by Penny Comins
Start the first five kilometres how you want to finish the last five. This was the advice that was ringing through my ears as my Garmin 910XT vibrated for the 50th interval. Time to hit it hard and bring this ultra home.
Luckily the first five kilometres were almost entirely up hill, climbing from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker so the last five down hill would be easier. Throw in to that the last feed station at bronga complete with coke, snickers and bounty bars and a hip deep river crossing to ice the legs it looked to be in the bag.
My legs had other ideas and were ever so slightly protesting at having to run past the obligatory 42.2 kilometres and a shuffle to the beer tent. As I crossed the river the time old call was given by a cheer squad who had hiked in from the finish, ‘it’s flat to the finish’. Having done many events before I knew that this was sure to be a porky.
The last five vibrates from the Garmin were excruciating both in leg movement and time passing as the course came in to tree cover over soggy dirt mounds that felt like mountains. The finish line was audible before in sight. Amazing what a crowd can do as my tired legs melted away and I powered though the finish gantry, arms high, proud to be finished.
Wrapped in a warm blanket I reminisced about the preceding seven hours. 272 athletes started in three waves, five minutes apart from Landmannalaugar hut. Taking the route that hikers travel all over the world to complete in four days to Dorsmork, we hurtled towards the first hut, target time – one hour 18 minutes. This brutal up hill section climbs for over 500 meters and this years race day meant in to the snow covered hills, sleet clouds and two degrees temperature.
Making forward progression was all I wanted. To get through the big mountain stage was all I could think of. Get over and down into warmer temperatures, as snow formed on my eyelashes. The lunar landscape wasn’t lost on my desperation for warmth though. Stunning volcanic mountains rolled out punctured with snow drifts and steaming gas. The white plumes showed all the runners the volatility of the land we were running on.
Hitting the fist check point at Hrafntinnusker on time was a moral booster and then making it through the four hour cut off at Alftavatn with an hour to spare made me feel on track. I tacked on to a runner from Liverpool, David. As we chatted the kilometres vibrated off in my Garmin. We were out of the mountains and started the river crossings.
Glacial in origin, the rivers got deeper and left your feet cold beyond feeling. The last major crossing at Blafjallakvisl was swift. A rope over the crossing helped athletes across while men in deep sea diving suits stood in the water to assist too.
This marked the distance half way point and a bag drop zone. Fresh socks, shoes, running gaiters and food was the magic that I needed to get my head out of a low I was experiencing from the constant cold, wind and exposure. I lost David as he didn’t stop, but my Snickers was good company.
The next section, although relatively flat only loosing 50m in elevation, was all ash covered making it feel like you were a horse in the work out pen. Leg draining I started to long for the hills again. I was clearly loosing it.
A big descent came upon me, including a roped section to get down to a bridge over a gorge. Again others were passing me as I eased my way down the descents. Not to self – practice running downhill and technical running. The final cut off was six hours at Emstrurskali, I was off my target time by 20 minutes now but still well under the cut off. Nicole Paine, running behind me later retold the story that she had to run to five minute kilometres to make the cut off with only a few minutes to spare.
Loaded bottles, coke, snickers, bounty bars and hugs from the check point volunteers it was time to push past the ‘wall’ and then the finish of a marathon and in to the unknown. The terrain changed again as the rivers widened and fauna started to grow with the loss in altitude. I crumbled and put in my iPod, suddenly I was dancing my way to the finish line. Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now took me to the line and got me one point for the UTMB.
Now what race to get some more points? Sleep first!
77 female finishers
First three male finishers:
1. Örvar Steingrímsson 4:48:08
2. Guðni Páll Pálsson 4:52:25
3. Ryan Paavola, USA, 5:14:24
First three female finishers:
1. Gina Lucrezi, USA, 5:28:05
2. Elísabet Margeirsdóttir, ISL, 5:47:33
3. Hafdís Guðrún Hilmarsdóttir, ISL, 6:16:26