Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Monday, 6 May 2013

Salomon Hammer Trail 100 Mile

There is no doubt that running 100 miles - both entering and finishing - requires a certain mindset. Two months ago, I didn't have it, but two weeks ago I did. All creatures on this planet have a skill set they have developed over the span of their evolution. One of the skills a human has is the ability to travel an incredibly long distance. I am at a point in my life were I simply very badly wanted to see what I was physically and mentally capable of.

Salomon Hammer Trail has been on my race wish list since my blogger friend, Tina Christensen, trained all year to run the inaugural 50 mile version in 2010, fell, got injured, lost and was located by a rescue team and carried off the course on a stretcher. That is what I call going down in style. And - seriously - a race on Danish soil that is so tough? Bornholm, as I learned at the Fyr til Fyr 60k, is a Baltic Sea island that is geologically entirely distinct from the rest of Denmark and bears more resemblance Sweden.

Last year, TIF athletic club added the 100 mile version to the race. 17 people started, 8 finished under 30 hours, including one female, Anne-Marie Rossen. What on earth?, I thought. Certainly I was intrigued.

THIS year, the TIF arrangers, decided last year's course was not hard enough. Therefore they added 2000 extra meters of elevation and 6 trips down an enormous set of stairs to ring a bell over an ocean inlet (Jon's Kapel) and back up again (edit: Jon's Kapel was not new this year. A more technical trail along the coast was). The world wondered: would ANYONE finish this year?
Billede: Udlevering af rygsække inden start
bag check-in. Photo: Moses Løvstad

Me and D Ditlev - nervous energy. Photo: Dan Mygaard
This year there were 36 starters. Danes, Swedes, Germans and one Faroe Islander. Oh, and that one American.

12:00 start. Here we go! Photo: Moses Løvstad

Here is a video from just before the start, made by Thomas Dupont, where I talk about my preparation for the race (especially for those who love to make fun of my accent)

And yes, it is true there was no specific preparation. In some ways this helped. I have been training a lot less than I am used to since the goal was to train for a sub 3 marathon. It may have been a magic combination of muscle memory from all of my old ultras and speed work + tapering over the last 6 monhts.

On the other hand, boy did I look and feel like a clod trying to run with my poles. Over half of the field ran with poles. If you knew how to run with them, certainly they were a help on the course. But I did not, so I had to drop them after the first 15km. At that point, I was in nearly last place, if not last. Oh boy. It was just so much more technical than honestly any race I had run, except the Trans Alpine (which I dropped out of).

Photo by Stefan Stougaard
I was trying to enjoy the gorgeous running, but there was no doubt I had a rough start. But when we left Hammer Knude and made our way up to the spectacular Hammershus, I started to warm up.

Hammershus- built in 1255 by Archbiship Jakob Erlandsen - has been occupied by Danes, then Swedes, then Danes. Photo:

Nowadays, I think Hammershus is occupied by the drunk guy with a rifle who Dan Majgaard and I met on the surrounding trails in the middle of the night (one of the many times I felt my life was in danger during the race).

Just before it got dark, I had finished around 70km. As you can see in the picture, I look like someone who ought to be finishing a race right about now.
50 miles done. Photo: Jesper Halvosen

With nightfall upon us, I changed clothes, though not my sports bra or underwear, as there was no privacy to be found and I didn't want an accidental embarrassing photo ending up on Facebook. Besides the fact that the men there were so tired that they had better things to worry about than looking away. I ate hot potato salad for dinner prepared by the volunteers. It was wonderful. I chatted with Moses and Jesper, who as ALWAYS were there, making this race so much fun for us runners. Tine, the woman who owns Tines Gjestehuz, where I had stayed the night before, had come to cheer us on with her husband. It is a small island and this was a huge event for them.

I had dreaded it. Worried that I would be tired. But the night was by far the best part of the race. Imagine this- being awake all night with your mind and body and full alert- hearing and experiencing the sounds and subtelties of nature in full splendour. I could hear the sheep and the birds and other creatures I could not identify - roaming, living. Before I got lost and found Dan Mygaard, I was stunned by the experience of my headlamp gleaming into the green retinas of 40 sheep eyes. Wow! (none of them had cataracts) Then Dan and I realized we had gotten lost but soon found the trail again. We ran together sharing headlamp strength. His was much better than my Petzl. If I did this again, I'd buy a super strong headlamp.

As we were scaling a mud wall over a quasi cliff overlooking the ocean, I stopped and enjoyed the sound of the tide coming in. Strong waves suddenly out of nowhere. And the stars. No moon as it hadn't risen yet. THIS IS LIFE!!! I am alive and experiencing this world.


Here with 50k left to go and I WAS STRUGGLING. Photo: Jesper Halvorsen.
Basically, I felt like I couldn't move my legs anymore. And my head was pounding. Dropping out in some ways looked attractive. But I had no one to pick me up, no way home, no one to comfort me, so continuing seemed a lot better than curling up in a ball in the tent and giving up. I had a cheese sandwish and (very importantly) a large cup of warm coffee. THANK YOU!!

The stairs to Jon's Kapel.

In a while I was back at Jons Kapel to battle the stairs yet again - round number 5 - one to go.

I had been feeling ok before this, but these stairs could really make legs stiff. Basically everyone I passed from the 50 mile and 50k races were cheering me on. It helped- but most thought I was on my last lap - the fact that I wasn't was a bit of a mental blow!

Henrik Leth Jørgensen had just won for the men in an incredible 22:14!

Henrik Leth Jørgensen and Kenneth Kofoed, winners of the 100 mile and 50 mile respectively, leaving for their last 25km loop.

