Sunday, 7 May 2017

Danish Championship Long trail - April 29th 2017

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 runners.

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!

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