Last wednesday at 0:15 I reached the finish line at Jokkmokk (Swedish Lapland) , after more than 16 hours of stage, finishing the extreme running race ICE ULTRA BEYOND ULTIMATE: 230Km. (215 at the end) in 4 stages.
At that time I had have crushed my body, but I felt stronger than Superman, accumulating so much happiness and emotions that it takes less than a minute to forget the suffering and bad moments accumulated during the four previous days. It seem that reaching the goal justifies everything, but for me, even though I like reaching the final goal, the most important is to have enjoyed, learned and intensely lived during the trip.
On Thursday 13th. I landed at Lulea northernmost airport in Sweden, being surprised by the fact that everything was snowy: the airport, the streets and roads, lakes, forests … we were in Lapland .
On Friday 14th. we met at the airport with the whole group of riders and staff of the organization to be transported by bus to Jokkmokk, around 200 km further north, and at the gates of Sarek National Park, where all race would unfold.
On Saturday 15th. morning we began with a briefing of the organization, medical and binding material checking, and preparing last details to finally start.
At 12 o’clock we started the race, as always, full of hope, enthusiasm and nerves for what would happen to us over the next four stages. We have the first 46km in front of us, and we all started running at an easy pace, but after a few kilometers we found a snow too soft to continue with running shoes, and we are forced to use snowshoes, for no longer leaving them until the end.
This day is great for all the emotions that we get, but we also are hit to the face because Lapland wants to show us how tough will this challenge be. The kilometers are slow and costly to pass, the ground is much softer than we thought, physical and energy demand is brutal, the night comes soon, and we are seeing that the reserves of mental strength will be key to overcome each of the stages.
I had used rackets on multiple occasions, but only for specific times or approximations, and never for so long and demanding trips. However, even noticing I’m very forced both by the type of tread as the fastening system of the chosen model (Big shit!), I feel very good physically and I’m always between the fourth and the seventh in the stage. From the beginning the British Ed Catmur escapes from the group, sticking out just an hour on the stage to the second ranked, the spaniard and my teammate Xavi Marina. These two will not leave these positions until the end of the race. Finally, suffering much more than I would have never thought to make the 46 first kilometers, I finished in 8 hours, entering the fifth … imagine the beating meant for those who came much later.
The Sami (Sami Tribe, Lapland reindeer & forest keepers) who accompanied the event, told us we had picked a week with a fantastic time, because we were always between -5 and -15 ° C , when we predicted between -10 and -30 ° C , and this was very nice temperature, but in contrast, the snow was softer and kept snowing a lot of time.
On Sunday 16th. we were suposed to start at 8am, but heavy snow disrupts all plans of the organization and are forced to change the route. We check out at 12h45 when they get to do the puzzle of the new route, and this means that, despite the cut of 12Km of the 50 planned, night will be again our companion during most hours of the jouney. Now take the start directly with snowshoes on, and only we can draw them in the last 8km, that pass through a lonely icy road, allowing us to enjoy a bit of what we like doing: run with running shoes!
As it is the second stage, we already know what it is all about, and having 8km less than the first day, I don’t find it so hard and I enjoy it a lot. I remember with joy every step amid the forests full of trees covered with snow, each crossing of the many frozen lakes we encountered along the way, each encounter with the controls of the organization, every conversation or greeting with other runners, etc… a great day, with moderate pain, and where you feel really prepared to face the rest of the race. In the end, almost 7 hours, arriving the 5th again, together with Ignacio Prat, who would finally be 3rd in the overall ranking. .
Monday 17th. started well for me, but it twisted a lot during the stage. We also started late and leaving the stage at 46Km. instead of the 44 initially planned, noting again that organizing this kind of events at these latitudes is a really complex and daring task. Tis environment is really uncertain, and both the organization and the runners have to be prepared to go constantly adapting to circumstances as they arise at all times.
I feel so good physically that I start quite hard, always with the group that I think it’s my natural place, between the 4th. and 6th. position. I feel strong, confident and willing to rock it. I even placed some time in 3rd. position. But the euphoria was about to finish, because Lapland had prepared me a surprise. While crossing one of the many frozen lakes of the day, and passing an area where the ice was mixed with liquid water, I put my feet in the water, being totally soaked. This actives me the pain accumulated in the feet after being really forced with snowshoes, and I start have some huge blisters on the soles of the feet, which makes it really difficult for me to reach the end of the stage. A little over half the stage, I cannot run anymore and entered finish line on 8th place, but with so much pain in my feet that I think it will be virtually impossible to repair them and to complete the 90Km planned for the last stage. Now I have to look to recover myself as much as possible, and I bust the blisters, keeping my feet it he air all night to dry the blisters the maximum possible.
On the morning of Tuesday 18th. I ask one of the doctors of the organization to help me with my feet, and he tries his best to make a bandage that prevents me to the living flesh of the soles of the feet become infected or make me as excruciating pain that forces me to give up.
I start the stage at 8 a.m. I have 90km to go, and with every step I do, I can see the stars despite being day time and being the sky full of clouds. I am clear that the day I will long, very long. To reach check point 2 of the 10 to pass on the stage, located at km 18, I feel so bad that I really think it will be impossible to finish. In fact, I see almost no sense to continue, because I’m having an awful time, I almost dizzy at times and, differently from other previous similar occasions, now I cannot find the motivation to continue fighting. I’m seriously thinking about quitting. I do not want to continue suffering so much, only to finish a race that seems to me not adding anything, and at the end, is just one of the many I’ve done. In check point 2 I decide to reach the 3rd., and eat there one Meritene warm soup to recover well and in any case, then decide whether I give up or not.