Maibritt Skovgaard battling her last 50km of the 50 miler. She would go on to win for the ladies in 11:12 (just for comparisson, she ran an 8:54 100km 3 weeks prior). Photo: Stefan Stougaard
And I had my own crises to deal with and they were tougher and more frequent. It was a mere question of putting one foot in front of the other. I could not conjur up true feelings of happiness anymore. This was just tough. I was talking to myself a lot after I lost the company of Pól from the Faroe Islands. I thought I was going nuts. I could hardly lift my legs (sometimes I used my arms to do it) over all the trees and roots over the trail. I had a gel, which helped. But then I got to the stairs pictured above and my legs could no longer support me. With no banister, I could not go down them- I was certain-without tumbling. I almost started crying. What a way to end the race! But THEN - I thought of scooting down the stairs on my butt. All 200 or so stairs. It took a good 10 minutes, but I made it! I still had a chance of coming in under the 30 hour cutoff. And I did get more energy back- a lot. My last 8k went awesome.

And I won. 2nd ever female finisher of the Salomon Hammer Trail 100!!! Photo: Jesper Halvorsen
THIS was truly incredible. I already can't wait for my next 100 miler. After and experience like this, you just want to THANK THANK THANK everyone involved - TIF race directors, Lene Møller, Jakob Verstergaard and Kim Rasmussen. Moses Løvstad and Jesper Halvorsen, for the race hype, the constant support and good humor. And my husband!! For loving me enough to let me do this (he watched 3 kids all weekend, folks!!). And my dear son Christian, whose words I kept repeating in my head: "My mom is going to run all night while I'm sleeping. Someday I'll do it with her"--- yes, you will, Christian. And you will love it every bit as much as Mommy did!

Following the race, I was interviewed by the German running magazine, which I think he said is called "Running". He said in his lovely German accent - "You know this is the hardest 100 miler in the world". Well, I asked if he'd heard of Leadville or Hardrock and he looked at me a bit askance. Sure, let's just call it the toughest! Here is Leon Skriver Hansen's stats from the 50km (which he too 2nd in). So I guess you can multiply this by 3.2 to get the 100 mile race stats. 18,752 ft of elevation change.And that was enough for a flatlander like me!

 Here are the results (for the 100 miler this year, 36 entrants, 15 finishers, I was nr. 12).

One bit of advice for runners wanting to complete a 100 miler: Look at it as a long journey from one point to another - no getting off until you have arrived - no way out - and you WILL make it. We humans are built for this.


Marathon Mom said...

Wow, I am truly impressed! Great job and that course sounds incredibly tough yet the pictures are beautiful :)

I love the words from Christian, something that can always keep a mom going through a tough run. I love how Ophelia talks about my running and how she sill do it too, so encouraging and often that extra push to remain strong.

Olga said...

Perfect description of night weirdness and morning drainage...and no point to give up:) Glad you were able to experience it all. You'll be that much richer.

Anonymous said...

So I have to say again, I think this is your biggest running accomplishment. You were already so good at the running fast part of running ultras but now you will be a master of the mental part as well.

"That is what I call going down in style" made me laugh:)

I love the photos of the course too--it definitely does not look anything like Denmark and it looks like a great place to run!


Julie said...

Amazing! Looks beautiful and difficult. Love your race reports! Do you have another 100 mile race on your radar yet? And if so, which one?


Meghan said...

Congrats Sea Legs! If there ever was a doubt that you had land legs, here they are. I love your synopsis of the mental side of a 100-mile race. I think the same perspective will get us a long way in anything, ultramarathon or not. Recover happy and savor this moment!

Ana-Maria RunTriLive said...

I think you have a gift for long distances, the longer the better! And you seem to enjoy them! Congrats!

Jill Homer said...

Fantastic. :)

Katie said...

Congrats! I was following you on FB all day! And the pictures are beautiful. Way to be one tough mama!

Danni said...

Congratulations!!! So happy you did it and seem to have had a good experience!

Also, Leadville only has like 16k of elevation gain I think (though it is at higher elevation than many 100s). Wasatch has close to 27k and Bear has 22k and Westerm States has 18k (just for random comparison).

sea legs girl said...

Danni, interesting stats. Thank you! Of couse a lot of what determines the difficulty of a race is how runnable it is. At Hammer Trail, you just can't get into a rhythm because it is so technical. And that made it super challenging for someone like me. I've heard Western States for example is almost entirely runnable. Basically, I would love to run Western States! But Hammer Trail might be unbeatable in my book!

Danni said...

It's all relative. To generalize, I think the trails in the western US tend to be pretty nice. Western States is very runnable indeed. So is Leadville (from what I hear).

amy said...

Congrats! You look so happy in all of your pictures!

Jill Homer said...

I agree with SLG that technicality of trails makes more of a difference than elevation totals. I thought the Laurel Highlands 70-mile was much harder than its 14,000 feet of climbing would indicate due to 98-percent rocky, boulder-choked, ankle-breaking singletrack. Eastern U.S. trails can be rugged.

I've heard the Bear has closer to 26,000 feet of climbing. That's also what I GPS'd with my eTrex but you never know with these things.

Susitna 100 has about 1,500 feet of climbing in all of its 100 miles and I think it's harder than the Bear. It's all relative to personal abilities, really.

mmmonyka said...

Pretty impressive! 100 miles?!? You are awesome at long distances.

Anonymous said...

Way to hike this one out. This will pay off big in more difficult races.

maria conley said...

Congratulation on your firs 100 miles. You are an amazing and happy lady!! I am your biggest fan!!