It was burned in my memory, waiting at Fremste Blåhornet at 0430, daylight was already arriving, but the sun had not risen, there was just a promise of what was to come. The first runner arrived quite literally as the sun peaked over the mountains and a glow of orange started to come illuminating Stranda Fjord, the mountains ahead and the runner. It was one of ‘those’ days you wish for as a runner and photographer.
The 2021 Stranda Fjord Trail Race and, the 100km event was truly magical. Norway, Stranda, Slogen and the whole route has never looked so good.
Jump ahead one year and the 2022 edition was a completely different story. Ahead of race day, the weather forecast was greatly discussed both by runner’s and race team. A decision was made, the 48km and 25km races would go ahead as planned but the 100km event would have two key sections removed, the technical and airy ridge after Fremste Blåhornet would be removed and the out-and-back to the summit of Slogen – both considered too risky and dangerous in the expected weather.
With all the attention on the Golden Trail Series 25km event, the 100km was very much a secondary event. Starting at 0200, the 100km race would have already been going for 9-hours before the start of the GTS race. Yes, the 100km event is THAT tough.
Epic, beautiful and brutal are three words that sum up the racing and route here in Stranda, that is in good weather. In bad weather… Well, you can work it out. The physical and mental challenge is huge.
However, the Stranda Fjord Trail Race located in Møre go Romsdal, is one of the most truly spectacular experiences. The 100km distance offering a full and immersive 360 experience of what this magical area of Norway has to offer.
The 25km, 48km and 100km races are tough, challenging, and brutal and should not be underestimated. There is little easy running here, the climbing is hard and steep, the descents even on a dry day can be horrendous, in the wet, they are as one person said, “Terrifyingly slippery despite what shoes you use!’
Let’s be honest, Norway as a location is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world, and as a runner or outdoor enthusiast, the options and possibilities are endless, be that in the south or north.
Stranda is located on one of the west Norwegian fjords, part of the Sunnmøre region, often accessed via ferry from Liabygda. It can also be accessed by road via Lom. For most, the easiest way to travel is to fly to Ålesund and then travel 50km by bus.
2022 was significant with the 25km being a stage of the Salomon Golden Trail Series, this event alone brought in more than 600-participants and many of the world’s best mountain and trail runners. The 4000 population of Stranda increased by approximately 30% over race weekend, an amazing boost for the local community. GTS brought a European razzamatazz to the event with live broadcasts, commentary, interviews, group runs and huge social presence – it was arguably the biggest promotion of trail running in Norway since the inception of the Tromso SkyRace which ironically was taking place on the same day further north.
There was huge anticipation of how the racing would go, key favourites such as Sara Alonso and Manuel Merillas would have a hard job of beating ‘local’ favourites of Jon Albon (Brit living in Norway) and Emelie Forsberg (Swedish) who has been living and running in Norway for many years. The inclement weather, challenging conditions and brutally slippery rock only played into the hands of those with local knowledge.
Jon Albon won the race in a new course record – amazing in the challenging conditions. Manuel Merillas (Esp) and Bart Przedwojewski (Pol) placed 2nd and 3rd ahead of Frederic Trancard (Era) and Davide Magnini (Ita)
For the women, we saw the rise of Sophia Laukli (USA) who won the event ahead of Elise Poncet (Fra) and Emelie Forsberg. Blandine HIrondel (Far) placed 4th and Sara Alonso 5th.
The stories post-race was truly mud, sweat and tears. Arguably the most challenging and technical race of the GTS and what a way to shine a light on Norway and its incredible landscape. I am sure there are many runners now thinking and planning future adventures in this epic playground.
The 48km race, a big challenge but considerably more achievable than the 100k uses much of the opening miles of the 100km route, however, after reaching the summit of Fremste Blåhornet at 1478m returns to Stranda via Heimste Blåhornet, Løfonnfjellet and Rødesthornet. The route passes through Stranda start/ finish and continues on another loop summiting at Roaldshornet at 1230m and then following on to Blåfjellet and Skurdahornet before descending all the way down to the finish line.
Lasse Aleksander Finstad placed first ahead of Tolga Rambovski Olcay and Torbjørn Breansœter, 6:34, 6:50 and 7:07 respectively.
Mirjam Saarheim placed 7th overall and clinched female victory in 7:26. Jingling Tang and Anna Louise Astand Sørlie ran 7:50 and 8:02 to round out the podium.
Offering a 360 counterclockwise experience of this stunning area of Norway, the 100km route is a beast. It is quite simply stunning, even in bad weather. However, the physical and mental tenacity required to complete the race cannot be fully explained. This is reflected in only 33 participants finishing.
The course does contain some areas where you can switch off and just run, but they are few and far between. The opening miles may offer an illusion of the severity to come. The hard work starts to really kick in with approximately 20km covered at Liavarden. What follows are walls of grass, rock, scree, stone slabs, technical ridges, relentless vertical climbing, and challenging descending.
Reaching the summit of Fremste Blåhornet at 1478m and 23km the route was changed to avoid a technical ridge. The terrain that followed was rocky, slow, and brutal especially in the persistent rain and cold temperatures.
The aid station on the road of Dalevegen at 28km distance was followed by easy running before an extremely steep and challenging out-and-back climb to Storhornet at 1309m.
Liasætra aid station followed and then easy trail running to Patchellhytta DNT cabin. Here, the out -and-back to the summit of Slogen was removed – a shame but absolutely the correct call in the conditions.
Left in the valley and runners make their way to Velleseter, Brunstadsætra, Storevatnet, and then the road section crossing and aid station that leads to the final section of the course, 80km covered.
The climb to summit Roaldshornet at 1230m is long and relentless, the summit at 86km and it would be easy to think it’s all downhill from here. Considering what has gone before, it’s fair to say that it is. Eventually the 100km joins with the final section of the 48km track and the run in to the finish is welcome and hard earned.
Mathis Dahll Fenre battled with Vermund Upper Garden for victory, the duo separated by just 1-minute, 16:00 and 16:01 respectively. Thomas Wallin-Andersen placed 3rd in 16:59.
For the women, Wenfei Lie had led the early sections of the race ahead of Alexandra Narkowicz and although the duo was together on the climb to the final summit at Roaldshornet, Alexandra had more reserves to take victory in19:13 to 19:55 for Wenfei. Margrethe Fjetland rounded the podium.
One thing is for sure, running 25km, 48km or 100km in this area of Norway is not easy, ask anyone who toed the line of the respective distances. There is something truly magical here, 2021 opened up this area of Norway to the world, 2022 has elevated Stranda as a ‘must go’ location. I can only encourage and emphasise that you ‘need’ to add Stranda Fjord Trail Race to your bucket list. You will not be disappointed with the experience, BUT come prepared, you are going to earn that finish medal.
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