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The first MLAU is history

By 20. March 2022April 15th, 2022NEWS ENGLISH
Copyright: Linnéa Isaksson @Follow The Sun Photography

So, this is it. My first winter of organising two Montane Arctic Ultras is coming to an end. What an experience it has been. After a challenging race in Canada – with very strict Pandemic rules and an „out and back“ race format that had to be changed twice due to overflow – it was time to travel to Överkalix. At this point in time some of the trails we were going to use were not in the best shape. A lot of fresh snow meant we had to re-groom large parts. Also, a lot of marking still needed to be done. Everybody joined in once more and thanks to the hard work by Robin Landin, Daniel Cedering, Henrik Drugge, Niclas Bentzer and countless helpers from the region’s snowmobile club, we got it done. The weather was on our side, too. Thus we had a fairly hard packed and really well marked trail on March 6th.

While we were busy with the trails, a bit further South, near Kalix, Per from Rimfrost Adventures and his team welcomed the participants of the very first MLAU training course. Temperatures at this point in time were fairly mild but the athletes got very valuable input during indoor sessions and plenty of time to train much needed outdoor skills, like preparing a camp, lighting stoves and wood fires.

Eventually, all athletes and crew arrived in Jockfall, with our amazing hosts Robin and Ann-Sofie Landin. Hans Landin could not be with us because of a recent surgery. He is on the way to recovery and the entire MLAU team is looking forward to also meeting Hans next winter!

Some athletes also opted for a stay at the Grand Arctic Resort in Överkalix and drove up to Jockfall for the pre-race briefing and dinner. Everybody felt good and anxious to get going.

Unfortunately, we had a couple of athletes who were unable to start. Needless to say that, this is an absolute horror scenario for any athlete. After all this time of preparation and the expense, not being able to have your adventure. On top of that, there is a war in Ukraine. It felt a bit selfish in those times to be 100% committed to a project like the MLAU but like I wrote in a facebook post as much as these are troubled times I think it’s important that we also enjoy life and have some normality. Hopefully, most agree with this way of looking at it.

Our start line at the Grand Arcitc Resort in Överkalix was absolutely amazing! In almost 20 years of organising extreme challenges I have never seen this many people checking out what we are doing. Therefore, a big thank you to all local visitors who created this great atmosphere. It seems many of them consequently have become addicted to „dot watching“ 😉

It was also nice that it was a bit colder again. – 15 degrees Celsius is not extreme but it’s cold enough to be challenging and also dangerous when making mistakes. The speed of the athletes was fast. Initially, I was afraid not many would see the spectacular Laxforsberget checkpoint in daylight but the opposite was the case. It was challenging to get up. However, many participants arrived way before the time we had anticipated.

Even tough some trails were soft on the surface, our mountain bikers were speeding right along. I don’t even want to think about what they would have done if the trails were rock solid … Even when we got fresh snow and later on warmer temperatures again, they were way ahead of the athletes on foot or ski. Their speed quickly meant that we were 1 day ahead of schedule and we needed to open a large number of checkpoints. A few of our volunteers were not able join us – due to Covid-19 they could not travel to Sweden – which meant that the work load for the crew at each checkpoint and at Race Headquarter was immense. Luck has it that I always get the chance to work with absolutely fantastic volunteers and they put in endless hours every day to make sure we could be there for all athletes when they needed us.

The checkpoints themselves were the perfect variety. Laxforsberget with an incredible setting, powered by Jockfall and a romantic cabin with a newly repaired door – thank you Sveaskog! Jockfall itself with the great restaurant facilites and cabins, Polar Circle Cabins #1 and #2, the Ice Hall and Sports Hall in Överkalix, the Folkets Hus in Lansjärv, the Snowmobile Club House in Leipojärvi, Hembygsförening in Nattavaara and the beautiful Rikti-Dokkas. A special mention to the really great cooks at Lansjärv who took perfect care of us there and the incredible members of the Snowmobile Club in Leipojärvi who also provided us with superb meals and most important of all, with the world’s greatest hospitality. We all felt really at home with you guys the minute we walked in the door.

