekla, lava, and a brief, bright moment of sunshine.

Business first when we arrived in Landmannalaugar, we set up the tent and secured it with rock piles over the stakes, gripping into lava sand, against a growing wind and increasing rain. Once we had prepared our shelter and eaten our provisions, it was time to inspect the race route. We spent the afternoon hiking the first kilometers of the course, marveling at the green, pink, blue, orange, and black topography, the steam and sulfur, and the landscape like nowhere we had seen before. 

We didn't want to tire our legs too much before the run, but the beauty pulled us further along the route. Finally, when we were soaked and windblown, and to avoid walking in too much snow, we turned back, leaving the remaining bulk of kilometers to discover tomorrow. We made chickpea curry for dinner on the camp stove and huddled in the tent to eat. The evening became windier and wetter, but for the meantime, we were cozy in our sleeping bag and dry under the tent.


Thursday, July 10, 2014


Sea air and flat light were our first introduction to Iceland, stepping off the plane in the middle of the night. It was damp and smelled like fish, but not too cold, not overly fishy, and not dark. We left a cool rainy France from Lyon airport at 18h, add the flight, time difference, and bus to the city, making it 2:30 before we started the battle against light and noise (from a 10 person hostel bunk) and excitement to sleep. By 07h we couldn't wait any longer to start exploring the city, the only full day we planned to be in Reykjavik.  

We wandered around the quiet morning streets, and settled in for a cozy breakfast and coffee at C is for Cookie. Derek ate ham, eggs, and toast, while I sampled the vegan baked goods and indulged in a huge soy latte.

We stopped in design shops along Laugavegur, paused by the quirky graffiti, and stared over the city from the tall tower of the Hallgrímskirkja Church.

We saw Ragnar Axelsson's photography exhibition Mirror of Life at the Reykjavík Museum of Photography and sat to watch a 90 minute video Last Days of the Arctic - a beautiful film and great way to keep off our feet for at least a little while.

Next stop, Sólfar (Sun Voyager), a sculpture by Icelandic artist Jón Gunnar Árnason before making our way along the shore to the race packet pick-up at the sport center.

After a full day of sight-seeing and walking, we were starving and needed to fuel for Saturday's race. We ate heaping plates of vegan (mostly raw) goodness at Gló plus amazing desserts. Since I am always thinking ahead when it comes to food, we took their veggie wraps along with us for lunch tomorrow, and settled in for one more night at the hostel with our heads spinning from the colorful, comfortable day in the city, and the excitement of making our way to the highlands tomorrow.