I awake early with the familiar feeling that a race-day brings-excitement mixed with a spot of nervousness. Today is the day for the Salomon Hammertrail Marathon on the Danish island of Bornholm which lies a couple of hours ferry ride south from the Swedish town of Ystad. Billed as ‘Denmark’s Toughest Trail Race’ the Hammertrail takes it name from Hammerhus- an ancient castle perched atop a prominent hill on the islands north-west corner. The surrounding quarries- both used and disused make for a dramatic backdrop and guarantee though and technical trails. Mountain trails they are not but steep and unforgiving they most definitely are- past tales from runners who competed here are spoken with a certain amount of respect and admiration for the terrain as well as the bravado that sometimes comes with completing a genuinely tough race.
Tough race as it more than likely will be, right now my main concern as I look out the window is for the ferry crossing. The rooftops aerials are bent horizontal from violent westerly gales and the thoughts of a stomach-churning sailing to the island is not something that I welcome. Low grey clouds threaten rain at any moment and the temperature is a long way from late spring warmth. Its with a heavy heart and an even heavier bag (after packing tons of winter clothes) that I leave my apartment.
As we pull into Ystad to take the ferry to Bornholm the sea looks much as expected- a bubbling mass of white-horses and wind swell but the ferry ride is surprisingly calm- the mighty catamaran seemingly dissecting the waves instead of taking a route up and over each one. Soon we arrive to Bornholm and after a scenic bus ride across the island we arrive at the picnic spot next to the flooded quarry that serves as start, finish line and mid-race aid station for the Hammer Trail races. It was clear to see that the Hammertrail is a hardcore race far removed from the glamour of city marathons- a handful of hardy souls hovered around clad in a winter down-jackets and only the Salomon and Suunto flags hinted at what was taking place. The 100 and 50 mile races had begun the previous evening and night and soon we got our first glimpse of the ultra-runners- a 100 miler shuffles into the area, refuels, regroups and resumes on his lonely way many hours from the end of his journey while a couple of 50 milers push hard for a final sprint to the finish, hug and grimace hand-on-knees in perfect unison. The universal gesture of a hard race completed.
There is a few hours to the start of the marathon at 6pm so I find a spot for the tent, set up home, eat and sleep. Outside the thin nylon walls the winds howls and the cold lingers but it could be worse, it could be raining I think to myself. The rain starts almost immediately after this thought. Each drop, accelerated and transformed into a liquid bullet by the fierce wind, drives deep into the soft earth adding a new dimension to the race ahead.
The race begins. Bodies bump and push at the first climb but quickly there is space. Ahead are just two runners and we move quickly through the course. Somewhere deep in my mind I know I am running too hard but the occasion and excitement drowns out the advice. I ring the bell at Jons Chapel- ahead just one runner now moving gracefully over the single-track and greasy rocks, behind me another close enough to hear the deep breathes. I take the lead at 13km on a long hill. I feel like I am gliding- everything in harmony. Peter follows and we run together for the next 10km maintaining a fast pace, swapping the lead & having fun. 24Km- I feel tired and fall a little behind- the early pace has sapped my legs of energy and I struggle. The early euphoria is replaced by doubts and I suffer on the climbs. I am passed again- third place now- yet on the downhill I find some rhythm again. My mind wonders to the finish, how many more will pass me before then? More doubts. I reach the climb to the castle once again and feel stronger, the sight of the sunset and some clearing skies gives my mind and body a boost and my legs move steadily. 32Km- The doubts disappear and I feel free. I run the last 10km alone, my head-torch beam lights the way towards the lighthouses and all is serene- a tranquility seems to have descended on the island and on my weary body. Soon the final steps appear and below appears the floodlit finish area. I cross the line in third- no fuss no fanfare just happiness, soup, bed.
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