Trail Running in Sweden

Sweden is a small and elongate country in Scandinavia, which is located in the northern part of Europe. It does have mountains in the west, on the border to Norway. They are pretty small and humble, but they are perfect for running. In the eastern part of Sweden we have all kinds of terrain. On the coast there are hobs, slabs, rabble, rocks, and beaches mixed with meadow, coniferous, and birch forests.

My idea is that the story of trail running in Sweden has sprung up or developed out of orienteering, you know the sport of running around with a map. That sport was and still is pretty big in Sweden. Anyway, the Swedes got too lazy so they dropped the map and went running on trails instead. And speaking of the history of trail running, isn’t that the best thing we could ever occupy ourselves with? If you just go out running, in the forests, in the wild, on the rocks, or whatever terrain which is not asphalt, I think most of our problems would be solved.

Anyhow, I’m gonna write about some superb places for trail running if you ever visit Sweden.

The High Coast!

The Swedish High Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the reason that the land has risen 800 meters after the last ice age, as a result of the disappearance of pressure from glaciers. It is the fastest land rise in the world. That accounts for the unusual landscape with tall cliff formations and rabbles. The area is located in the middle of Sweden, on the coast of the Bothnian Gulf. The route reaches 79 miles and the best thing is that you can split it up exactly as you want. You can do it in one piece, two days, three days, or just hike it. Along the trail you always find some small and cute lodging places. And along these small villages you find wilderness, old forest with high biodiversity, hanging lichens, magical soft mosses, and a lot of singing birds. The trails extending through beaches, small hills, rocks, nice paths, and technical paths. It varies so much that you never get bored and you just want to go further to find out what comes next!

If you want to camp instead of staying inside, Sweden has something that is called all mans law or the right of commons. It means that you have the right to go wherever you want to go and camp wherever you want to camp. It is a great freedom to have because it makes it easy to get out. With that benefit comes the responsibility to clean up after yourself and to take care of the nature the land is offering.

In this moment there are some plans about making an ultra race next year on this amazing trail.

Swedish Mountains!

As I mentioned before, they are pretty small, but still very beautiful. If I just had to choose one place to run in the Swedish mountains, I would pick the mountains in Jämtland. It is located at the same latitude as the High Coast, but in the western part of the country. It is very settled for running. You go from hut to hut, and you can choose between trails or just go with a map in valleys without trails.

In most of the small mountain huts they actually have a restaurant, and all the mountain huts that belong to the Swedish tourist association (STF) surely can cook delicious food. And they pick out local and ecological ingredients to make their specialties in their restaurants. If you go to a smaller hut, you still can buy food and cook it yourself. Almost all the huts also have a wood-fired sauna. Imagine that! You have been out running a whole day, on amazing paths, you have seen so many new beautiful views. And when you’re at the end station for that day, you have a sauna and a cold bath in an alpine lake. And then you have the best meal you have ever tasted.

I promise you, that’s how it is in the Swedish mountains. It is the same here as in the High Coast according to how long you want to run. You can stay out for a week and easily run a marathon per day and still see new mountains, valleys, and stay in new huts. And if you’re lucky you get to see arctic foxes and hear the great snipe sing. Hearing that bird makes you feel like you’re in a fairy tale.

Races

Sweden doesn’t have too many trail running races, but the few existing are good ones, and the sport is growing so the selection is getting wider. But if you’re in Sweden and want to compete in a trail running race, I would recommend the AXA Mountain Marathon. It has everything a mountain marathon in Sweden could offer. And the best thing with it is that you get as many waffles as you want when you’re finished. Well the other best thing is the views you have during the race.

Another cool competition is the Björkliden Arctic Mountain Marathon [Editor’s Note: The race website currently down, but the race is August 16-17 2013. Here’s the Haglöf’s BAMM website.], a two-day mountain marathon where you carry all the equipment you need for the night. You don’t know where you’re gonna run until the morning when the competition starts. At the breakfast, you get a map with some control points and then you choose the best way to get to them. It’s easy orienteering as you can almost not call it orienteering. The race takes part in the very northern part of Sweden and during the night it’s common to see the aurora borealis play on the sky.

And if you’re looking at shorter races the Salomon Trail Tour has a race almost every weekend in different places across the whole country during the months between April and October. The distances are between 3, 7, and 13 miles, and take part on super good technical trails.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

Anyone who has run in Sweden, either as a local or as a visitor, please share your thoughts on trail running there.

