Arctic Circle Race

A run through magical mountains

Photo: Ted Logart

Text: Petter Norén

The helicopter takes us to the starting point, 18 kilometres out in the roadless land. The mountain terrain is magical. I cannot find a better word to describe it. Then there are sweat, pain, and doubts. Followed by laughter, pleasure, and euphoria. When it’s all over, all I can think about is: Why don’t all races take place in the mountains of Swedish Lapland?

The helicopter bringing us to the starting line of Arctic Circle Race carefully takes off from the gravel parking lot by the Silver Road, a couple of metres north of the Arctic Circle. The distance to start makes it a challenge to transport all the competitors out to the remote lake Guijaure in the mountain world of Arjeplog. There are no roads here; it is a helicopter or your own legs that will carry you to the start.

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Lake Guijaure. Photo: Maria Söderberg

Helicopter to the starting point

Arctic Circle Race is one of many indie-races within the trail running genre, offers one of the most spectacular ways of travelling to the starting line I have ever heard of. We soar over what is to be the contest arena, great and beautiful expanses of the Arjeplog mountains where rock faces are interspersed with thick moss. Over footbridges crossing the fens and small groves of mountain birch. It feels almost rude to hurry through this amazing area.

At lake Guijaure, a group of anglers is getting ready for the day’s adventure by the area’s excellent fishing waters. They must have been quite surprised by the two helicopters, depositing load after a load of sleepy trail runners in tights, travelling from the small village by the Arctic Circle.

A variety of racers

At the starting area, a map of the trail is distributed to the participants. If you are worried about advanced orienteering, you can relax – the racetrack is the hiking trail from Guijaure back to Camp Polcirkeln.

I look around at the others and rejoice in the variety of people who made it to the starting line, from a tall Irish man with a distinctive fast-runner aura to warmly dressed people who looks like they will take their time to reach the finish. I myself have fairly long legs, no Irish heritage that I know of, but still an ambition to be in front of this race.

Learn more

Where: Vuoggatjålme, 100 km northwest of Arjeplog.
When: August.
Transportation: Silver Road (95) to Vuoggatjålme with car or bus. Helicopter to start (can be included in starting fee if you choose to) or hiking along the trail to Guijaure.
Length: 18 kilometers
Terrain: Mountain terrain, hiking trail, paths, wooden bridges.
Height difference: Constantly hilly with gentle slopes.
Participants: Mixed. More amateurs than pros.
To find out more, go to arcticcirclerace.se.

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At the starting point. Photo: Silver Resort

The starting shot echoes

At ten o’clock, the starting shot echoes through the valley, and we are off! Derek Collins, the Irishman I hinted at earlier in the text, sets of at breakneck speed. On the first hilltop, he has a fifty-metre lead, and that was the last any of us saw of him.

I end up in a group of runners behind the fleeing Irishman, and we set a hard pace on the first stretch of the race. Wetlands mixed with long uphills are trying to break us, and the inspiring landscape makes us forget that the opening pace might be too high. The hilly mountain terrain rolls out before us, and a couple of kilometres into the race, many of us enjoy the most beautiful landscapes we have ever had the fortune of running in. It looks spectacular, like scenes from Lord of the Rings, something only a bold and inventive mind could dream up.

It looks spectacular, like scenes from Lord of the Rings, something only a bold and inventive mind could dream up.

Reality is kicking in

After about 12 kilometres, the beautiful mountain euphoria that carried me is starting to wear off, and reality is kicking in. We start to move downhill, and the sloping stretches feel difficult. My feet have been pounding the trail for a long time now, and the sporadically rocky downhill stretches are a technical challenge.

When you face the trials of slippery and rocky downhills, your mind has to be completely focused – not dreaming about the great, almost unreal scenery surrounding the Arctic Circle Race.

I snap out of my trance and lose the group I have kept company with since the start. My feet cannot keep up with the others down the mountain.

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The Arjeplog mountains are perfect for trail running. Photo: Marcus Abrahamsson

A mental challenge

If you ever participated in a race, you know that it gets very tough once you lose contact with the group. The last stretch, running through a slightly hilly mountain forest and footbridges over patches of the wetland is a huge mental challenge for me.

A few runners pass me on the easy parts. In the last five hundred metres, my left foot cries out to me every time it hits the asphalt on the Silver Road. As I reach the finish line they call out my result – tenth place. It could definitely have been better.

From sour to sweet in a second

However, my initial disappointment soon disappears like fog before a wind; I go from sour to sweet in a second. Just looking around the finish area, seeing the smiles of everyone who made it, and their excitement in telling the curious bystanders of the great journey through the mountain eases the pain. The greatest joy of all may have been seeing my friends cross the finish line with smiles on their faces.

The initial assessment of a large time variation between runners fades for every person I see crossing the finish line. One thing we all have in common is that we love to run, and above all, we share the love of nature and appreciation of these magnificent mountains. You can be as fast or as slow as you like and still have a great experience in the mountains of Arjeplog.

Tips for running the Arctic Circle Race

  • Do not skimp on the equipment. And most of all the shoes. A sturdy sole with spikes or a deep grip pattern is recommended.
  • Practice downhill running. Many people train uphill running but forget the downhill. Both are needed in this race.
  • Bring a small backpack, camelback or similar to carry energy and fluid. Better too much energy than too little. Try it out beforehand so that you know it suits your body and energy drain.
  • Do not experiment with carbohydrate loading if you are not used to it. Just eat more of what you usually eat, and you will be ok.
  • Bring your friends. There is no better motivator than doing this as a group.
  • If you can do a 17 km mountain hike, you can do this too. It is only a matter of adapting your speed to your fitness situation.