Tromsø, a long way to travel to run a long long way
Lova Chechik

OMM Competitor and erstwhile Turfer (look it up!), Lova Chechik headed to the Arctic Circle to take on the mighty Tromsø Skyrace for its final edition, after 10 years at the pinnacle of Skyrunning. From soaring rock ridges to gnarly loose descents and arctic sub-forest bashing, this modern classic of a race had it all. Lova takes us inside this unique race and gives a blow-by-blow account of what it takes to perform over such terrain.

Tromsø is a small town on the western coast of northern Norway, well inside the Arctic Circle. The town is surrounded by remote mountains, with plenty of rock climbing, ski touring and hiking straight from the doorstep. In 2014, the Tromsø skyrace was first proposed by Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg, calling it “pure skyrunning”. The skyrace is often in the Skyrunning World Series, with its character being similar to the Glen Coe skyline, Tromsø being longer, but slightly less technical.

In February, news spread on the Dark Peak grapevine that Tromsø entries were opening and as it was the last year of its running, entries were bound to sell out – I was convinced. The stats of 57km, 4800m seemed to pale to insignificance, given the 6 months left till the event – a “future Lova problem” if there ever was one.

The stats of 57km, 4800m seemed to pale to insignificance, given the 6 months left till the event – a “future Lova problem” if there ever was one.

Fast forward to July, 1 month till race day, the furthest I’d have run in almost 4 years (only a pandemic, a bike accident and an emigration taking place in the meantime). I was running maybe 40km/week, with some “big weekends” in the Alps (read 2 days of <30km day, although with a good amount of height). 3 weeks before the event, I managed to run a whooping 69km in a week, the first time in a while that I’d managed to cover the race distance in a week, but the mental boost was significant, a box labelled “training” was ticked.

I flew to Bergen 8 days before the race, and proceeded with some last minute training, 95km/7000m/27hrs in 6 days, leaving myself almost 48hrs to fly 750miles, rest and get ready. I would either be perfectly trained for the race, or absolutely knackered – only time would tell.

Meeting some fellow Dark Peakers in Tromsø, we looked at the course profile (for the first time), got scared by the cut-off times (roughly a 13hr finish) and anxiously awaited the unknown. For probably the first time in my life, the unknowns were so great that I was fearful of the cut-off times, assuming I could run that far. The long course is effectively split into 3 sections:

  • big climb over a mountain, which starts with the letter T and descend off the other side to an aid station
  • big climb up to a mountain, starting with a letter H this time, and looping back to the aid station – this was the most technical section
  • another big climb back onto T-mountain, then down and some undulating/uphill trails for a while before returning to Tromsø
I would either be perfectly trained for the race, or absolutely knackered – only time would tell.

The race briefing was done with a good dose of humour and an attitude of “there is no compulsory kit, but don’t be an idiot”. Thankfully, they showed some photos and gave me a glimpse of what was to come the following day. After some discussion, we decided that the race really started after 2 climbs, so after 35-40km. I packed my bags with enough food to get me to the aid station on roughly an 11:30 finish time (with a healthy buffer).

A healthy combination of excitement and fear stopped me from getting the best of nights, but nothing that a bit of adrenaline couldn’t wear off. There seemed to be 2 obvious tactics:

  1. go steady until you’ve only got one climb left and then see what you have left
  2. race and potentially pay the price later in the day

I had decided to go for the first tactic, and then the starting gun went off…I ran the first 50m in a big pack and knew I could go a lot quicker on the first few km of road without burning any matches. A new plan was hatched, one I’d recommend: run by feel, never be breathing too hard, don’t go into the red, take the first hill easy, have fun out there and make sure to take in the view.

After a short steep climb up to a cable car, there was a long undulating section before the main part of the climb. You could see Hamperokken (our 2nd summit) and it looked majestic, but massive and a long long way away – a future problem. There’s no shame in walking uphill in a race, so I walked a lot and let others overtake, fully conscious of the race length and that climbing wasn’t my strength – I’d be better off saving my legs for the 3rd big climb. On this first climb, my body felt ok, it seems I’d left myself just enough time to recover and any tightness eased off within the first hour.

A new plan was hatched, one I’d recommend: run by feel, never be breathing too hard, don’t go into the red, take the first hill easy, have fun out there and make sure to take in the view.

