Rovaniemi 150, 2013.
If you think Lapland is good only for Santa's reindeers then think again, it's also the perfect stomping ground for the Fatbikers. 15th Feb will see the start of the second Rovaniemi 150, that's a self supported 150 kilometre race around the Lapland town of Rovaniemi by either foot, bike or kicksled.
Alpkit will be represented in strength at this years race and in good style too. With plenty of experience, including a 4th place on the Iditarod behind him, Shaggy (John Ross) returns and is gunning for that 1st place to better his 2nd last year. Just 3 of the starting line up finished the race. "After 32 hours, it practically came down to a sprint. A crowd of spectators and the other racers lined the finish. The weight of the hours racing lifted from my shoulders and I cracked a smile. It was only then that I realised that my beard was a block of ice."
Shaggy defrosts after the innaugural Rovaniemi 150.
Accompanying him this year and risking the health of his famous beard is fatbike convert Ed Oxley. "Last year saw me seeking out new mountain biking adventures. With the support of AlpkitI started getting more into bikepacking. One thing lead to another and before I knew it I had agreed (in the pub of course) to go to Arctic Finland in February to race for 150km in the snow at the Rovaniemi 150. From the spring through to the autumn I am busy running mountain bike skills courses and holiday trips. I generally get more time to ride for myself in the winter and the chance to visit the Arctic Circle and maybe see the Northern Lights whilst riding a bike really appealed."
The Beard... in danger of freezing over.
Next up on home territory is Toni Lund who has plenty of experience coping in conditions well below freezing while biking around the frozen forests and bogs of Finland. "I've been following closely the winter race scene in North America, and races like Arrowhead 135 and Iditarod Trail Invitational have been inspiring. So when I learned about Rovaniemi 150 I thought I should give it a try. I have done multiple 24-hour solos in the past, and nowadays bikepacking, so this is also a kind of natural evolution from those races." To get more of a flavour check out Paul Errington's preperations for the Arrowhead Ultraand a report on the race itself on his blog.
Toni relaxes with a brew.
Finally we have Lee Peyton, preferring a different mode of transport... his own two feet. Having competed in both the Yukon Ultra and Arrowhead 135(read a great report of his Arrowhead Ultra) he'll be looking to put that experience to good use. "In the race’s first outing last year none of the foot competitors finished the course due to the severity of the conditions. This year there’s a big Alpkit presence but as far as I’m aware I’m the only runner, the rest of the guys are doing the fat bike thing."Sounds a good enough reason to us!
Lee forges his way on the Yukon Ultra.
Taking part in these kinds of events has it's own draw for some people as Lee runs through a few of his particular fave's. "Ultra running in some of the most hostile environments in the world, being entirely self-sufficient by dragging all your equipment in pulks (sledges to most normal folk), battling the conditions (temperatures can dip to minus 50C), wolves, bears, the norm." However it is certainly not something to take lightly, preparation is key to not only staying safe but possibly even enjoying it. We checked up on the guys to see what they had been up to.
Ed. "I got hold of a fat bike and started riding it a lot. Training has been fun, basically I've just been riding lots and the recent snow has been a great chance to get some practice in. As well as riding I've been shoving my fat bike up hills, as there could well be hours of pushing the bike if we get a deep snow fall in Finland. Last week I took the train from my home in Hebden Bridge up to Ribblehead in the Yorkshire Dales. Then I rode back home in the snow along the Pennine Bridleway for 100km. It was great fun and bloody hard! I got lost a few times in the dark where the trail was obscured by snow and I was treated to a fierce headwind for the last 2 hours! It should stand me in good stead for Rovaniemi though. I can't wait."
Ed trundles along the Peninnie bridleway, dreaming of Finland.
Travelling on foot Lee run's through some more specific training he's been up to. "In years past it has involved putting as much mileage as possible into the legs. This year has been a load more structured with the support of MH Therapies and have even gone all techy and done a couple of sessions in Napier University’s Centre of Human Performance, Innovation & Research. They’ve a climatic chamber which allows them to simulate temperatures ranging between 50C and minus 10C and they have the option to punt you up to the equivalent of 5,200 metres. With the arrival of the snow recently training has changed from long runs (20 plus miles) to slightly shorter sessions dragging several tyres
Strength conditioning still forms an important part of the strategy for managing the stresses and strains imposed on the body by dragging the pulk and managing the conditions. Huge deposits of snow are energy sapping (imagine trying to run 100 mile in soft sand) and this has been combated by leg work in the gym, dune sprints and weighted runs."
