Trail running in Iceland’s southern highlands
Originally Posted on August 12, 2015
The Laugavegur Ultra Marathon race took place in July of this year and Hillsound brand ambassador Pat Malaviarachchi was there to test himself on Iceland’s wild landscape. Hillsound caught up with Pat upon his return to Vancouver to discuss his experience trail running the 55km route, Iceland’s incredible scenery and his new-found glacier play-land.
Hillsound: Was it your first time in Iceland? How was it?
Pat: Yeah, this was my first time in Iceland. What a breathtaking place. Waterfalls, volcanos, icefields, geysers, boiling mud pools – a potential photo op was around every corner. I was lucky enough to explore the countryside with my family before and after the race and meet some friendly locals.
H: It must have been amazing to run with the wonderful view, but how was running 55km?
P: The Laugavegur Ultra is a point-to-point race that follows a hiking trail connecting two nature reserves. The start was like a desolate moonscape with no vegetation. We climbed over caramel-coloured mountains, across a giant snowfield, dropped onto a volcanic flat, crossed knee deep rivers, and finished in a green valley. At one point, we actually had to navigate around sulfurous fumaroles venting steam 30 feet in the air. Moments later, we jumped over a crevasse in the snow. It was quite possibly the most varied and scenic trail run I’ve ever done.
I ran most of the course with a friend at a fairly conservative pace and managed to avoid hammering past amazing scenery. It definitely paid off towards the end where I finished feeling stronger than in most ultras.
H: How did you prepare for the multi-terrain route? By the looks of it there was some dirt, ice, and snow – did you need any extra traction?
P: This year had a deeper than normal snowpack lingering around the route’s high point. We had 8km of continuous slushy snow running. While I carried my Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultras, I didn’t need them as I was getting pretty good bite with my running shoes. I’d absolutely rely on them though if the temps were colder and we faced harder snow or ice.
Having said that, I didn’t want to go to Iceland and miss an opportunity to try my crampons. After the race, we found a nice outlet glacier to play on called Sólheimajökull. Crampons were a must!
H: You put up an amazing fight in completing the giant ultra in 6 hours and 36 minutes. That’s incredible! How was this different from running shorter trail races?
P: Thanks! Given the dramatic terrain changes every 15km or so, it actually felt like multiple short races linked together. The pace of course is slower and the relaxed intensity is enjoyable. As you go longer, I think fuelling plays a bigger role to avoid bonking. I tried to take in at least 200 calories an hour and an electrolyte pill every half hour.
H: What are you most focused on when you’re running for 6 hours and more?
P: Particularly for very long runs, I like to study the route map, elevation profile, weather forecast, and Google Earth to get a reasonably good understanding of what I’m about to experience. During the event, my focus then is to simply see if the pre-race simulation in my head matches what’s actually happening. I don’t know if this is what others do but it could be construed as kind of weird 🙂
H: How was adjusting to the Iceland climate/weather/conditions?
P: Overcoming the time zone change was perhaps the hardest adjustment. The weather on race day was surprisingly mild with temperatures in the mid-teens (deg C). At one point, I was actually overheating and had to strip down to shorts and a thin t-shirt – definitely not what I expected to be wearing in the middle of Iceland!
H: What was the best part about this overseas race?
P: Racing the Laugavegur Ultra was such a novel experience. To run through a landscape like that was a real privilege. I hope others consider it as a future destination race. Icelandair flies non-stop to Reykjavik from several North American cities so it can be quite convenient as well.
H: Thank you for your time Pat! It was great catching up with you. Congratulations again, and we’re excited to hear about your upcoming adventures!
P: You’re very welcome. And thanks for the continued support from Hillsound. Looking forward to the next adventure!