Three weeks ago, I set out to circumnavigate the Sylan massif on the Swedish-Norwegian border. This is my idea of a perfect training weekend: one part training, two parts adventure. I convinced my boyfriend, Audun, that the route I planned would be fun to ride on a mountain bike, so that I could have company on what would be two very long days. I reasoned that most of our mountain bike rides ended up being the equivalent of a slow running pace, so even if we didn’t travel together the whole time we could leapfrog each other.
Our plan was to cover a four-day route between four mountains huts in two days, for a total of just over 80 kilometers. I made reservations at a mountain hut called Sylstationen on the Swedish side of the massif. We packed our backpacks full of warm clothes (this being the mountains) and high-calory snacks, and drove out to Tydal.
Day 1: In which Audun regrets bringing his mountain bike
The first leg of the run was 4 kilometers on forested singletrack to a hut called Storerikvollen. I got a head start on Audun while he adjusted his bike, but was quickly caught again on the rolling, fast terrain.
Coming into Storerikvollen
It was a truly gorgeous day, and I was already regretting my choice to wear long tights rather than shorts. It’s been such a cold, rainy summer in Trondheim that I didn’t trust the weather forecast!
Audun above the mountains
From Storerikvollen, the trail climbed gradually over wet, marshy terrain. The view was expansive, from the Sylane mountains on one side out to the sparkling blue Esandsjøen on the other. On the technical climbs, I was much faster on foot than Audun was on his mountain bike.
Below the Sylan massif
The trail traversed under Storsylan, the largest mountain in the area, and I reminisced about running up it during the summer I worked at Nedalshytta, one of the huts we would pass through. This year, there was still a far amount of snow still left on the steep scree slope that leads to the top, which would make the already slippery trail difficult going. This area of Norway had a strange snow season this year: very little snow until late in the season, and then such a cold spring that it still hasn’t melted in late July.
Audun below Storsylan
Another series of boardwalks traversed the wet terrain towards Nedalshytta, and I was glad to be running fleet-footed across them rather than perched precariously on my mountain bike.
Over the hill and down to Nedalshytta we go!
Finally, the trail did a noise-dive into the trees and down to Nedalshytta, our second hut of the day. We got waffles and ice cream and enjoy a few minutes in the sun. We had done 27 kilometers, and I was feeling fast and good. But we still had 18 kilometers to go, this time crossing a pass at a higher altitude.
After Nedalshytta, the trail climbed steadily towards the Swedish border. The terrain was technical once again, and I quickly gaped Audun, but waited for him on the fence that marks the Swedish border.
Just casually sitting on the Swedish-Norwegian border.
After crossing into Sweden, we continued to climb, and patches of snow started to appear. They were typically long and perpendicular to the trail, so that you couldn’t go around them. We couldn’t see very far into the distance, so we couldn’t really tell how much snow there was going to be.
Crossing a stretch of snow
The snow was much harder on Audun than it was on me. I could have run much more, but decided to keep him company for the long stretches of pushing and carrying his bicycle over soft snow patches, and as a result walked long stretches. As we rounded the corner of the valley we could see the final steep pitch up to the pass, and I crossed my fingers for less snow. There was - at least to begin with.
Headed up the pass above Ekorrdören. Pushing a mountain bike through wet snow = no fun
As we crossed over the top of Ekorrdören pass, I thought Audun would be able to start riding and I could run again. I had basically been walking since the Swedish border. Unfortunately, the backside of the pass was north facing, and held even more snow than the side we climbed.
So Audun was stuck postholing while carrying his bike downhill. He was pretty fed up at this point, and I was doing all I could to cheer him up. The snow dissipated as we descended, and there were more and more rideable sections. As Audun could ride more, I gradually started to jog. It felt good. It felt great. Let’s go!
Before I knew it, I had left Audun, riding the extremely technical trail, in my dust. Or proverbial dust at least. More like mud and lichen. We arrived at Sylstationen, our stop of the evening, after 8 hours elapsed and 46 kilometers. The day was duly celebrated with beer, pizza and ice cream.
Day 2: I wish I had a mountain bike!
I felt worked when I woke up the next morning. I tried to eat as much as I could at breakfast, banking energy for another long day. The trail out of Sylstationen was a long, smooth descent. I put in headphones to try and wake up my positive attitude, and watched as Audun zoom past me on succulently rideable trail. I regretted the choice of heavy brown bread and oatmeal at breakfast, bouncing around in my stomach like a brick. My hips were sore with chaffing from my backpack. Today would be hard.
One foot in front of the other, Bazilchuk.
Boardwalks across the marsh outside of Sylstationen
After the descent, we got to climb another, small pass. I felt good climbing; I could powerhike instead of run, and my legs were liking that. However sluggish I felt, I was still happy that there was nothing that really hurt. Just a little tired, that was all.
