Iceland Ultra Marathon

Dr Carlyle, after his previous success with the London Marathon, headed off to a far greater challenge in the wilderness of Iceland for the incredible Laugavegur Ultra Marathon. Here is his full report…

The race story
The 3 hours bus journey down from Reykjavik was an apprehensive one after the organisers warned us to expect poor conditions & a race long headwind. There was even chatter of a postponement due to the previous few days heavy rain swelling the rivers we were due to cross.

The race got underway promptly at 9am after the officials confirmed that the course was passable and just as the heavens opened…. The initial stage was one more fit for mountain goats rather than runners, a steep, narrow track across lose shale and mud, which soon gave way to large tracts of snow and ice. Throw in the odd ankle deep slush puddle to ensure the freezing water thoroughly soaked your feet.

Surprisingly we were able to enjoy some of the stunning scenery, even take a photo or 2, but this was a brief (and the only) enjoyable period as the rain turned to sleet, then to snow & then into a freezing hail storm! As we gradually lost all feeling in our overexposed bodies we gladly fell upon the 1st checkpoint. At last some good news, only 45kms to go….

Some relief came as we descended steeply into a valley, the howling wind abated and the hail turned back to rain, at which point Alex executed a spectacular downhill forward roll at speed. Luckily we were able to wash any mud off at the first major river crossing at the half way point.

Any jubilation that we had only 27.5kms ahead of us and the rain had turned to a merely constant drizzle was short lived as now Mother Nature conjured up a sandstorm. The gale howling down the valley so strong that at some points it was all you could do to not get blown off your feet, nevermind the unique stinging sensation of fine sand whipping your frozen skin. Without doubt the lowest point of the race for me & the now it became a question of finishing rather than racing the clock….

The fourth checkpoint proved to be a lifesaver (yes, one of my fellow competitors expressed concern that I was developing hypothermia). Buoyed by a snickers and the knowledge that it was inconceivable that I could get any wetter, all that remained ahead of was 17kms of rolling terrain. Accompanied by the near constant howling headwind it proved to be a long lonely section, with a few unplanned detours as through the murk finding the trail markers was easier said than done.

The 5th checkpoint was a welcome sight, only 5kms to the finish was the news, such elation, light at the end of the 55km tunnel. I almost kissed the unsuspecting female volunteer. The remaining obstacles, the deepest river crossing yet, the inevitable final hill, oh & not forgetting the gust of wind that nearly blew me off a cliff, paled in comparison to the fact that the end was nigh !

After 8 hours and 49 minutes, we rounded the final corner, smelt the BBQ so put in a sprint finish (well it felt like sprinting), gratefully accepted a dry blanket & a warm mug of tea. The race officials later acknowledged that it was the worst weather they have seen in 10 years of organising the race & claimed that with the wind chill factor the temperature up in the hills was -4c…. Indeed 20 of the 119 competitors didn’t make the finish after they enforced the 2/3′s of the way ‘time-out’ as the conditions continued to deteriorate.

If this inspires you to don some running shoes & get amongst it, my advice?

Don’t!