Against all odds

Hjo harbour

Vättern Rundan 2014 took place last weekend. My training had gone pretty much as planned, but as the event started getting close the usual jitters kicked-in.  I started getting worried about what to wear,  how the travel arrangements would work out and how the home front would cope. Things took a turn for the worse as I got sick less than week before the event. For a few days it seemed like the only option would be to forfeit defeat and stay home. In the end despite all the odds stacked against me I managed to pull it off. It sure wasn’t pretty or fast, but I did finish.

My plan was to fill up the energy stores so I spent the last two weeks before the event without riding at all. I thought I had mentally prepared for the worst, but when I got a coarse throat on Sunday I knew I would be in trouble. Quickly I developed a cough and the flu turned to proper fever Tuesday night just two nights before the start. I spent the best part of the evening in sauna and hydrating myself with Vichy water. Miraculously Wednesday morning I was feeling pretty good with just a little bit of lingering headache left.

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Even with the improving health condition I wasn’t in the clear yet. Friday the 13th was ominously looming just ahead. I tinkered with the bike and noticed my saddle had cracked. At this point all I could do was hope it holds up. At least weather forecast seemed to be improving. It was supposed to be just a slight chance of drizzle at start, but no hint of rain or wind yet. Having read reports of extreme weather conditions during earlier years I pondered over what to wear. In the end I decided to take pretty much all my cycling clothing with me.

I was supposed to share ride with a local sports club, but had never really heard of their exact travel arrangements. I knew where I was supposed to show up, but that was pretty much all I knew. Jumping into the bus I was welcomed by friendly strangers. On the ferry to Sweden I met more like-minded people. It started to feel like this might turn into a good trip. As a bike fanatic it is quite rare to be surrounded by “my kind of people”. Getting tips from more experienced riders turned out to be of great value. Not that I followed any this first time, but psychologically the peer support was great.

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From Stockholm harbour we made our way to the town of Motala by bus. Rather soon I was at the start line waiting for my turn. Almost everybody else in the club was starting several hours later so I was pretty much on my own. The announcer broadcasted my name and we were off. I was happy to hear later that troops at home had managed to catch a glimpse of me on the video stream. I took off at warp speed joining a german group. After 10km I had to stop to take my snazzy pink gilet off. I realized my error as the chain gang disappeared into the distance. Luckily it took only few minutes of pedaling alone before I could join another one. There were couple of big hills and some water on the road, but ride to Jönköping was relatively smooth going. I managed to keep average speed above 30km/h so life was good.

After the first 100km it started to get very dark, wet and windy. I had never really ridden that late and I thought it would be a good idea to try conserve energy for the next third of the ride by riding slow. That turned out to be a mistake. The hills kept going on an on and my speed dropped from slow to sluggish. Chain lines kept passing me and I started seriously doubting whether I could actually make it back to Motala. The youngsters yelling “you’re not even halfway yet” didn’t exactly help. The western side of the lake was a gloomy place. I took long breaks at the depots to regroup, but the 69km to Hjo is by far the hardest bit of cycling I have ever done.

As I made my way to the lasagne I bumped into a dude that had started 18min after me. The sun had risen and we took turns dragging each other and some others up the hills. Slowly, but surely I was starting to wake up from my hibernative state and managed some chit chat again. Faster chain gangs passing us was a far less frequent event now. Eventually I perked up somewhere around Aspa and was able to increase my speed again from the rather dismal 22km/h. My companion had been on my tail, but some time later as I glanced back I couldn’t spot him anymore. I would have liked to keep together, but there was a small group going at the same pace so I continued on.

It turned out to a sunny day and I kept getting stronger. When the head wind finally turned to tail wind I took off passing heards of people. I wasn’t really sure how much was left, but I was just flying up the hills. It started to feel like I could actually do this as there must have been less than 80km to go. Eventually I got tired again, but soldiered on and kept the pace. Every time you thought there would be xx km to go you would see a sign with xx+10. I could not really find any good groups so I must have wasted lot of effort, but I still managed to keep the pace up. On the final straight sprint I managed to hit 40km/h before collapsing at the finish line. I just could not believe that after suffering during the night I had actually managed to pull off this feat of strength.

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Looking back I’m still very happy I dared to join the trip. Sure, as far as the results go I could have performed better, but considering everything I can only be happy how things turned out. Even if the trip would have just turned into a holiday I would have had great fun. I think the people really made the trip so many thanks for the company to Olli, Markku, Timo, Petri, Rolle, Oili, Ritva, Annika, Marko and all the other people whose name I already forgot. Obviously Raimo from EIK club played a great role in making the trip happen so effortless in the first place.

As far as lessons learned go there are a few things I would do differently in case I ever get a chance to go again. First of all I would prefer to start in the early morning even if that means lot less heart warming cheering from the very vocal locals. The later on in the ride the more important it is to try to stick to good groups. I do not need to stop so often as there is no need to fill up water bottles before you have actually run out of fluid. I would also eat the gels and drink honey water earlier to perk me up. I would probably have been better off with less clothing even if that would have meant getting little chilly at times. And finally I would ask people to take more pictures of myself. Most importantly I would listen to sound advice.

Heja heja, bra jobbat!

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