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July 27, 2010

Tom Hancock- Training for an Iceland Adventure Ultramarathon

Written by Tom Hancock









Our intrepid In the Hunt correspondent, Tom Hancock, fresh from a solid race at Grandma's in June, ventured across the Atlantic in July to take on the Laugavegur ultramarathon.  Read his take on a once in a lifetime adventure below....


This month I ventured over to Iceland - land of ice and fire - to run  the Laugavegur ultramarathon. The Laugavegur is a 55km hiking trek not far from the volcano Eyjafjallajökull responsible for the air travel disruptions this Spring. This was my first attempt at a distance above 26.2miles, and even though this is short as ultras go, I went in with very cautious plans, knowing that it's a trail, has a lot of elevation change (the first 13K goes up about 1500 feet), and that I hadn't trained at all for this kind of event after coming off a regular road marathon last month.

Everything was on a bigger scale, starting with a 3 hour bus ride to the start leaving Reykjavik at 4:30 in the morning. The first uphill stretch was almost all walking for me and everyone else (though I found out I'm a slow walker as people seemingly effortless strolled by me). It was also one of the most beautiful places I've been, The part that was harder than I expected was that once we reached the ridge, it continued to be lots of up and down  - run for a short flat piece, go down a steep slope onto a snow patch or stream, climb out the other side, repeat. This was not great on the legs given I had another 20 miles to go. The views were inspiring. The smells were varied, as hot springs would occasionally blow sulphur gas in our faces.  There were aid stations, and the volunteers were great once they realized I didn't speak Icelandic. There was also a midway drop bag so we could change clothes. Uncertain about Icelandic weather, I had a huge range of stuff, but it turned out to be pleasant in the upper 50's to low 60's.

After about a half marathon there was a steep descent. After a big stream crossing (and a change to dry shoes) the middle section of the course was fairly level, almost desert like (and my least favorite part of the course). This is where if I'd trained for the hills I could have run a reasonable pace, but my legs were shot. As we got closer to the end the hills started again, and the course became more and more covered with ash (think gravel, rather than dust). It was never too hard to run in, and the ash provided some welcome cushioning on the descents. At this point I did start to feel a bit like Frodo trudging across Mordor toward the smoking Mt Doom (or Eyjafjallajökull) in the distance.

Finally there was one last river crossing, a rare wooded section, and the finish line with the traditional Icelandic barbecue of lamb and hot dogs. My final time was 6hrs 57minutes (after running a 3:32 marathon last month). That was 127 out of  267 finishers (and 279 starters), and 2nd out of 5 Americans. I got ridiculous foot cramps trying to change shoes after the run, and it took my legs a week to recover. But I would definitely do something like this again - just not right away.


Last modified on September 14, 2010