Koli – The Marathon of Dangers: One Guy’s Experience

The idea for a nice weekend with colleagues on the beautiful hills of Koli was raised in our monthly team meeting in May. I’m in reasonable shape and have run up to 10 km a few times before, so I figured 15km would be a piece of cake and signed right up! The next day was Firstbeat’s summer recreation and team building day, with Frisbee golf and Curling, followed by a relaxing sauna evening. Another day – and I found out that my dear colleagues had upgraded me from the 15km to 43 km! And if you promise something -all self-respecting people know this -you must keep your promise! That’s where my trip towards Koli started.

At the end of July, after a relaxing summer, my preparation began. Naturally with the help of the same wonderful colleagues. Initially, it was 10 km a couple of times per week, with the distance increasing by 5 km every few weeks. Running felt good, but I was having a hard time finding friends in the Helsinki area to join me for these 20 km jaunts. I can’t say that I hate running, but I don’t exactly like it either, thus the 2-hour runs alone kind of pissed me off. But I did it 6 times without any major problems! As one of my wiser colleagues reminded me, it’s not the distance that kills you, but the speed. My final practice session was a 30 km run, for which I was able to bribe a friend to run with me. He lasted for 18 km, after which he took a bus home. I was alone for the last 12 km, but finished without incident. This bode well and I headed out to Koli feeling confident. How wrong can a person be…

Time to Start!

Saturday morning 5 October 2013. Most of the Firstbeat group was out to conquer the mountain marathon, except for two extremists, who had signed up to run the loop twice (86km)! Us marathoners had set a goal to finish between 6-7 hours, considering the extreme terrain and small rocky trails. When it was time to start, there was some tension in the air: my Garmin showed my heart rate to be way over 100 just standing around. Right from the start, the terrain was a lot more challenging than I had imagined, but the 1st 10 km passed with a smile in perfectly sunny weather and gorgeous terrain. After this, I started to notice something I had never realized before -that steep downhills are a lot tougher than the uphills. Live and learn. Slight cramping of the thighs, but at 17 km everything was fine. On the first drinking stop, I made a beginner’s mistake. I was really thirsty and drank almost 1.5 l of water, still well on schedule for a 6-hour finish. After just a couple more kilometers, the fronts of my thighs started shutting down, and at 20 km, they were cramping in a big way. I was running out of faith…

Mental Victory and Euphoria

After about five minutes of crouching, stretching and ingesting salt tablets, 2 of my colleagues caught up to me and with their encouragement, I forced myself to keep going. From then on, it was painful, and it was mostly walking. We all went through some moments of despair, but with the common goal of finishing,we kicked each other forward. The hills did not make our job any easier, with the toughest climbs coming after 27km. The last 3 km was like hiking up a grade Black downhill slope. I was missing my mom and my battery was dead, but eventually the three of us crossed the finish line hand-in-hand. It’s hard to describe the greatness of that moment. The only thing I could think about – and visualize whenever I closed my eyes – was the meat stew provided by the organizers after the race! Another testimony of how powerful the feeling at the finish line was: only 24 hours after I’d considered starting to import chain saws and large machinery to get rid of trails that are too rugged for anybody to run on, I had signed up for a half triathlon next summer in Tahko! Like our motto states: Life is mostly outside the comfort zone!

Live fully and outdo yourselves! It’s better to regret things that you have done than to leave them undone!!

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