Race Report -- Reistadløpet
So what do you do if the conditions at Seefeld just weren't that much fun but you're not ready for ski season to be over? If you're Rune, you head north, WAY north, to the far northern tip of Norway, where you find some serious snow ...
... and you jump into the Reistadlopet. One of the Visma Ski Classics races, this one is billed as the toughest one in the series, thanks in no small part to this eye-catching elevation profile:
Here is the official race description:
REISTADLØPET - A BREATHTAKING ADVENTURE ABOVE THE ARCTIC CIRCLE
Reistadløpet race course profile is known as one of the hardest in Ski Classics. The race starts in Setermoen, which is in the municipality of Bardu in Norway, and goes through arctic landscapes and mountain tops before reaching the finish line in Bardufoss in the municipality of Målelv.
Most pro skiers use kick wax and diagonal striding when skiing from Setermoen to Bardufoss because of the challenging climbs on the course. The race has a long history that dates back to 1958, and it commemorates a local ski legend Colonel Ole Reistad, a Norwegian champion in pentathlon in 1922 and the leader of the ski patrol that won the Olympic championships in St. Moritz in 1928.
Bardufoss, the finish of the Reistadløpet, is a two-hour drive from Tromsø towards the east away from the fjords going inland. Here we stayed at Bardufoss Hotell, where many of the Visma Ski Classic teams stayed as well. Not that I was snooping on the nutrition of some of the top skiers, but I couldn’t help but notice the choice of simple carbs (will not mention names): i.e. a six-pack of chocolate bars and a liter of soda for night snack, or four slices of white bread with jam and a sugary soda for breakfast.
The start of the race is in a nearby town called Setermoen, a 30-minute drive from Bardufoss. Setermoen is a military town where I was stationed to serve my one year in the Norwegian Military in the mid-80s. At the time, I couldn’t wait to get out of there and back south to warmer (or less cold) weather, but this time around, I could appreciate the dramatically beautiful landscape surrounding the town. I guess that is the difference between being forced vs choosing to go somewhere.
Reistadløpet is the last race in the Visma Ski Classic season, with all the elite long distance skiers present in addition to some World Cup skiers, like Rosie Brennan, Erik Valnes and Martin Nyenget, to name a few. It is a 40k race with some brutal climbs. It is the only race in the Visma series that has never been won by double poling only. The conditions were just what one could hope for, minus 1 C at start and the sun starting to peek through.
At about 500m above sea level, the vegetation ends and it was the naked mountain with a strong headwind to the final peak, 14k into the race, 700m above sea level. I figured that the next 26k to the finish would be mostly gentle terrain with gradual downhills. This was mostly true except that many of the remaining uphills were surprisingly steep and again…. herringbone hills. I don't think I have ever herringboned as much in a race. After the peak and a couple of long downhills, the trail was now below the tree level winding between and up and down smaller peaks. With the sun shining, this was an absolutely gorgeous part of the course. With 7k to go and still skiing at an elevation few hundred meters above the finish area, I figured the rest of the course ought to be moderate, only to round a corner and staring right into another long herringbone hill (think strawberry hill on the Viking, but three times as long). I admit I let out a loud “WTF!!” when I saw the hill. But, one step at a time and soon this hill was behind me as well. The downhills were fast (my fastest speed was 60k/hr) but never dangerous.
The last few kilometers were mostly downhill (about time!) and I ended up finishing 5th in my age group (50 – 59) out of 76. My time was close enough to medal that I think a 2nd or 3rd would have been within reach with a better start position.
All in all, a wonderful experience and a race I would highly recommend, just practice a lot of herringbone beforehand. Augustina, my wonderful wife who is such a trooper going to all these remote places with me, asked if I would do this race again. My answer was…. Absolutely!