Race report: Oslo Ecotrail 80K

The sun beat down on the black pavement of the undulating roller ski track at Holmenkollen stadium. A few spectators stood along the path as I trotted towards them.

“It’s the first woman!” they exclaimed.

They were talking about me. I was 30K into my first attempt at the 80K (50 mile) distance, and by some comedy of errors I was leading the race.

How on earth did I get here?!

Dazed and confused as the unlikely winner of Oslo Ecotrail 80k. Photo: Audun Bugge
I was filled with a surreal calm in the days leading up to the Oslo Ecotrail. I went into taper mode 10 days out after my biggest mileage week since Tenerife. I ran a final workout the 5 days before the race, and felt fit, fast and ready to go. I started to wonder if I was on the cusp of a standout performance, but also knew that anything could happen on race day.

The forecast for race day in Oslo was aggressively hot and sunny. I wasn’t terribly worried, as I figured it could hardly be worse than the OCC in 2016. I would just stay as wet as possible and hope for the best.

The beauty of a hometown race is waking up in your own bed, cooking breakfast in your own kitchen, and using familiar means of public transport to get to the start. Not wanting to hang around for too long, I only budgeted getting there 30 minutes before the 8 am start. I killed time standing on the (long) line for the porta-potty, watches runners milling around and swallowing the nerves that had finally decided to show up.

Start line ambiance.
The race director was given the microphone just 2 minutes before we were due to start, and during her preamble suddenly realized it was past the hour. “Oh! OK, 7-6-5-4-3-2-1-Go,” she exclaimed, and three hundred runners headed towards the Oslo forest.

I weaved and dodged through the crowds until the field spread out and I could open up my stride. I found a comfortable pace, and started to click off familiar kilometers up Akerselva river, passing a handful of racers. I started to wonder how many women were ahead of me; it certainly couldn’t be very many.

Easy going during the early kilometers of the race. Photo: Audun Bugge
The Akerselva river passes right by my apartment, and Audun and Zoe, who were racing the half marathon later in the day, had come out to cheer. “You’re in first place,” they yelled.

Oops. That’s unexpected.

My pace felt reasonable though, so I figured there was no reason not to lead the race. The first 15 km to Hønefoten passed very quickly, and I downed my first gel after an hour as planned. I was feeling uncharacteristically hungry, and decided to eat a waffle on the first major climb to Fagervann lake.

I alternated between walking and jogging up the climb. Scads of campers were spread out along the edge of the lake, enjoying a quiet morning in the sun. Some of them barely noticed racers barreling past, while a few took it upon themselves to cheer.

Apart from a nasty passage through cross-cut forest just past Fagervann, I enjoyed the technical trails to Kamphaug and down to Skjærsjøen. On the descent, I found myself towing a train of four men. We hit the dirt road and I slowed down a bit to focus on taking on more calories. The men passed me, but I soon caught up and hung onto their train on the gentle descent towards Sognsvann.

My left hip started to jar a little bit, and my calves were starting to protest at so many kilometers of pounding on dirt road. (In hindsight, we were clicking off some kilometers in the 4:30 range, so no wonder it felt a little rough). I began to fantasize about the climb up to Vettakollen, when I could finally break the endless pounding rhythm and hike.

Along Sognsvann lake, a jogger in a familiar Hoka One One singlet did a double take and my French friend Sandra stopped to cheer me on. “You’re in like 25th position, and a bunch of the men ahead of you looked destroyed already, you will catch them!”

I almost snorted – why should I care about the men? I was leading this race! Still I felt a boost from someone cheering for me, and sped off towards Vettakollen. The rocky climb brought a welcome shift in cadence. There were a bunch of video and still cameras and people jumping around to capture me at the top of the climb. Smile – you’re leading the race!

The trails over the top of Vettakollen were drier than I’ve ever seen them, because of the unseasonably hot and dry weather of late. There was almost no mud, and I sped along the trails playfully but carefully. It simply wouldn’t do to crash this early in the race.

My bottles were nearly empty as my watch told me 30k had elapsed, and I started to wonder how far it was to the (nominally) 30K aid station. It finally came into sight at around 32 km. A bunch of the Skyblazers running team, who I’ve recently started running with, were there and they got excited when they saw me.

Ultrarunning is an eating contest, not a beauty contest. Photo: Felipe Hefler/Skyblazers
“I’m afraid I started too hard!” I mumbled as I stuffed a cinnamon roll and a piece of lemon cake into my month. “I wonder how much time I have on the second woman?” Since this was the first timing mat, they had no way of knowing.

I was one part having the time of my life and two parts terrified of being the girl who lead the race from the get go only to crash and burn. Turn the narrative around, I told myself, you deserve to be here. As long as you don’t do anything stupid, you can win this thing.

The sun was blazing as I alternated between walking and jogging up the pavement towards Voksenkollen, chatting with a couple more guys before leaving them for my own, silent company. I was starting to wonder how I could possibly have enough water for the next 15 km when the course lead us through a perfectly placed extra water station. I drank deeply, refilled my bottles and wet my head. It’s hot out here - time to be aggressive about hydration.

