I am a person that likes to travel and get to know different cultures. I love to explore raw nature and I almost never stay in cities, as I tend to find them super boring. This might sound offensive to some people, but I must say I prefer to go for a run in the forest, mountain, or hike, bike and swim and know my environment, rather than define it. Although I have travelled in about 15 countries, I had never been to Finland. Finland is a country that is special to me for reasons that will take a lot of time to analyse here.
So far I had no real reason to visit Scandinavia, until a friend of mine, informed me that this year it would be the first time that an ultra-marathon of 70 km and about 1,5 km accumulated elevation, would be organized in one of Finland’s biggest natural parks, The Nuuksio Park. So far, I have run trails and mountains mostly in Greece, where the races are hard, Netherlands where the mountains do not exist, but at least, there are some trails thankfully and of course France, Italy, and Germany. In some races, I have managed to climb the podium. I love trail-running and long distance races.
How little did I know…
I thought: “70 km in almost flat Finland? That should not be that hard compared to my mountain running addiction”. How little did I know…
I lost no time and tried to register as fast as I could I was unlucky, as all spots were taken. I persisted, checked, contacted people, and finally got my spot. As I like to travel, I took this chance and decided to combine the race event with a week of vacations, in a very simple cottage (log house), so I can really learn and mostly feel the Finish culture, even for a small amount of time. Living the culture of one’s country is essential if you really want to understand yourself, by understanding others.
Peaceful, unspoiled and respected nature
Fast forward and the race is on! I decided to take it safe, as I did not know the terrain. I kept my eye on my heart rate and did not haste. The scenery was already enough. Having seen nothing from Finland I got a lovely feeling and experience while running because nature was so peaceful, unspoiled and so much respected. You could see the peacefulness from the lakes that were like oil and quite. You could see the unspoiled nature, as there were no big maintained paths that would disturb it, no garbage, no pollution. Something I had never seen in national parks. Almost everywhere, there is something human to find. At Nuuksio were only the signs of trails and the paths. That was all.
This peacefulness gave a great contrast to the state I had. I was competing and somehow I did not care. I decided to enjoy it. Sometimes you see runners grumpy, some of them are focused, some of them enjoy it and smile. I was one of the later. To be enjoying a race where you compete is not easy. Yes, you can enjoy a training no matter how hard, if you manage to lose yourself in a nice area. But races? Not easily!
Technical jungle of rootsnakes
The terrain of the race was quite technical and not expected. The roots crossed the trail path like crazy. A jungle of snakes on your path. If you don’t focus, you would fall. That was not it all though. There were big rock formations that either flat or like a bolder to climb, were super slippery. You really had to make sure your hands were there to balance you and in any case, to help if, you would fall. Apart from this, there was a lot of swap like areas, like water-lands where you were obliged to run on a wooden plank, slippery and old that added an obstacle feeling to your run. Of course, not something dangerous, I suppose.
However, this was no terrain to relax. Many people fell in front of me. I helped them get up. One said to me: “Sorry sir, I was stupid; I tried to take a gel out while climbing one of these boulders.” I replied that it’s OK, gave my hand to get him up quickly, stayed behind him, where my position was, pushed him a bit to get back in the race ‘state’ safe.
Finnish trails, like riding a camel
The Nuuksio 70 km ultra differs in a lot from the ‘known’ race terrains found in countries like France, Italy, Greece, Spain etc. It has the element of constant ups and downs like riding a camel, with very big grades now and then. It’s not something you would expect. This combined with the above terrain difficulty gives a uniquity of both speed potential and being 100% focused, in combination with a challenging but yet peaceful terrain and environment respectively.
I enjoyed every part of the race. I think I don’t have a preferred one. What I really though enjoyed apart from the Finnish nature and the common race details was that in this race we had the GPS live tracking. My whole family could watch me, they made fun with my rankings and this was great! Many people were made happy!
The runner (I keep forgetting his name) that I spent about 2 hours with was the one I helped get up. At some point, his phone’s Facebook messenger sounded. He laughed and said to me: ‘My friends that are tracking me ask what am I doing with that Greek guy. Don’t let him pass you’. I found this, so warm and welcoming humour.
Back to the Finnish trails
My next race is Helsinki City Trail 24 km just 3 weeks after Nuuksio. Yes, Finland has won a part of me. For that reason, the Nuuksio event played a big role. There are some events that the spirit of the people, the organization and the place, join together to create something lovely, beautiful and enjoyful that, believe me, you will never forget. A one of kind experience that money cannot bring. That is the common thing that Nuuksio has with only a few events I’ve known and been so far.
I recommend this event to runners who are up to the challenge of a fast but hard race of 70 km, combined with great views and a technical terrain!