There were some undulating sections and it was fun stretching the legs out and letting myself run, cutting corners and having fun. It was nice chatting to some fellow competitors, as positions jostled, you’d get a couple of minutes of chatter with each person; everyone was friendly and excited for the big day ahead. Lots of eating and drinking was happening, as I did not want to be struggling later in the race; I was still making sure to take the views in (even taking photos). The summit of Tromsdalstind came relatively easily in the mist, as I was still trying my hardest not to race. The summit was 16km in, 2:15 into the race, 45mins under the cut-off time and suddenly I realised that cut-off times were no longer a worry – the race was on.

The descent was fun, lots of scree and loose rocks, I was passing a lot of people and descending quite aggressively – wondering if I’d pay the price on the latter descents. Having to reverse that descent in 25km was going to be a killer. 2km in the valley went quickly with a few water stops; I was moving well and passed through the aid station in 3:05 (24km). Quickly I grabbed a bit more food, thanked the volunteers and started the next climb. Doing some maths, I was realising that I was probably on for a <10hr time, hmmm, I was moving a lot quicker than expected, is this sustainable?

Climbing out of the aid station, I was still feeling ok, but the legs were starting to get a little tired (only 30km to go!). Thankfully, I knew that the last 400-500m climb of the ridge were technical. If I could make it to that point moving well, the limiting factor would be the technicality, not my legs – and I could worry about the last climb later, I’d have an hour or so to recover before it. I was still making sure to limit my exertion, but without easing off completely, still taking photos and chatting to the people around me – the atmosphere really relaxed, similar to that of fell running.

Doing some maths, I was realising that I was probably on for a <10hr time, hmmm, I was moving a lot quicker than expected, is this sustainable?

The wind was picking up with altitude, waterproofs went on as the terrain turned rockier. The route kept us off the main arrêté unfortunately, so lots of boulder hopping, but nothing too technical or exposed. A short section of scrambling was needed to get onto the final summit (29km, 4:45), it was nice to get a fistbump with the guy just ahead of me, who’d just started the descent. A quick smile at the marshalls at the summit, taking in the view of mountains and glaciers, and time for a big old descent.

After a rock-hoppy section, there was a long grassy descent which was fun and I was definitely catching people. Thankfully I crossed a trickle just after finishing my water, so I was still managing to eat and hydrate well. My quads still weren’t feeling too trashed, so the final descent would be ok. I came back to the aid station in 5:35 (35km) and quickly grabbed a bit more food and ran off along the flat; I was moving surprisingly well, so decided to make the most of it as the last climb was looking daunting as hell. I dutifully stuffed my face with more calories, refilled my bottles and started to climb – very helpfully I had no idea of the summit height or the ascent left, so I was climbing blind. My legs were heavy by now and I was aware that I was moving slowly and likely getting caught by people, but I was still walking uphill without rests and keeping that up became the primary objective.

A lot of climbing later, the summit was still out of sight, but I had some company and we nattered, passing some time until he pulled away. As I passed a marshal, they told me that I had 400m to go, there was hope that I could make it without the wheels completely coming off!  5mins later, another marshal told me there were still 400m left – thankfully I was still able to have a laugh about it. Confidence boosted by only losing one spot on the climb and being near the top, I climbed on, surprised to overtake the guy who’d just passed me – he was now desperately refuelling.

I was moving surprisingly well, so decided to make the most of it as the last climb was looking daunting as hell.

I made it up the final big climb without breaking (7:20, 42km), from here it was all downhill (expect the 4km stretch of rolling uphill to a cable car we’d been warned about at the race briefing). A laugh with the marshals and it was time for the final descent, the top section of which was actually pretty rocky and slow. As I descended off the rocks onto grass, I looked down, 45km after 7:30, I had 12km to go and 90mins to get under the 9hr mark – the race was on! My legs were still moving and I’d fuelled well enough, this was doable if the uphill wasn’t too bad. I was doing the mental maths, from the top of the last hill, there was at least 4km of downhill/road, so the hard part would be over when my watch hit 53km.

The undulating uphill was just that, plenty of runnable bits, but definitely a lot of walking involved. My watch ticked over the 53km mark, but the top wasn’t yet in sight. My hopes of a sub9 finish seemed to be drifting away, still walking the uphills, still no cable car to be seen. At 55km, I could see the cable car and told myself that if I could get myself to the cable car with 25mins to go, I could grab some food and sub9 might just be doable. It was touch and go, I had no idea what the actual distances or timings were, but it was enough motivation to spur me on and keep moving relatively quickly. I flew down the last descent towards the road at what felt like breakneck speed (probably pretty slowly in reality).