Likewise, if you’re considering a trip to Sweden that involves trail running, ask away. Hopefully, someone will be able to answer your questions.

Emelie Forsberg: runs for Salomon. In 2012, she won the Skyrunning World Series and The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile championships.

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  • I love scandinavia. I have not run in Sweden, I have in Norway however .During my holiday i did regular runs into the woods, up the mountains no marked trails.Fresh air solitude, silence something i lack here in UK.

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  • Great post from Emelie! Thanks for the description of the Swedish Highcoast, very interesting. Stockholm being the capital city and most of the people living there, I would mention that even if you're in the city, you're never far from the nature in Sweden. Stockholm has a beautiful archipelago and many trails that are perfect for trail running. You can get a preview of how the mix between forest, sea side and lakes looks like here: https://vimeo.com/32312647

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  • Great, another destination to fuel my wanderlust. Thanks Emelie! Seriously though, thanks for posting about your homeland, it looks like a wonderful place to visit.

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  • Thanks for the descriptions of the many beautiful possibilities. I must cross the border from Norway some time and run some of these! I'm glad to hear the BAMM does not reuire a high level of orientering skills as that is one I was considering. Thanks also to Marcus and Francois for the other links. You can find runs in norway at http://db.kondis.no/

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  • Great post. I live in the Netherlands and have been to Scandinavia a couple of times (it's only 1,5 hour by plane). Love the outdoors in Scandinavia. Watch out for mosquitos though?

    What about organizing a trail similar to the Fjallraven challenge: Kungsleden 110km.

    And if you are a real daredevil than running in Sarek is a challenge. Real wilderness and no trails (nice river crossings..)

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  • Great post! Now that i live in Denmark myself and therefor faily close to this wonderfull contry of Sweeden, i would love to get some info about places to go in the south part of the country. Anyone have any good link for stuff like that?

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  • sounds awesome! now to make it happen! so many amazing places to run... so little time! ;)

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  • Thanks for posting this, Emelie, it couldn't have come at a better time! I'm moving to Kiruna in a week or so and have been wondering about the trail ultra scene up there (for the summer!!!). Now I have some races to target! Thank you!!!!

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  • Sign me up for a summer trip to Sweden, please...

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  • I lived in Stockholm for 5 months a couple years ago at the infancy of my trail running interest. Even though I never went far out of town to go running, there were plenty of great wooded areas and trail within the greater Stockholm area. I saw some of the countryside along the east coast north of Stockholm and can definitely see it offering some awesome runs. Nice article.

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  • I can easily second Emelie's descriptions of trail running in northern Sweden: limited number of races, but growing - and well organized, but an endless offering of trails wherever you go. Running above treeline in Björkliden alone in the midnight sun without another person in sight, looking out over the glacially carved valley holding Torneträsk to the north and south towards Lapporten, is a pretty tough experience to beat. Reindeer trotting about; maybe catch sight of a lone wolverine (on a lunch run during an October workshop at the research station in Abisko – ok, I skipped a couple presentations, too). On my list of things to do, which a few friends have done, is to take the train to Abisko, the village next to Björkliden, and run the 410-km Kungsleden (King’s trail) south to Hemavan. Just as with Högakustenleden that Emelie describes, you can run hut-to-hut if you like, and carry only extra clothes and travel sheets to use with the bedding provided in the huts, where you can pick up provisions. The closest parallel might be the White Mountains in NH or the Bigelow-Katahdin region in Maine; only treeline is much lower in the Swedish mountains, so the views are better and you can run wherever you want – and all night long without a headlamp! (Keep in mind though, that sun up/down was 9:26/13:45 today, so the endless summer light has a dark side.)

    Even in most small cities, and especially those in northern Sweden, you can quickly get to a trailhead and string together hours of trails and forest roads, with only short sections of asphalt to link them together. One of my favorite late spring training runs is to leave work early, take a bus 40 km out from town and run Tavelsjöleden almost back into the center of Umeå. A few extra km through town and I am at the uni again, grab my bike and head home.

