Trail Running in Finland

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by guest contributor Jeremy Palmer.]

Finland is a country of superlatives. Recently acknowledged as the happiest country on the planet for 2018 by the United Nations’ World Happiness Report, Finland also boasts one of the best and most envied education systems in the world. Additionally, Finland is home to the least polluted air in the world, according to the World Health Organization, and some of the cleanest tap water. Oh, and Finland is the most forested land in Europe (75% of the land area, according to The World Bank). And don’t forget what former United States President Barack Obama mentioned about Finland: “I do want to point out that Finland has perhaps the most heavy metal bands in the world per capita, and also ranks high on good governance. I don’t know if there’s any correlation there.” Or perhaps the secret of success lies in the coffee consumption, one of the highest rates in the world says the International Coffee Organization!

As a result of the last ice age, nearly 200,000 fresh-water lakes populate the Finnish landscape. Though lacking in towering mountains, the country is covered in unique geological formations such as massive boulder fields, serpentine-like eskers, untouched wetlands, and rolling hills. And trees. Lots and lots of trees.

Finns take nature seriously and Finnish law protects everyone’s right to access serious fun in nature. From (nearly) unrestricted camping, to berry and mushroom gathering, fishing, hiking and more, Finland is a land of unspoiled natural resources. A host of diverse wildlife flourishes here in Finland, including semi-domesticated reindeer in the north.

Author Jeremy Palmer at the NUTS Karhunkierros 160km in May of 2017. Photo: Terho Lahtinen

The berries of Finland. Most are wild in this photo but some are cultivated. Photo: David Radnell

An esker in Hossa National Park. Photo: Sirke Seppänen

Trail Running in Finland

In Finland, trail running is becoming ever more popular and new races appear regularly. Most of the better-known running events take place between May and October, though it is possible to run long and far throughout the year. For example, one could participate in epic six- to eight-hour Rogaining competitions in snowy forests during the winter season.

Rogaining map from the 2018 Nuuksio Talvipäivä six-hour event. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Palmer.

Interestingly, trail running in Finland is really an organic extension of Finns’ reverence for nature and their desire to spend as much time as possible outside. Even as children, Finns actively play, hike, and camp in the great outdoors. It almost seems that the term ‘trail running’ simply describes a way of life Finns have followed for ages. Nevertheless, Finns welcome the increase of organized trail running events that bring people together to test their mettle in the wild.

Saara Päätalo in Syöte National Park. Photo: Jarkko Aspegren

Trail Running Events in Finland

What follows is an incomplete list of a few selected trail-running events in Finland. For more information on these and many other events, see the links below.

May

  • Bodom Trail (21 kilometers) — Held in early May, it’s a highly popular event that attracts top runners from around Europe. Call it a fast and technical course… until you hit the inevitable mud and water from the spring thaw, which slows things down.
  • NUTS Karhunkierros (34, 55, 83, 166 km) — The race takes place in northern Finland in late May on one of the most popular hiking trails in the country. It’s an out-and-back course that includes deep forest, rugged trails, winding rivers, and multiple suspension bridges. The sun sets but the sky never gets truly dark.

June

  • Jukolan Viesti — This is the world’s largest orienteering relay, boasting some 20,000 runners. Talk about crowd energy. The event is broadcast live on national TV and is one of the most important sporting events in Finland.
  • Aulanko Tower Trail (22 km) — A new race for 2018, taking place in in late June in a scenic nature reserve.

July

  • NUTS Ylläs Pallas (26, 55, 134 km) — Run in the midnight sun of mid-July, this Ultra-Trail World Tour Discovery Race takes place north of the Arctic Circle! This race includes some forest, some wide-open picturesque landscapes, and many unforgettable memories.
  • Terva Trail (22, 60, 100 km) — Does it help that this event is hosted toward the end of July in the northern city of Oulu, which is the home of the air-guitar world championships?!

Mikael Heerman at the 2016 Ylläs Pallas 134 km. Photo: Aapo Laiho

August

  • Tunturimaraton (10.5, 21.5, 43 km) — Experience the rugged and beautiful Finnish Lapland in early August in Finland’s oldest national park.
  • Himos Trail (9, 17, 26, 52 km) — This event takes place in mid-late August in the center of Finland.

September

  • Nuuksio Classic (42, 70 km) — This is one of the most iconic trail runs in Finland and it goes off in early September in the forests near Helsinki.
  • Vuokatti Trail Challenge (23, 42, 57, 115 km) — In early September near Kajaani, Finland, experience technical trails, marshes, and deep forests in this popular destination for sports enthusiasts.

