Xreid Jotunheimen: Tyinholmen – Beitostølen

(If you haven't already, I recommend reading the first part of this race report here)

I headed out of Tyinholmen checkpoint alone in the twilight, and climbed quickly to try to generate some of the heat I had lost sitting still. Two figures, one pink and one black, appeared on the trail ahead of me; I was slowly reeling them in. They disappeared around a corner as the trail turned to climb more steeply on the final part of the ascent to Tyinholmen viewpoint.

Heading into the night. Photo: Audun

Once I rounded the corner, I saw that the pink figure had stopped at the bottom of a boulder field.

“Are you alright?” I called out as I approached.

It was Benita, the Swedish woman who had been running in 2nd place all day. She told me she was very, very queasy, and that she was going to take a break to see if the nausea would pass. If not she was going to go back to Tyinholmen to quit. She seemed lucid and had put on warm clothing, so I decided to take her word for it when she said she didn’t need help.

It was unfortunate to see her day end that way, although I was happy to have moved up to 2nd place. I continued on my merry way, taking in the final sunset colors before cresting the top of the hill and navigating through the single off-trail section of the Xreid course this year.

Tyinholmen viewpoint at sunset.

As I descended towards Vennistøldalen, a quintet of runners appeared in the corner of my left eye. They had taken a slightly different route than me through the off-trail section. Their leader had a long, blond braid – another woman!

Being caught shook me out of my quiet reverie. No way was I going to let her pass! The next section was several kilometers of tippy boulders, and I focused on moving quickly, occasionally glancing behind me to check if my competitor was gaining. I had to pee and was out of water, but I didn’t dare to stop until I had run her completely out of sight.

The adrenaline of the encounter propelled me into the night, and I continued moving quickly, eventually catching up with Roar, Jan Olav and Kristoffer on the steep descent to Vølodalen. They were surprised to see me.

“I thought we were going fast until you caught us!” exclaimed Jan Olav as we began to climb out of the valley. There were some faint lights up on the hill ahead of us and I wondered if Sylvia, the lead female, was up there somewhere.

I didn’t even consider getting out my headlamp. The sky was clear and the world bathed in a rich, enduring twilight.

“What time is it?” asked Roar, breaking the silence of our climbing quartet.

I looked at my watch, which, for the occasion, I was using to tell time only.

“Two oh eight.”

“It’s going to start getting lighter!”

I was delighted. The night was half over, and I had barely noticed it! I felt so fresh, in fact, I decided to surge ahead of the boys. We crested a saddle point, and the trail took a sharp left and continued to climb. I headed up the hill, and soon noticed that the boys had missed the left turn and were contouring around the hill.

“OI!” I shouted, letting them know they were on the wrong track.

I thought I might drop them for good now, but soon afterwards I lost the trail down to Yksendalsbu hut. I could see the hut below me, but there was a sheer cliff in my way. I backtracked and found the boys, and together we found the trail.

Steep! Headed towards Yksendalsbu on a training run a couple of weeks before Xreid.

A tiny tent was pitched in the grass next to Yksnedalsbu, with a small camp stove placed out front. I idly wondered how the inhabitants would reached if I knocked on the door and asked for a cup of coffee.

I was getting sleepy, I realized, as I struggled to force myself into a slow jog along the boggy trail out of Yksendalen. The tides had turned; the boys had a gap on me now. I decided it was time to activate the emergency motivation: my Disney’s greatest hits playlist.

With the Circle of Life blasting in one earphone and a double espresso gel in my hand, I was in full combat mode against the Sleep Monster. I surged forward, and lead the group once again as the trail grew more runable.

A blast of icy air met us as we crossed a river and began climbing up above Olefjorden.

“This is going to get super steep,” I warned my companions, remembering the quad-burning grade from my run through a few weeks previous. As we made our way up the merciless slope, a figure in black, moving very slowly, appeared above us. It was Sindre, clearly burned out. He had been running with Sylvia and one other guy through the night, he said, but was very sleepy now. He planned to walk to checkpoint 3 and try to nap there.

Like Benita, he seemed lucid and I decided he would be alright. Little did I know he would later be escorted out to the road at Olefjorden by two racers after he was struck by a fever and struggled to move on his own.

One of his remarks struck me as odd. He said Sylvia had surged ahead of him, and that he thought he saw her take a wrong turn. If that was the case, he noted, I was now leading the race.

Could it be? I thought, but didn’t really dare to believe him. It would be hard to make a wrong turned for more than a minute or two on this trail. We left Sindre and continued to follow the gradually climbing trail.

How far is it to checkpoint 3?” asked Jan Olav.