    The Axa mountain marathon is fantastic, but has become extremely popular. Three years ago you could get one of 350 starting slots as close as a few weeks before the race in August. In 2011, when Emelie broke the women's record (and was 11 overall, and 13 minutes ahead of me :) ), the slots were filled within two weeks. For this past August’s race, it had taken only two days to fill the starting slots the previous fall, despite the fact the organizers increased the number to 500. For next year's race, it took just two hours to fill the slots after they opened the registration. But there is an informal 47 km ‘race’ in the same mountain region, which was started this year, for anyone interested: Jämtlandstriangeln unplugged (www.trailare.se/jamtlandstriangeln-unplugged-2012/)

    To add to Marcus's list of races above you can check http://www.ultradistans.se/ for a mixed list of ultra races in Sweden (look under Tävlingar).

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  • awesome awesome running..beautiful place for sure.

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  • Thanks for the info Emelie! Since I've been bitten by the trail running bug I am much more interested in travelling.

    Stay healthy!

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  • Sweden is fantastic! I spent a month this summer in Stockholm and Hagfors (Varmland) with my family, and we had a great time. It rained more this summer than it has in years, so that put a damper on things. But the country is criss-crossed with great trails, as well as lots and lots of dirt roads. Even outside our rental house in Stockholm, we could run around Brunnsviken, a lake with a great running trail along the shore. And our farmhouse outside of Hagfors had trails, both paved and unpaved, that stretched for tens of miles in each direction. The only downside for us was the food. Breakfasts were great -- kanelbulle (cinnamon rolls) as well as their unsung brothers kardemumma bulle (cardamom rolls)and coffee. But lunches could get a little monotonous, at least if you're up country and on a budget. But Swedes are extremely friendly and very cosmopolitan. I highly recommend a visit!

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    • Oh, I should add that we didn't think it was all that expensive. We were expecting it to be extremely expensive (read: Norway), but it was pretty comparable to metropolitan U.S. prices, at least once you got into the countryside.

      Watch out for moose!

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  • Great article and photos Emelie, last time i was in Sweden I ran round and round the track 25 times in Stockholm! I have to get back there on the trails!

    I like the historical laws that let you enjoy the outdoors. in New Zealand there is also the 'Queens Chain' that close to every piece of water there is the right for people to pass. So no private beaches and access to all rivers and lakes - it's great for runners and people who love nature.

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  • Just ask if there´s questions! I´m more then happy to answer them :) And mosquitos.. You don´t need to worry about them. Could be some but not like it´s gonna bother you!

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  • Thanks Emile and Irunfar for the great piece on Swedish trail running!

    Sune from Denmark asked for some alternatives in Southern Sweden and a few recommendations are the different Skaneleden sections (www.skaneleden.se). Maps are available online and in most bookshops and some sport stores. Skaneleden is part of a regional trail system that is replicated in all (most) parts of Sweden so that is always an easy starting point to find nice marked trails for short or endless runs wherever you are visiting Sweden. Usually marked with orange blazes.

    My favorite sections are the

    * 36km loop in Osterlen

    * the trail sections on western Hallandsasen and on Soderasen

    * The Skrylle and Genarp areas are great too and close to Lund and Malmo.

    You can run point to point runs and easily get back by using regional trains and buses if you do not make a loop or out-and-back.

    The peninsula of Kullaberg, north of Helsingborg, has some the of most amazing trail and off-trail running anywhere (and I live now in Switzerland and spent years in Colorado and Utah to compare with) despite a high point of just 185m. You can pack in 2500 meters of tough climbs in 30km if you want. You can find some really steep and technical stuff if you enter the so called "zone of death" made famous through the Ladonia Trophy races. The secret is to explore the coves, but be very careful so the Kullaman does not get you:-)

    Happy Trails and Holiday Season!

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  • One of the great things with Sweden and especially swedes is their somewhat fanatic way of doing things properly. If you are about to visit the country and have questions about getting out on a trail, just visit the facebook group "Trail Sverige" (https://www.facebook.com/groups/221250928005981/) and leave a message, My guess is that you'll have an answer within minutes.

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  • Great article.

    Didnt see anything posted about these race's so i thought id share it

    Borås Ultra Marathon 50 miles (BUM50Miles): [Broken link removed]
    Risveden Terräng (my favorite race, short but sweet!): http://www.risvedenterrang.se
    Sandsjöbacka Trail Marathon (either half or full marathon in the middle of swedish winter, january 20th): http://www.sandsjobackatrail.se

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