Julsø Ultra was the race chosen as Danish championship race in long trail running this year. Taking place in Silkeborg, Jutland, the route runs almost 60km through the scenic forests and heath lands of the Danish lake district, encircling the lakes of Brassø, Julsø and Birksø. It includes several of Denmark’s highest points - Himmelbjerg, Storknøs, Sindbjerg and Stoubjerg - which, together with many other smaller ups and downs give a total of over 1500m ascent.
The race has been my main
focus for spring this year, partly because of the great scenery, but also
because of it being the championship race this year, and the chance of a decent
position in my age group category. Training had gone reasonably well, if not exceptional. First and
foremost no injuries or illness all winter, I never quite managed to build up
the mileage as much as intended, but fitted in a reasonable amount of ascent
with both a winter hiking weekend in Scotland in March, and a training run with
Sarah Ridgeway from RunSnowdonia just before Easter. I felt pretty strong but
wondered whether I had enough kilometers in my legs.
Looking at the registered
entries in the M50-54 category I recognised 2 of
the 8 other names - Søren Rasmussen and Per Egon Rasmussen (no relation). Søren, a former Danish marathon
champion, and Per Egon also a strong runner, well known in trail running
circles, these 2 seemed
like favourites for the first podium places. I didn't know the other names on
the list, so perhaps there was a chance for the 3rd podium spot.
..and we're off!
After plenty of rain in the
days leading up to the race, the day itself was dry, overcast, chilly with
little wind - fine running weather in fact. The start went off as planned at
9am and soon we were out of Silkeborg and into the surrounding woodland. My
race strategy was basically to eat and drink regularly and not overcook it
early on. So I set out at a comfortable pace and tried not to worry about being
overtaken. The middle pack was still close at this stage and we followed each
other up and down narrow and muddy paths through the woods.
After nearly 2 hours I
reached Himmelbjerg - up to the top, around the tower and down the other side,
this was followed steep climb, and then a long descent towards the halfway feed
station in Rye, good forest trails here although muddy and rather churned up by
tractors. Approaching the checkpoint, it was a huge boost to see my wife and
daughter smiling and waving. No time for socialising though, so after a couple of pieces of banana,
I was on my way again.
Photo: Maya Nygarrd Rahr
Soon after leaving Rye the
route went through beautiful open woodland close to the lake shore. The forest
floor was covered with anemones. I looked across the lake to Himmelbjerg's tower and the hills on the other
side of the lake that I had run over earlier, it was hard to believe that they
looked so far away. The longer the day went on, the better the weather became,
still cool but the sun almost beginning to break through. I felt that I was
still managing to maintain my pace and gradually I found I that was beginning
to overtake one or two other runners.
The last checkpoint came
slightly sooner than expected, my watch showing just less than 45 km, again it
was wonderful to see my 2 supporters there. I asked one of the helpers how far to the finish,
12 or 13 km was the reply.
The last section started
out hard with steep ascents of the heather clad hills Stoubjerg and Sindbjerg.
It is one of the best parts of the route, in my opinion, so good to be out of
the woods for a while. Back into Nordskov forest soon after though, and the
race organisers had saved the toughest for last.
Continually up and down, sometimes with steps, mud, it was hard going. The good
thing however, was that I was still overtaking people and although I had no
real idea of my position in the field, it still felt good to be passing other
Eventually I was out of the
forest for the last time and, approaching the outskirts of Silkeborg I was
cheered on with hearing that there were only 2 km left, I ran through the
streets until, finally, the finish line came into sight. A final sprint and I
crossed the line in 6:11:46 where Hanne & Bella were cheering me in.
Crossing the finish line
I decided clothes first
then food, so changed into some dry clothes then went for the post-race refreshment - a big plate of chilli con carne and a beer. The presentations were
just starting so we positioned ourselves outside to watch. They started with
the overall winners - the winning time an astounding 4:26 - then started on the
age group categories. They came to M50. Was there a chance that I could have
sneaked Bronze, I couldn't quite believe in it. "3rd place (pause) Matthew
Mason" Yesss, I'd done it! I made my way up,
stood on the tree stump doubling as a podium and received my
medal. A proud moment! Gold and Silver went, as expected, to Søren (4:57) and
Per Egon (5:44), but I was happy with my Bronze medal. I had paced myself well,
run as good a race as I could, and had the bonus of a podium finish. A good day out!