Sunset Relay (sunsetrelay.com) is an event organized by Garnier Ambre Solaire in partnership with Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL). The purpose is to raise awareness of the dangers of the sun. As the name suggests it takes the form of a relay, in which participants race the sun for 96 hours / ~1300km. The line-up included top athletes, business people, bloggers, journalists and celebrities who would run, cycle, row, paddle or roller skate.
Staged in the mythical and beautiful Swedish Lapland during the midnight sun, three main sections forming a triangle constituted the course of this first edition: Luleå à Hemavan à Abisko à Luleå. I took part in the second section with six other trail runners (Olof Häggström, Sylvain Court, Jonathan Wyatt, Elina Usscher, Linus Holmsäter & Maud Gobert) and we were running the famous national trail Kungsleden (”King’s Trail”) northbound from Hemavan to Abisko. This trail is 430km long and offers a great variety of terrain, much of which is more technical than one might think for such a popular trail. In this part of Sweden there is still snow in June and with an exceptionally cold start to the summer it was too deep to run in places. We therefore had some last minute alterations to the route and a helicopter was on hand to help us get to the runnable sections.
Kungsleden is an undulating path. Its highest point is the Tjäkta Pass at 1150 m above sea level. The ground is very varied including rock, trails in the woods with plenty of roots and stones, miles of narrow boards over swampy wetland, meadows, and stream crossings. Although challenging it made the journey on this trail interesting and varied. The views were simply stunning and with the midnight sun it was easy to lose track of time. Was it 2am or 12pm? It was impossible to say without a watch apart from the temperature being a bit cooler at night.
I thoroughly enjoyed the running on Kungsleden. Sweden is my home country and although I spent time in the north as a child skiing and walking in the mountains it was a long time ago. Travelling on this trail felt almost magical. I cherished this unique moment which seemed to encourage me to be present in the now, soaking up the beauty of the surroundings, listening to the roar of the water in the streams I passed and the birds singing in the trees. Occasionally I heard the sound of a branch cracking or leaves rattling on the ground as I disturbed some wildlife. I must admit that I was a bit worried about bears as I ran on the single track through those beautiful mountain birch woods by Abiskojaure Lake. However, it was probably very unlikely I would actually encounter any and all I saw were a few lemmings.
It was a great privilege to get the opportunity to take part in this event. Aside from the experience of the trail running I met some wonderful people. I would love to go back for an ultra-trail event or maybe run Kungsleden in its entirety. It has been done before by at least a couple of Swedish runners and makes for a beautiful but demanding holiday…
For more information about Kungsleden, go to http://www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/en/Discover-Sweden/Facilities-and-activities/Lappland/kingstrail/
Videos from the event: