Deeply rooted in history (think future king of independent Sweden escaping on skis 500 years ago), the Vasaloppet is the world’s oldest and largest Nordic ski race, with more than 15,000 participants. Two years ago, the Vasaloppet organization introduced Ultravasan, a 90-kilometer (56-mile) footrace along roughly the same historic route followed by the ski race. The mostly dirt- and gravel-road course is flat and fast with local resident Jonas Buud (pre-race interview) setting the course record in a blazing 5:45 last year when Jasmin Nunige (pre-race interview) also set the women’s course record in 7:02.
To get more of a feel for Ultravasan, read American Helen Cospolich’s report from the 2014 race.
We’ll be in Sweden to cover the race live, which starts at 5 a.m. Central European Summer Time on Saturday, August 20th. That’s 9 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time on Friday, August 19th in the U.S.
Thanks to the Vasaloppet organization for making our coverage possible.
2016 Ultravasan Women’s Preview
Last year’s champ and women’s course record holder Jasmin Nunige of Switzerland will be back at this year’s race. Since winning Ultravasan last year, she’s gone on to take second at Les Templiers last October and win all three ultras we’re aware of her running so far this year, including the EcoTrail of Olso 80 where she was third overall. In late July, Nunige won the Swiss Alpine Marathon for the seventh time.
Sweden’s Kajsa Berg won’t race due to a back injury. [Updated August 18]
Sweden’s Kajsa Berg could also challenge at the front of the race. She doesn’t have a ton of trail running experience, but she did take second at the IAU 100k World Championships last year in 7:20 (she was also second at the event in 2012) before taking third at this year’s Comrades Marathon. She’s run at least 3:21 for 50k. Berg has run the course at least twice in training.
Croatia’s Marija Vrajic won’t be racing Ultravasan after her run in the Olympic marathon over the weekend. [Updated August 17]
Croatia’s Marija Vrajic has blazing speed on flat and fast ultra courses. Last year, she was third at the IAU 100k World Championships (7:27) in the Netherlands in September before finishing second that the IAU 50k World Championships (3:28) in Qatar in December. In 2014 and 2015, she used her speed to win the Mozart 100k, a course that may run similarly to Ultravasan. She’ll make a final decision after racing Ultravasan after running the Olympic Marathon.
Finishing less than two minutes behind Vrajic in fourth at last year IAU 100k World Champs in 7:29 was American Sarah Bard (pre-race interview). That kicked off a great stretch for Bard, who won the JFK 50 Mile two months later in 6:31, the fifth-fastest time in the race’s 53 runnings. So far this year, she’s taken third at the Chuckanut 50k and fourth at the Comrades Marathon.
Fellow American Cassie Scallon certainly has the ability to push for a podium spot. While it’s from a few years ago, Cassie’s most relevant race might be her 6:24 in winning the rolling road Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile back in 2013. Cassie’s had some strong runs in the past year, with a win at the Squamish 50 Mile last August, fourth at Les Templiers last October, a win at the Bandera 100k in January, and a second at the USATF Road 100k National Championships in April. She had a rough go at the Comrades Marathon in June.
So, here we are, at our first runner to make her ultramarathon debut at Ultravasan. Swedish runner of Kenyan ancestry Isabellah Andersson, originally from Eldoret, Kenya, will have one of the fastest marathon PRs of the field… overall, as she 2:23:41 at the 2011 Dubai Marathon, a Swedish national record. She was third at the 2010 European Championships Marathon, seventh at the 2011 World Championships, and 18th at the 2012 Olympics. She’s run 15:45 for 5k and 33:15 for 10k on the track in addition to previously setting the Swedish national 10k road record of 32:24 (since broken). Her 1:10:02 for the half marathon is also a Swedish national record to go along with her 20k and 30k road national records. What makes Isabellah’s run at Ultravasan all the more interesting is that she moved to Sweden to learn more about orienteering, that is timed off-trail navigational racing, so she’s certainly spent time running off road.