Smiles for miles over Voksenkollen. Photo: Bjørn Hytjanstorp/Kondis

On the rolling descent to Sørkedalen, I found myself in the predictable ‘OMG you are barely halfway how can your legs feel tired already’ dip. It helps to know the dip is coming; you just accept that this is kind of going to suck for a while. I started to fantasize about jumping in the fjord, hours from now, as the winner of the race. Snap out of it. Be right here, right now. Focus on forward motion. I used my baseball cap to wet my head in a creek again for good measure.

I was starting to feel a little low on calories, and hoped there would be more cake at Sørkedalen. The body glide I had put on had worn off with the water I dumped over myself, and the skin under my arms was chafing. I made a short list of things I had to remember at the aid station: 1) Cake and 2) Vaseline. It’s pretty impressive how easy it is to forget everything you wanted to remember as soon as you roll into an aid station.

Anti-chafe sunscreen. Photo: Felipe Hefler/Skyblazers

The Skyblazers crew was ready for me this time, and they had a big beautiful bag of ice cubes which they proceeded to stuff in my running vest. There was no cake, so I ate orange slices and potato chips like there was no tomorrow. There was no Vaseline, but there was thick sun screen put under my arms. I felt like I should say something intelligent to the camera man darting around, but all I could do was try to ascertain how much of a lead I had. I gathered I had a decent lead, but not enough to lollygag in aid.
“You can do this!” the Skyblazers enthused as I set off.

I ate a cereal bar as I hiked the first part of the climb out of Sørkedalen, determined not to bonk. The climb wasn’t terribly steep, so I took to jogging and passed a handful of runners. Several were wearing bibs for the 31K race, which I gather had an early/hiking start.

After the climb the course was fun and games and singletrack towards Fossum. My legs had protested all day at the repetitiveness of easy dirt road running, and I relished the more variable movement pattern of running on singletrack. I passed a couple of more 80K racers who were walking, and hoped I wouldn’t meet whatever wall they had.

I was feeling pretty ragged by the time I got to the second to last aid station at Fossum. The Skyblazers were there with more ice and encouragement, there was (finally!) more lemon cake, and they told me I had 20 minutes on the 2nd place woman. Keep it together, I thought, only 20 more kilometers. This felt rather laughable – on most days 20K is a fairly long run!

Ready to get sponged down at Fossum. Photo: Felipe Hefler/Skyblazers
I was in ‘get this over with’ mode as I charged towards the technical descent of the Lysaker river. Near the beginning of the descent, I was passed by my friend Paul, who eventually won the 50K, and we shared a quick greeting.

“I’m winning!” was I all could muster. Although I had cared about my time earlier in the day, that was all over now. All I could see was getting to the finish.

The combination of copious amounts of ice in my pack and relative shade in the trees along the river had me feeling fresh and fast. The descent was studded with punchy climbs that I muscled up. There were numerous other racers on the singletrack, mostly from the 30K, and I grew less and less polite as I bellowed ‘passing on your left’ and darted by. I was a woman on a mission, and would not be deterred. Still, it was reassuring when Skyblazer’s Johannes, who was in second place in the 50K, caught me and was even firmer with a train of people we passed. Near the end of the river, I started to think about the relentless sun I was about to enter and down a gel just in case my stomach started to protest.

The final 10K runs between the E18 highway and the fjord, mercilessly in the open. The sun beat down and I started to feel truly awful, an echo of the misery of Ecotrail 45K two years ago. Keep it together, I told myself, slurping down water from my softflasks. Somewhere in my misery, my good friends Vibeke and David showed up on bikes. They rode along side me for a ways, extolling my performance while I grew more and more queasy and dejected.

The course did a loop on dirt roads near Bygdøy, and on the way out I slowed to a walk, feeling faint. What if I’m the girl who led the race for over 7 hours only to collapse in the final kilometers?!

All I had to do was keep moving, even if, as I told Vibeke and David dramatically, “I wish I could just lie down right here.” Happiness was a hose along the course; I spun around in the spray of water, getting wet one final time before grinding back into a trot. The heat was making me queasy and I was moving at a crawl. My dreams of a fast, strong finish were crushed; but I had run strong for 70K, and I was still going to win if I could just keep going.

My friend Christiane came jogging down the final kilometers course to give me a high five. Gustav and Anne from OSI showed up for the final kilometer, and I had a vanguard of cyclists riding behind me, cheering me on, to the finish line.

Relentless forward motion, just before the finish. Photo: Audun Bugge
I lept over the finish line, mostly just relieved that it was over. I finally sat down in a daze of heat and fatigued, surrounded by the Skyblazers and Zoe and Audun and my friends from OSI. All of these people who care and supported and believed in me.

Me surrounded by the top three men in the 50K, including Paul (Hoka singlet) and Johannes (Skyblazers shirt)
And then, then, I went for a swim in the fjord.

Photo: Audun Bugge

{Results: 1st female, 10th overall | Strava | Kondis.no article}

- The Wild Bazilchuk


  1. Congrats on a grueling race well run...heat is the worst of conditions for such an effort.
    Box Canyon Mark from Lovely Ouray, Colorado.

    1. Thanks! Guess I'm glad I was in Arizona and got exposed to some early season heat!

  2. Even though I knew the result already, I was on the edge of my seat wondering how you'd finish. Congrats on your win! Unexpected wins are especially sweet!

    1. Thanks! It was kind of a dream come true, I still can't quite believe it!


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