Photo by Courtney Ropp https://roppcreative.pixieset.com/skyrace2023/

I knew there was 3km of road with a bridge (a nasty climb), so I needed 18mins to make it back. I hit the road, missing my target by a handful of seconds, but pushed on. Somehow I managed to “run” all the way up the bridge, which felt like a bloody mountain (25m climb). From there, just hugging the shoreline and hoping that I wouldn’t get lost. As the finish came into sight, I had 2minutes left after a 90 minute hectic dash, I’d make it (by 90secs). It’s funny how much relief and satisfaction you can feel by achieving an arbitrary target set a few hours earlier. I was shocked to find out that I’d finished 12th, and the next finisher was only 3 minutes down on me, so I’m glad that I pushed hard for the last 12km. Turns out that the distance on my watch isn’t very accurate in long-distance mode, guess I learnt that the hard way.

It’s funny how much relief and satisfaction you can feel by achieving an arbitrary target set a few hours earlier.

Post-race was once again reminiscent of fell-racing, free food, lots of people chatting and laughing about their races and congratulating the people they had run with. Looking at the splits, it seems like my “pacing strategy” (or lack thereof) worked perfectly; gaining positions steadily through the race. I might have broken a bit on the last climb, but it seems that others broke more than me – it’s awesome being back at it and in the mountains for long, technical races. Oh, and Northern Norway, you’re a stunner, thank you for many adventures and I’ll be recommending you to many likeminded folk.

Oh, and Northern Norway, you’re a stunner, thank you for many adventures and I’ll be recommending you to many likeminded folk.

OMM Competitor and erstwhile Turfer (look it up!), Lova Chechik headed to the Arctic Circle to take on the mighty Tromsø Skyrace for its final edition, after 10 years at the pinnacle of Skyrunning. From soaring rock ridges to gnarly loose descents and arctic sub-forest bashing, this modern classic of a race had it all. Lova takes us inside this unique race and gives a blow-by-blow account of what it takes to perform over such terrain.

Tromsø is a small town on the western coast of northern Norway, well inside the Arctic Circle. The town is surrounded by remote mountains, with plenty of rock climbing, ski touring and hiking straight from the doorstep. In 2014, the Tromsø skyrace was first proposed by Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg, calling it “pure skyrunning”. The skyrace is often in the Skyrunning World Series, with its character being similar to the Glen Coe skyline, Tromsø being longer, but slightly less technical.

In February, news spread on the Dark Peak grapevine that Tromsø entries were opening and as it was the last year of its running, entries were bound to sell out – I was convinced. The stats of 57km, 4800m seemed to pale to insignificance, given the 6 months left till the event – a “future Lova problem” if there ever was one.

The stats of 57km, 4800m seemed to pale to insignificance, given the 6 months left till the event – a “future Lova problem” if there ever was one.

Fast forward to July, 1 month till race day, the furthest I’d have run in almost 4 years (only a pandemic, a bike accident and an emigration taking place in the meantime). I was running maybe 40km/week, with some “big weekends” in the Alps (read 2 days of <30km day, although with a good amount of height). 3 weeks before the event, I managed to run a whooping 69km in a week, the first time in a while that I’d managed to cover the race distance in a week, but the mental boost was significant, a box labelled “training” was ticked.

I flew to Bergen 8 days before the race, and proceeded with some last minute training, 95km/7000m/27hrs in 6 days, leaving myself almost 48hrs to fly 750miles, rest and get ready. I would either be perfectly trained for the race, or absolutely knackered – only time would tell.

Meeting some fellow Dark Peakers in Tromsø, we looked at the course profile (for the first time), got scared by the cut-off times (roughly a 13hr finish) and anxiously awaited the unknown. For probably the first time in my life, the unknowns were so great that I was fearful of the cut-off times, assuming I could run that far. The long course is effectively split into 3 sections:

  • big climb over a mountain, which starts with the letter T and descend off the other side to an aid station
  • big climb up to a mountain, starting with a letter H this time, and looping back to the aid station – this was the most technical section
  • another big climb back onto T-mountain, then down and some undulating/uphill trails for a while before returning to Tromsø
I would either be perfectly trained for the race, or absolutely knackered – only time would tell.

