Ian is a photographer, writer, reviewer and blogger at iancorless.com. Ian is currently travelling the world capturing stories from some of the most iconic ultras on the planet. Ian is also creative director and host of an ultra running podcast called Talk Ultra. The show is available every 2 weeks 'for free' on iTunes and talkultra.com.
Welcome to ‘The Chamonix Tapes’ an inside look at the adidas Terrex Team during the 2022 UTMB.
Starting on Sunday August 21st and running through to UTMB 2022, there will be a series of podcast releases for your audio pleasure in ‘The Chamonix Tapes.’
In episode 5, we speak with Tom Evans who battled a stressful injury and surgery… A process that started 12-months ago.
” What can I do, how do I control the controllables…Western States is more like a 100km in comparison to UTMB… I can’t begin to imagine how many nights I have spent without a head torch… I Can’t wait for the night… The night is coming, like it or not!”
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.
Episode 225 of Talk Ultra has an in-depth interview with Michael Wardian after his epic run across America. We also speak with Ultra Trail Snowdia by UTMB race director, Michael Jones. Speedgoat co-hosts.
Norway has opened up endless possibilities when it comes to outdoor adventures. Camping and fast packing two obvious highlights. However, every now and again, something with a little more comfort and uniqueness can be an attraction and temptation, especially when running and exploring.
Scandinavia is all about outdoor experiences and there are many who are offering a ‘unique’ opportunity to experience nature. AuroraHut is one such company.
For clarity, our stay in the ‘Arctic Dome-Eco Camp Rondane’ should have originally been in a heated dome, situated on land – a prize Abelone won in a completion in 2021.
Time was against us, as was the availability of the domes and then a last-minute trip to Rondane provided the opportunity to seize a free AuroraHut for the night… So, we took it!
Rondane is located 4-hours from Oslo in Eastern Norway and is known for its rolling landscape, extreme cold temperatures in winter and the amazing Moskus (Musk Ox) which is definitely a ‘to-do’ when visiting, maybe as part of a tour?
AuroaHut – An igloo boat that takes glamping to another level. It’s a moveable luxury that can float or be located on land based on or around attractions. A key feature is the ability to move the AuroraHut based on weather and seasons, particularly important in places such as Norway with harsh winters. It can also be placed next to other AuroraHuts to facilitate family accommodation or groups. Ultimately, the possibilities are endless.
Our AuroraHut should have been placed on Høvringsvatne lake surrounded by mountains (see below) and wide-open space near Smuksjøseter Fjellstue – a perfect location providing a sense of isolation but with the luxury of the AuroraHut. More information HERE.
Unfortunately, on arrival we were told our AuroraHut had been re-located lower down the valley due to a harsh winter and the Høvringsvatne lake being frozen. The new location – a small lake surrounded by cabins and next to the Høvringen Høgfjellshotell (see below).
Not what we wanted and had we been paying we would have most definitely complained.
The AuroraHut requires isolation! It is effectively a floating greenhouse made up of glass panels that offers panorama views. Great views for those inside out to nature, but also great views inside from anyone outside to the AuroraHut and us! The lake was close to a road, close to cars and behind multiple cabins; not what you want.
Inside is simple as one would expect. Access is from a floating wooden platform and through a keypad door that requires an access code. As one enters, there is a small entrance space, immediately to the right a very small kitchen area with two burners and minimal storage area. To the left, coat hangers and a small space for storage and directly opposite a small toilet area behind a curtain. The main space is occupied with a comfortable double bed and a 180-240degree vista from left to right. The roof is also glass, perfect at night for looking at the sky. Luxuries come with some modern lighting, USB ports, wifi and a music system. Ultimately, it’s a glorified tent.
We were fortunate to have great weather, blue skies, sun, clouds and relaxing on the bed with a glass of wine and music playing was wonderful. We just looked out and enjoyed the view… Then a family of four walked past on the road, stopped and looked in at us. The moment was gone. Again, had I been paying for my stay I would have been complaining! You may think I am laboring this point too much, but at 3000-3500 Nok per night (£250-£290) you want the correct experience.