Henri Ansio at the Nuuksio Classic in 2017. In 2018, Henri has taken seventh and 17th, respectively, at the internationally competitive Mont Blanc Marathon and Sierre-Zinal. Photo: Aapo Laiho

October

  • Vaarojen Maraton (13.5, 43, 65, 130 km) — This event’s host location, Koli National Park, is one of the most photographed locations in Finland, and the early October event itself is perhaps the most challenging event Finland has to offer. The 130 km race includes water crossings, dense foliage, tree roots from hell, stones and boulders of all sizes, dark autumn nights, technical ascents and descents, and 5,000 meters of elevation gain.

Other Things to Know About Trail Running in Finland

  • Nearly countless trail running, Rogaining, and orienteering events take place during the winter (and throughout the year, for that matter!) In Nordic countries, it seems that running (or cross-country skiing) in the forest with a map is a national pastime.
  • Many companies organize extended hiking tours in rugged wilderness. For example, Upitrek organizes hikes (and runs!) along the Russian border in untouched wilderness where you might not hear the sounds of the 21st century for days!

Anssi Tervonen and Jaakko Lehto at the 2016 Vaarojen Maraton. Photo: @karikuninkaanniemi

Last Word

Come run in Finland. The forests and wilderness here are pristine. Come enjoy the midnight sun, our abundance of nature, and the nearly countless sports-related activities in summer. Come for the snowy paths and warmth of saunas in winter. On a lighter note, Finland is a country full of extreme coffee-drinking, nature-loving forest elves. Come join this kind folk and experience the majesty of untouched nature.

Additional Links

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

This article is meant to offer a starting ground for information on trail running in Finland for outside, English-speaking visitors. Please feel free to leave a comment to add more information or your perspective on trail running in Finland. Thanks!

Lari Koivu at the 2018 Kuhankuonon retkeilyreitistö. Photo courtesy of Lari Koivu.

There are 13 comments

  1. Janne

    Hi, nice intro to running in Finland. I’ve ran in many of the events mentioned. One thing that the article fails to mention is that how popular these are (yes, it says popular). Karhunkierros is the largest trail event with this year over 2500 participants (fully booked, foreign guests have additional quota). With 6 million people living in Finland it is almost as big as the largest road marathon event. I just Finished Pyhä Tunturimaraton which had 600 participants. NUTS Ylläs-Pallas is around 950 participants. Sure, there are smaller events in case numbers scare you off. Tervatrail, I think we were 40 or so people on first time it was ran.

    I’ll answer questions if someone wants to come to run in Taiga forest :)

  2. Steffen

    Oh Suomi! I was fortunate to live there for almost a year as a student. Many happy memories – especially about the outdoors. Camping and hiking galore with incredibly well maintained trail systems on public lands that seem to have no end. I did hike the famous Krahunkierros under the midnight sun. And even though it’s the most popular trail in Finland we only met a couple of people per day, usually around the dedicated camp areas. My recommendation: GO! You will not regret it.

  3. Terho

    Finnish trail runners are warmly welcoming visitors and are excited to show their favourite trails to guests. On http://www.trailrunning.fi/en/lenkkiseuraa/ you’ll find a list of trail running clubs and groups in different cities around the country. Most have a Facebook group where you can ask tips and call for running partners if you are visiting the country. Also the FB pages of the events are a good channel to reach locals.

  4. Petri W

    Last weekend I just ran the Kaldoaivi Ultra Trail 130km which is run in the biggest and northernmost wilderness area in Finnland. Actually, as far as I know, it is the northermost ultratrail ever hosted. For comparison, the northernmost part of the race is farther north than part of the north coast of Alaska. Besides that this year I ran the Karhunkierros 160km and the Ylläs Pallas 134 km. All of them included all night running and I never once needed a headlamp. Technically only the Ylläs Pallas race had midnight sun, but in the other two events the sun was so close to the horizon during the night that it never got dark. If you don’t like using a headlamp, then these summer events in northern Finland are for you!

  5. Hugo

    I think another difference between Finland and other places is that runners are often supposed to be self sufficient. In races up to marathon distance it’s not uncommon to only have water points and in limited number. You are also supposed to bring your own drinking cup :) In longer races there may be some snacks.

  6. The Woodsman

    No mention of Suunto? Probably a good reason they are Finnish (besides hiring from a large pool of former Nokia engineers ;-)

    1. Bryon Powell

      As with all our “Trail Running in…” articles, it’s an article about the trail running in Finland… not the brands based there. (And I happen to happily be wearing a Suunto 9 right now. :-) )

  7. Fillipp Ostapowicz

    Nah, the cleanest air on the planet is on the North West Cost of Tasmania at Cape Grim, fact! Where is Tasmania I hear you say, not telling.

  8. Jukka

    Great article. I’m a Finn living in Helsinki. NUTS Ylläs Pallas 134km was a wonderful experience for me last month, as the midnight sun is so much better in the North of Finland.

  9. Aaron

    Great article, I really enjoyed reading it! I am planning to visit Finland next year so I am very interested in the trail running opportunities there!

    Kiitos paljon!

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