“Distance is an illusion in this race!” I proclaimed grandly. “But we should be there between 6 and 7 am”

Sindre soon disappeared into the landscape behind us, and then Roar stopped to go to the bathroom and never caught us. Jan Olav and I had good legs on the descent, and soon Kristoffer was left in our proverbial dust. The sun was shining on frosty bluebell petals frosty, and we passed by a small lake calm enough to mirror the landscape around it.

Morning view of Skyrifjellet, on the way to checkpoint 3.

What a place for a morning dip! I thought as we passed by. Just not this particular morning.

My legs groaned every time I force them into a trot, but the gears seemed to move more smoothly once I got going. I grew reluctant to stop running despite the occasionally punchy climbs. Was Sylvia behind me or ahead? If only I could see her, maybe I could catch her?

Eventually, a Red Bull tent appeared on the horizon and checkpoint 3 was in our sights. There was a short out and back section, and whom did I meet, just leaving the checkpoint, but Sylvia herself.

In retrospect, it’s interesting how exactly opposite our reactions to the encounter were. She was spooked at how close I was and proceeded to crush the next climb, fearful of being caught. I, on the other hand, gave up a little bit. I needed the break in aid, to take on some more calories and change socks. That would give her close to a 15 minute head start. If it took me 40 kilometers to make up 15 minutes, how could I make up another 15 in the last 20 kilometers?

Drinking wort, and looking dazed, in checkpoint 3. Photo: Audun.

In retrospect, I wish I could tell a story of chasing her down proudly. But I went into aid and simply said to Audun: “I don’t have 15 minutes in me.” Audun, as I learned later, was rather dazed himself and wasn't ready to try and convince me otherwise. After having stayed up all night crewing friends at checkpoint 2, he had slept for one hour, then driven towards checkpoint 3 to meet me. On the way our car broke down, and he had gotten here by hitch-hiking with the Jotunheimen Rundt sweeper bus.

Leaving checkpoint 3 for the final big climb to Bitihorn. Photo: Audun

After passing the final medical check (yes, I’ve been eating. No, I haven’t thrown up), I gather myself for the final big effort, the climb over Bitihorn. Jan Olav joined me once again and together we forged forward.

Although it was around 7 am as we climbed Bitihorn, a wave of sleepiness more powerful than anything I had felt in the night hit me. I was leaning on my poles, wracked by the cough that had followed me through the race, and felt the blissful relief of my eyes closing involuntarily.

No, you can’t stop now! Get it together! And then there was the equal and opposite pain of forcing my eyes open, of forcing my legs to move forward, of not lying down and giving up.

The view on the way up Bitihorn (taken during training).

I resorted to blasting Disney once more, and soon the characteristics radio tower on the summit appeared ahead of us. On the descent, I was forced to pay attention more and as a consequence woke up. It was every bit as steep and nasty as I remembered it, but I knew things would get better from here on out.

We were soon climbing again, this time up to cross the road and then ascend to ridgeline that would lead us to the finish line at Beitostølen. I was spitting up chunks of slime now as I coughed. What have I done to myself? I thought. It was too late for regrets now.

Jan Olav and I making our way up to the road crossing at Båskardtstølene. Photo: Audun

I started running as soon as we hit the ridgeline, ready to get this over with. Jan Olav hung on, but I could hear him breathing hard. A little ways down the trail, he stopped and said, “I have to sit down and catch my breath.” I was not about to stop now, so I continued alone.

I had run the last 5 kilometers to Beitostølen on my shakeout on Thursday, which felt like a lifetime ago, but I was happy to hit familiar trails once again. I passed a couple more racers walking as I continued to push down the trail. Soon I saw the top of the ski lift, and knew the climbing was finally over.

The home stretch to the finish was on a hot dirt road, and seemed to last forever. Finally the finish line came into view and I was cheered across by a handful of volunteers. Twenty-one hours and fifty-two minutes in an alternate reality was over.

Finally a real beer! Photo: Audun.

I’m extremely happy with the patience with which I raced, and I reaped the rewards, climbing through the ranks and finishing 2nd female and 13th overall. The race ended up being around 115 km, the furthest I’ve run by a long stretch, and a conservative approach was wise. The biggest lesson from this race? The most important moments are the ones where you stop to take in the view.

I'd also like to give a virtual round of applause to everyone who toughed it out and finished this race, even if their days didn't go exactly as they planned. I watched my friend Tyler patiently finishing with his friend Jenn. They had been out for well over thirty hours, and Jenn had suffered from trench foot so bad she could barely walk. There are countless stories like theirs, and they are the true heroes of Xreid.

Jenn and Tyler, still smiling after more than thirty hours on the Xreid course. Photo: Audun

- The Wild Bazilchuk