We had running water but unfortunately this ran out in the evening and never came back. A huge frustration but gladly, this was compensated for by me thinking ahead and ensuring the kettle was full of water ready for morning coffee. The kitchen is well designed cramping everything in to a small space. But you would not want to cook, anything other than boiling water for pasta and heating a sauce for said pasta would be too much. We had already anticipated this a brought a cool bag with all we required for a relaxed dinner – cold meats, salad, vegetable, cheese, bread, and a good quantity of wine. The only places to eat are either outside (a bench and wood burning heater are available) or on the bed. It was a chilly night, so we relaxed on the bed and enjoyed the experience.
Our evening was spent chatting, relaxing, enjoying a glass of wine and we even enjoyed a movie while eating our bodyweight in sweet treats. It was a great escape.
It’s July in Norway, so, it doesn’t go dark… Well, not until midnight and then it comes light around 0230, so, a blindfold is required if you want a dark sleeping experience. The glass roof is open and clear so fantastic for lying back and looking up to the sky. This experience would be enhanced in winter when the stars would shine and with luck, you may see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis from which the AuroraHut gets its name.
An excellent sleep was enhanced with the gentle movement of the AuroraHut on the lake as the wind rocked us. Abelone did wonder if she would get seasick – all was good.
Morning was compromised with a lack of running water. We relaxed but soon departed for our onward journey.
We had a great night; we enjoyed the experience and uniqueness of the AuroraHut but it was all tainted by a poor location that spoiled what could have been a truly magical and special night. AuroaHut needs and requires isolation, space, and the opportunity to feel alone – we did not get this.
As experiences go, I would recommend an AuroraHut experience and I am most definitely tempted to re-experience this in winter, surrounded by snow with dark long days and the sky illuminated with the Aurora Borealis. But, one night is enough in my opinion, there is no need for additional nights – the uniqueness, joy and wow factor come in 24-hours. If running, this one would be a real treat amidst a running adventure, however, the lack of a shower would make me choose a hotel.
Ultimately, AuroraHut is one of those ‘things to do!’ and the experience should be special and memorable.
A new VJ Sport shoe is always exciting, this time, the XTRM2, which I guess is not really a new shoe but a re-working of a VJ classic. The XTRM has been a popular shoe in the trail, fell and mountain running world for a very long time, sitting in the middle ground of the aggressive iRock and the MAXx.
The key to any VJ shoe is the outsole and the incredible grip that this outsole provides. The XTRM had 4mm lugs, the same as the MAXx but not as long as the iRock and therefore it was the ideal shoe for say skyrunning.
However, two things were often heard when fellow runners discussed the XTRM:
I just wish there was a little more cushioning.
I wish they could be just a little wider.
Well, the XTRM2 addresses both these issues and brings a couple of newer developments.
You should never judge a shoe by how it looks, and yes, some of you may love the look of the new XTRM2, I do not! Red is always great and when combined with black, superb. Look at the VJ Sport iRock HERE – now that is a nice-looking shoe! But this XTRM2 looks like someone had a little too much alcohol and dope in Hawaii and then designed the shoe. It’s a ‘me’ thing. Sorry.
Gladly, I can get past the looks because I know that a VJ Sport shoe will do all that I want and do it well.
As mentioned, the XTRM2 is designed to fit between the iRock, which is a short distance and soft-ground shoe and the MAXx which is a longer distance trail/ mountain shoe. Of course, there is now the ULTRA too. That is for the long stuff.
Quite simply, if you loved the XTRM, the XTRM2 is going to make you smile. I had no issues with the original version, however, straight out of the box I welcomed the extra cushioning and the slightly rounder, more spacious toe box.
Drop is 4mm with 10mm cushioning at the front and 14mm at the rear. For perspective, the iRock has 8/14mm and the MAXx 12/18mm.
With a reshaped last, CMEVA cushioning and a rock plate, the XTRM2 is the perfect mountain/ skyrunning shoe.
