In the heart of the darkness - 373,142 km in 48 hours

I wake up an hour before the alarm clock rings and listen to raindrops falling on the window of the hotel. The first ever 48 hour running competition on Finnish soil will start in less than seven hours and rain is the last thing I was ordering for this day. Even though weather forecast predicted the possibility of the rain was about 95%, so it is not a big surprise. And after all, during two previous years it has been rained in Kaustinen this weekend. The upcoming challenge is frightening enough withour rain, but then - on outdoor sport you can't choose the weather.


After IAU officially cancelled 24 h running world championships -race 2011 I decided to participate in Kaustinen 48 h race on first weekend of August. When I made that decision many people reminded me about my promise to never run longer ultra than 24 hours. Actually I had broken that promise twice earlier, but those races were more of an adventure than serious racerunning. I got little - but very tiny - boost of confidence knowing that at least my support during the race would be top class as I was lucky enough to get the same excellent team with me in Kaustinen that pushed me to the finish line of Gax Trans Scania 2010 as a race winner.

I was aware of the terrible reputation of 48 h running even among toughest of the ultrarunners. That's why I didn't even plan proper timetable for the race. My only plan was to run first hours easily and save energy. I thought about 60 km during first six hours should be easy enough.

I had many problems with my training during last winter and spring. All that culminated to DNF at Täby Extreme Challenge 100-miler. Luckily I DNF'd early enough so I recovered quite fast and was able to start proper training soon after the race. In June I ran a marathon as a training run 3.02.39. Yeah, that is not a world class result, but anyway it was my fastest marathon in three years and considering that the result came quite easily and without any speedwork I was satisfied. The pizza and beer loading on eve of the race obviously worked.

Four weeks before the 48 hour race I participated in first ever ultrainterval -race organized in Finland. The race director Mikko Luusalo spent couple of years in Norway, participating there in some ultraintervals and decided to bring this event in Finland. 13 km loop around Lake Bodom was ran eight times, three hours between the starts. I took the race as an excellent training session, even though the pace was little bit faster than I was planned. I finished the race in second place with total time 8.15.56, losing about 10 minutes to winner Kari Salomaa.

Three weeks before the Kaustinen race I started my summer holiday and spent one week in Kuusamo with my wife. Two days we spent by hiking about 60 km on Karhunkierros-trail. Besides that I did there some cross-country running with reindeers on rocky trails and swamps. After that week I started to decrease my training mileage and took last two weeks before the race pretty easily.

Jari and Peter on Thurday evening.
Me and my wife travelled to Kaustinen on Thursday, a day before the race. After we checked in the local hotel nearby a race arena we took a walking round in a race course. There we met the race director Jukka Teirikangas, who warmly welcomed us in Kaustinen. Also norwegian top-class ultrarunner Peter Tubaas who was about to run 24 h, starting on Saturday was already arrived in Kaustinen and was scouting places. We had a nice discussion with past and upcoming common races and of course about insanity of running 48 hours. Very nice fellow, indeed.


There were nine runners on starting line of 48 h: six men and three women. All were debutants of 48 h, except Aku Kopakkala who is completed also couple of six day races. When the start signal of the race was given at 2 pm on Friday there was just slight rain and temperature was about 17 degrees, so the conditions weren't bad at all. I started the race with long Skins, T-shirt and arm-warmers. The length of the loop is 1008,4 m and there is only one short uphill worth mentioning, less than 100 m long with a total ascent about 2 meters, which I planned to walk on every lap.

After one hour I had ran little over 10 km, concentrating all the time just running as slowly as a I can. Six hours result was just little shy of 60 km, still no problems except the rain and wet clothes. By this time the rain was getting heavier all the time, wetting the softer parts of the course and all the clothes. Before nightfall the rain ceased, but that was after two times I have changed all my soaked gears. During the night weather was quite decent: not too cold, humid, but no rain. At midnight I started to feel tired and remaining time felt endless. At 2 am quarter of the race was completed and I had covered little over 111 km. The first night went without much of a drama, just waiting for a dawn. After the daybreak I still felt exhausted. I had planned about 30 min sleeping break after 24 hours and thought of an approaching resting period lifted my spirit and I was able to improve my pace after 20 hours so that at about 23 hours I broke 200 km limit. After first day I had covered 207,7 km, which was pretty good pace considering that I had already changed couple of times all my rain-soaked equipments losing lots of time in that.


At 2 pm on Saturday, 24 hours was finally completed and I got permission from my support crew to take 30 min break. I headed to locker room, changed again all my gears and after that I settled down on high jump mattress at gym. Just as I was on sleeping position I felt a stinging pain in my groin. I rolled over trying to find position where the pain doesn't feel. Finally I just rolled over about 30 minutes without sleeping at all. After 30 minutes of rolling my supporter threw me out of the gym back onto the course. Or that was her intention, but just as soon as I woke up from mattress I felt dizzy. Slowly I walked out to the support tent and tried to drink something and instantly I threw up all the contents of my stomach. After vomiting stopped I continued my race. After couple of minutes of walking I was able to continue slow running.

24 h race started at 2 pm on Saturday, so there were now more runners on the course. I was glad about that, as the time passed painfully slowly even the short discussion moments with fellow runners felt good and gave little boost to continue.