The race briefing was done with a good dose of humour and an attitude of “there is no compulsory kit, but don’t be an idiot”. Thankfully, they showed some photos and gave me a glimpse of what was to come the following day. After some discussion, we decided that the race really started after 2 climbs, so after 35-40km. I packed my bags with enough food to get me to the aid station on roughly an 11:30 finish time (with a healthy buffer).

A healthy combination of excitement and fear stopped me from getting the best of nights, but nothing that a bit of adrenaline couldn’t wear off. There seemed to be 2 obvious tactics:

  1. go steady until you’ve only got one climb left and then see what you have left
  2. race and potentially pay the price later in the day

I had decided to go for the first tactic, and then the starting gun went off…I ran the first 50m in a big pack and knew I could go a lot quicker on the first few km of road without burning any matches. A new plan was hatched, one I’d recommend: run by feel, never be breathing too hard, don’t go into the red, take the first hill easy, have fun out there and make sure to take in the view.

After a short steep climb up to a cable car, there was a long undulating section before the main part of the climb. You could see Hamperokken (our 2nd summit) and it looked majestic, but massive and a long long way away – a future problem. There’s no shame in walking uphill in a race, so I walked a lot and let others overtake, fully conscious of the race length and that climbing wasn’t my strength – I’d be better off saving my legs for the 3rd big climb. On this first climb, my body felt ok, it seems I’d left myself just enough time to recover and any tightness eased off within the first hour.

A new plan was hatched, one I’d recommend: run by feel, never be breathing too hard, don’t go into the red, take the first hill easy, have fun out there and make sure to take in the view.

There were some undulating sections and it was fun stretching the legs out and letting myself run, cutting corners and having fun. It was nice chatting to some fellow competitors, as positions jostled, you’d get a couple of minutes of chatter with each person; everyone was friendly and excited for the big day ahead. Lots of eating and drinking was happening, as I did not want to be struggling later in the race; I was still making sure to take the views in (even taking photos). The summit of Tromsdalstind came relatively easily in the mist, as I was still trying my hardest not to race. The summit was 16km in, 2:15 into the race, 45mins under the cut-off time and suddenly I realised that cut-off times were no longer a worry – the race was on.

The descent was fun, lots of scree and loose rocks, I was passing a lot of people and descending quite aggressively – wondering if I’d pay the price on the latter descents. Having to reverse that descent in 25km was going to be a killer. 2km in the valley went quickly with a few water stops; I was moving well and passed through the aid station in 3:05 (24km). Quickly I grabbed a bit more food, thanked the volunteers and started the next climb. Doing some maths, I was realising that I was probably on for a <10hr time, hmmm, I was moving a lot quicker than expected, is this sustainable?

Climbing out of the aid station, I was still feeling ok, but the legs were starting to get a little tired (only 30km to go!). Thankfully, I knew that the last 400-500m climb of the ridge were technical. If I could make it to that point moving well, the limiting factor would be the technicality, not my legs – and I could worry about the last climb later, I’d have an hour or so to recover before it. I was still making sure to limit my exertion, but without easing off completely, still taking photos and chatting to the people around me – the atmosphere really relaxed, similar to that of fell running.

Doing some maths, I was realising that I was probably on for a <10hr time, hmmm, I was moving a lot quicker than expected, is this sustainable?

The wind was picking up with altitude, waterproofs went on as the terrain turned rockier. The route kept us off the main arrêté unfortunately, so lots of boulder hopping, but nothing too technical or exposed. A short section of scrambling was needed to get onto the final summit (29km, 4:45), it was nice to get a fistbump with the guy just ahead of me, who’d just started the descent. A quick smile at the marshalls at the summit, taking in the view of mountains and glaciers, and time for a big old descent.

After a rock-hoppy section, there was a long grassy descent which was fun and I was definitely catching people. Thankfully I crossed a trickle just after finishing my water, so I was still managing to eat and hydrate well. My quads still weren’t feeling too trashed, so the final descent would be ok. I came back to the aid station in 5:35 (35km) and quickly grabbed a bit more food and ran off along the flat; I was moving surprisingly well, so decided to make the most of it as the last climb was looking daunting as hell. I dutifully stuffed my face with more calories, refilled my bottles and started to climb – very helpfully I had no idea of the summit height or the ascent left, so I was climbing blind. My legs were heavy by now and I was aware that I was moving slowly and likely getting caught by people, but I was still walking uphill without rests and keeping that up became the primary objective.