The 185 km race was won by Michaela Senft from Switzerland. 2nd rank went to Olivier Vriesendorp (Netherlands) and the third overall finisher was Ben Clayton-Jolly (England). Other finishers were Katy Parrot (England), John Beel (England) and David Abratt (England). Some had to withdraw and some were not able to start, due to the Pandemic and other reasons.

In the 500 km race biker Stefan Zahlten had to scratch on day 2. His front tire sustained a damage before the race and it could only be replaced with a „summer“ tire that prevented him from riding over long distances. In the foot category we saw a super race between Tiberiu Useriu and Kevin Leahy. Initially others were part of this leading pack but towards the end these two were left. Behind them, all athletes had their highs and lows, too. The main obstacles were warm temperatures and the resulting softer trail surface. It meant that many km were done with snowshoes on. Hot temperatures and sweating during the day time also meant that the nights felt colder. Even tough it did not go below -10 for many nights, I have seen participants wearing rather thick layers at times. I think it was also the lack of sleep that made many of them more sensible to the cold. We have seen a few athletes push very hard initially, to cover maximum ground but they were clearly struggling with not sleeping enough. For some of them this resulted in missing some clearly marked turns. Thanks to the Fjällcom Tracking Page we caught them all before they went too far. Of course it still resulted in frustration for the respective athletes but all I can say to future participants is to remember this. It never pays of to go beyond a certain level of tiredness. Not only can you make serious mistakes but also at this stage progress is usually so slow that it makes much more sense to rest, eat and recover a bit before pushing on.

With Jeff Lau from Malaysia we had an athlete who seemed to go completely „the other way“. He took very long breaks and went fairly slow. Several times I thought he won’t make the finish line in time. Since we had the crew in place we let him continue and I am glad we did because he would reach Överkalix in time and can now call himself a MLAU finisher.

For our only skiers, Beate and Martin Klein, there were good days and bad days. Sometimes they were struggling with the frozen surface. Other times they were able to go the speed they had intended. In any case, they finished well within the time limit and judging by their smiles and positive feedback, they really enjoyed the adventure.

Jeroen Roodenburgh had to withdraw after reaching Lansjärv because he sustained an injury when he broke through soft snow going the wrong direction. Another athlete who could not continue was Paul Fosh from England. Jeroen took an earlier flight home and Paul, after some days rest, was able to cheer others on and experience a bit more of this beautiful part of Norbotten.

Everybody else was able finish. Which is amazing and exactly what I was hoping for, i.e. a race with significantly higher finishing rates than what we are used to in the Yukon. It was particularly great to welcome Russ Reinbolt (USA) and Kike Trull Maravilla (Spain) who both have had some tough races in Canada, at the 500 km finish line. I was able to talk most of the athletes and they all really enjoyed their time in and around Överkalix and Gällivare.

The overall 500 km winner was biker Florian Reiterberger (Germany). Followed by William Robertson (Scotland) who was very close to Florian most of the time but in the end had to admit defeat. The third athlete and first on foot to cross the finish line was Tibi (Romania). Similar to the guys on bike, Kevin Leahy (Ireland) was hot on his heels for many days but in the end Tibi he was unstoppable. However, Kevin has achieved something that won’t be easy to „copy“. He did this year’s 300 mile MYAU and finished 2nd overall and 1st on foot. Now he finished the MLAU 500 km on foot and is 2nd on foot. And most important of all, he is injury free. I certainly don’t recommend doing both races back to back but something tells me it’s not been the last time we have seen athletes attempt this.