The rolling terrain was made for much easier riding, and today Audun was waiting for me much more. That felt good though, like I hadn’t just dragged him along on a fruitless bike ride.
Somewhere between Sylstationen and the next hut, Blåhammaren, I started to obsess about wearing shorts. The weather was beautiful again, and I was hot in my rolled up long tights and dark, baggy shirt. I had gone shirtless for a portion the day before but had to surrender when the chaffing from the mesh on my backpack went from irritating to painful. I though about feeling fresh air on my thighs, and imagined myself feeling powerful and strong - in shorts. Next time, I thought, I will always pack shorts!
Fording the river below Blåhammaren
On the final climb to Blåhammaren, I started to feel a twinge on the outer edge of the sole of my right foot. It felt like a muscle cramp, and I started to look forward to arriving at the hut so I could take off my shoes and stretch out the offended foot. We arrived at Blåhammaren, 18 km into our day in 2:30 elapsed, which was pretty good time all things considered. We sat down outside the hut and I horked down as much trail mix as I could manage while looking at my foot. I probed with my fingers, but it felt fine. Good, I thought, probably just some weird muscles cramp.
Over the course of the next 10 kilometers, my foot started to hurt more and more, and I grew more and more pessimistic. What do you expect?! I shouted at myself, Ridiculously long weekend, of course somethings bound to hurt. Serves you right! You probably broke it.
Tiny person in a huge landscape as I head for the Swedish border for the second time in so many days.
I deteriorated from running to walking, gingerly trying to avoid rolling through my right foot, which was growing incredibly painful. Every time I had to step in any way so the foot was slanted from side to side, something in there screamed.
Poor Audun tried to cheer me up like I had him the day before, but I was a black polluted cloud of rage and frustration. I used my favorite trick, telling myself that if I just finished this run, I would never have to run again. I would quit this stupidity - as soon as I finished. Some people do endurance sports to dig deep and find there strengths. That day in Sylane, I dug deep, to my core, and found an ocean of weaknesses. My options were: keep moving, or call a helicopter. So I kept moving, because the helicopter option seemed silly.
Audun’s bike about to reenter Norway from Sweden. Good thing there weren’t any passport checks!
We arrived at the Norwegian border, and I tried to count how many kilometers we had left. 9? Or would it be 11? Screw it. I just wanted to get this over with. I started to experiment with foot placement and realized that if I only placed my weight on the ball of my right foot, I could run. A strange, loopsided gait, but at least faster than walking. That felt good.
Then there was another big uphill, and I could powerhike on the balls on my feet. I was still strong, my muscles weren’t all that fatigued. If it weren’t for my stupid foot though… But my black rage slowly faded, and turned into appreciation. My foot hurt, but I was still moving. It was too hot, but it was so, incredibly beautiful.
Descent towards Storerikvollen
We stopped at Essandsjøen (the lake) and had a magnificently refreshing swim before travelling the final stretch to Storerikvollen. The final 3-odd kilometers to the car were all that was left. Audun stopped to chat with some kids at the hut (who were admiring his bike) and drink soda, but I just. needed. to keep. moving. The last 3 kilometers felt impossibly long and impossibly hot and I just wanted rest my foot. Don’t think about what you did to it, just move.
The relief of arriving at the car. Sitting down. Driving to the nearest town, buying ice cream a soda. I no longer wanted to quit running forever, but I wasn’t sure what my foot was going to let me do.
Epilogue: a long recovery
One reason I’ve struggling in writing this post is because I have been struggling with whatever I did to my foot for the last three weeks. I’m no longer certain I’ll be running the Ultravasan 90K at the end of August. Whatever I did to my foot isn’t healing quickly, and I’ve been forced to taking a lot more time off running than I like. Luckily, I’ve been able to ride my bikes and even go hiking, but have been really limited in terms of running.
I saw a physiotherapist last week, and most likely I don’t have a stress fracture, which is what I was most afraid of. So it’s some sort of weird soft tissue aggravation, made really bad by the fact that I had to run 15 kilometers after it started hurting. As per the physiotherapists recommendation I’ve started to slowly build up my mileage again, and yesterday I had my first completely pain free run. It was only 5 kilometers, but if felt amazing. But will I be able to run 90 kilometers in three weeks time, with all the missed training? Not so sure.
I definitely tried to go too far without sufficient training, and I’ve resolved to be much stricter with myself in the future about increasing mileage slowly. I’ve had a couple slight injuries in the calves and feet this spring, and they have always come from a sudden increase in running volume. So even though a 85 kilometer weekend, in retrospect, was probably a bad idea, I don’t regret what was a phenomenal weekend in the best weather we’ve had all summer. With patience and dedication, I’ll be back on the trails soon enough.
- The Wild Bazilchuk