A lot of climbing later, the summit was still out of sight, but I had some company and we nattered, passing some time until he pulled away. As I passed a marshal, they told me that I had 400m to go, there was hope that I could make it without the wheels completely coming off!  5mins later, another marshal told me there were still 400m left – thankfully I was still able to have a laugh about it. Confidence boosted by only losing one spot on the climb and being near the top, I climbed on, surprised to overtake the guy who’d just passed me – he was now desperately refuelling.

I was moving surprisingly well, so decided to make the most of it as the last climb was looking daunting as hell.

I made it up the final big climb without breaking (7:20, 42km), from here it was all downhill (expect the 4km stretch of rolling uphill to a cable car we’d been warned about at the race briefing). A laugh with the marshals and it was time for the final descent, the top section of which was actually pretty rocky and slow. As I descended off the rocks onto grass, I looked down, 45km after 7:30, I had 12km to go and 90mins to get under the 9hr mark – the race was on! My legs were still moving and I’d fuelled well enough, this was doable if the uphill wasn’t too bad. I was doing the mental maths, from the top of the last hill, there was at least 4km of downhill/road, so the hard part would be over when my watch hit 53km.

The undulating uphill was just that, plenty of runnable bits, but definitely a lot of walking involved. My watch ticked over the 53km mark, but the top wasn’t yet in sight. My hopes of a sub9 finish seemed to be drifting away, still walking the uphills, still no cable car to be seen. At 55km, I could see the cable car and told myself that if I could get myself to the cable car with 25mins to go, I could grab some food and sub9 might just be doable. It was touch and go, I had no idea what the actual distances or timings were, but it was enough motivation to spur me on and keep moving relatively quickly. I flew down the last descent towards the road at what felt like breakneck speed (probably pretty slowly in reality).

Photo by Courtney Ropp https://roppcreative.pixieset.com/skyrace2023/

I knew there was 3km of road with a bridge (a nasty climb), so I needed 18mins to make it back. I hit the road, missing my target by a handful of seconds, but pushed on. Somehow I managed to “run” all the way up the bridge, which felt like a bloody mountain (25m climb). From there, just hugging the shoreline and hoping that I wouldn’t get lost. As the finish came into sight, I had 2minutes left after a 90 minute hectic dash, I’d make it (by 90secs). It’s funny how much relief and satisfaction you can feel by achieving an arbitrary target set a few hours earlier. I was shocked to find out that I’d finished 12th, and the next finisher was only 3 minutes down on me, so I’m glad that I pushed hard for the last 12km. Turns out that the distance on my watch isn’t very accurate in long-distance mode, guess I learnt that the hard way.

It’s funny how much relief and satisfaction you can feel by achieving an arbitrary target set a few hours earlier.

Post-race was once again reminiscent of fell-racing, free food, lots of people chatting and laughing about their races and congratulating the people they had run with. Looking at the splits, it seems like my “pacing strategy” (or lack thereof) worked perfectly; gaining positions steadily through the race. I might have broken a bit on the last climb, but it seems that others broke more than me – it’s awesome being back at it and in the mountains for long, technical races. Oh, and Northern Norway, you’re a stunner, thank you for many adventures and I’ll be recommending you to many likeminded folk.

Oh, and Northern Norway, you’re a stunner, thank you for many adventures and I’ll be recommending you to many likeminded folk.
Lova is an engineer, who just loves a good adventure; having discovered fell running when living in Sheffield, he has now moved to southern Germany - a little closer to the alps. Ridges, mountains, wilderness - the best places to make friends and unwind. Having completed several OMMs, mountain marathons and Lakeland classics were the races of choice in the UK, now searching for the Alpine alternative, skyraces maybe...?
Lova is an engineer, who just loves a good adventure; having discovered fell running when living in Sheffield, he has now moved to southern Germany - a little closer to the alps. Ridges, mountains, wilderness - the best places to make friends and unwind. Having completed several OMMs, mountain marathons and Lakeland classics were the races of choice in the UK, now searching for the Alpine alternative, skyraces maybe...?

If you have a story to tell, whether it’s from the OMM, another race or challenge or just how you use our kit, get in touch! Just pop an email to james@team-ark.com and who knows, you might just earn yourself some free kit!

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