It was great to see so many others do well, too. Kasper Vanherpe (Belgium/5th), Dennis Pemsel (Germany/6th), Laura Trentani (Italy/7th/1st woman), Joel Juht (Estonia/8th), Brian Bell (Ireland/9th), Victor Hugo Docarmo (Switzerland/10th), Glen Walker (England/11th), Judith Havers (Germany/12th/2nd woman), Luc Atgé (France/13th), José Luis Romero and Enrique Trull-Maravilla (both Spain/14th), Russ Reinbolt (USA/16th) Marios Giannakou (Greece/16th), Andrew Bond (England/18th), Beate and Martin Klein (Germany/19th and 1st xc-ski – which makes Beate also 3rd overall woman), Scott Donatelli (Canada/21st), Hervé Acosta (Switzerland/22nd) and Jeff Lau (Malaysia/23rd).

Congratulations to all of you!

I think for a first edition, we have done very well. As I said during the briefing March 5th, we made a few mistakes and it was not all perfect but we came pretty close and in some cases were able to improve immediately. Some other things are easy to fix for next winter. In general, I am happy to say that the feedback that has reached me so far has been excellent and I welcome any ideas that will help us get even better.

Time to say thank you to all who were instrumental in making the MLAU become a reality. Thank you Niclas Bentzer for suggesting Överkalix as a location for the race and for having been so involved in organising, together with Linnea Nilsson-Waara. You introduced me to many of the people who have now become an integral part of team MLAU. Thank you Robin, Ann-Sofie and Hans Landin from Jockfall. You have been amazing. You went out of your way to make sure we succeeded. Especially Robin, thank you for all the time before, during and after the race – preparing and marking trails, cooking, guiding and problem solving! Thank you to Daniel Cedering and Henrik Drugge for the many days of trail work and also for guiding during the race. Thank you Roger, Arnold, Roland, Hannes, Klas, Stig, Lars, Robert, Algirdas, Peter (Cedering), Peter (Isaksson), Oskar and Hilding for the excellent work as guides. Thank you to the Överkalix Kommun and especially Sara Söderberg for always being there with answers and solutions. Thank you Gällivare Kommun for supporting us, too.

Thank you to all our checkpoint locations and hosts. We all loved your hospitality and can’t wait to be back.

Thank you to the world’s best volunteer crew – Thank you Diane for finding and preparing this great crew and then being at Race Headquarter with Lucy (and Bodhi), working 24 hours a day to make sure we are all fine. Thank you Callum, Pat, Peter, Mike, Michi, Lauren, Emily, Alex, Chris, Sam, Eleanor and Alistair. You were incredibly good. It was an honor to work with you and I look forward to having you with us again!

Thank you to the visiting film/media teams and journalists from Ireland, Taiwan, Greece, Canada, France and the UK. Thank you to Silverbullet Film – who were in charge of providing much of the social media content you have seen. And who will soon release a documentary about the MLAU 2022! Thank you Linnéa Isaksson, our official MLAU photographer, for the many great images. Athletes who want to purchase photos, please contact Linnéa direct or through me – and make sure you respect the copyright.

Thank you to our many sponsors and supporters, Montane, SOTO, Kahtoola, Atlas Snowshoes, Sveaskog, Fjällcom, Jockfall, Explore Jockfall, Acapulka, Heart of Lapland, Swedish Lapland, Överkalix Kommun, Gällivare Kommun, Peter Mild Design, Reko, ICA, Grand Arctic Resort Överkalix, OutMeals AB and Nybergs.

Last and certainly not least – and I think I can speak on behalf of all involved, athletes and crew – thank you to our partners, husbands, wives and families for being so patient and supportive. Our „strange“ hobby takes up much time and resources and we could not do it without your help!

I need a bit of time to recover and catch up on work that has been piling up on my desk. So, I may need a little more time than I normally do to get everything ready for next winter. The first question to deal with will be the dates. This will depend on the Yukon Quest’s timing for their race and also possible time frames in general. In other words things may pretty much be the same as this year but there could also be changes, i.e. we start with Sweden and then go to Canada. I will let you all know as soon as possible and hope to have everything ready for taking entries from April or early May.