The rain poured down all day and some parts of the course were so wet that one had either to run through puddles, up to ankles in the water or then make detours to avoid the deepest ponds. The organizers did their best during the hardest rain in order to channel the water out of the track, but when the rain just continued they had no possibility to keep the whole course dry. Fortunately the rain ceased before second night fell over Kaustinen and quite soon after that the course dried remarkably, so it was possible to run almost without wetting one's shoes.

When the second night approached I waited it with mixed emotions. The night meant that the finish of the race was approaching. On the other hand, the first night was terrible and I knew there was worse to come. Finally the dusk covered Kaustinen. The second night was - if possible - even more horrifying than the first night. I was so tired and exhausted that during walking intervals I thought I was about collapse at any second. Short periods of rest at the service tent were relieving, but my support crew was merciless: I wasn't allowed one minute longer break, after that I was guided back onto rain. No matter how much I whined about needing to sit just little longer. Slowly, but painfully the kilometers passed. During the second day I hadn't given much of an attention to the progress of my mileage, nor was I interested about my pace. I just pushed to keep myself moving.

Together with my support crew we were planned second resting period after 36 hours. This time I was allowed luxury of 15 minutes naps. Couple of hours before 36 hours completed I already started whining about that I need to rest immediately, but my crew was strict and did their best to keep me moving. Finally it was 2 am Sunday night, 36 hours was passed and I was given permission to leave the track for short break. Again I changed all my wet gears, took a quick shower and headed to high jump mattress. This time I fell asleep in couple of seconds. I could've sleep hours, but after quarter of an hour I was grabbed up and pushed back to the course. I guess my supporter had taken notice of Finnish female 48 h record holder Maria Tähkävuori's words when she couple of days before the Kaustinen race told us that "48 hours is such a short race - there is no time to even toilet breaks, let alone sleeping, if you wish to make a good result". Short naps refreshed so that after couple of minutes walking I was able to run again.


334 km, 48 h Finnish road running record was just broken
When I returned to the course it was still dark, but quite soon the morning began to dawn. The second night - worth of all my darkest fears - was about to turn into the final day of the race. At 8 am six hour race started and there were even more runners on the course. Around same time the announcer of the race started to cheer up the audience by telling them that I am about to break Finnish 48 h road running record (333,014 km by Mikael Heerman & Petri Perttilä) soon. At that time I seriously thought that I'll run until the record is broken, take a long break and walk slowly last hours. When the record was broken about five hours before the race ended I changed my mind and decided to run still couple of laps in order to break 350 km.

About four hours before the race finished Jukka Teirikangas delivered me mobile phone. On the other end of the line was Seppo Leinonen, The Spartathlon-legend, holder of Finnish record on 24 h track running and former Finnish record holder on 48 h, among many other achievements. Seppo congratulated me about my record and told that Nordic 48 h record in road running is 366,271 km, made by Lars Skytte Christoffersen in Bornholm 2008. I started to calculate how much time I had left and how much distance I was still missing. Seppo interrupted my muttering by commenting swiftly: "stop whistling and start run!". The word of a master gave me no other option, but reluctantly start running again.

During the last hours my running wasn't actually very easy and relaxed, even though couple of commentators claimed so. Somehow I still managed to keep running - except all the long and steep uphills of the course I walked. Somehow there were now much more and much bigger uphills than during the first hours of the race, strange. When there was about one hour time available, I broke Nordic road running record by completing 368 km. After that I was not able to run a single step, instead I walked last hour easily with my supporter and tried to enjoy the atmosphrere of the race.

My support crew gave me no mercy during the race. Thank You!
When the end signal was given the final measuring showed the distance 373,142 km. New Finnish and Nordic record in road running, number three on this year's world list and about 20 km better than I thought to be possible for me. I guess I must've done something right with my training and during the competition, despite all the weak moments. Very big thanks to my support crew Jaana & Juha, without them this result wouldn't been possible!


After the race I needed support and car ride in order to get to the prize-giving ceremony, about one hundred meters away from the showers. After it has been rained almost two days in a row it was obvious that when exhausted runners waited for the ceremony to begin the sky cleared and ceremonies took place in direct sunlight. After the ceremonies and interviews were over I needed the support of my wife and Peter Tubaas in order to get into our car. Next evening and night we spent in the same nearby hotel as the night before the race, mostly by sleeping and eating.

48 h male runners in prize-giving ceremeny. Left: Kalevi Saukkonen (1453 marathons), Pasi Koskinen, Jyrki Leskelä, Jari Tomppo
After the race I had blisters on my toes and forefeet, I had pains in my muscles, there were chafes all over my body and I was more tired than ever in my life. Otherwise I felt pretty damn good.

Two days after the race I visited a sports doctor, who checked my muscles. He told that there was slight infection in my left achilles tendon, but otherwise my legs and muscles were in very good condition, considering what I had done just couple of days earlier. I felt relieved, still I decided to take at least two weeks total break in running. After that I'll start training towards Bislett Indoor 24 h race at the end of November.


6 h: 59,8 km
12 h: 111,3 km
18 h: 156,0 km
24 h: 207,7 km
30 h: 247,5 km
36 h: 287,9 km
42 h: 324,9 km
48 h: 373,142 km

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