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Trail Running in West Sweden by Dan Aspel
The author - justifiably thrilled to be somewhere sunny for once
The coastline of Bohuslän is famed for its fishing heritage and wealth of islands and islets. It’s also regarded as being one of the world’s greatest remaining wilderness regions
Welcome to blog #13! So far in this series I’ve focused on core British outdoor topics - ranging from navigation and wild camping to trail food and the highland midge. But this time I’m going to range a little further and take you on a trip to the south-west coastline of Sweden.
There’s still plenty of grim, gritty and rain-lashed UK adventures and advice still to come from me… but everyone needs a holiday. And, in this case, I’m hoping the topic is something that will appeal to all lovers of the outdoors. If not in specifically going to the event that I’m about to describe, then in trying a branch of outdoor enthusiasm that you’d never considered before. There are so many different ways to enjoy wilderness that testing them all one at a time could in itself be considered a hobby. Here’s my first experience of a multi-day trail running event.
The venue is West Sweden. A short budget flight away, almost everybody speaks fluent English, the landscapes are at once familiar and yet dramatically dissimilar to our own, the culture is welcoming, fair and open and there’s an abundance of coast, forest and wilderness to enjoy. It’s also home to the Icebug Xperience. Run by the grip-centric Swedish footwear brand Icebug, it offers competitors the chance to cover 75km of winding rock, soil and sealine through the province of Bohuslän over the course of three days. Sign up (it costs about £250 including meals and accommodation) and you’ll be based in a central coastal HQ with shared chalets, then bussed and ferried from there to start lines and back again. Although it wasn’t my first time here, this was very much my first go at a multi-day trail run. Luckily it was quite a low-pressure one to ease myself in.
Funky footwear. Just one of the great reasons to go trail running
That’s because, like many other events of this kind, there’s only really a sense of competitiveness here if you’re actively seeking it. If you want to push yourself (and others) at the top of the field then it can be very much a race atmosphere, but if you’re just turning up for the landscape and the physical sensations of seeing as much of it as you can in three days then you’re welcome too. You can walk, stop for a swim (two of my trail mates suddenly decided to skinny dip at the start of day two - and, no, I don’t have pictures), take your time at the hydration and food stations, and essentially make of the route whatever you wish.
The start line on Day 2. Some will run, some will walk, some will even swim
As you may have guessed I was very much in the second camp. Although I strictly keep all my exercise outdoors in the open air, even to the extent of favouring lidos and the sea over indoor pools, I’m far from an experienced distance runner. In fact, I think I’m pretty typical for a casual jogger. On an average week I run perhaps 20km on the grassy trails around my home, and I’ve only entered a small handful of 10km race events before… and those up Lake District fells so small they barely register on OS maps. So 75km was always going to be a big ask...
The Icebug Xperience routes cross very close to the shore
… but what was perhaps surprising was how quickly and naturally the desire to run, and an unusually acute love for the physical sensations it brings with it, grew on me. On the first day I walked the majority of the course, took pictures… and felt tired yet oddly unsatisfied. On the second day I joined up with a group of friends I’d met at the dinner the night before - some old, some new - and ran all the downhill sections and a few scrambly bits inbetween. I felt better.
Rock, forest and smiles: a typical view
Yet more coastline, and a local sailboat enjoying the stiff breeze
A patina of rust and age on the hull of a discarded fishing boat - Sweden can be every bit as beautiful as you’d imagine
Trans: Bohuslän Coastal Path
Returning to base from the trail’s end on Day 2
Old socks, new day
By the third day (and, to be fair, with an early flight to catch) I decided to run the whole thing and see if I could finish an off-road half-marathon, without any pressure to do so. I didn’t set any course records, but by the end I was so proud that I’d done it. And the feeling of maintaining a constant jogging pace across over double the distance that I’ve ever “raced” before… not to mention the fact that I’d more or less convinced myself that I wouldn’t be capable of it beforehand… was as sweet a reward as anything I’d experienced in the outdoors before.
The geology of the region is fascinating, and the makeup of the terrain changes dramatically the further up the coast you head, with dramatic fjords often marking the watershed between one type of rock and another
Heading into Smögen, a popular party town in the height of the ever-light Swedish summer
It’s definitely got me looking at other outdoor events that I would have previously thought were reserved for people fitter and more aggressively competitive than myself. Because the truth is that you can sign up for anything - a triathlon, a mountain marathon, a long-distance cycle, or any other outdoor event - and the chances are that you’ll find more encouragement and excitement than you suppose and fewer unassailable obstacles than you fear. And you might just find another way to enjoy the outdoors that hits the spot in an entirely new way, too.
Dan Aspel is a journalist and Mountain Leader. You can find him at www.danaspel.com
Visit www.lifesystems.co.uk to find a host of kit and equipment for your next challenge event.