KRS Ultra

It's easy to imagine the finish line of a race. Running across it, tired but exulted, hands raised in a gesture of victory. But the process of getting there, especially in any ultra, is what needs to occupy your mind. The finish is never for free.

This is not a happy race report.

I was a bundle of nerves leading up to KRS Ultra, a 60K trail race through Kristiansand's local forest, which also served as this year's Norwegian championship in trail running. I had hoped to bounce back from Rotterdam and use my marathon legs from the winter to run well at KRS.

As it turns out, marathon recovery is a bitch. The first week after Rotterdam I barely had enough energy to go to work. Then was Easter vacation, which started with a cold I completely disregarded. The weather was too beautiful and there were too many enticing mountains to do something silly like resting. So I may have overdone it, just a tad. My quads were destroyed after Rotterdam, and echos of that pain return during the week of ski shenanigans. I started to wonder if I had ruined whatever chance I had at doing well at KRS, and hung all of my hope on a final easy week before the race.

If I'm going to be perfectly honest, the shake-out jog in Kristiansand the evening before the race was the first time since Rotterdam my legs felt half-decent running. Still, I was overly optimistic, boldly stating that I planned to go out with the lead women, cost what it may. I wanted the finish, the achievement of a high placement.

Pre-race shakeout on the KRS course.

The alarm went off at 5:50 am, and we opened the curtains to dismal rain. I had slept well, and felt excited and jittery as I ate breakfast and went over my kit. I went for a short jog to loosen up my legs, chatting nervously with friends. KRS had attracted much of ultrarunning Norway, and I was happy to see my friends like Noëmi, Fredrik, Margrethe and Shanga, as well as many from the Skyblazer group.

An optimistic start line selfie.

The first 2 kilometers of the race are on flat pavement. The start went out hard, and Sylvia Nordskar, Xreid champion from last yeah, soon maneuvered ahead of me. Fine, I thought, latch on and endure. Glancing at my watch, I noted that the pace was rather ridiculous. We were running faster than I had for the entire marathon three weeks ago. It's just 2K on pavement, she will slow down. She must.

But I hadn't warmed up for this intensity, and the humid air caused asthma-like symptoms that I occasionally experience. My throat closed off and I felt as though I was breathing through a straw. As we entered the forest, I detached from the lead group. There was so much of the race left to go.

The doubts started streaming through my consciousness. Dropped after 2K? You're just not good enough. Oh, shut up and just focus on the trail. Focus on running. Enjoy the running. I wasn't, couldn't enjoy it though. I was too stressed; I had slowed down now and was getting passed. I probably just haven't run enough trails this year. 

Don't focus on what you have or haven't done. The race is long, just keep running.

Around 5K, Shanga passed me. "How's a going?" she asked.

Only when I vocalized it did I truly realize it. "Bad," I replied, the silence after this pronouncement echoing through the wet forest. What am I doing in this race? This isn't fun. This finish will not be free, and I'm not prepared to pay what it will cost.

I spent the next 7K, until the first aid station, grasping at straws, trying to find a reason to continue. But my motivation had waned with my pace, and I couldn't convince myself that 'just finishing' was a good option, not with the World Championships in 6 weeks. The thought of spending another couple weeks in the state I had been after Rotterdam, totally without energy, was not appealing.

I'll take the DNF, and I'll go home and just run trails. Rediscover the fun. Without the pressure of pace or placement. Back to basics.

I call Audun from the aid station, curious if he could convince me to continue. But in the end I had made my mind up. KRS was the race that was not.

My friend Pål quit with injury at the same aid station, and we commiserated at the hotel for a few hours until the first finishers were due. Then we went outside and I got a taste of the energy of the finish line.

Fredrik and Noemi, who ran in to a smashing second place, at the finish line.

Every racer comes to the finish line with a unique experience, a unique story. At KRS, there were stories of mud and cold, of taking wrong turns, of roots and rocks and the occasional relief of dirt roads. I rang a cowbell in the finish area, finding strength in the noise, enjoying making every runner feel seen for their achievement, and giving big finish line hugs to all of my friends. The finish is never free; they had earned it and I had not.

Now I'm going to recover, and run some trails.

- The Wild Bazilchuk