300kms and a Swedish lake!

It started in Jan. I heard about the efforts of Josh Stinton and the challenges he sets for things he has no experience (cross-country skiing, mountain biking in the arctic, hand cycling around Japan), and I challenged my team at work to ride 300kms in the Vätternrunden in Sweden.

Vätternrunden (around Lake Vättern) has been running annually since 1966. It is part of the Swedes in classic (for which participants in all events - ski, ride, swim, run - within 12mths receive a medal). From what I can tell, the largest participation was in 2011 with 27,973 cyclists, at which time 18,272 completed the 300kms version.

This challenge proved too much and we concluded a different physical and mental challenge (to climb the 3 Peaks in the UK this week 22-23 June). Vätternrunden became a voluntary thing..attracting cycling colleagues from around the world pretending that base miles under their belts would be enough. Some didn’t make the ride.

PRE-RIDE

There was a lot of talk before the ride..

Will it rain? Won’t it? How variable is Swedish weather in summer? Our local Swedish intel said that rain is common and it has often snowed for the ride. We all research different weather forecasts, with different results - and so assumed the most positive outlook.

Talk of TSS and advice from cycling coaches, accompanied by suitable explanation of what both even were.

For the ride plan, some (those with cycling coaches) wanted ride time targets. Others wanted a plan for the fewest rest stops. Others had decided what average speed was sustainable and what was reckless. Local input to the ride plan was to stay calm for the first 100kms, go harder for the second 100kms, and then go hard to the final 100km.

12 of us convened on Stockholm. We assembled one by one from Australia, South Africa and across England.

Our ride start time was 01:28. This will be interesting. The positive was to think about simply like an early morning ride, but awake a few hours earlier!  

THE RIDE

With not much sleep, we were set to go with the mandatory equipment (incl reflectors reluctantly added to bikes).

Not more than 2kms into the ride, Russell snapped his rear derailleur cable. He rode the entire ride on 53/39 and a single 11-tooth cassette. This spurred him on to ensure he kept momentum, and finished first in our group!

That simple local plan of staying calm for the first 100kms was history. We were off and cycling being led by Darren (whose own ride time plan was sub 9hrs).

It was a weird sensation being awake and riding at 35+km in the dark when your brain was telling you to sleep. While cold at the start, concentration was the priority for everyone.

There were plenty of healthy sized cycling groups, each with fashion synchronisation. While I didn’t see the Limoncellos after the starting grid, it wasn’t long until we were split by the Pink Panthers - a fast tight group, and with the speed and visibility we had time put between us to create two groups of 8 and 4 for the remainder of the ride.

There were other large organised local Cykel Klubb all with kit, routine, and speed. While we averaged 30+km ph, groups with later starting times passed us in these speed machine formations. We jumped onto many of them and chewed through kms with ease - one of which had 50+ riders which was fast and hair-raising.

...though we passed all looks, shapes and sizes. There were 70+ aged veterans, hipsters and couples on tandems, a hand-cyclist, one Patriot wearing Stars & Stripes from head to toe. And needless to say, many Swedish bombshells.

It was clear that all Vatternrunden riders had their own plans on how to make it through the 300kms. Many people made use of the rest stops and while a few took the opportunity for a lie down, I didn’t see anyone having a completely miserable time or blowing up. We passed many riders who had started up to 5 hours before us and still happily riding.

The route was flat. There are few hills to practice climb in Sweden, and so the slightest bump in this ride saw many slow down to a crawl. But everyone rode at their own pace and simply enjoyed being out in the sunshine.

The sun rose at 0350 and this was time for the first real food stop which we knew to anticipate - Swedish meatballs, served with mash and lingonberry (a compete of Swedish berry). An unexpected but perfect pairing.

The breakfast stop at 0730 for lasagne was also timely, if you forget matching the menu with the time of day. There was an option of cornflakes and milk, but this effort called for lasagne in the belly.

Whether it was the starting hour, the odd scheduling of meals, or no real food, I found it difficult to quench my thirst for the entire ride. At times this was quite unpleasant as I couldn’t work out whether to vomit the food or that I simply needed a coke. Just something to work through by focussing on kms and anything else to occupy my mind - at one point, I spent 30+mins thinking about what tattoo design to get after seeing so many on cyclists in front of me.

Of course the fraternity of our lead group was thrown out as the finish came into sight and the sprint for points was up for grabs. This is still the talking point and will dominate the legend of our Vatternrunden 2019.

For the 12hours on the bike we were blessed with stunning weather. Sunshine, blue skies, lush green fields, stunning lake views.

Our group had no accidents and no punctures. Everyone is home safe and stronger having completed the 297kms (there was either something wrong about a ride designed to be 297km and not 300km, or adding some unofficial kms to make it 300kms). Kudos goes to the 4 of our team that rode to the ride and then rode home from the ride - pushing to 330kms for the day.

The post-ride burger and beer was well earned today!

THE STATS

~18,000 people completed Vätternrunden in 2019.. In

297 kms

1778 vertical metres of climbing

Our team times were:

Time

Riding time

Average kmph

Aaron (276km recorded)

10:46

08:43

31.7

Andrew F

10:47

09:20

31.9

Andrew W

12:28

09:44

30.5

Darren (327 kms)

15:51

10:05

32.5

David

10:27

08:55

33.3

Mark

12:23

09:47

30.2

Neil

13:25

10:53

27.3

Peter

12:28

09:22

31.7

Ray

10:46

09:19

31.9

Russell

09:29

09:03

32.8

Simon N (284kms)

10:47

08:56

31.8

Simon P (312kms)

11:53

09:47

31.9


On the ride, I ate:

  • 6meatballs with mash & lingonberry
  • 2 bananas
  • 0.5 jam sandwich
  • 5 small Swedish cinnamon bread rolls
  • 3 coffees
  • 1 serve of lasagne with carrot & gherkin

What a great experience! Our next adventure calls.