This race is billed as Iceland’s toughest race and overall I am not one to argue.
While there is not a lot of altitude or elevation this is a very fast event if you are racing. Terrain is mixed between road work and very rough off road sections. Additionally, there is the weather wild card and it can get wild very quickly. Finally, there is no rest day as in traditional stage races which makes a recovery regimes important. This all adds up to a high attrition rate particularly for the unprepared.
Race Headquarters was in Akureyri, the second largest town in Iceland. It is not really that big with a population of around 18,000. We had the obligatory equipment and medical checks there and then it was time for a last meal (hamburgers and beer of course).
The next morning we headed for the start which was located in the Askja caldera region. This was a long bus ride to the interior of Iceland. Camps were well organized and tents were nice and roomy with eight to a tent. Plenty of hot water was available and self sufficiency started that night.
No route books were issued for this event. Stages were exceptionally well marked and pre-stage briefings gave you all the details you needed to complete the stage with limited surprises. Estimated distances to check points were fairly accurate.
Day 1: Approximately 21 miles of flat road, a small hill and vast ash fields. A very fast day even with full packs. The weather was excellent. We camped at the same location as the night before.
Day 2: Approximately 26 miles but this had more off road sections, lava fields and broken ground. The weather was also deteriorating with a low cloud cover and cooler temperatures.
Day 3: The suffer fest, and everyone suffered. Some more than others. This was the long day of about 40 miles. We were treated to two river crossings early in the stage plus almost continual rain and headwinds for the entire day. I decided early on that this was just going to be about survival, not racing. The last twelve miles were through never ending lava fields and sand dune like features. Many wore all the clothing they had and still were suffering from hypothermia. The race director took pity upon us and our cold weather drop bags were issued.
Day 4: This was the day to race! Perfect weather, 30 miles, lots of off-road. While the last bit was like running across Wyoming, it was a great stage. It dropped below freezing that night.
Day 5: Stage 5 was what stage racing is about. Nice course, double tracks, lava fields, rough country, 18 or so miles. Best of all was the finish at the Myvatn geothermal baths. Not every stage race has a nice hot bath at the end of a stage! Family and friends met us up there too.
Day 6: Last stage of about 16 miles. Very fast and flat except the climb up the volcano.
Overall I was quite surprised with my 3rd place finish since there were some very fast participants. Team USA also took the international category with Ross Leblanc in second, myself in third and Corky Dean a solid fifth.
This is a race of perseverance and recovery. You need to be on your game all the time since the terrain is sometime unforgiving but quite beautiful. We were also treated several nights to the Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis.
Stage Racing Family:
I was also able to renew some past stage race acquaintances. Shout outs to MDS 2013 tent mates/co-racers Charles Miron and Mathew Von Ertfelda as well as MDS 2015 tent mates Isabelle Ulfig and Jaime Costas. It is great to see everyone again and spend quality time with you all.
New stage racing family members include Corky Dean from Denver (whom I hit it off great with) and Jacob Hansen from Demark who was always there with a smile.
There were also G2G alumni Christine Perry and Ron Hood.
Performance, tips and other notes:
The La Sportiva Crossover GTX shoes worked great. The integral gaiters were perfect for the conditions. The aggressive tread pattern of the soles also worked great in the off road sections.
The Enlightened Equipment Sleeping quilt was acceptable once I got it rigged right. It was warm enough given the conditions. Any much colder and something more may have been required.
Raidlight rain gear was acceptable. Top worked quite well. Pants got trashed.
Putting a second pair of rain gear and shoes in your drop bag may not be a bad idea.
I brought along a pair of waterproof socks. While I did not race in them they were nice to wear in camp and in the tent.
The 3,100 kcals a day was just enough for me. At the finish line I had one bar left at 280 calories. For this event I would think that 3,000 kcals a day should be planned on as a minimum. Protein and fat are even more important here. I lost between eight and 10 pounds (3.6-4.5 kg) during the week! This is the most I have ever lost at a stage race.
Recovery is of primary importance for this event. To do well one should be resting as much as possible. Every effort should be made to stay warm at all times.
One should make a concerted attempt to keep a spare set of dry clothes for camp. Even though there is a possibility of being issued your spare drop bag you should not count on it.
Off road, rocky training is important. Some parts of this race are very rugged. Be prepared to slow down if need be in the rough sections. If you are unsure of your footing seriously consider trekking poles. You really need to know how to pick a line and change your stride and pace in these sections.
Latex gloves are great for when it is wet but not too cold. I would consider getting dish washing gloves for a more robust solution.
When running you need to be able to get to your food EASILY. Either open your food packaging before the start or have your knife readily available to cut it open on the trail. Many with cold hands found this difficult during the long, wet stage and fell behind on nutrition and thus slipped into hypothermic conditions. This contributed to the high attrition rate. To counter this, one could also consider having more liquid calories.
Drink lots of hot beverages when you are cold. Electrolyte tablets in hot water are great for something different instead of coffee or tea. If nothing else just hot water is fine. I took on hot water at a check point during the long, wet day and it helped greatly!
Another overlooked source of heat is your re-hydrating meal. Place it inside your coat while it re-hydrates. Toasty warm!
Dehydrated meal preparation can be easy by some simple steps. 1) Open the bag up all the way 2) Close the bag zip lock seal trapping in air 3) Shake meal well to loosen it up 4) Open up the bag and add water 5) Close the bag and then shake again. These steps will result in a consistently hydrated meal that is ready quickly and with no stirring required.
Given the dampness of the climate, consideration should be given to a warmer sleeping bag than required. You are also especially caloric deficient at this race. The little extra weight is well worth the increased comfort. Many were using their survival bivis when it got cold (below 40F/5C).
Geothermal vents are great for heating your food when available!
Hopefully this review will aid you in your future stage racing endeavors!