Angrily, with a big pain in the feet and almost with no energy, I get to 3rd. check point (Km 28) , I take the soup and, suddenly, I find that I have a very important motivation to try to continue: training! But I am not referring here to physical train, because I can do this in many other ways, but precisely to train psychologically. In these situations, when you’re close to the limit, you really learn, you can know yourself better, and you really become prepared to overcome delicate moments in other future situations where you could be playing much more than just finishing a particular race. Thus, with this new motivation, I decide to continue, supporting the excruciating pain that has already surpassed the soles of the feet to reach the ankles (the snowshoes cause me pain everywhere), and I get to c.p. 4, then 5… and I’m already halfway.
Here I enter the mini tent at the check point, preparing myself some hot mashed potatoes that I carry in my backpack, and I take a great decision: "I’m fed up of the snowshoes and I will not use them any more". Since the start of the race I have only done about 15 of the 175km without snowshoes, and these have caused me a huge pain in the feet that now I prefer to avoid it even I sink deeper into the snow. I definitely put the snowshoes in the backpack, and go out looking forward to go ahead, and really believing that I will finish the stage and the race. I am lucky that when I start moving, I meet the danish, Allan Read, and we decide to stay together for the rest of the way, setting an intense pace and leading each one of us alternately.
My feet get hot, I feel much less pain without snowshoes, and move from check point to check point 20% faster than it did in the first half of the day. And although it seems crazy to say this, I can say that I start to enjoy a lot. I enjoy as much as the second stage in which everything went well. With more than 12 hours accumulated on my legs I appreciate again the beauty of crossing that immensity of pure and unique nature, floating in frozen lakes, flowing through the endless forests always painted in white, feeling the silence, capturing the authenticity of such a special and little known area of our old continent. I’m happy because I have overcome a critical moment, because I will finish the challenge, because I’m enjoying, because I have learned a lot, because running or walking in total freedom and awareness of the body and the environment is a great feeling, because doing it in a so great place is priceless, because I feel really alive, and because, once again, I realize that we must know how to fight bad times in order to achieve the best moments of life.
At 00h15 on Wednesday 19th. I entered the finish line, with Allan, and blending into a deep hug with Wes, the race director, and Louise, one of the members of medical staff who better has been taking care of me feet and encouraging me during the race. I’ve done it. At the sporting level it has not gone as well as expected after the first stage, because I have fallen to 10th. place in the final ranking, between the 17 runners who could complete the race. But I think it has been the best thing that could happen to me. I came here especially to start preparing what has to be my next big project: the North Pole (Arctic integral trip from Canada to north pole), and things not going well have been the best possible training. From this ICE ULTRA, I draw some lessons that I’m sure will be very useful for me in many projects (in adventure or in live) in the future:
– There is not any small challenge. Although we have made much more difficult projects, anyone can be complicated and we should always be alert.
– To overcome the critical moments, we need to have very solid "reasons", or it will be difficult to find the necessary "motivation". I had not worked too well this aspect because it was a theoretically a smaller project for me, and I almost give up for this reason.
– You have to work very well what depends on you. Then circumstances can be complicated, but much of our confidence will come from knowing that we have done our homework. I had not trained well here the snowshoes part, and I had not chosen well the model, thinking it would be a minor issue… I mean, had not done my homework properly.
– We are not the same in each project. We always have a base that is very stable, but there are many aspects, especially those related to the psychological part, which varies much in ourselves in time. In every challenge and every new circumstance, we can have different fears, different motivations, different problems, different inner energy, different commitment, etc. We must always be aware of this, and work on it.
– Let us ask for help. Sometimes we want to solve it all alone, and we should be able to let others help us in some difficult moments. For me it was really important to have the company of Allan during the second part of the last stage, and to have the doctors looking for my feet.
– If something does not work, let’s try different things. Why it took me too long to send both snowshoes to hell? I made an unbearable hurt, and everything changed when I tried to go without them. Sometimes we assume very negative situations as normal and we do not try to make any changes.
– Let us always love our environment with real commitment (not just to enjoy it). It was a life lesson to see how the Sami who accompanied us were proud of their forests, their reindeers, and to live from them and for them; being in full connexion with nature, without giving up many of the amenities and facilities of modern world, but always in balance and respect both with their lifestyle and their traditions, such as the natural environment in which they lived.
I guess very few of you could read until this point. Sorry if I’ve been too long, but I could still write 20 pages more. I have the problem that I think everything we do, absolutely everything, and especially if they are a quite intense things, can bring us many reflections and learnings, further than the sport itself, and I would not stop writing for sharing it with you all. But I cut it here, and I can assure you that I still have many more thoughts from this event, which I will keep for myself in order to use later in a book, a lecture or, especially, in managing some extreme adventures in the future.
Thanks to you for reading this text.
Thanks to Beyond Ultimate for organizing such a genuine and special event.
Thanks to the doctors, staff and Sami people for all the work done.
Thank to live for offering me such special experiences.