Pulling the shoe on there is a notable difference with the tongue, it is fastened on both sides. One of the issues in the previous XTRM and MAXx for that matter, was the tongue would move when running – often moving to the left or the right. This has now been addressed and in all my test runs so far, the tongue has remained in place and secure.
Fitlock is a VJ Sport secret weapon and is one of the USP’s of the VJ brand. Once you have put your foot in the shoe, as you tighten the laces, the Fitlock grabs hold of the instep/ arch and holds it tight and secure – exactly what is required in mountainous and technical terrain when you need the shoe to be precise. With the more spacious XTRM2 toe box, this new Fitlock is even more welcome. I was initially worried if I would lose some of the precise feel at the front end, not so, the Fitlock compensates.
The lacing is classic with 6 eyelets and the addition of a 7th eyelet on both sides should you require to lock lace or similar. There is reinforcement here ensuring that the laces can be pulled tight without causing any issue to the upper.
The upper is Swiss Schoeller Keprotec® which is more durable than previous incarnations of the XTRM and it is also more pliable, allowing it to fit the foot better. Look at the old XTRM HERE – I reviewed this shoe back in 2018. Notably look how different the upper is… The original XTRM had many reinforced panels on the upper with a solid extension from the toe box and heel area. It’s a major change. I wondered, by contrast, if the new XTRM2 would feel less secure and sloppy – no. Foot hold has been excellent. The upper is excellent and repels moisture, water and mud.
The heel area is slightly padded but not excessively, importantly it holds the foot and there is no slipping when climbing.
Toe protection is adequate but could maybe be a little more? Certainly, in a skyrunning scenario when rocks, boulders and hard mixed terrain will be encountered.
The outsole is a notable difference, the previous XTRM had 4mm lugs, they have now been increased to 6mm and in doing so, they now match the iRock. This is a key and notable change. For me, I would now only need an XTRM2 and MAXx (which has 4mm lugs). I do appreciate though, that the narrower and more precision fit of the iRock would be preferable for some.
The outsole pattern is newly designed to optimize grip on all terrains and with the 6mm lugs, you now have an outsole that can handle softer ground. There is little to say about the grip of the outsole, VJ have the tagline ‘bestgripontheplanet’ and it is. No outsole from any other brand matches the grip, wet or dry, of a VJ outsole. However, be warned, that grip comes from a wonderful soft and grippy superior contact – it will not last and last and if you run too much road, that longevity will be reduced greatly. You cannot have amazing outsole grip and long life.
There is a torsional rigidity in the shoe that is very noticeable when running on uneven and rocky terrain. If you have the Fitlock laced up and tight, the XTRM2 gives superb precision.
Flex and life are superb, and the propulsive phase is superb. There is a real ping behind the metatarsals when pushing off.
Weight is incredible, VJ list 250g for a UK8. My UK10 is 289g.
I am always a UK9.5 in test shoes, however, I have noticed with extended use in VJ that I have often wished I had gone a half-size larger, so, with the XTRM2 and SPARK (review to follow) I decided to go to UK10. It was a good choice; I have found that extra space welcome. So, you may want to check this when purchasing.
Fitlock and a VJ outsole and you have a perfect shoe when precision and grip are required. The XTRM2 with a new upper, a new last, more cushioning and lugs increased to 6mm, and you now have the perfect trail/mountain and skyrunning shoe for short to middle distance. There are few shoes out there that can compete with VJ when this combination of elements is required. It is highly recommended.
Are there any negatives? I found prolonged running on hard surfaces (gravel road a good example) eventually tiring, but that is no real surprise. The outsole is soft and sticky and if you use on the wrong terrain, it will not last. I really dislike the look of the shoe, which is a petty thing to say, but the ‘look’ could put some people off before ever having the chance to run in the shoe and then find out how good it is. However, I may be alone in finding the look displeasing?
Ultimately, the XTRM2 is a superb shoe with incredible fit and grip.