Catriona Jennings of Ireland won’t race due a stomach illness. [Updated August 18]
The Irish will be well represented at Ultravasan by Catriona Jennings, who was fourth at last December’s IAU 50k World Championships in Doha where she ran 3:31. She qualified for the 2012 Olympics by running a 2:36 marathon. If you know anything about her trail running experience, please share it with us.
Other Women to Watch
- Margrethe Løgavlen (Norway) — EcoTrail de Paris: 2nd 2013 (7:18) & 5th 2016 (7:33)
- Mari Mauland (Norway) — 2st EcoTrail of Oslo 2015 (8:06); 1st Lysefjorden Inn Ultramarathon 2015; 2nd Thames 100 Mile 2016 (19:11)
- Kerstin Rosenqvist (Sweden) — Has run at least an 8:18 100k (2012); finished Dragon’s Back Race last year; 5th Salomon Glen Coe Skyline 2015
- Aud Elisabeth Stuhr (Norway) — 1st Artic Ultra 50 Mile 2016; 1st Ultra Bergen 63km 2015
- Daphne Tsalli (U.K.) — 1st Gobi March 2015
Entered But Not Racing the 90k
While entered earlier, Ellie Greenwood won’t be racing, as she returns from injury.
After finishing second in the Ultravasan 90k last year, Ida Nilsson will be running the 45k this year due to a heavy upcoming race schedule.
Croatia’s Nikolina Sustic, who has three 100k times of between 7:40:39 and 7:41:46 between late last May and now, won’t be racing.
2016 Ultravasan Men’s Preview
I’ll continue to hold that Jonas Buud’s course record 5:45 (6:10/mile, 3:50/km pace) at last year’s Ultravasan was one of the most impressive ultra performances I saw last year. It was a top ultrarunner on top of his game crushing a race on his home turf. A month later, Buud went on to win the IAU 100k World Championships in 6:22 after finishing second at the event many times. This year, Buud’s raced more than last year, winning the Tarawera Ultramarathon in February, taking sixth at Transgrancanaria in March, 22nd at the Comrades Marathon in May, and seventh at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in June. While those last couple results don’t match up with Buud’s potential, it will take a special day for someone to take the Ultravasan crown away from the two-time defending champ.
Two years ago, the U.K.’s Steve Way finished second to Buud at Ultravasan in 6:12, which would have been good enough for fourth last year. He’s run at least as fast as 6:19 for 100k on the roads and 2:15 for the marathon. Back in May, Way ran 3:54:52 for 40 miles (64.37km) on the track, good for 5:52/mile or 3:39/kilometer.
With the rest of last year’s podium skipping this year’s race, Frenchmen Arnaud Perrignon and Emmanuel Gault are the next-best returnees from last year’s race where they tied for fourth in 6:15, a full half an hour behind Buud. Perrignon only managed 10th place at the EcoTrail de Paris in March, while Gault took third at the event. Since last year’s Ultravasan, Gault has also placed seventh at Les Templiers (73km) and fourth at La SainteLyon (72km).
In 2014, Norway’s Jarle Risa took third at Ultravasan in 6:23 before improving to 6:18 in last year’s race where he finished sixth. Last May, he was fourth at the EcoTrail of Olso 80k in 6:59, while he was this year’s winner in 6:27. Jarle was 32nd at last year’s IAU 100k World Champs in 7:11. He’s run at least as fast as 7:01 for 100k.
Matt Flaherty of the U.S. ran his first race back from injury at Ultravasan last August, where he was seventh in 6:21. A few weeks later, he was 24th at the IAU 100k World Championships in 7:01. He’s back to consistent racing this year, wining the Mountain Mist 50k in January, placing third at the Chuckanut 50k in March and Cayuga Trails 50 Mile in June, and finishing sixth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile in April.