The only Fat Tyres Lee got to see were the one's towed behind him.
And if you're lucky enough to live where the conditions are a little more consistent and better? "This winter has been great here in Finland and I have done plenty of riding in cold and snowy conditions." ...simple!
So we put it to Toni... there are three guys travelling over from the UK where we've had what amounts to probably about 2 weeks of snow if you're lucky, ... any home advantages?"Maybe a little, but I expect that all the participants are tough competitors and they are prepared one way or the other. It will be interesting how the weather will turn out."
Toni enjoying the delights of Fatbiking in Finland.
So we've got these lad's up in Rovaniemi and they are raring to go, what will they have to look forward to? Endurance racing in temperatures that could drop as low as -30ºC, that's what! In order to race each competitor must comply to a minimum mandatory kit list. Being self supported out in severe cold conditions can be potentially dangerous so everyone must be aware of their own abilities and kit they are carrying.
So minimum needed will be:Sleeping bag rated to -20ºF or -29ºC, sleeping pad, headlamp with enough batteries, rear red flashing lamp with enough batteries, three reflective patches (given by the organisation). So not loads but there's a big list of recommended kit, but it's down to competitors if they carry them. In theory they should be able to complete it without stopping, but considering Shaggy took twice as long as he had thought last year anything could happen.
Ed. "I started to gather together the specialist bits of kit needed to undertake this challenge. Alpkit are providing me with a sleeping system which can cope with temperatures as low as -30ºC (down bag, bivvy bag, mat and dry bag all fixed on my handlebars). This kit is a requirement of the race and is essentially survival kit. If it all goes wrong this is where I will put myself and await rescue! Also if I just have to sleep then I will set up my bivvy. Hopefully the kit will remain unused and I'll pedal on through the night."
With a level of unpredictability and potential seriousness there may be a few nerves, but if prepared these become far less as Toni explains. "I'm not really worried about anything. I'm preparing to pretty much anything that the race can throw on me, be it cold, snow, fatigue and suffering. Most of all, I expect the race to be a great and memorable experience.I will have the mandatory kit, which consists my sleeping system, down sleeping bag and the Hunka bivy bag. For breaks I have the Filo down jacket and also down pants. Both the sleeping system and down clothes will be packed to Airlok XTra ags. Otherwise I'm using my usual bikepacking kit that includes essential multi tools, a spare tube and a pump. And plenty of eating to survive 24+ hours on the bike."
Lee grabs some rest during an improvised bivvy along the Arrowhead Ultra.
As Shaggy reflected on his race last year, conditions can change quickly, meaning you may not get what you're expecting. "In winter racing, the trail conditions have a huge influence on you speed, much more so than in the summer. I was reassured to see how much work was being done to prepare the trail. Then, a week before the race, the temperatures soared and it started to snow. This was not good news for the bikes- super cold weather means the snow freezes nice and solid, providing a good riding surface. Fresh snow means pushing. Rather than worrying about the weather, I did my best to refine my bike and equipment... It had been snowing heavily for several hours and the wind had filled in any sign that people had been through before me. The way forward was now covered with thigh-deep snow. Progress was very slow. Perhaps one mile an hour. A short road section gave us confidence. Unfounded confidence. Soon we were back pushing. Perhaps 20km from the end we met Simon, the event photographer, coming the other way on a snowmobile. He told us about the carnage behind us. We were the only racers left- everyone else had quit the race before the half way point. One Italian runner had to be rescued and was in hospital."
The Rovaneimi 150 is a qualifier for the Iditarod in Alaska. Could this just be the beginning forToni? "Will I possibly participate in the North American races in the future? ... maybe. It's a long shot, but never say never."
Shaggy gets some last minute pointers before the race starts. ph. Mel Ross.
You can read Shaggy's full report from last year's Rovaniemi race in this Daring Deed.