Belgium’s Wouter Decock is a beast on the roads as perhaps best displayed by his fifth-place finish at last year’s IAU 100k World Championships in 6:41. This May, he ran even faster for 100k, clocking a 6:33:52. In 2014, he was eighth at the IAU 50k World Trophy (now, World Championships) in 3:22. Wouter has not seen the same level of success on the trails, but the gently rolling dirt roads of Ultravasan might suit him.
American Geoff Burns (pre-race interview) has blazed his way into ultrarunning over the past year and change. Last April, he made his ultra debut with a 3:00:57 50k before going on to finish 10th at the IAU 50k World Championships in Doha last December. This April, he ran a 6:30:37 100k to win the USATF Road 100k National Championships in a time less than three minutes off Max King’s American record and a hair off the second-fastest American time. He was also 13 minutes under Zach Bitter’s course record at the Mad City 100k from 2014. Geoff went for it, going out in 3:04 for 50k. Geoff has hit the trails, taking second at the 50k Two Hearted Trail Run in June 2015 in 3:53.
Fellow American Patrick Reagan was all of five minutes behind Burns in placing second at this year’s Mad City 100k in 6:35 in his 100k debut. As far as we can tell, it was only Patrick’s second ultramarathon, as he’d won the Buffalo Run 50k in South Carolina last October in 3:06. He’s successfully run other trail races before and after.
Over the past year and change, Fritjof Fagerlund has proven himself an able ultrarunner over a variety of surfaces and terrain. He was 23rd for Team Sweden at last year’s IAU Trail World Championships, sixth at the IAU 100k World Championships on the roads, 16th on the trails of Les Templiers, and 14th at Comrades back in May. Last August, he also won the Ultravasan 45k event.
Kenya’s Dismas Ewet Lotira won’t race due to visa problems. [Updated August 18]
If we knew anything about he’s been up to the past half decade, Kenya’s Dismas Ewet Lotira would probably be mentioned earlier in this preview. As it is, he’s run 2:13:35 in the marathon sometime before 2010. If you’ve got more recent information on Dismas, please let us know.
Goodness knows we don’t know much about Estonia’s Ranno Erala either, except that he was eighth at Ultravasan last year in 6:21. We’d love to know more about Ranno’s background.
Also of Norway, John Henry Strupstad was fifth at Ultravasan in 2014 in 6:28. The same year he was 15th at the IAU 100k World Championships in 7:04. Last year he was second at theEcoTrail of Olso 80km 2015, while he ran a 3:01:33 50k indoors this February 2016.
Sweden’s Elov Olsson took out the pace in the 2014 edition of Ultravasan before going on to finish eighth in 6:45. Later in 2014, he was 14th at the Endurance Trail des Templiers and ran 253 kilometers (157.2 miles) in a 24-hour race. He did not see the same success in 2015. No doubt that Elov will be the first man to any post-race champagne.
Other Men to Watch
- Patrik Brants (Sweden) — 1st Borås Ultra Marathon 50 Mile 2015; 1st Stockholm Trail 46k 2016
Andrejs Jesko (Latvia) — 3:00:42 50k 2016, Latvian national champion/national recordAndrejs Jesko of Latvia won’t be racing due to health issues. [Update August 18]
- Daniel Nilsson (Sweden) — 7th Ultravasan 2014 (6:44); 12th Ultravasan 2015 (6:39); 1st Ursvik Ultra 75k 2016
- Patrik Wikström (Sweden) — 11th Ultravasan 2014; 1st High Coast Ultra (129k) 2015
Entered But Not Racing the 90k
Yan Longfei of China recently broke his arm and won’t be racing.
After taking 10th in the Ultravasan 90k last year, Norway’s Tom Erik Halvorsen will run the 45k instead this year. Recently, Norway’s Gjermund Sörstad has switched from the 90k to the 45k.
Call for Comments
- Can anyone beat Buud in the men’s race? If so, who?
- Will Jasmin Nunige repeat or will it be three different women atop the podium in the race’s first three years?
- Will there be any big surprises at the race?
- Would you add anyone to our preview?
- Know of anyone who’s listed, but not racing? Let us know!